When Teenagers Attack-What to Expect from the Police and Social Workers

“Mankind has a preference for the natural over the artificial and affected.”  Plato

Why do teenagers attack their parents?

I have worked on hundreds of mother and daughter conflict cases. The mother/daughter relationship is one of extreme complexities and emotional swings.  The teenage daughter’s unbridled passion vs. a woman’s wisdom and/or pride. As tensions grow in the household it can lead to violence.

The difference between teenage girls and boys in emotional conflicts is best explained by the psychologist, Dr. Jordan Peterson on a recent podcast appearance.

“Boys’ antisocial behavior is overt; violence, theft, aggression, etc. For girls, antisocial behavior takes the form of gossip, inuendo, reputation destruction, and back-biting. Social media facilitates this form of aggression. Indirect aggression scales online in a way that direct aggression does not. Penalties of overt aggression are clear; but you can more easily get away with covert aggression. Girls are now subject to bullying by their peers in a way they never have before. [You can’t punch a thousand people in the face at the same time, but you can get a thousand people to hate a single person overnight].”

The first and obvious reaction when your teenager crosses the line is to ground them from their electronics. As teenagers become more dependent for their self-esteem on artificial social media and superficial relationships over the internet, you should expect the unexpected when you take away your child’s phone (drug) away.

Imagine it like in the movies when the police captain relieves the officer of duty and takes their firearm. When you take away your teen’s mobile device, expect them to snap back and seek vengeance. The emotional battles kids face now face are fought on the internet instead of the playground.

In the last three years, I have represented a surge in mothers whose teenager daughters have attacked them after being grounded from their mobile device. In each case, the teenage daughter hit and attacked their own mother. In a few of the squabbles a member of the household intervened and was arrested.

In some cases, the teenage daughter showed remorse after the violent attack. In others, the teenager daughter doubled down. In the doubled down cases, the teenager’s covert aggression resulted in them being removed from their mother’s care. I found that teenagers with a more stable upbringing showed remorse. The teenagers with a more unstable upbringing requested to not return to her mother’s care after the attack.

Julie was 16-years old, when she attacked her mother and refused to return home. Julie was able to manipulate the system from her disobedience. Julie ran away from multiple foster homes. She finally ran away to her boyfriend’s parents’ home, where she promised the social worker, she would stay. While spinning tales of drunkenness and cruelty about her mother to the social worker, Julie secured placement with her lover. Her lover then turned 18-years old while she was a minor. The court and social workers dismissed our concerns about the placement.

Through a former friend, we were able to obtain an admission from Juliet that she was having sex with her 18-year-old foster brother.  Even faced with this smoking gun, the teenager and DCFS doubled down again against the mother. They created new reasons why Julie could not return to her mother and needed to stay with her 18-year old boyfriend’s parents.

To be fair to the teenagers, some parents are emotionally abusive, have mental health, and substance abuse issues. Many parents are emotionally immature and come from unstable childhoods themselves. I have found that those parents after years of litigation fail to recognize their part in the toxic home environment. They are incapable of healing their own mental blocks.

Children raised in an unstable household are more likely to have multiple sexual partners and substance abuse issues.  An unstable childhood leads to dark triad traits into adulthood. Those traits include: manipulative, impulsive, lack of remorse, lack of empathy, lower levels of morality, focus on personal gain, idealized image of self, lower level of empathy, attention seeker, and self-centered. These personality traits become a family curse over generations.

The emotional and psychological reasons that teenage girls attack their mothers is never really considered by the law enforcement, the court, or social workers. All that matters in real time is that the bloody fight occurred. The state’s interest in preventing violence in the home creates a liability. The states liabilities and interest to prevent violence in the home have created a network of mandated child abuse reporters that fuel the referrals to the powerful Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (“LA DCFS”)

Social Workers find scapegoats. The truth is buried to conceal the counties liabilities.  Social workers either inadvertently or on purpose only care about what it can be made to look like on paper.

