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Admitting a Child to Inpatient Psychiatric Treatment: A Parent’s Perspective

Four years ago, I admitted my then-six-year-old son to an inpatient psychiatric hospital. Much has changed in four years, but reading my thoughts from the time brings it all back. It’s an experience I wouldn’t wish on any parent; one I hope I never have to live again.

From my personal blog, January 2008:

11I have a call in to a local children’s psychiatric hospital about admitting Bob on the acute-care unit in the very near future.

Things have been getting worse over the past couple of weeks. The last time I picked him up from (his father’s), he was a snarling, angry, hateful little boy who kept talking about his dad going to jail and it being my fault, and he was going to hit me in the stomach for it. He started repeating the same annoying sound over and over again and when I asked him to stop, he gave me a mean laugh and said “daddy told me to do that.” And so on and so forth.

The weekend was rough. He spent a good part of it in time out for one transgression or another. He frequently growled and yelled “I hate the world!” and “I hate all humans!” and “all mommies should shut up and go away!”

Yesterday, the principal called at noon. Bob was being suspended for the day. When I got there, he was pacing the office like a caged animal. He refused to come with me. It took both of us to remove him from school and get him into my car. I then had to physically hold him in his seat for 45 minutes to keep him from getting out and running off. He kicked me, tried to bite me, and slapped me (hard) across the face. I took him to my office where he snarled at me until (husband) came to take him home.

21Today, he said he was ready to go back to school. We met with the principal and he apologized and said he was ready to do better. I emailed his teacher around 1:00 and found out today hasn’t been much better, and the other kids in his class are becoming afraid of him. I suggested he not go to art class (he doesn’t like the teacher) and got a reply back that he’d slapped another kid and was back in the office, and wouldn’t likely be going to art.

I don’t know what to do. Therapy hasn’t helped. The courts haven’t helped. Psychiatry hasn’t helped, because you can’t spend 10 minutes a month asking a 6-year-old how he feels and expect to get the whole picture. There’s only so much I can do, because in Bob’s mind, I’m the problem. And he cannot go on this way.

Which is why I made the call.

The thought of taking my baby somewhere and leaving him, even if only for an overnight or a few days…Jesus. It’s killing me.

126 thoughts on “Admitting a Child to Inpatient Psychiatric Treatment: A Parent’s Perspective”

  1. I have a 15 year old boy who has run away, took drugs, been in trouble with the law, suspended and expelled from school (he is now in his 4th highschool). He was also in the care of Children’s Aid because he kept running away and I could not take it any longer and I have other children younger than him to take care of so I signed him over to Children’s Aid for a couple months. Before he was signed over to Children’s Aid, I had to call the police on him because he was out of hand(intoxicated with cocaine and possibly other drugs) and a danger to himself and possibly me and his siblings. The police took him into emerg where he was tested for drugs and assessed briefly. He was released within hours and I later found out that cocaine was found in his system. I struggled to obtain information about him regarding his stay at the hospital because they said I was not with him when he was admitted and there was a patient confidentiality rule that they had to follow and the only way i could get the information was by his consent. I later on received a copy of his record because he agreed that it was okay for me to see it. Anyhow, I struggled for months trying to get him properly assessed but because he refused any type of assessment one could not be done. He either had to give his consent in writing in some cases or agree verbally. He obtained a total of approximately 7 charges within 9 months (with the first charge starting in November of 2016). One day when he took off again, he picked up another charge where I had to bail him out the next day (so he spent the night in jail). I went to court and pleaded for them to place a condition on his bail that he get an assessment. When I got the assessment done, I got the results and it said he had “A LEARNING PROBLEM. HIS SYMPTOMS ARE CONSISTENT WITH A LEARNING DISORDER AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE; HOWEVER, THERE IS A STRONG POSSIBILITY OF UNDERLYING ADHD AND CONDUCT DISORDER”. Does this mean that this is his diagnosis, that he has ADHD and CONDUCT DISORDER? The psychiatrist offered him an adolescent psychiatric program for further assessment, but he refused to participate in the program. My question is, was that the diagnosis (ADHD AND CONDUCT DISORDER) and was the doctor just sending my son for treatment for these mental illnesses? I thought the psychiatrist was unsure of the illness, therefore he wanted to get a second opinion. However, my family doctor informed me that that was the diagnosis and my son did in fact have ADHD AND CONDUCT DISORDER. Please share your thoughts. I really need some advice on what to do in order get my son treated. As well, recently he has been defecating on the school washroom floors about almost everyday for over a month and he denied it adamantly. He has also urinated in the past on the school washroom floor and in someone’s home in the vents. He has also stolen from me and others and denies it. Sometimes he seems fine and other times he is irritable, blaming, wants to give up (depressed about everything), selfish, dependent on me, disorganized, messy, throws tantrums, daydreaming and doesn’t seem remorseful or doesn’t take responsibility for his actions… Many times I have to do things as little as making sure he has his key for home. Most times he leaves the door open when he leaves, even though he has his keys and he loses his items a lot.

    What do I do. This has been the most stressful year ever. Please help!

