Challenged Hope

Grandmother raising Grandchildren with FASD in Hamilton Ontario Canada

P.C. Andrea McClaughlin, Youth Officer

Recently my 13 year-old grandson who is mentally disabled with FASD (Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), Intellectual Disability, and behaviour disorders, broke the law by stealing another child’s bike. As if that wasn’t bad enough, worse, is the fact that my grandson seems to have no idea that stealing is wrong. He saw the bike, liked it, wanted one just like that, and so took it. That’s how his mind works. Kids with FASD tend to live in the moment and so need constant reminders of what’s right and wrong. It’s as if he wakes up each day with no recollection of what he has been taught on previous days, and has to be repeatedly reminded until things become an ingrained habit, for example: when to get dressed, taking care of his hygiene, eating at certain times of the day, what time to come in from play, what time to go to bed, etc. Kids with FASD can be frustrating to live with as having to continuously remind a child of the same thing over and over convinces the adult that the child is just being defiant, whereas, in reality, he/she has totally forgotten the previous instructions.

So, when my grandson was driven home, handcuffed (due to uncooperative combative behaviour with the officer), in the back of a police vehicle for stealing the bike, I was advised by a caseworker to contact P.C. Andrea McLaughlin, Divisional Youth Officer, to talk to him about the theft and the consequences facing a thirteen-year old who breaks the law. After my initial phone call, P.C. McLaughlin, my grandson’s caseworker, my grandson, and myself met to discuss the situation.

Because I have other mentally disabled grandchildren at home who might have caused a disruption, I asked for the meeting to take place at my grandson’s residential care centre where he is currently registered on a part-time basis. My request was agreed upon, and so our meeting took place in a room with extremely limited distractions so my grandson could better focus upon what was being taught.

Given the circumstances, I believe my grandson handled the meeting very well. He behaved appropriately, and although he might not have grasped everything that P.C. McLaughlin was trying to relay to him, he did listen attentively and offered his own opinions on things. As she spoke, I was aware the Youth Officer was taking into account his disabilities, and when assured by my grandson that he understood why we were all meeting together, she began by asking him to describe what was going through his mind when he took the bike. This was met with a “don’t know” from my grandson, as was her next question – “how would you feel if someone stole something of yours that you considered really special?”

Points the Officer raised included:

  • When a child reaches twelve years of age, in the eyes of the law, they become responsible for their behaviour as, by that age, it is believed they should know right from wrong.
  • Youths must not carry weapons with them for defence, as the weapon could be used against them, or they could hurt someone more than they intended to.
  • People need to make good choices, not bad choices like stealing, that can get them into trouble.
  • When caught stealing, a youth will most likely get another chance not to steal again, but if the behaviour continues they will face criminal charges.

Instead of using scare tactics and pretend that next time he will be arrested and hauled off to jail, she instead described the steps my grandson would have to go through should he be caught stealing again. The first two are called Pre-Charge Diversions:

  • Re-visiting with the Youth Officer.
  • If he steals again, he will be registered for counselling at an organization, such as the John Howard Society of Hamilton/Burlington & Area, Youth Services Programs, that offers support for youth involved in criminal activity.
  • If, after those steps, he steals again, he would be arrested and charged and appear before a judge.

P.C. McLaughlin then offered my grandson a tour of the police station and suggested a trip to Criminal Court, not as a way to scare him, but so he can familiarize himself with those scenarios. She finished by reminding my grandson he should always tell me where he is going and upon reaching his destination to call me and let me know he has arrived safely, and return home on time.

The visit lasted approximately half-an-hour, and certainly worth the time. Along with my grandson, I learned some new things too, like the Pre-Charge Diversions, which I had not been aware of before the meeting and, after checking out the John Howard Society on the Internet, I was surprised at how many programs this organization offers.

If you live in the Hamilton ON area and would like to contact Divisional Youth Officer P.C. McLaughlin, she can be reached at 905-546-4836 or go to http://www.hamiltonpolice.on.ca. For information on the programs offered by the John Howard Society of Hamilton/Burlington & Area call 905-522-4446 ext. 308.

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