The main factors to assess whether your teenager will be removed from your care after an attack, ranked in order of importance:

  1. If someone was arrested or put on an involuntary psychiatric hold
  2. If the teenager refuses to return to your home;
  3. If any marks of bruises from the fight are found on the teen;
  4. If any other minor children were present and intervened
  5. Ehe emotionally charged statements of the parties at the initial government contact;
  6. If the child recants, CPS will find the initial statements more credible
  7. What is reported in the child abuse referral that is inconsistent with later interviews of the parents and children.
  8. A previous history of abuse and DCFS referrals or law enforcement contacts in the home.
  9. Enrollment of the child into therapy (mandated reporters)

The fact a parent acted in self-defense does not really matter in the end. Everything becomes distorted and confirmation bias to find a scapegoat overwhelms everything. The main driving factors to determine if your teenager will remain in your home after an attack, is your teenagers wishes.

The public policy of the state is to prevent violence in the home in reality outweighs the parents’ rights to raise their child as they see fit without government interference. Violence in the home is one size fits all, no matter the excuse or justification. The fact that the teenager started the fight doesn’t matter. DCFS must determine the safety of the teenager in the home. In that government end, the truth is distorted to support the DCFS risk analysis based on the factors stated above.

In my experience, attacks by teenagers often involve threats to harm themselves. The rest of my blog, I will try to list the steps and what a parent should expect when their teenager attacks, including your teenager being placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold.

What Happens When Teens Attack Their Parents for Taking Away Electronics

A family just moved to West Los Angeles from Europe. Their 12-year-old, daughter, whom I will call Sisi comes from an affluent and educated family. Sisi is top of her class. Sisi recently hit puberty. Sisi transition from school in Europe to West LA has been difficult. Sisi’s mother said that her social interactions are placing her under a great deal of stress. The majority of Sisi’s interactions with friends are occurring over the internet rather in person, which is a major shift. Sisi’s stress on how to respond to interactions over the internet has become overwhelming.

Her mother states that every time Sisi goes on tick tock, she becomes discombobulated, agitated, and defiant. Sisi’s mother caught her using her phone at inappropriate times and places. When Sisi’s mother called her out, she lied to her mom.

When Sisi’s mother told her that she was grounded from her cell phone, Sisi attacked without warning. She charged her mother and started to hit her. At some point, Sisi was slapped so she would stop attacking her mother. Sisi then said she was running away and started to scream that she wanted to “kill herself.” A neighbor heard the screams and called 911.

Before 911, arrived, Sisi tried to run away out the front door. Her mother was worried that if Sisi was alone on the streets of West Los Angeles that she would become victim of a homeless person. Sisi made continued attempts to get by her mother and out the front door. From being restrained from leaving, she received a small bruise on her arm.

To call the police or not call the police? In our fact pattern, the police were called by a neighbor. A lot of time, a parent calls 911 when their teenager attacks. I have never had or heard of a case where a teenager was arrested or cited for attacking their parent in Los Angeles County.  In my experience, the police either arrest no one or arrest the parent.

The police also assess the child for an involuntary psychiatric hold. In every case, the police always contacted LA DCFS, who in turn investigate the safety of all children in the home.

When Teenager’s Attack the first instinct is to call the police. But that generates a referral to DCFS. A DCFS investigation consists of a government risk assessment for your children’s safety in your home. By calling the police, the parent is putting their children at risk of being placed into foster care.

What a Social Worker would tell you to do if you teenager attacks you?

I had a client ask a social worker what to do if her teenager attacked again. The social worker instructed my client to call an emergency response Psychiatric Evaluation Team-PET team. In Los Angeles County, there is a PET team that assess a child’s mental health to determine if a child presents a danger to themselves or others in the home if they were to remain.  By calling the PET team, you can expect law enforcement to be involved and a DCFS investigation into your family.

Should I call the cops if my teenager attacks me?

In no way, do I want this blog to dissuade anyone from calling law enforcement if they do not feel safe. It is just important that you do not do so unnecessarily. By calling 911 when your teenager attacks, you will subject your family to a DCFS investigation.  If your teenager refuses to return home, it may result in them and their siblings that are not similarly situated being removed from your care and subjected to the foster care system. Before you open up an investigation into your family, think about the ramifications.