    1. This does sound really hard! I’m sorry to hear it’s been tough finding help for your son. From what you’ve said, it sounds like providers and the legal system haven’t really kept you as informed or as involved as a parent typically should be. I’d suggest looking for care-giver support. PACER has very good advocacy programs for parents like you. Their website is pacer.org. The website will have numbers you can call where you can ask more questions and get some feedback on your particular situation. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) also has supports for family members and caregivers (they’re at nami.org). It sounds like there’s so much going on with your son that it would help to talk it out with people who are professionals in this area. I hope they can help! (And I hope your son finds the help he needs).

  2. My son is 8 years old and has been diagnosed with ODD. He is very angry and will throw his books on the ground and when I try to speak to him over the phone he won’t talk. He’s on Intuniv, but it doesn’t seem to be working as he continues to throw this fits of rage. I’m a single mom and am nearing the end of my rope. He’s on an IEP at school for his behavior and dysgraphia and dyslexia. I’ve removed him from one after care facility to a smaller after care that provide Karate instruction as well. He is seen by counselors at school and outside of school along with a psychiatrist. I’ve had to take him to the ER as he would not de-escalate and have their psychologist see what I’ve been dealing with. I guess the next option is to try a different medication, but if that doesn’t work, are there inpatient behavioral centers for kids his age?

    1. I’m so sorry Jennifer, it sounds like you have your hands full. But, it also sounds like you are doing all the right things and pursuing help for your son from several different angles. I do believe there are inpatient behavioral centers for your son. Have you talked to your son’s counselor or psychiatrist about recommendations they might have? When I put my daughter into a residential facility, it was one that was recommended to me by staff at the out-patient program she was in. They guided me through the process of analyzing facilities and worked with me to find the best fit for my child. In my case, seeking help from the professionals gave me real peace of mind as I made decisions about therapy, medication and placement. Good luck to you, Jennifer.

  3. We were finally able to get her into a behavioral clinic. The first visit was just history and the 2nd one they did some testing but I don’t kno what they did as I wasn’t allowed to be with her and I feel that was a good thing. Will not hear anything until next week but I had to make a call to them this morning because her negative behaviors have increased. She has thrown one of our ferrets on the floor, still hitting etc and went after a classmate at pre-k yesterday trying to cut her hair and when the teacher explained that it wasn’t safe, she cut a big hole in her shirt. I am becoming increasingly afraid of what she will do next. She has no remorse for the things she is doing. She is becoming more demanding as in if she doesn’t get what she wants immediately, it is an explosion of anger.

    1. Hi Jennifer, I’m sorry that you are still suffering through the intake process with your daughter. But, it sounds like you are one the right track and are getting the team together that can help your child. It just is so difficult to have to wait while the team is assembled. I remember how it felt like no one understood how difficult every second was with my child, and their “next week” seemed like an eternity to me. Is there a way that someone else can give you an hour or so of respite? I know that can be frightening when our children are really out of control. If not, can you call one of the hotlines HealthyPlace.com has listed as a resource? My suggestion is that you find yourself a few moments of support–either in person or on the phone–so that you can keep going until the behavioral clinic comes up with a plan. In the meantime, my thoughts are with you. I understand the bravery it takes to keep moving forward in your circumstances.

  4. My son was diagnosed with depression and emotional disturbance. He is so out of control, he hits the walls breaks everything he can. He tells me he hates me he wishes i wasnt his mom. He doesn’t like to go to school and every morning is a fight and he wins. I need help we have tried counseling but he wont talk so they end up closing his case and referring him to someone else. I dont know what to do anymore.

  5. Need help my son is 7 going to be 8 in December and his attitude if out of control we have true therapy counseling medication taking stuff away giving options make him do chores and everything is still a constant hassle me and his mother are at our wits end please give us some advice to help or lead us in a direction of a facility that can help

    1. So familiar! I don’t know where you live, but I’d recommend requesting a referral for county case management. There are so many types of services available in-home that are hard to access without case management. If you’re ineligible for it right now, there are still some steps you can take on your own. Either apply for medicaid, if you’re eligible, and if you’re not, try applying for your son (you have to have your child certified disabled as part of this process, though, so there will be much thinking and discussing to have about it, and this is another thing that is much easier if you have county assistance). Medicaid often pays for things like in-home behavior therapy, personal care attendant services, skill-building services, and generally getting people in the home to help you. It often pays for additional services in schools, too. If Medicaid isn’t available for you, ask your therapist or child’s psychiatrist for referrals to in-home services. You can all your insurance provider yourself to see what they cover as well.

      The only thing that worked for us when my son was 8 was that, the moment he started hurting us and talking about ending his life, I took him into the emergency room. He was hospitalized, and that started a whole series of helpful events. It’s an unfortunate part of our system that, sometimes, we have to hit “rock bottom” before we get the help we need. So hopefully that’s not the route you have to go.

