Brown Cows and Chocolate Milk 

Friendly Disclaimer:  No cows, school personnel, or families were harmed in the writing of this research-based blog post. The author was raised in a pro-education family,  still looks up to, and maintains contact with teachers from childhood. In fact, one parent was a school administrator and teacher for decades. The author has an MS in Rehabilitation  Counseling and was first certified and licensed as a counselor over two decades ago with experience in juvenile, adult, mental health, substance abuse, and criminal justice populations. As for rural credibility, this author served all eleven allowed years as an active 4-H member and knows a little bit about milk production. 

     Recently, there has been a lot in the news about trying to punish parents for their child’s behaviors, such as truancy and delinquency. This is apparently somehow, maybe through osmosis, supposed to teach the child  accountability and solve the problem. Perfect. If you believe this, you should also buy this lovely brown cow I know about named Bessie who only produces chocolate milk. There is some bull involved, but not in the traditional way…

     Nevermind that research indicates traditional behavior modification techniques are not effective with much of the population that will experience situations that fall into this category. We will address that a bit later. This isn’t even a valid behavior modification technique. If anything, it reinforces the undesired behavior so that the child maintains a sense of control over the parent by being able to get him or her into trouble. This is especially true of those children with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and attachment issues. It may however generate revenue for a municipality or other entity. It may also fulfill someone’s misguided need to feel powerful. Money and power. Those are not therapeutic tools generally recommended…for anything. 

     We know that the root of all evil is the love of money. Once people navigate around the sticky, steaming piles that don’t seem to fit into the rest of a picture,  the money trail usually surfaces. Some have identified the punative treatment and criminalization of truancy and delinquency issues, which per research, tie more closely to physical/emotional health than anything, as a “pipeline to prison.” 

     The beginning of the alleged “pipeline” would be sending kids or parents to incarceration, which is  often a means to learning negative peer behavior and future incarceration. In some states, a few folks have found out how to make themselves and shareholders very wealthy by privatizing prisons. The gist is that they severely underpay staff in stressful positions, putting folks at risks, and make quite a bit off the top for themselves. This creates a high staff turnover rate and can make for poor continuity of services. It would be interesting to know which states or counties that have bought into the privatization pitch inappropriately try to crucify parents for child behavioral health issues. If any of the stakeholders  pushing for punative measures as opposed to more appropriate assistance also have stock in privatized corrections, there may be a money trail. Hmmm. Got ethics? 

     In reality, criminalizing behavioral health issues like truancy, and punishing the parents ends up costing taxpayers, families, and communities more than the district could possibly save. Treatment would be a much better long-term investment. Sadly, much of our society seems impulsive and grabs at those temporary, quick fixes. (Adult society makes bad, impulsive choices and then wonders why our youth do the same. Puzzling…)

     Another, more commonly recognized money trail is the correlation between student attendance rates and school funding. There can be pressure from a variety of sources on a school district and county to keep attendance high enough to not lose any funding. Sadly, the love of those dollars wins out over the best interests of the students and families. Criminalizing truancy only adds trauma and compounds mental health issues. There have been instances where working parents lost jobs due to punative jail time because the school not wanting to address mental health issues appropriately as opposed to as just truancy. One parent actually died in jail over a truancy issue. The unnecessary guilt piled upon her children had to be immense.

     Technically, mental health and emotional issues such as anxiety and depression that are interfering with education should be addressed in a 504 Plan or an  IEP (Individualized Education Program.) ADA (The Americans with Disabilities Act) is not a new concept. (Try thinking Rehab Act of 1973…) This is 2017! Youth have a right to a free, appropriate education. 

     If the school is not able to assist in a way other than just “facilitating suggestions” or similar things people say to document in attempt to be legal, with actually getting a child to school and to engage, they may be obligated to provide education in a therapeutic residential setting until emotional stability occurs. Appropriate is not just warehousing a child to collect per diem. Appropriate is not expecting the parent to do what the school gives up on–most parents did not cause their child’s trauma or mental health issues and have no more ability to fix them alone than the entire school staff would have at its disposal. Appropriate is not making some crazy assumption that it has to be a bad home life or a faulty parent but instead using the  knowledge we actually have in 2017 on how trauma, medical conditions, and mental health come in to play. 

 Research (don’worry– a list of links and resources is provided…) does indicate that developing positive, working relationships with the child and family can help. Furthermore, it is known that for kids with attachment disorders, they will set out the parent–most often the mother figure– with the more severe attachment disorder cases. So, if you tell a child that you are going to fine or jail the parent for the child’s behaviors, you have given that child control. He or she may try to ensure that the worst case scenario happens. The older and bigger the child becomes, the more dangerous you have made life for the parent, the child, and society. 

     While we are on are similar topic, maybe a stretch, the respect that EVERYONE wants needs to be mutual. Yes, parents need to be respectful speaking to school, community, and other authorities in front of their children. However, the reverse needs to also be true. Otherwise, it can create a dangerous situation in which you have undermined a parent’s authority in front of his or her child. Please don’t do that then complain about parents not having control of their children. Even Bessie the cow can connect those dots. 

     “Do no harm” used to be a more common phrase. We need to bring it back. Punative measures (especially when applied to parents for kids that a entire school can’t seem to corral…) are harmful and actually add trauma as opposed to getting to the root problems. Time does not just make these problems go away. Doing time most certainly will not make them better–unless maybe the person is in one of the rare locations in the United States attempting to make up for the lack of community mental health treatment by addressing some of it during incarceration. Yes, consequences and discipline are necessary but within reason, and not for profit. With many kids, it must be understood that they may not connect that the discipline ties to behavior because of the effect trauma may have on cause and effect thinking. It has to develop. Healthy relationships can help that process. Harsh consequences and rejections will hinder the process. Trauma spreads from the affected child or family member to the whole family. What may appear to be apathetic parents may actually be caregiver PTSD or secondary PTSD symptoms. It becomes a medical issue for the family members as well. Please don’t make it worse for them. Keep the “we need you to do this token busy work so that we can document that we are facilitating an effort to provide family service” stuff to a minimum and actually HELP them. 

     It’s not just that folks seem to be barking up the wrong tree. They somehow took a rather sharp wrong turn and wound up in the wrong forest. Now, Bessie is a wonderful, beautiful cow in her own right, but she knows she doesn’t produce chocolate milk. Either the folks who engineered self-serving, punative measures grew up without the benefit of participating in 4-H or FFA, or that bull mentioned earlier has some smoke and mirrors. Who else suspects that as long as someone pays the dairy to document that Bessie produces chocolate milk, at least on paper, she will?

Resources And Links:

Ephesians 6:4 

Proverbs 12:18

Proverbs 13:20

 Student Enrollments & State School Finance Policies –



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