When a Mentally Ill Child Becomes a Mentally Ill Adult

OC parents find they are out of care options unless Laura's Law is adopted

When a Mentally Ill Child Becomes a Mentally Ill Adult

Jennifer Hoff looks up in sudden panic, tilts her cell phone toward her chin and says, "I wanna know if he has any shoes on." She returns to the sergeant on the other end of the line. "Can I ask you to just radio the officer in the street?" she pleads, her voice desperate. "Can I just ask him if Matthew is wearing any shoes?"

At 8:25 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 21, the Santa Ana Police Department called Jennifer to inform her officers had located her son, Matthew, after he went missing for 15 days. They found him wandering the street with methamphetamine and took the 18-year-old to the county jail. According to police reports, officers would discover that earlier that night, he had stolen $130 from a Subway sandwich shop after picking up a rock, wrapping a sweat shirt over it so that it looked like a weapon, and threatening an employee.

Sitting at a long, wooden dining table in her sprawling Ladera Ranch home, Jennifer nervously doodles on a piece of paper scribbled with the names of people with whom she's supposed to speak. The 38-year-old mother of three has pixie-brown hair and sunken doe eyes that squint as she speaks. As the sergeant updates her on the situation, she tries to insist the county's Centralized Assessment Team (CAT) evaluate her son for a 5150, California's code for an involuntary, 72-hour, psychiatric hold, granted to those who are a danger to themselves or to others or are "gravely disabled." Her husband, Gary, wearing shorts and an untucked white undershirt, shuffles around the room in silence.

Now that her son, Matthew, is legally an adult, Jennifer Hoff can't get him the treatment she believes he needs
Kenneth M. Ruggiano
Now that her son, Matthew, is legally an adult, Jennifer Hoff can't get him the treatment she believes he needs
Photos of Matt Hoff
Kenneth M. Ruggiano
Photos of Matt Hoff

"What exactly are you trying to explain to me?" she asks the sergeant on the phone, shaking her head. "You're going to explain to me the circumstances of why the CAT team is not going to be called out tonight?"

She listens, then interrupts: "He's a chronic, mentally ill young man who has been missing for two weeks. He has no residence. He has no identification on him. He has no income. He has no way to provide for his own medical care. He's living on the streets."

There's a pause, and then a pound on the table. "Quit yelling at me!" she screams. A dog barks.

"I want you to answer one question," she says. "If he is homeless and without the ability to provide food, clothing or shelter, is that not being gravely disabled?"

When he tells her it is not, she slumps back, defeated. "Okay, that's all I need," she answers.

Jennifer hangs up the phone and blinks her eyes in disbelief. "Too bad it's meth and not something that can get us more time," she says. "We always try to get more time."

Matthew, who has a lean physique and a sneaky, boyish grin, is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, PTSD and other psychiatric illnesses. On this night, it's two weeks before his 19th birthday. For the past 11 months, since turning 18, he has drifted through a circuit of hospitals, homeless shelters and jails. Just before he went missing, police arrested the teenager for check fraud, then released him from jail in the middle of the night without notifying his parents. When Matthew hadn't called home in a few days, the Hoffs plastered his photo on Facebook and shelter walls.

"Where are we at?" Gary asks with a look of exhaustion and numbness. "It's just gonna be the same exact thing once again."

The Hoffs find themselves in a dark chase with no end in sight. They believe that Matthew, who is off his medication, belongs in intensive treatment for his own safety and that of the community. But Matthew doesn't want treatment. And because he is 18, he cannot be forced into it by the county until he is considered an imminent threat or his condition gets worse—by which point it might be too late.

It's a Catch-22 that strikes many family members of patients—mostly young males—who are severely mentally ill and refuse to seek care. They've learned that as difficult it is to provide safety for a mentally ill child, it is exceedingly more difficult when that child becomes a mentally ill adult. Laws that previously gave parents control over their child's treatment disappear and are replaced by new laws that protect the individual's freedom and privacy. Barred from their child's medical decisions, parents find themselves in an abyss of helplessness and guilt.

"We can't just scoop him up—that would be kidnapping," Jennifer explains.

The Hoffs, along with a group of other parents, community advocates and psychiatrists, believe that in the name of individual rights, the pendulum has swung too far against individual needs. In an effort to help bridge the divide, many are urging Orange County officials to adopt Laura's Law, which authorizes a court—with recommendations from doctors and family members—to order outpatient treatment for those with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. Individual counties must decide whether to implement the state law, and so far, only Nevada County has it fully in place. The law will expire at the end of the year unless state legislators choose to extend it.

