By Teresa G. D’vall
While the country heaves a collective sigh of grief over the Parkland tragedy in Florida, know this:
School shooters are created over a lifetime, not in a single instance.
As a survivor of domestic violence and Mom of six I warn you, with dreadful certainty, that one of my kids may end up killing yours because violence in the home gives impetus to apathy; and is contagious.
I have been trying to get counseling for my aggressive children since August of 2017 and have encountered one roadblock after another. The reason why should incite you.
A recent article by CNN describing the Florida shooter’s history of violence as a youth and failed attempts to get help infuriated me.
I currently have an active, permanent order of protection against my ex husband. There is a clear and present history of violence in our home. Still, the schools, police, and NY State Child Protective Services are failing my family too.
Followers of my blog may recall reading “How I Almost Became A Convicted Felon” the story of how I escaped my abusive marriage. That piece focused on the difficulty of leaving and the battles I overcame to do so. Nearly FIVE years later, we are still struggling in aftermath. Despite efforts to convey the gravity of my circumstances; our newly assigned judge has done more to hinder than help.
I filed four pro se motions in 2017 and four orders to show cause; requests for emergent assistance. All were denied, almost in their entirety.
The only victory I achieved was after my second motion in April. The judge agreed to prohibit my ex from bringing the children to the station when he filed police reports. I hold the dubious distinction in The Town of Warwick for most domestic incident reports. There was a point during the summer when the police were literally at my house every week, sent there by my ex husband. It is not unusual for an officer to stop me as I attempt to explain and say:
“I already know this story.”
Each time I interact with the Warwick, NY police I am told there’s nothing they can do. After almost 40 calls in 2017 alone, only three police officers offered any type of help or hope. Officer Serviss offered to speak to my son & did. Officer Pascal spoke to both of my sons and told me about the PINS program that helps youth in peril. Officer Kearns listened to me & gave me hope.
Twice in November of 2017 & again in January of this year I filed orders to show cause seeking help to resume the counseling my children have been getting for the last three years.
All four were denied by Judge Franzblau of Sussex County NJ Family Court. Then, shockingly, my pending motion, asking for the same help, returnable 12/15/17 was adjourned; Indefinitely!
I appealed that decision to the Supreme Court of NJ begging for my case to be heard.
My ex husband was able to remove the counselors that my kids were seeing for three years in August of 2017 due to a loophole in ‘joint custody’ that allows him to participate in decisions about the children’s healthcare. Their behavior has deteriorated exponentially since, including severe disruption at school.
Students who are compromised emotionally suffer consequences few would expect. They are more susceptible to bullying and prone to outward displays of inappropriate or negative behavior. I am shocked and dismayed almost daily as I listen to the horror stories of middle school. If the general public knew how prevalent bullying remains in schools despite the fact we are 20 years ‘wiser’ after Columbine; they would be horrified. Bullying has also mutated in its severity. I have heard tales of physical violence going unchecked while innattentive lunch monitors play around on their cell phones. Today’s middle schoolers are more ruthless than when my older children went through school just a few years ago.
Recently, one son, who hasn’t wanted to leave the house with me in months asked if I’d bring him to Walmart so he could buy Valentine’s treats for a few girl friends he had at school. That night when I asked how candy giving went I was flabbergasted to hear that a girl took the bag he gave her and threw it on the floor.
Imagine how devastating such an act can feel when you are 12. The cruelty of adolescence remains incomprehensible to me. Middle school stress combined with the long term effects of domestic violence can devastate a young mind.
During a particularly bad episode of misbehavior my sons revealed that they were being exposed to details they were incapable of processing.
“You’re trying to declare me ‘mental’ so you can get more child support.”
To their older brother:
“You’re not our real brother, you don’t even have a father. Your father left because mommy is crazy.”
Judge Franzblau stated in his last decision that “there was no clear evidence or danger of irreparable harm”, even though I submitted violent drawings my son made of ways to kill himself. He stated that I had a remedy in law; filing a motion.
It shouldn’t take this long or be this difficult to get help. My children are in peril, drowning in a system that does not recognize the long term effects of domestic violence.
I am watching helplessly as my children display increasingly alarming apathy. They are beginning to lie about the smallest indiscretions and refuse to take ownership of their actions. I have a 5 year old little girl who laments she wants to kill herself if I won’t buy her candy at the supermarket. When questioned by a police officer about why he called me a name, my 11 year old replied that he wouldn’t use such language if he didn’t hear it from his “Fucking Fat Ass Father.” I looked on helplessly, shocked by both his words and lack of accountability.
I emphatically believe that both parents in domestic violence situations should be required to undergo mandatory psych evaluations. A parent who repeatedly exhibits inappropriate behavior in the presence of minors should have supervised visitation until it can be determined that the children are no longer at risk to exposure of negative influence. When necessary, joint custody should not be granted if a parent has a history of serious mental illness.
School shooters aren’t born, they are created by a series of missed opportunities for help.
Perhaps tragedies like Parkland can be avoided in the future if the mentally ill receive adequate intervention. Gun control will only resolve part of the issue. It is imperative that we create a system that does not fail the most vulnerable members of society.
Call your state representative, or anyone who will listen and demand change.
Nearly seven months after my children lost the right to have counselng, I had my day in court on March 9, 2018.
During the course of a thirty minute dissertation I sprawled 45 police reports, a dozen closing letters sent by Child Protective Services and six denied court orders across the table in front of me. I implored the judge to look at them with scrutiny; then closed with this:
“These are the documents that an investigative reporter will dig up after one of my children commits a violent crime.
This is my family falling though the cracks.
And the paper trail will lead back here, to this court, where I have pleaded before you for the 6th time in a year’s span to help my family.”
Less than a week later I received Judge Franzblau’s decision by mail.
He signed an order permitting the children to receive counseling and prohibited my ex from sending police to our home unless there is a life threatening emergency.
A week after that, another “anonymous caller” made a report alleging child abuse, and this time the state ploice were sent to my house.
I envy the woman who gets punched in the face. Society and the Courts recognize physical abuse. If they don’t, eventually, her abuser will kill her and she’ll finally have an end to the game. There is no end for me.