Seattle Times Articles About Eli Discussion Assignment
Read the two Seattle Times articles about Eli. (they are in week 9 folder) What do you do in a situation like this? Can you think of a better way to handle it or can the system currently in place handle it if there is accountability? What should we do? Are we failing today’s “problem children?”
Though not exactly the same situation, there has been publicity and media investigative reports about juveniles who have been held in the DSHS offices or vehicles at night due to not having foster homes to put them in., Usually, it is a result of the juveniles running away from the foster homes or feeling that they are not safe. The social workers are at a loss as to what to do and how to handle the situations. You may want to explore some of those media accounts online and see what you think.
Sunday, January 06, 2002, 12:00 a.m. Pacific
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The trouble with Eli
By Alex Fryer Seattle Times staff reporter
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Eli doesn’t belong to his mother, who says she loves him but can’t handle him. He doesn’t belong to his father, who declined to be involved in his son’s life. He belongs to the state — which can’t find a home for him.
He belongs to us.
Eli is known in the child welfare system as a “high roller,” one of dozens of kids whose rage is so volcanic that no one wants them around for long. The 15-year-old doesn’t know how many homes he has slept in, or how many days he has languished in state offices, waiting for more permanent placement.
In the meantime, he has grown from a volatile, mildly retarded little boy to an explosive young man.
His explanation: “If kids feel stupid, they get angry.”
He was 8 when his mother turned him over to the state. He has bounced from foster care to group homes to psychiatric hospitals to juvenile detention, where he spent much of last year after stabbing at a counselor with a pen.
He was released last week from Echo Glen Children’s Center in Snoqualmie after serving his required time. For two months, social workers have tried to find him a place to live.
Failing, Eli falls back into a tired pattern: Strangers at a social-services office in Everett will watch him by day; strangers at foster homes will take him at night — one night at a time.
Stories of children failed by the system have become all too common. But Eli and a growing number of children like him are far from ignored. Top officials in the Department of Social and Health Services know many of them by name and spare no expense in their treatment.
“No one seems to have an answer,” said DSHS Secretary Dennis Braddock. “You feel like you’re failing the kid.”
The state agency has spent countless hours and, according to a Seattle Times review of records, more than $400,000 trying to help Eli. It likely will spend much more before he graduates from the child welfare system at age 18.
“There are a lot of kids like Eli,” said Alicia Moosavi, his state social worker.
Every month, social workers across the state scramble to find beds for pet abusers, fire starters, kids who erupt in rage at the slightest provocation, kids most people don’t want living on their block or befriending their sons or daughters.
The system is designed to reunite kids with their parents or place them in foster homes. But living with a family doesn’t work for kids like Eli. So they shuttle from bed to bed.
Currently, the state is trying to find a permanent home for a 13-year-old registered sex offender in Oak Harbor. Unable to place another young boy accused of sex crimes, Washington exported the problem to a group home in Pennsylvania — at a cost to state taxpayers of $100,000 a year.
Such extreme cases involve only a fraction of the 10,000 children in state custody. But the numbers of impossible-to-place kids are alarming enough that state officials will meet with group-home providers tomorrow to discuss ways of serving them. Understanding Eli
On Friday, the day after his release from Echo Glen, Eli sits in a room at the Everett DSHS office. It’s the exact spot where he landed two years ago after being released from a stint in detention.
And it’s where he will spend his days while the state tries to find him a home.
He says he’s OK with the arrangement. He has a few electronic games; lunch and dinner come from a sub shop across the street.
Eli wears the baggy pants and basketball shoes common to teens. He is soft-spoken and seems a little uncertain of himself. Smiles bring out his dimples. His shoulders slope. He talks a lot about small things, such as the dogs he played with at a Mount Vernon foster home the night before.
He is used to adults asking about his feelings. Therapists and counselors have tried to figure out Eli for years. His 3,000-page, nine-volume file describes behavioral disorders such as “oppositional defiant disorder” and “intermittent explosive disorder.”
Eli says he has never heard of oppositional defiant disorder — a violent disregard for adult direction. But after it was described to him, he said: “I probably do (have it) in a way, but not as serious as other people. I can get it under control faster than other 15-year-olds.”
His rage is well-documented. It’s as if a fuse is lit and he is powerless to stop the explosion. He broke a $1,200 window in one group home, ripped curtains in another and bit several counselors. He has been kicked out of nine group homes across the state.
Eli says it hurt to be told to leave, mostly for outbursts he can’t recall. He says he liked each of the homes that took him in, places where he felt safe and comfortable.
