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Don't Tell Mom and Dad

November 26, 2005 permalink

Personal information that is readily available to Children's Aid is routinely withheld from parents.



Privacy laws block help path to teens


Too young to help themselves. Too old to be helped by others.

That's the agonizing dilemma faced by parents who want to aid their troubled teens, but find themselves paralysed by privacy laws.

Last week, I wrote about a local woman trying to help her drug-addicted 16-year-old daughter. The woman said her efforts had been thwarted by school officials, health-care providers and police -- all in the name of protecting the child's right to confidentiality.

"I'm a parent screaming -- and I mean screaming -- for help, but nobody can help me because nobody can tell me anything," the woman said. "And I know I'm not the only parent like this."

It seems she's right about that. Her story prompted nearly a dozen messages from local parents in similar straits.

"I went through a similar experience with my son," said one caller, adding the young man was later diagnosed as manic depressive. "I lost control of him at (age) 16 . . . He overdosed and died in Vancouver seven years ago."

The other messages were just as saddening: A woman said she was struggling to overcome the same obstacles with her 17-year-old daughter; a man complained that legal restrictions blocked him from helping his 14-year-old son; a woman said she'd faced the same roadblocks during the last eight years while trying to help her two teenage sons. And on and on.

Whether the legal snare was embedded in the Personal Health Information Protection Act or the Child and Family Services Act or the Mental Health Act, the essence of the complaints was the same.

Because of privacy rules, the doctors, counsellors and cops say they can't intervene -- or provide helpful information to parents -- unless the kid consents.

But again and again, the parents insisted it's absurd to expect the troubled child to share information, accept help or heed advice -- they're either too addicted, too sick, too depressed, too confused or too angry to do so.

"Thank you for highlighting the destructive . . . results that privacy legislation can have on families with troubled children," wrote one reader. "I pray for that woman, but unfortunately, based on experience, she won't get help from the system.

"Only her daughter can (get help) -- but only if she asks. And too often troubled kids are unable to help themselves."

This parent suggested too many professionals hide behind the various privacy laws, which are often vague and open to interpretation.

"My family has been struggling to help our daughter fight anorexia for the last 3 1/2 years," the reader wrote.

"At one point, a doctor told my husband he had no rights -- only responsibilities. Instead of working as a team to help the child, the family is shut out and, tragically, the child is the big loser."

The most poignant letter came from a woman who identified herself as Christine. Her envelope contained one note to me and another addressed to the woman I wrote about last week.

"Dear mum," stated the letter. "I read about your worries in The Free Press. . . . I empathized, because I've felt as hopeless as you, as frustrated as you, as angry as you must feel sometimes.

"My son has been going through depressions since he was 16, and now, at 28, I believe he is an alcoholic. I went to the doctor when this first started and was told . . . she couldn't tell me anything about his behaviour and condition because he was 16 and (she suggested) maybe I should take a stress seminar.

"When I said I was concerned he might commit suicide, she said it was a valid concern."

The woman explained that she attended some Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to get tips on how to help her son. Instead, she gained some insight about herself.

"I had become obsessed with my son's problem," she wrote, "and had forgotten to take care of myself."

In the end, this woman urged the other worried mother to look after her own needs because "it doesn't mean you love your daughter any less."

That's not the answer these parents are seeking. But it's worth remembering that in a bid to save their kids, these parents need to make sure they don't lose themselves.

Source: London Free Press