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Help available for parents, teens when conflicts escalate

Help available for parents, teens when conflicts escalate

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Conflict with teenage children can leave parents at their wits’ end, not knowing what to do.

But before things escalate too far, many options for professional intervention are available in the Tulsa area, local experts say.

“We don’t mess around. We get people help — that day if needed. You can walk in even,” said Whitney Downie, chief program officer with Family & Children’s Services.

In addition to immediate crisis intervention, the agency also offers classes and counseling. Payment is based on family income, and no one is refused services for inability to pay.

A Tulsa police officer was jailed last week in the off-duty shooting death of his estranged daughter’s boyfriend.

Lisa Kepler, 18, says her parents — Officers Shannon and Gina Kepler — recently kicked her out of the house by dropping her off at the Day Center for the Homeless.

“I’ve just been making poor decisions lately, and my parents were sick of me,” she told the Tulsa World last week, declining to elaborate on what those decisions were.

Shannon Kepler was arrested in the death of Jeremey Lake, 19, and his wife, Gina, was arrested on an accessory after the fact complaint.

If a conflict at home is escalating, “the best immediate intervention is to walk away and come back later — separate, de-escalate, get yourself centered again. That’s OK,” said Downie, adding that calling a church minister or a best friend for support can also help.

But from there, professional therapy might be needed, she said.

Family & Children’s Services can help with that, and the agency also offers classes on parenting teens and other family and relationship issues.

Of course, if you can be proactive and start much earlier, that’s ideal, Downie added. Programs are available for parents with young children, allowing possible problems to be identified and dealt with before they become toxic.

Jeff Bremer, director of the CALM Center in Tulsa, said he is sympathetic to parents in tough situations.

“Parents sometimes feel they are on an island. They feel they have nowhere to go,” he said. “(But) they do have somewhere to go. There are programs and people out there who want to help.”

CALM Center, a program of Counseling and Recovery Services of Oklahoma, might be the right help for some families, or at least the gateway to finding it.

A short-term behavioral crisis unit for ages 10 to 17, CALM Center gives kids a place to stay for seven days, during which time a certified psychiatrist, licensed nurses, therapists and life-skills coaches work as a team with youths and their families.

Together, they try to identify what is causing the crisis and then create a plan for change. When they leave, program officials said, they will have a better understanding of what’s going on and the tools to help.

Care is provided regardless of ability to pay, and a referral is not necessary.

“Just because you go to the CALM Center or somewhere else, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed,” Bremer added. “It means you did something right. You sought treatment and help for you and your kids.”

CRSO also offers services to families not yet in crisis situations.

If it’s not a crisis, said Beverly Moore, CRSO community relations director, it’s still “better to err on the side of getting help. A lot of kids that should get services don’t.”

She said school counselors are also good to consult; if they aren’t able to help directly, they can always connect you to services.

Mike Brose, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma in Tulsa, said he and colleagues regularly sit down with families dealing with conflict.

“Our first desire always is to keep families intact,” Brose said. “But that doesn’t mean that they don’t need to be apart for a while, whether an option like the CALM Center or just sending a child to their grandparents.”

The separation might need to be combined with some sort of treatment plan, he added.

“We’re happy to meet with anyone at no charge, figure out what’s going on and advise them on the next step,” Brose said.

Youth Services of Tulsa, which has offices in Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Owasso and Glenpool, offers counseling for youths and families, Executive Director Jim Walker said.

Payment is based on a family’s income, and no one is refused services for inability to pay.

“We believe if a family can work with a qualified, talented counselor, progress can be made and a child can stay with family in the home,” Walker said.

“We understand when a parent says they can’t take it anymore. We are not strong supporters of removing kids from family, but we do hear ‘Where can I send this kid?’ ”

If counseling indicates more significant treatment is needed, referrals can be made to other mental health and family service programs, Walker said.

The nonprofit gets quite a few calls from parents perplexed by the change of behavior in children in their early teens, as formerly good students suddenly start cutting class and experimenting with drugs.

“This is usually when kids are moving into a time of trying to separate from parents and parents are suddenly scared to death,” Walker said.

Tim Stanley 918-581-8385

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