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Continued: Mentally troubled students overwhelm schools

  • Article by: JEFFREY MEITRODT , Star Tribune
  • Last update: July 21, 2013 - 7:26 AM

Children across the state are waiting as long as a year for their first appointment with a psychiatrist. If a young person has a crisis, they may be forced to go out of the state for help because there aren’t enough beds here.

“Our state is not capable of managing the complex mental health problems that we have here,” said Dr. George Realmuto, medical director at the state mental hospital in Willmar.

Realmuto recently had to send a boy from Hennepin County to Utah because he couldn’t find a residential treatment center able to take him anywhere in Minnesota. “How is it that Utah has more services than we do?” he asked.

In an interview, senior DHS officials conceded the move from institutional care has created a service “gap” for at least 100 students with behavioral problems too intense for schools or for existing state facilities. Minnesota may have to create a new type of facility that would provide intensive psychiatric care to such students for as long as three months, as well as offer other services, said Glenace Edwall, the department’s director of children’s mental health services.

“We want to acknowledge that we have a ways to go in creating and funding the children’s mental health system,” Edwall said.

Edwall noted the department recently received legislative approval to double a program that pays for school-based mental health services, but, department officials said, the nearly $10 million in funding for 2015 will still be $22.3 million short of what is needed.

Cassellius, the education commissioner, said she will meet with top officials at other state agencies — including corrections and Human Services — to address the crisis.

“Is this a problem because there are not enough beds on the DHS side, or is this a problem of adjudication (of juvenile criminal charges), or is this a problem of special ed in schools?” asked Cassellius. “How do we get at the root cause instead of coming up with a Band-Aid solution?”

Educators say the state has to rethink its approach to mental health and figure out which students belong in settings other than schools.

“We are teachers. We are counselors,” Hayes said. “We don’t provide medical, clinical therapy. That is not the mission of schools.”


Alone at his party

Gianni brandishes a makeshift sword alone in his back yard, battling imaginary enemies.

“The darkness will take hold of you,” he warns in an ominous tone. “No, it won’t,” he shouts in response, his voice spiraling higher.

Inside, his homecoming party is in full swing. Friends and relatives overtake the living room of the family’s modest home in Fridley, as Shameka, amid tears of relief, rushes to feed them some of Gianni’s favorite foods: hot dogs, steak, zucchini and asparagus.

Gianni flits through the party, pausing just long enough to accept an occasional hug or friendly question before retreating to his bedroom and his video games.

“He’s going to get tired of this,” says his grandmother, as Gianni wipes her kiss off his face.

Gianni is free, but the fallout from his jail time remains. His annual state aid of $30,000 of mental health services was terminated because he spent 30 days in juvenile detention, a disqualifying event.

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  • Gianni, who has a history of psychosis, often slips into a fantasy world, talking to himself and battling imaginary enemies.

  • Three weeks after Gianni set the fire at school, Shameka told her mother that he would have to stay in juvenile detention until a judge determined whether he was mentally competent to face arson charges.

  • While incarcerated, Gianni wrote this letter to a county prosecutor, saying “i’m a really good kid” who sometimes does things that are “extreamly wrong.” He asked to go home with his mother because “I am always safe at home.”

  • Gianni’s relatives welcomed him home May 23 after he spent 37 days in juvenile detention.

  • More than three weeks after his 15th birthday, Gianni was finally able to have fun with a family party at Water Park of America.

  • Gianni retreated to his bedroom to escape the noisy party held the night he was released from jail.

  • Alone in his back yard, Gianni battled imaginary foes while relatives inside the house celebrated his homecoming.

  • After a judge kept Gianni in jail, Shameka Griffin arrived home about the time her son usually got off the school van.

  • Shameka walked with Gianni into the Anoka County courthouse for a hearing on her son’s mental competence.

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