Anthony was a demanding infant, and he started seriously acting up when he was a year and a half. When he was 4, he was diagnosed with ADHD, oppositional/defiant disorder, conduct disorder and mood disorder.
A month shy of his 8th birthday, his mother, Tiffany, filed a Child in Need of Protective Services order on her son, putting him into the child welfare system.
“For many years, his behavior was just out of control: fire-setting, assaulting different people, lying, stealing.”
As a single mother, she could not handle her son and a daughter who is only one year older.
“But it was the most devastating thing of my life. I cried nonstop for the first two or three weeks.”
Anthony was placed in a treatment foster care home, and he ended up in a number of them from ages 8-13. Then he went into residential treatment, where he stayed for a few months. He later went into a couple of group homes. His issues were violence and anger.
In the beginning of 2013, he was placed in an adolescent treatment center in Mukwonago. In November of that year, he damaged a staff person’s car and was having issues with some other residents.
“They didn’t want to bring him back and set him up for failure there,” Tiffany said. So he was sent to the Lincoln Hills correctional facility for boys, in Irma, Wis.
“Since he was a young child, he had therapy, and I was always there for him, visiting him and keeping in touch however I could. But he hit rock bottom. At Lincoln Hills, he was with serious offenders, murderers. He was bullied. This was not what he was used to. Things got really heavy for him when judges, the court got involved. Things before were more like slaps on the wrist.”
After a 28-day assessment, Anthony was sent to the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison because of his mental illness. The move was fortunate for him, and he did well there, Tiffany said, with very few incidents — nothing like before.
Anthony, who is now 15, still wears an electronic bracelet and he has a parole officer. But this June 26, he was allowed to move home with his mother and sister, and the reunification has been finalized. He is enrolled in Ronald Reagan International Baccalaureate High School, which is ranked no. 2 in the state.
“He’s very intelligent, he’s very sweet; he just needs to let it shine,” Tiffany said.
Reagan is good for him, she said. Her son needed a place where the majority of students are doing well, so he doesn’t lapse into acting like a victim or exaggerating things to try to make himself tougher than he is, she said. His biggest problem is that he can be disorganized, but the school offers the structure and rules he needs, she said.
Things at home can still be a bit difficult, she admitted, particularly because she is the lone person in charge of enforcing the rules vs. a number of staff people in a facility.
“It’s a matter of me staying firm, sticking to my guns. I have to make sure my position is strong, that he understands I am his mother and I’m there for him, but he has to show respect.”
Since June, Anthony has had to go back twice to Lincoln Hills for “sanction days” resulting from infractions. But Tiffany says his success is outstanding.
“Where he came from even a year ago, he has made so much progress. The fact that he’s not hitting people, cursing, being violent and out of control is a true testament of much growth.
In the past when reunification was discussed, he would sabotage it, Tiffany said.
“He’s happy here now, and with the electronic bracelet, it feels very secure.”
Tiffany credits the help she has received from SaintA caseworker Timesha Caldwell with getting the family to where they are now.
“She’s not just a professional who has been here to oversee what’s going on and to ensure safety; she has become intertwined with us personally.
“I know she has to adhere to the rules and go by the book, but there were times she’d just hold me and let me cry. No words needed to be said…She reached out to me and said she knew this was my child, my baby.”
Anthony wants to go to college, and with the right support, he will make it, his mother said.
“No matter what bumps there were in the road, there were people who cared about him. He had a crisis stabilizer (through Wraparound Milwaukee) for six years; he had Timesha; he had a really good therapist and he had his mother and sister.”
Anthony says his team has always been “1,000 percent supportive” and that he will succeed by “not letting the negative overtake the positive. I have to step back and think and take a new route.”
He acknowledged that maturity played a big role in his success.
“I said to myself, I might as well start now; it’s not to late to change my philosophy.”
But, in the end, it was his mother’s fortitude that was most important.
“Her love for me will never change. Just knowing there is someone there to love me and be able to help me means the world to me.”
Tiffany said a lot of people in situations such as she was in may be hesitant to get “the system” involved in their lives. It’s important to find an appropriate setting that can handle consequences and treatment issues, she said.
“I can honestly say that as hard and emotional as it was, it was the best decision I ever made. I cannot tell you where we’d be if I didn’t.”
Tiffany is in college now studying criminal justice. Her goal: to work within the juvenile justice system with young people who have mental illness.