  6. I have my 8 year old Grandson who is out of control. I can relate to all these stories. It is a constant struggle. He was born addicted to heroin and meth pot and pills. FAS..i sometimes feel like I’m crazy. He has broke my finger..Slapped me in the face punched me . I hurt my leg in a scooter accident and he would push me down and kick me in the bad leg. He has told me I going to kill you I hope you die. I have to hide my purse he goes through it. He steals sweet stuff from our pantry while we are sleeping. He has no friends.. We have had behavior coaches and counclors..He knows when to put on a show. I spent my days video taping him. To show he is doing these things. He had a 4 hour screaming fit because he wanted us to suffer. He bangs his head against the walls putting big holes everywhere..Punching himself leaving bruises…

    1. This sounds exactly like my son. He will be 7 in May. I dont know what to do anymore! I am
      pregnant and when he is mad he purposely kicks my stomach. He wakes up at 3am and raids the house and gets into whatever he can! We have a safe to keep meds and sweets in and he still finds a way in, picking locks. We have a home security system and seem him wake up with thos bozarre behavior. We have tried everything and it wont stop! If we put him in is room he busts holes in the wall on purpose and breaks things… chews holes in shirts… breaks windows! I have hit rock bottom. I need help!

      1. Hi Rebecca. I’m so sorry for your troubles. It has to be especially hard dealing with all this and being pregnant, too. Does your son have a therapist and/or psychiatrist? Can you talk to them about what’s going on at home? Have you discussed your options for treatment with him? It sounds like you have stepped up to do all you can but it is not enough. I would spell that out clearly to your health care providers and see what guidance they can give you. I would also contact your local NAMI organization and see what guidance they can give you. HealthyPlace.com has numbers for NAMI in the Resource section of this site. How is his behavior in school? Public schools are required to provide a free and appropriate education, and if his behavior at school is like it is at home, you may be able to get some relief from the school. Check out your options, and engage all the support you can. You don’t have to fight this battle alone.

        1. a therapist is not always the answer. Something they do nothing. Where are the free/low-cost facilities that take these kids when the need to be admitted. I have a nephew that is out of control… He is in need of help!!

  7. My 6 year old son is the same way he bites,kicks,yells,hits me and his dad with his fist.he has autism and ADHD. I can’t handle him by myself when his dad isn’t around.my so will also brake up his toys when he gets mad…

  8. Amanda, my heart goes out to you as you certainly have your hands full. I am not qualified to give you professional advice on your situation, but I can certainly direct you towards resources that MAY be able to help you. HealthyPlace.com has a list of hotline numbers and you might try calling them. I suggest you start with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to begin with. If you have medical insurance, you may also want to try contacting them–many companies offer 24-hour hotlines with registered nurses to guide you. Finally, I would contact your doctor again, explain the situation, and see if he or she can see you on an emergency basis. In the meantime, since grounding isn’t working, you might try reversing your strategy and rewarding her for a good day. Maybe an extra story, or token gift for every day she doesn’t hit. Maybe you can even work with the program to, initially, give her a reward for each activity she completes without hitting or misbehavior. Of course, this may not work, but then again, it might buy you some time until you can get into the doctor. Good luck to you.

  9. any help would be great. My daughter will be 6 on Thursday and I don’t know what to do anymore, It seems like its either my career or my child as I am a single parent with no family. this is the 8th day in a row that I have left my job to pick up her from her summer program. they call me almost every hour. but once my daughter hits someone she has to be sent home for the day. I have told her over and over again how hitting isn’t okay. and she gets grounded. What else can I do her program has had it and if I stop working we will be going into a homeless shelter and I lose everything and I have a teenager daughter I need to take care as of well. what am I missing. the love is there the time Is there shes not hungry or sleeping that is all normal routine. A little background with my daughter she will be 6 but all her tests taken says shes only developmental a 4. she has a hard time speaking but can just some words or most you can’t understand. she has adhd sensory speech and developmental delay. they won’t put her on meds until her appointment which isn’t until September. what do I do inpatient. or lose my home and my other daughter.
    any advice please

    1. I have a 4yr old that is the same way. She’s been kicked out of daycares, I am not working because she has gotten so bad that I’m scared to leave her with anyone. She is self injuring, hits, kicks, bites, breaks things and nothing has worked. She was OK until she started going back to her bio mom’s for weekend visits. She now hasn’t seen her in almost a yr and she is still becoming worse. She can not speak well enough to say what happened there, if she even remembers. I have no idea what to do anymore. Her pediatrician has tried meds and they don’t work, she doesn’t sleep either. I am at a point where if someone doesn’t help, I will have to leave my husband because I can not handle her or the stress. I am losing hair, have severe migraines on a weekly basis and dread getting up because I know nothing will change.

      1. I’m so sorry for your troubles, Jennifer. But, I will say the same thing to you that I said to Amanda–find some support. Dealing with our kids with mental illness is too difficult a job to do alone. It will burn you out and destroy relationships. I’m so glad that you found HealthyPlace.com as I believe they have some excellent resources for you. Do go to their Resource page and find a hotline. Call it. Get some advice about how to move forward. I also suggest you speak to your daughter’s pediatrician about getting connected with a therapist and/or psychiatrist if you haven’t already done so. If insurance is a problem, you may want to check with the local community clinic for referrals. Begin putting together a team to help you deal with your daughter, and take whatever small moments you can steal to take care of yourself. Even baby-steps out of the place you’re in can feel hopeful. Good luck.

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