An average of three to four times a day, local police get a similar call: A child is punching holes in the walls of the home and refuses to listen to parents, who are worried the child could hit them or a sibling, and they need help.
If parents are concerned they or their children could be hurt during an argument, they can call the police. Officers and deputies can take children to the juvenile detention center if they’ve damaged property or hit someone, but otherwise police will talk to parents and children until they calm down, Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox said.
In the past four years, the sheriff’s office and local police departments handled from 1,317 to 1,557 incidents a year involving children, ranging from a teen who wouldn’t go to school to a child being verbally or physically abusive. Police also handled from 184 to 242 cases a year of runaway children and teens, according to Johnson County dispatch reports.
“It’s become a really, really big problem where we’re being called in sometimes to do parenting and other things,” Cox said.
While officers and deputies can break up fights among parents and children, typically they can’t follow up after that initial call. But they can refer families to local health care facilities, including Valle Vista Health System in Greenwood, and community groups, such as Youth Connections in Franklin, who can help parents trying to understand why their children are angry or fighting.
Both Valle Vista and Youth Connections have started providing counseling and mentoring for children as young as 5 as staff members are seeing younger children acting out or who need help. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why younger children are dealing with anger, fear or other emotions that cause disruptions at home, but many times the children have parents who are divorcing, have witnessed domestic violence or experienced another form of trauma, Valle Vista director of clinical services Brian Bill said.
That’s why both Valle Vista and Youth Connections have created programs to help children, preteens and teenagers learn more about the emotions they’re experiencing so they can better control them.
“We try to provide some resources to give that youth some resiliency, to stay out of the juvenile justice system, and also to try to help the parent make some good decisions,” Youth Connections executive director Tom Bingham said.
Recently, more parents of children 5 to 11 have needed help managing kids who are acting out after experiencing some sort of trauma, ranging from divorce to domestic violence, Valle Vista director of clinical services Brian Bill said.
“Those kids just can’t handle that,” Bill said. “Their brains can’t handle that level of trauma.”
In January, Valle Vista opened an inpatient treatment facility for patients 5 to 18. He said Valle Vista opened the facility out of a concern that other programs in Indianapolis might close, and right now 14 of the health system’s 24 inpatient beds are full.
Children typically spend three to five days in inpatient treatment, where they’re monitored 24 hours a day. The goal is to help children, especially those who have been traumatized, feel safe. Bill said they then can be transferred to an outpatient counseling program, which can last from nine months to a year, and deal with whatever is bothering them.
Parents who bring their kids to Valle Vista often feel guilty that they don’t know what’s wrong or can’t help their child. Part of the health system’s program is to educate parents, so they better understand what their children are going through and can better manage it, Bill said.
“A lot of it is about teaching the families about what’s healthy and what’s unhealthy, getting away from the right and wrong approach and wagging your finger,” he said.
Youth Connections, which is funded by the state and is free to families, also has a program to offer relief to families who need some time to cool off after a heated argument or fight.
The organization has 11 host homes in Johnson and Morgan counties where children 7 to 17 can stay for up to three weeks. Bingham said host homes are volunteer families or individuals willing to give youngsters a safe, temporary place to stay.
Sometimes the host homes are used for children or teens who can’t return to their families and are trying to connect with other resources, such as foster care. Other times a child might stay at a host home for a night or two after a fight with a parent so that both sides have a chance to calm down, Bingham said.
Sometimes parents and children who are having problems getting along or who are fighting too much need a few days apart, and the host homes give families that option. Youth Connections also has a mentoring program at Franklin and Greenwood schools meant to ensure children and teens who aren’t getting along at home or who are sorting through feelings of anger or sadness don’t get into trouble after school, Bingham said.
Last year, 53 Greenwood and Franklin students were a part of the mentoring program. For elementary students, the program teaches students how to start managing their emotions, such as how to express what they’re feeling when they’re sad or angry without shouting and how to identify when they need to apologize. Older students hear more about the benefits of school, why it’s important to graduate and how earning a high school diploma will help them get a better job, Bingham said.