After more than seven years of state custody, Eli remembers the most fleeting of happy moments: hearing the cheers of spectators who came out to watch one of his soccer games; hanging Christmas lights at a group home; sleeping in a feather bed at the home of a foster family that only takes kids a few nights at a time, when no one else will have them.
Eli’s last bedroom, at Echo Glen, was a small, blank space with worn blankets and a grimy linoleum floor. Above the steel door, which was locked each night, he hung a newspaper photograph of his favorite breed of dog — a pug — licking an ice-cream cone. For entertainment, he taped Styrofoam cups to the speakers of a mini-stereo to amplify the sound.
When he grows up, Eli says, he wants to be a fix-it man.
It was a warm summer day in August 1994 when Cheryl Reed called a state caseworker and pleaded that they take her son, Eli. She could no longer care for him and feared for his safety. When the caseworker said she had more pressing cases, Reed threatened suicide unless Eli was taken.
“I did it on purpose, in an intelligent state of mind,” Reed said. “I did that because he was not going to get the attention he needed. All I care about is helping my son.”
Reed received the paperwork the next day.
A small woman with restless energy, Reed lives in subsidized housing in Everett and works two jobs, as an operator answering an 800-number for the federal government, and as a telemarketer for an auto-glass company.
Reed visits her son almost every weekend. She never relinquished her parental rights, though Eli is a ward of the state.
At her urging, Eli gave The Seattle Times unprecedented access to his complete case history, including placement reports and psychological evaluations. Child-welfare records are confidential and can be released only by the family or by a child once he turns 13. (Although Reed and Eli gave permission for their names and pictures to be published, The Times is not using Eli’s last name, which is different from his mother’s, to help protect his privacy.)
Despite the negative reaction their story might provoke, Reed, 54, says she hopes it will make people aware of the state’s most troubled kids, whose challenges are typically kept private by state law.
She says she wants the state to consider the need to create secure homes — something beyond the foster and group-home system now in place — where kids such Eli can be treated and protected as they grow into adulthood.
“Eli is mentally ill,” she said. “Why should he be homeless because he is mentally ill?”
Hoping to keep Eli at home — a primary goal of state child-welfare policy — DSHS once asked Reed to take a psychological evaluation. That never happened, but she says she has nothing to hide. She says she’s a single mom who made some bad choices and is doing the best she can.
In a short personal history written to DSHS, Reed said she made a mess of her life, seeking “love, security and approval ‘in all the wrong places,’ as the song says.”
She has five children, each fathered by a different man. She was 19 when she gave birth to her first son, whom she put up for adoption. They were reunited several years ago, just before he died of AIDS. Her eldest daughter lives in the area and has regular contact with Eli. Her second-oldest son is serving time for a statutory-rape conviction. Her 12-year-old daughter lives at home.
Eli’s father lives in California. Six years ago, he worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Social workers contacted him several times, but he has declined to be involved with his son. Eli says he wouldn’t recognize him.
Eli was born on May 8, 1986. He “was the happiest little boy,” Reed said. “I thought I was so blessed. He was just like an angel.”
But at 2, he still struggled with simple sentences and sounds. Reed took him to a University of Washington child-development specialist, who diagnosed the boy as mildly retarded. “She sat down and told me the reality of Eli,” Reed said. Eli grew worse with age. He threw tantrums and ran off when Reed took him to the mall. He would rake supermarket shelves, knocking everything to the floor. He threw rocks one day, shattering Reed’s car window. He once poured bleach into a load of laundry.
“I couldn’t keep him safe. I couldn’t keep (her daughter) safe. I couldn’t keep a job,” Reed said. “I got to the point where I couldn’t do it anymore.”
Eli says he understands why his mother sent him away:
“My mom kept losing her job because I was like a devil child when I was little. I’m not faulting her. She couldn’t find anyone to watch me.”
Others like Eli
It’s difficult to know exactly how many kids like Eli are bouncing around the state child-welfare system. At any given time, about 30 troubled children statewide can’t be placed, but the numbers rise and fall, depending on the level of disturbance and the availability of beds, says Rosie Oreskovich, assistant secretary for the Children’s Administration.
Eli is classified as “1A,” meaning any group home that takes him can seek the highest monthly payment from the state: $6,600. There are 165 other kids in the long-term state care with the same classification.
About 90 percent of the 10,000 kids in the system are short-timers who live in a foster home, often for less than a year. In contrast, group-home kids live for longer periods in facilities that house as many as 30 children and are run by a professional staff. The kids often are behaviorally disturbed and need greater security and attention.
Research by DSHS has shown these children are far more likely to remain in state custody after a year than children removed from a home as a result of abuse or neglect.
