This article highlights unthinkable social injustices and human rights discrimination against children and adolescents at their most vulnerable time – during a psychiatric emergency. Individuals with ND-PAE are often misdiagnosed with or have co-occurring mental illness as a result of their neurodevelopmental disabilities. When they do have need of inpatient psychiatric services, most are ill-equipped to treat their complex neurodevelopmental issues. Because they have a hard time understanding consequences and avoiding peer pressure, they are at high risk of delinquent behavior and may end up in detention centers or jail. There is need for more comprehensive, specialized programs and services for adolescents with ND-PAE and other neuropsychiatric conditions, not just warehousing them away from society.
Early intervention programs to identify exposed infants and toddlers with ND-PAE, as well as raising awareness about how early in pregnancy these problems happen (therefore primary prevention includes preconception health and family planning for alcohol users). Individuals with ND-PAE are at much higher risk of teen pregnancy, poor parenting skills, and subsequent child welfare issues because of low adaptive functioning skills. Often, the way they were parented leads to their parenting style being harsh and punitive. Their limited coping skills, poor frustration tolerance, and lack of resourcefulness leaves them at much higher risk of neglect and abuse of their own children. It is important for them to have access to injectable, implantable, and other long term, effective contraception to improve their life skills and community supports prior to pregnancy.
Putting a child in jail to await a psychiatric evaluation is like putting an elderly person with a broken hip in jail while waiting for a bed at a rehabilitation program. When are we going to start valuing the emotional well being of our most precious resource? The children are our future and we must protect them at all cost!
More information on ND-PAE and criminal justice issues on our blog