Re: Question about severe emotional distburbance/mental illness in cohousing
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sat, 13 Dec 2008 09:05:43 -0800 (PST)

On Dec 12, 2008, at 1:54 PM, Diana Leafe Christian wrote:

        My question is, if you know of a situation like this in cohousing,
how did the group handle it  ( or refuse to handle it)? What was the

It took a year, I think, to handle it in our community. Finally, one person scheduled a meeting to discuss the safety of residents. The immediate problem was a teenager who was stealing from the CH (a DVD for his girlfriend at Christmas), skipping school so he was home during the day with no supervision, and giving the CH code to his similarly out of control friends.

The single parent in this case was not unbelieving but passive and generally a low energy person. He had adopted three children from neglectful and criminal household in another state, brought them to DC, and placed them in schools with peer groups who shared the children's learned anti-social behavior. Not hard in DC.

Many of us had reached out to one or the other of the children for about 6 years with various forms of inclusive social activities, regular tutoring, etc., making a concerted effort to intervene and provide support. The boys were in therapy, on medications, etc. Some feel that the father was too passive and went through the motions but was as uninvolved as their parents had been. But it was also true that the boys did not have the intellectual capacity that the other children had or the social skills. They increasingly didn't share community values as they became teenagers, even those of other teenagers here.

When we realized that the oldest was the source of many problems we were experiencing we reached out to him directly. In return, he stole checks and money when we invited him into our homes and continued to violate community expectations.

The father and the community set boundaries that he consistently violated. The father instructed us to call the police if he was home when he was supposed to be at school or was doing anything else destructive. The teenager's behavior became more violent when he was locked out of his home during the day and the code to the CH front door was changed. Finally, the police caught up with him.

The resolution was that he could return to his mother, then drug free and in a stable relationship, in the town where he had lived before being moved to DC. He had been asking to do that for some time. Eventually the other two boys did the same thing and the adoptive father moved out. The condition of the unit was revealed only after the move. They were not good and revealed a lack of cleanliness and hygiene that if known would have triggered action much sooner. The father just didn't know what to do. His own sense of what proper expectations were had become also distorted.

These were seriously unhappy kids with no outs that were acceptable to them except the one they couldn't have in the care of a single parent who was overwhelmed by children with serous needs. Not only were they psychologically abused but in all probability had brain damage resulting from nutritional deficiencies pre- and post birth that caused learning disabilities, mood disorders, and lack of reasoning ability.

From as much as we hear, the boys are now doing well in the sense that they are in school and not engaged in obviously criminal behavior. The youngest is mainstreamed now and has not been suspended from school for a 4 months, a record for him. The oldest is in job training.

People always have excuses for not acting. Let's give them a break. He's a good kid -- see that smile? As if intervention is punishment. Until we get over this we will be part of the problem.

The boundaries concerning "MY" children are hard. Are children possessions? When do you step in and say this is abuse? Particularly if you might be making it worse for the child. And will be the butt of abuse yourself.

And how much energy do you have? How much can you give before you don't have your own life anymore? In this case, several of us had given a lot of time and energy and found that in the end we couldn't make changes without the parent's or the child's interest in that change. You can lead a horse to water, you can even make it bottled water, but you can't make him drink.

The problem with consensus decisions is that EVERYONE in the community has to try their hand and come to the same conclusions before action can be taken. Those who have no idea what they are talking about stick their feet in the mud. Heads in the sand would be at least allow others to move forward.

The only other thing we could have done was to become a therapeutic community from the beginning. But that was not our purpose and it would not have been fair to the other children. And we didn't have the skills. Professional expertise was needed and we should have intervened as soon as we saw that. And some of us, particularly the professionals, did.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing,Washington DC

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