Evidence also suggests that children with severe behavioral problems are less likely to be reunited with birth parents than other children in state custody. And so they become the permanent responsibility of the state, even when the state can’t find a place for them to live.
The state owns no group homes. Rather, DSHS contracts with privately owned businesses to house children. Operators can refuse to accept a difficult child, or they can remove a child who is considered dangerous to the staff or other kids.
Tomorrow, Oreskovich says, she will meet with group-home providers to discuss the growing numbers of children who can’t be placed.
Among the possible solutions: increasing the monthly payment for “1A” kids like Eli to $10,000; helping fund new construction for group homes, and building homes on surplus state property.
“There will always be the impossible case, but we don’t give up on these kids,” Oreskovich says. “But it doesn’t mean we have answers, either.”
Acting out, breaking rules
If ever Eli seemed to be settling down, it was when he was 9 and living in a Shoreline foster home specializing in severely disturbed children.
“Eli has responded beautifully,” wrote a social worker. “The child is a handsome, somewhat stocky lad responding well to the organic diet followed by the foster parent.”
But his emotional rages got the better of him. In June 1996, Eli was kicked out of school for throwing chairs, and a month later he was expelled from the home. Eli says there were too many rules. He bashed the walls, broke a television and tore down curtains.
“I pounded on the window for no reason,” he said. “When she (the caregiver) said I should stop or she’d call DSHS that just clicked in my brain that if I keep pounding, I’ll go somewhere else.”
Eli spent the next month in a succession of foster and group homes. One kept him less than eight hours. Another reported that he screamed and banged on windows until he received attention; a frustrated counselor said they were reinforcing his behavior, but he was too disruptive to ignore. His talk became laced with explicit sexual references, often directed at female counselors.
He was accepted by a Yakima group home, but his assaultive behavior continued. The staff called police and charged Eli with assault and property damage. Two weeks later, he was transferred to a group home in Renton.
In late 1997, Eli hit one counselor and bit another after he was not allowed to finish watching a movie. He was sent to a psychiatric hospital for a month. He was 11.
Dr. William Womack, a child psychiatrist at the University of Washington, says it’s common for children repeatedly moved in the state system to regress.
“You learn very early in life that people pay attention to you if you act out,” Womack said.
Was Eli a mentally ill child in need of psychiatric help, or, in his words, “a devil child,” best controlled by the criminal courts?
That was a question the state’s top child psychiatrist tried to answer.
In early 1998, when Eli was not quite 12, he was accepted into Washington’s most intensive mental-health program for kids: the Child Study and Treatment Center on the Steilacoom campus of Western State Hospital, the state’s largest mental hospital.
Cost: $450 a day.
At the time, Eli was taking Depakote for hypermania, Serzone, an anti-depressant, and Zyprexa, an anti-psychotic. Psychiatrists discontinued all three and put him on Ritalin.
During 11 months of treatment, therapists noted Eli had a “powerful repertoire of oppositionality.” The assaults were considered his way of taking control of his environment and compensating for limited comprehension skills.
“We do not see any major anxiety problems other than tantrumming when he wasn’t getting his way,” wrote one psychiatrist.
The assessment is telling: instead of a medical problem to be treated with therapy and drugs, doctors believed Eli had a behavioral problem. Eli’s future began to be directed toward the criminal-justice system instead of the mental-health system.
“Attacking people alone isn’t enough to go into the mental-health system,” said Mary Lafond, chief executive of the Child Study and Treatment Center. Children like Eli, when they reach adulthood, don’t go to Western State, she says. They go to prison.
“We don’t know how to fix these children,” Lafond said. In April 1999, about a month after Eli left the program at Western, he assaulted staff members and other kids at a Stanwood group home. Within the year he was sentenced to six months at Echo Glen. Social workers later tried to send Eli back to the Child Study and Treatment Center, but he was rejected.
On Sept. 6, 2000, one of the state’s group-home coordinators sent an e-mail to social workers and care providers across Snohomish County. Under the subject line “Placement crisis,” the coordinator sought homes for four children.
One was sexually aggressive with a history of theft and setting fires. One was developmentally disabled with fetal-alcohol syndrome and an explosive disorder. One had made sexual attempts on his young sisters. One had recently set fire to the office of his therapist.
The next day, two others were added: a developmentally disabled boy with a history of cross-dressing and setting fires, and Eli, who had served his six-month term in detention.
Because of confidentiality laws, it’s not known what happened to the others. But Eli’s records are blunt: No one wanted him.
