Lois Henry

Saturday, Jan 12 2013 10:30 PM

LOIS HENRY: If it was mental illness, help isn't on the way

By Lois Henry

As snippets of what might have been behind the Taft High School shooting began to emerge this week, at least two local parents shook their heads and agreed that someday it could be their own son who is branded in the media as "the shooter."

"We say that every time something like this happens," one local mother of a disturbed boy told me when I asked if the shooting had prompted concerns. She has described her son as angry, suicidal and, at times homicidal. (I'm not identifying this family in order to protect the identity of their child.)

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Lois Henry hosts Californian Radio every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. You can get your two cents in by calling 842-KERN.

No one knows yet what caused the 16-year-old Taft student to bring a shotgun to class Thursday morning and try to kill his classmates.

Did he snap after being picked on? Or did he suffer from a serious mental illness?

We will learn more over the course of the investigation. But some early bits rang warning bells for the Rosedale-area mother I spoke to.

Other students told the media the Taft High shooter regularly made threats to kill people.

The Rosedale mother told me her 12-year-old son has been in therapy since he was 8 and has regularly told her and her husband that he will kill them.

The Taft shooter also claimed to authorities that he'd been bullied, though no one has confirmed he was. Sheriff Donny Youngblood would only say that the bullying was true "in his mind."

Similarly, mother I spoke to told me her son often goes to the school office with complaints of bullying.

Recently, at home, he threatened to "bash in" the head of a classmate he claimed was picking on him. But when the mom and the school probed further, he named a different classmate as the alleged bully and it was determined no bullying ever took place.

"I think, in his mind, maybe he does perceive that he's being bullied," the mom said of her son. "But it's likely something that you or I wouldn't even notice."

As I said, only time will reveal what propelled the Taft shooter to such violence.

But the experiences of some local parents have taught them that even when a family does reach out for help to try and prevent exactly this kind of scenario, few, if any, hands are extended back.

When it comes to really dealing with mental illness, good, long term services just aren't available, parents have told me.

Many families relay the same story: unless you're independently wealthy, forget it. Private insurance will only pay for bits of therapy or other counseling. And even Medi-Cal, which gets you entre into the much larger public mental health system, only goes so far.

The truth is, these parents say, children with physical ailments have support but not mentally ill kids.

Yet when parents do seek help for a mentally ill child, they almost all say they're initially told the problem is because they're lousy parents.

No one would say that to the parent of a cancer stricken child.

One family, also dealing with a homicidal 12-year-old boy, finally had to give him up to Child Protective Services to get him into residential care.

A few weeks ago, I chronicled how the two Rosedale-area parents have tried unsuccessfully to get proper care for their son through his school district, Rosedale Union.

Schools are required by law to educate all students regardless of disability, including mental illness.

This family has been through years of counseling, therapy and parenting classes. Through all that, they've become convinced their boy -- who was called a "walking time bomb" by one of his psychiatrists -- needs full-time residential treatment.

So far, they have only secured him some extra "special ed" time and school visits with yet another therapist.

Since my story ran on Dec. 23, his mother told me this week, the district has offered to get the family "wrap around" services, in which counselors will be available to come into her home and assist her son. But that hasn't happened yet.

Though the parents believe the Rosedale district is dragging its feet because of the cost of residential placement, Director of Pupil Services Tom Ewing told me the school can only work with problems seen on campus.

If all the school is seeing is an academic issue, that's all it can legally address, Ewing said.

The boy's mother agreed that her son hasn't acted out at school -- yet.

But he has been hospitalized five times over the past year at Good Samaritan Hospital because his violent rages were too much for his parents. Three of his most recent psychiatrists have written memos detailing his lack of empathy and other problems. The parents have had to call the police to their home on more than one occasion to quell his outbursts. He has chased siblings with a knife and tried to hit his mom over the head with a steel rake. Last year, he told a teacher that he was having "bad thoughts" and wanted to hurt people.

All of which has been painstakingly documented for the Rosedale Union School District.

"And here he is sitting next to other kids at school," his mother said, exasperated. "If I were another parent, I'd be furious."

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail lhenry@bakersfield.com

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