1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
23 comments
katiechapman
katiechapman

The real problem for families is waiting until the mentally ill person finally hits bottom and is willing to do what it takes to get better.  Unfortunately, families have often been burned so many times that they are afraid.  Plus staying in the same environment it is difficult for the mentally ill person to stay away from old friendships and habits.  It takes a really good psychiatrist who is accessible and willing to adjust meds AND extended family who can care for the person in a different environment. Many California  counties now have Wellness Centers that are drop-in centers, peer run, and free for those with mental health diagnoses.  They work in conjunction with county mental health, but are not the same as.  Also, for those receiving SSI there is a company called PRIDE Industries that provides employment opportunities for the mentally ill.

Hope this helps someone.

caujul
caujul

My son is 27 and mentally Ill. He was diagnosed at the age of 16. He is paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar, and manic depressive.   He spent the last 6 month in and out of hospitals psych ward. I tried filing commitment papers to have him institutionalize, but court decided he did not need it and placed him on 90 days probation outpatient treatment. Treatment plan included taking medication and see his therapist. I finally had him institutionalize for 14 days for non-compliance. He's out and not taking his medication daily. It is only a matter of time before he have another episode and I will have to called the police because he gets very violent. They usually hold him for a few hours and release him because they are very familiar with his condition. Sometimes, I feel as if I am the one with the mental problem. I have no help or support from family.  They feel that I am just making excuses for his behavior.

yfuji60
yfuji60

carlsbadvillage

There are ways... see a lawyer IF you can pay the fee... if not either way, you could go broke.

If YOU call in for a 5150... YOU pay the bills.   You try to get help like Med-cal or financial assistance from social security... You need permission to speak on their behalf.  You pay their bills and when there is a refund the refund in payable to the adult child.. You need to have a Psychologist to help you get financial or medical assistance.... how do YOU get it if the adult child will not seek medical help...No where to go.

debbie_jane_goff
debbie_jane_goff

This could be my story the names and locations different but this is my story I'm living thru. Right now and the last 3 years. How many times he has gone missing months even a year. Always waiting for the phone to. Ring and tell

JaySea
JaySea

Very informative and well written, Ms. Woo...covered all bases and educated me about a serious impending problem in our society, thank you...I wish all the best for these families.

Gericault
Gericault

Moorlach is being disingenuous with comparing the size of Nevada County with the size of Orange County. Nevada county has a budget of 729 million. Orange County spends more than that just on social services now, out of a total budget of 5.6 Billion ( with a "B").Everyday, OC Supervisors wade through a sea of homeless people living at the Civic Center, can't he see that?

Adam Goldman
Adam Goldman

An interesting article about mental health issues in O.C.

Jyates
Jyates

Thanks Ms Woo for writing about this subject. Maybe more people will come to understand that mental illness is not a character flaw - it's a biological brain disorder! It's especially frustrating when our laws now prevent parents from getting needed help for their adult children. I certainly hope Laura's Law will be enacted in Orange County.

Shiv825
Shiv825

Great article Michelle. In elementary school we see some kids who don't get help because their parents are in denial. It's sad to see the other end, once the kids reach 18, and they are unable to get help because of the law.

ALBERTA
ALBERTA

@Tcpasquini My friend's ṁoṁ brouǵht in $16670 the ṗrior ṁonťh. she is geťťinǵ ṗaid on the inťerneť and bought a $471OOO hoṁe. All she did was ǵeť luckÿ and ṗut in acťion the insťrucťions uncovered on this siťe..MakeCash2.com

Tcpasquini
Tcpasquini

Thank you Michelle Woo and the OC Register for this illuminating and powerful article.

My Danny was hospitalized on his 18th Birthday and our world changed just like the families in this article. Overnight we were told that we could not help him unless he wanted our help. Even though his brain told him he was ok, he wasn't ok. He needed help from a system that no longer allowed his mom and dad to keep him safe. To keep him safe we had to abandon him, put him in harms way and then fight the world to provide him treatment. Why does it have to be this way?

I met Jennifer Hoff on Facebook during her search for her son. She is a force. We moms and dads are on a team that we never wanted to join. We will continue to tell our stories and burn them into the collective conscience of our California communities.

I live in Contra Costa County where we have had numerous parents murdered by their children with psychiatric disabilities. All were preventable tragedies. Alameda County is our neighbor and had a recent preventable murder in the Berkeley Hills. An innocent family of our community was destroyed because a young man was not kept safe by a sick system. His family tried valiantly to get him the help he needed.

Our California counties and communities are connected by the slender thread of hope that one day there will be sanity restored to the mental health system. Civil Commitment Law Reform must happen. We don't want "special laws," we just want laws that are already exist to be implemented.

