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Mother: "I'm Afraid of My 8-Year-Old Daughter"

12:00 AM, Feb 1, 2013   |    comments
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**Editor's Note: Names have been changed in this story to protect the identity of the child and her mother.

Guilford County, N.C. - Eighty percent of the children in America with mental illness never receive treatment. Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age fourteen. Seventy percent of juveniles in the justice system have mental illness.

It's easy to ignore this reality, but mental illness can erupt into horrific tragedies, lead to the death of innocent people and change our country forever.

It sounds unbelievable: being afraid of a child. But, this is life for Sally Smith. She says her daughter has struggled with mental illness for years, but no one seems to be able to help. Even mental health professionals admit finding the help you need is tougher than it should be.

At first glance, Jane looks like your typical eight-year-old.
"She is incredibly quick witted and sharp. She's extremely articulate," Smith said.

But, when Jane gets angry, she goes into a rage that makes her mother feel threatened.

"I don't want to see my baby like that. I don't want to see anybody like that," Sally said. "There's a nasty stigma attached to mental illness. You get called ugly names. But, also when you do reach out for help... I've reached out for help and have not gotten it."

When something is wrong with your child, you'll do anything to ease his or her pain. That's why Sally Smith contacted WFMY News 2 for help.

She's spent years reaching out to countless doctors and specialists. However, her daughter still is not getting the help she needs. So, Sally decided to share her story, hoping it might help her child and other struggling parents.

"She's an absolutely beautiful child," Sally said. "You love a child like you love no one else."

Sally knew being a single mom would be tough. But, she never thought her daughter would become violent toward her and
threaten her.

"I am afraid of her. I'm afraid of her hurting herself. I'm afraid of her hurting me," Sally said. "I am scared. She has looked at me as though she'd rather stab me in the heart than look at me. It's very frightening. She throws things. She has bitten me. Clawed me."
Sally has spent three years trying to deal with the hand her daughter has been dealt.

"When somebody calls you and says, 'Help me,' you don't turn your back on them. You don't do that. That's what the mental health community has done to me and my daughter."

When Jane acts up in public, other parents shake their heads.

"They always blame the mother. I am on my second DSS investigation, I'll say, freely. It's a degrading and humiliating thing to have to say that. I have nothing but good things to say about DSS. They have been very helpful," Sally said.

Psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists and counselors have said Jane has attention deficit disorder, oppositional defiance disorder, bi-polar disorder, autism, anger issues or that she was simply going through a phase.

"I am terrified for her future. I worry tremendously about what she's going to be like when she's fourteen," Sally said. "This is a human being that I created. I created her. I grew her. I birthed her.

I've nursed her. I have sacrificed for her. You don't just un-love somebody because they have problems. My child is sick and needs help. She's not a monster. She's not a bad child. She has been misdiagnosed and has unfortunately fallen through the cracks of the mental health system," Sally said.

Doctors have admitted Jane to hospitals. She's spent time at therapeutic foster homes. They treat her and turn her away.

"You beg for it. You ask for it. You don't get it. This can't happen. This cannot happen," she said.

Mental health specialists claimed Sally exaggerated Jane's behavior. So, she recorded the outbursts on her phone.

"When I bring out the video, they say, 'Oh my God.' They're shocked."

They are shocked because the same child can also be sweet and loving. Yet, Sally understands how easy it is for someone to snap, like what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary.

"People say, 'They're crazy.' People say, 'They're psycho.' No, they have a sick mind. There is something wrong with the chemistry in their brain,' Sally said.

That's why she wants help now: before it's too late.

"This is my baby girl. No devil in hell. No person on earth is going to stand between me and getting the help I need for my child. I don't care where I have to go. I don't care what I have to do. And, I don't care what I have to sacrifice. My child will get the help that she needs," Sally said.

After watching a video of Jane's outburst, Psychologist Dr. Nannette Funderburk said, "I would imagine this mom is at her desperation point. She's probably pulling her hair out. She's probably thinking some not so great things about herself, too."
Dr. Funderburk admits the mental health system is difficult to navigate.

"If it's hard for the professionals, you know it's hard for someone who's the parent sitting there, saying, 'I have a child who's beating me in the head,'" Dr. Funderburk said. "For so long, mental health has been the stepchild of everything. That's fluff. That's for the people who are really crazy."

Steve Hayes from the Guilford County Department of Social Services said, "This is not the kind of thing that you go out looking for every day. If you're a parent under stress because of a child's behavior, then you may not know where to turn for help."

The Department of Social Services tries to guide parents to services that can help.

"The first thing that I do not do is blame the parent. It is so easy to become overwhelmed by this. The thing that I think first is, 'I wish we could have provided preventative services earlier for this family."

Hayes' colleague, Brenden Hargett said, "I always say parenting is probably the most important role in the world that we're never trained to do. I think families do what they know to do. When that doesn't work, they become frustrated... It's a matter of families and parents not having the resources and the skills and knowing how and what to do."

Resources like the Sandhills Center are available in the Triad. The non-profit agency now coordinates mental health services for nine counties.

"Services are needed. Unfortunately, the mental health and behavioral health system is chronically underfunded. During the past two years, there have been cuts," Victoria Whitt, Chief Executive Officer of the Sandhills Center, said.

Yes, there are resources out there, if you know where to look.
"We have a great advocacy community for mental health and behavioral health," Whitt said. "It's a matter of getting that information out to people."

Dr. Funderburk agrees. "We have to do a better job of allied professionals coming together and networking with each other so that we can say, 'No, this is not my specialty, but I do know so and so over here," she said.

Sally lives with this every day. She has taken her daughter to countless specialists and therapists. However, she has yet to find the help her daughter needs.

"It's not hard to love her. It's hard to like her sometimes. Sometimes, I really don't like the person she is being at the time. But, I always love her. I have never stopped loving her," Sally said.

Whitt added, "When you have a situation like this, it's so important to get all the right people at the table. We certainly want to be one of those people at the table."

HOW TO GET HELP

Guilford, Anson, Harnett, Hoke, Lee, Montgomery, Moore, Randolph & Richmond Counties:

Sandhills Center
24-hour Access/ Crisis Number:
1-800-256-2452

Forsyth, Rockingham, Davie and Stokes Counties:
CenterPoint Human Services.

24-hour Access/ Crisis Number:
1-888-581-9988

Alamance, Davidson, Cabarrus, Caswell, Chatham, Franklin, Granville, Halifax, Orange, Person, Rowan, Stanly, Union, Vance and Warren Counties:

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions
24-hour Access / Crisis Number: 1-800-939-5911

WFMY News 2

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