Social workers brought him to the DSHS Everett office. In the mornings and afternoons, social worker Brent Kitchens walked Eli around the building. Kitchens later brought a football to play catch with Eli in the parking lot.
At first, Eli spent nights at his mother’s house. But his behavior kept her and his sister awake all night. He went back to the DSHS office, where he and a handful of other kids waited each night for a one-time bed in a foster home.
Emergency foster-parenting is not easy. Washington law prohibits foster parents from locking children in bedrooms or physically disciplining them. So many foster parents install motion detectors to alert them if a child is moving in the middle of the night. Kitchens notes that few of the homes have pets. “It’s safer that way,” he said. “For the pets.”
After more than a month at the DSHS office, Eli was sent to another Yakima group home, where he and another resident sexually harassed a female counselor. He was bounced to an Everett group home.
On the morning of Jan. 5, 2001, he refused to get out of bed. When a counselor tore the covers off him, he exploded. He says he doesn’t remember grabbing a pen or swinging at the counselor.
Moosavi, his social worker, filed a petition with the court, asking for a longer sentence at Echo Glen.
“Eli’s assaultive and sexualized behavior makes it impossible for him to interact effectively, safely and appropriately with others,” she wrote. “Eli is capable of violence and a danger to society should he be left at large.”
In seven years, Eli had gone from a troubled boy to be helped to a young man to be feared.
Lucy Berliner’s first job in child welfare was at a home for wayward girls in the early 1970s. In those days, children leaving detention or a psychiatric facility could stay in a group home for years. But that changed about a decade ago, says Berliner, director of the foster-care-assessment program at Harborview Medical Center.
State officials now push to get kids into family settings: Foster care is cheaper; and the belief is that children need to be integrated into the community so they can fend for themselves when they turn 18.
But that policy does little for kids with extreme behavior problems. Once kicked out of group homes, such children are almost never placed with a less-restrictive foster family.
To make matters worse, the number of licensed group homes in the state dropped from 86 to 54 in the past five years.
The Source Child Center in Montlake Terrance, where Eli spent almost a year, recently closed after 30 years. The home for developmentally delayed and mentally disturbed children could not survive on the state’s per-child payments.
However, DSHS officials note that the number of staffed homes with six or fewer kids, which are categorized differently from group homes, has increased in recent years.
Sometimes the state buys its way out of a problem: a home in Snohomish County is paid $16,000 a month to take care of a single child. Another child in the state temporarily was watched 24 hours a day by two counselors, at a cost to taxpayers of $28,000 a month.
What’s needed, some experts say, is a nonjail facility that could handle troubled children without moving them from place to place.
“It’s not that it’s impossible to create an environment for kids like (Eli) to do well, but it’s very expensive,” Berliner said.
The two places where Eli did the best are the most structured and the costliest: the Child Study and Treatment Center, and Echo Glen, which costs taxpayers $172 per resident a day.
But there are drawbacks to creating such facilities. Although the kids may prosper with intensive therapy, it doesn’t prepare them for adult life.
“You get a highly structured environment with a lot of staff,” Berliner said. “There is nothing normal about that. For any kid, we want the most family-like setting because what are we going to do when the kid is 18?”
Holding out hope
When he was released from Echo Glen last week, Eli wanted to go back to the Everett group home where he stabbed at a counselor with a pen. The home has an empty bed — but it refused to take Eli.
“I can see how they feel, if they don’t feel safe,” he said Friday. He adds with a gap-toothed smile: “It doesn’t bother me but it probably bothers Alicia Moosavi (his social worker). You can see by the bags under her eyes.”
Moosavi, sitting across from him in the small DSHS room, smiles back and tells Eli what to expect in the next few days:
His mother may take him home for the weekend. If she doesn’t, he will hang out in the DSHS office during the weekend days and go to different foster homes at night. This week he’ll go to school by day, and continue to go to different foster families at night.
“So I’ll be sitting in an office all day next Saturday and Sunday?” he asked.
“Hopefully, we’ll find you a placement soon,” Moosavi replied.
The state might try to find a home for Eli out of state, where laws sometimes allow more restrictive treatment, including lockup, of disturbed kids. But Reed, Eli’s mother, says then she wouldn’t be able to visit him and the separation would be devastating.
It’s also possible that the state might pay for 24-hour live-in care, allowing Eli to move home with his mother. But that’s a solution Moosavi says she’s not seen in 15 years of social work.
By late Friday afternoon, social workers are again struggling to find a future for Eli. The conversation holds little interest to him. Instead, he wants to talk more about the dogs at the foster home the night before, and his longing for someone to take him outside for a walk before it gets dark.