In my opinion: Mentally ill youth left behind


Brenda McCreight
Focus on Adoption magazine

Adoptive mom says there's nowhere to turn for adoptive families with mentally ill youth. She also describes the services she'd like to see.

It’s estimated that 10 to 20% of Canadian youth have a mental illness or severe behaviour disorder.

You can bet that these youth are highly represented in the adoption population where mental health concerns are often combined with FASD, ADHD, and the brain damage caused by early abuse and neglect.

Yet, what do we have for services? What help is there for the youth? What help is there for the parents who are trying to save their mentally ill teen, while protecting the rest of the family, and themselves? There’s nothing.

Most communities have government mental health providers, including psychiatrists, psychologists, pediatricians, and counsellors. I’ve sought help from these services, to no avail.

When one of our children had severe aggressive behaviours, the only help we had was from the police who arrested him for assault. The psychologist at mental health said she couldn’t help because he wouldn’t talk to her (she gave up after one session). He was then placed in a residential program outside of our town, where all agreed he had problems but, after the six weeks was up, there wasn’t even a phone call for follow up. Later, he was given a youth worker who spent six months trying to find my son a job. My 15-year-old son was violent and couldn’t cope with people, so why did he need a job?

Some provinces have residential services, but they are generally short term; they usually won’t accept the really violent youth, and they expect the exhausted adoptive parents to take over when nothing in the youth’s behaviour has changed. There are plenty of private treatment services, but most of us can’t afford them.

Do I sound bitter and angry? Well, I am. My son is doing better now. He’s outgrowing the violence, and now we’re just dealing with plain old depression, control issues, and his inability to relate to the world. He’s at home with us and, perhaps, will be for years to come.

Parents of youth with mental health problems need help, and we need it now. Here’s my list of what we adoptive parents need and what our children deserve:

  • Regional residential treatment centres, available on a long term and emergency basis, that accept violent youth.
  • Trained respite providers that are funded through mental health services.
  • Effective support services for parents and siblings.
  • Mental health service providers who are trained in the common adoption issues related to the neuroscience of early neglect and abuse I’m going to be at every candidates’ meeting for every type of election to bring this subject up and demand that the politicians start addressing our needs. You can do this too. We all deserve better.

Brenda McCreight, PhD, RSW, is the mother of 14 children, 12 of whom are adopted. She is also a therapist, an author, and a sought after speaker in the area of behaviour disorders. Read Brenda’s blog at

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