Laderamommy
Laderamommy

Michelle, thank you so much for your time spent shedding light on Matts story and an issue that continues to be sidestepped by our elected officials, despite a growing public consciousness burning low and slow.... as a community and culture we have not seemed to get a grip on how to prevent "preventable" tragedies. Without serious Civil Commitment Law Reform (Laura's Law, Kendra's Law and much much MORE) we will never see a decrease in violence to our sick loved ones nor a change in the horrific collateral  damage associated with untreated severe chronic psychiatric illness.  This issue is not being properly addressed in Orange County by our County Board of Supervisors or Director of Behavioral Health. They know it. I do not know what they are waiting for next to happen before taking any clear action or position. How many more families have to loose loved ones to these illnesses before our leaders realize that ignoring severe mental illness does not make it go away.Thank you again for caring enough to take action.Warmly,Jennifer Hoff

Tron Carter
Tron Carter

Sprawling Ladera Ranch home and she can't provide for him???These kinds of people are dangerous and should be off the streets.

CarlsbadVillageOrthodontist
CarlsbadVillageOrthodontist

Ah so he chose to leave the care of his parents? But shouldn't there be a special law for people with mental disabilities, that gives certain powers to their parents at least medically? It's such a sad thing to happen to anyone.

MommyDissident
MommyDissident

@Gericault We have been at End Homeless Comission meetings where our local non profit groups have actually debated with the county because they know our Health Agency under estimate the actually homeless count by design. Our non profits in Santa Ana are the lifeblood for most homeless while our County chioses to ignore the "gravely disabled" portion of the LPS Law despite many at the civic center "thinking they are from the sky"...instead of saving lives with our 6 billion (MHSA/Prop 63) they tout their "successes" in self made pie charts at dog n pony shows ... their "outreach and engagement" for folks who could otherwise navigate the system of Recovery Model FSP bs. I am sickened by the greed that permeates our top administration and how they Publicity Reject Laura's Law.

bgipson1
bgipson1

As I read these stories, that story is about me, his mom and my 25 year old son who wad diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He refuses help. He was in the hospital, got out and disappeared. After filling a missing persons report, he was found in Miami, even though we live in Atlanta. Once the police in Miami, the sent him to Mt. Sinai Hospital. They refused to tell me anything. After driving 10 hours, they refuse to release my son to me because he didn't want to see me so they released him back on the street. They purposely sent him out a different exit. Now, he is on the street and I have no idea where he is.

Jonmurra
Jonmurra

How to you argue with"Stupid"?

Jyates
Jyates

Get educated on mental illness before you judge something you have not experienced.

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

You're demonstrating your complete lack of ability to grasp the concept of the article. She could be Melinda Gates and control a multi-billion-dollar foundation and she still would have exactly the same amount of power over her age-of-majority son as the poorest day laborer: zero.

But if you believe these kinds of people are dangerous and should be off the streets, stretch your hands and write a letter to your Orange County Supervisor to adopt Laura's Law, which would do exactly that.

opinion33
opinion33

its amazing how you can read this article and miss the whole point..you only focus in on their home...no amount of money can house or contain a mentally ill child who refuses medical care and the care of their parents. Their 18 yr old son has the civil liberty to refuse-even when hes incompassitated and unable to make rational decisions on his own behalf due to being cognitively impaired. Its not against the law to be psychotic and delusional-only of that behavior becomes a danger to self and other, which we keep witnessing in the headlines of the newspapers is way too late (the irag mentally vet stabbing homeless people, the Seal beach hair salon massaquere, the Kelly Thomas story) there is no way in this county to stop a potentail tragedy-most patients with brain disorders are down at central jail..same place Kelly Thomas was headed before he was beaten to death. Its nearly impossible to live on the streets and not commit or be victimized. But all mental health care s 100% voluntary-and 50% of the patients are uanble to access that system due to being too ill to understand their need for medication. Their sick brains tell them they are fine.

Luvssinatra
Luvssinatra

Really "Tron" you are basing a big problem in the govenment with your prejudice against people who have made a good living? These "people" are trying to get their son help and you post this kind of stuff? Ask yourself this, "If my son was an adult who could do anything he wished... despite YOUR monitary situation, what would you do?" You have no right to judge. God is the ultimate Judge and you have no right to say anything until you have walked at least a mile in their shoes.

yfuji60
yfuji60

@CarlsbadVillageOrthodontist 

There is, if you seek a lawyer's help...pay the big fee.  Interesting part, if you call in and get the adult child for 5150, you end up paying the bills.  If you try to get assistance, like medi cal... the adult child need to speak or give parent permission to talk to agent..You pay their bills, but you can't speak on their behave... you get a refund,it's written to the adult child... Hello? 

No where else to go

 
Loading...