What to expect when the police arrive after a teenager attacks?

The police will arrive, separate you from your teen, get everyone’s story, and compile information. The initial statements are often emotionally charged. In court the initial statements are deemed more reliable because they occurred in the heat of the moment. During law enforcements initial contact is almost always when the teen will state they were hit or slapped during the altercation. In the initial law enforcement encounter, the teenager will distort the truth due to their emotionally disturbed state. Even if subsequently the teenager recants their statements, the initial distorted statements are given more credibility. I feel that is due to the systems preference for confirmation bias once violence in the home generates a DCFS investigation. The system needs scapegoats.

Often during the initial law enforcement encounter, the teenager will trigger the magic words, “I want to kill myself.” Or as in our fact pattern have stated them at the moment their phone is taken from them. A teenager’s suicidal ideation creates more governmental liability that is dealt with by involuntary psychiatric holds.

While the police are investigating, they will decide if your teen is suicidal or if they feel it is unsafe to leave the teen in your care due to the violence. If they do not feel that it is safe, your teen will be taken into custody and placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold.

Creating a safety plan with the police that allows for the teenager to cool down is advisable. Finding an adult that you trust may convince the police to not place your child on a psychiatric hold. This could be going with the other parent, a grandparent, aunt or uncle.

The other way that the police put the teenager on the 72-hour psychiatric hold is the parent’s consent. Maybe there is no other option and you have no choice but to agree to your child being placed on a psychiatric hold. But if you agree, understand that the process often lasts longer than 72 hours.

If you do not give consent, I have seen social workers allege medical neglect by the parent to seek mental health treatment.

It is also common to see the parent attacked, be deemed an aggressor, arrested, and the child sent to live with the non-custodial parent. This often results in a permanent change in custody due to the child’s refusal to have any relationship with the other parent.  The siblings then taken in a dragnet and placed with the non-custodial parent as well.

What happens if my teenager is placed on an Involuntary Psychiatric Hold or 72-hour hold?

When a homeless person is detained by the police on drugs and delusional, they are often placed on a 5150 psychiatric hold. A 5150 hold lasts for 72-hours. It may be extended if the treating mental health professionals feel that the adult is a still a risk to themselves or others.

When a minor child is placed on a 72-hour hold it is called a Welfare and Institutions Code Section 5855. You can expect them to be taken to a mental hospital. In the mental hospital, the parents complain that they are provided little information from staff. The teenager complains that they are with other teens that mutilated themselves and other foster care kids that scare them.  The entire experience is often the most traumatizing part of the experience.

While in the hospital, expect doctors shifts change and staff always seems to need to review notes and get back to you.

How do I get my teenager out of a 72-hour psychiatric hold when the hospital informs me they want to hold her longer?

Hospitals like the government have liability. If they release your teenager and then your teen tries to commit suicide or attacks again, then the hospital will be liable and could be sued. A lot of times the psychiatric hospital will want to wait for DCFS to contact the child before releasing a teenage patient. That can take up to 5-7-days to occur. To protect their interest, it is very common for treating mental health providers to extend 72-hour psychiatric holds for teen patients.

The child then grows angrier and will start to say anything to get out. This has led to more allegations of physical and even sexual abuse being made against parents and members of the household.

To combat a child’s 72-hour hold being extended, I have recommended with success that the parents have an appointment for the child to see a psychiatrist and therapist upon release. As soon as your child is taken on an involuntary psychiatric hold, a parent should immediately set the first emergency appointment with a psychiatrist and an initial individual therapist appointment.

Even if the psychiatrist is not covered by an insurance, pay out of pocket. Getting your child out of the hold before a social worker interviews them, allows the family to start addressing the incident. The appointments give the hospital and treating mental health providers deniability if a subsequent incident occurs before DCFS makes first contact and starts their witch-hunt investigation.

If the hospital extends the 72-hour stay, the options become much more limited. You may request a hearing with the hospital staff. It does take at least 48-hours to get the hearing set-up. While you are waiting for the hearing, your teen remains on an involuntary psychiatric hold, where who knows what they are going to say to get out.

What should I do when my child is released from a psychiatric hold?

If available obtain all of the medical records. If they do not exist request them. If the matter proceeds to court, the teenager is appointed a guardian-ad-litum or minor’s counsel to represent their interest. The minor’s counsel holds the privilege to release the child’s mental health records. It is very common for judges to withhold records from psychiatric holds. Sometimes, the psychiatric records contain recants by the child of abuse. You will want to preserve this information and potentially exculpatory evidence.

Next, make sure you follow up with all psychiatric and therapy appointments. Your failure to follow through, could result in DCFS filing a medical neglect allegation against you.

The child and therapist relationship are a whole other can of worms. Therapist are mandated child abuse reporters. A lot of child therapist lack discretion like police officers, social workers, and hospitals.

The most important thing is to make peace with your kid. If the tension remains when DCFS becomes involved the risk of your teenager that attacked and their siblings being removed from the home increases. If you can break the tension before the social worker starts the investigation, you have a better chance that the child will remain in your care.

What is discussed during and after the psychiatric hold can becomes evidence used against the parents. The parents can be accused of coaching recants. It is vital to success that you and your child have an understanding about what happened and that the teen understands what role they played in the event.

While your child is on a psychiatric hold, I highly recommend consulting and retaining an attorney that specializes in dependency law to represent you in the DCFS investigation and help guide you in your communications with the hospital and DCFS. The attorney may also be able to delay your interview with the social worker.

What to expect in a DCFS investigation?

As my dearest colleague taught me, “You do not go through DCFS you go around them.” You have to cooperate with DCFS in an investigation to beat them. Parents that have poor communication with the social workers are at the highest risk of having their children removed. Sometimes it is best to tell the social worker exactly what they want to hear.

The most common call I receive is that a social worker left their business card at my door, help me? The best-case scenario is when the social worker leaves the card at your door. This way you can hire a lawyer prior to any communication occurring with the social worker. You get the time to figure out how to communicate with the social worker. This will give you the best chance to keep your kids at home and prevent a case from being filed.

In a DCFS investigation, the social worker is required to do the following:

  1. Speak with all minor children in the home
  2. Assess the home for safety risks
  3. Interview the parents, and any necessary collaterals
  4. Obtain the children’s most recent medical and dental check-ups
  5. Determine whether the referral for abuse or neglected is “unfounded”, “unsubstantiated” or “substantiated.”
  6. If the referral is substantiated if the child needs to be removed from the home

A DCFS investigation is really just the social worker conducting a risk assessment to determine if it is safe for the children to remain in the home of the parents. The referral must be opened to a formal case or closed within 30-days of first contact with the minor children.

It is best practice for the parents to have a dependency attorney when the social worker makes first contact. If parent invokes their constitutional right to have an attorney present for the DCFS interview and the attorney times the interview right, it can stop the DCFS witch hunt. It gives the family time to create a safety plan and to form calculated responses to the investigating social workers likely questions.

Parents must be proactive in addressing DCFS safety concerns to prevent a case from ever being filed. In all of these cases, DCFS is armed with information provided from law enforcement or other mandated reporters. DCFS does not just conveniently forget the information provided about your family. It is what creates the liability.

In our case, Sisi disclosed to multiple adults that her mother slapped her. The mother was scared that if she admitted to the slap, she could be arrested or have a substantiated referral for child abuse that would show up on background checks. She also did not want an open case.

In a DCFS investigation, a parent needs to figure out how to acknowledge the incident occurred. A flat-out denial might lead to your child being removed.

The parent must also address distorted statements made by the mandated child abuse reporter in the referral to DCFS. What is the explanation for everything? Why is your child running away? Why are they saying you slapped them?”  It is important to recall everything you told the police prior to the interview. If your story is inconsistent, it could be a big problem.

The most common question you will hear from an emergency response investigating social worker is: “We received a referral that states blah, blah, blah. What do you have to say to that?” The answer received to this question may have long lasting consequences.

What can be done about DCFS?

The only way to protect your family from a DCFS investigation is to learn how to cooperate with DCFS. If that is not possible, get ready for hypocrisy and incompetence from a system that only cares about protecting itself.

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