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Mental health plagues girl in juvenile lockup

Mother awaits word of daughter's release

Sunday, July 29, 2001

By Steve Twedt, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

By noon tomorrow, Sylvia Forshey of Troy Hill may learn when she'll finally see her daughter again.

Since Nov. 14, Forshey's third child, Patty Domain, 17, has been held at the Danville Center for Adolescent Females in Montour County, Pennsylvania's maximum-security lockup for teen-age girls. Her sole recorded delinquency is for simple assault, a misdemeanor.

Sylvia Forshey looks at a photo of her daughter, Patty Domain, who is being held at a maximum security facility for adolescents. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)

It is Domain's mental health problems, plus her penchant for acting out and running away, that have put her into the far depths of the juvenile justice system. The primary reason she may get out is that she's about to turn 18.

Says her mother: "They never gave her a chance."

Forshey, 41, contacted the Post-Gazette after it recently ran a four-day series about mentally ill juvenile offenders being trapped in lockups, where they may or may not receive the mental health treatment they need. They get stuck there because privately run residential treatment programs are reluctant to accept aggressive juveniles and the state lacks other alternatives.

One story in the series mentioned an unnamed teen at Allegheny County's Shuman Juvenile Detention Center last year who believed she'd been raised by wolves.

That teen, Forshey said, is her daughter.

"I think she knows she has [mental health] problems, but she doesn't know how severe they are," her mother said.

Forshey's father was Cherokee Indian, and they are part of the Wolf family in that tribe. That's where Domain's fascination with wolves comes from, Forshey said, but it has grown into an obsession. While at Shuman, her mother said, Domain sometimes would be "howling like a wolf at the moon. I think Patty feels that if she sits and howls, her tribe will come for her."

Domain's odyssey through "the system" began in 1993, when she and her two brothers were removed from the custody of Forshey and her former husband, William Forshey, after authorities received reports that the children were neglected and abused. Forshey denies those charges, and has recent documentation from Montour County that abuse charges were unfounded.

It"s a Crime

The plight of mentally ill teen-agers trapped in juvenile detention centers: A four-part series.


"They were never neglected," Forshey said. "Anything they need, it's there. It may take me a little while to get it, but it's there."

Domain and her brother, David, were placed in Holy Family Institute on the North Side, and a second brother, Billy, went to foster care. Not long after, Forshey noticed her daughter would talk about, and talk to, an imaginary twin brother, and would get angry if someone questioned or doubted her.

Forshey said Domain was at Holy Family for six years, but near the end she started running away because she wanted to go home. That led to other placements, including two Whale's Tale shelters and the Three Rivers Youth program. She ran away each time. When they placed her in a group home in Erie County, she ran away from there, too.

After being sent back to Erie and put in a locked room, she set her mattress on fire, which got her returned to Shuman. Rejected by several in-state programs and at least one national program, she was sent to Danville.

Forshey, who is unemployed, talks to Domain by telephone, but she doesn't own a car and has not been able to visit her in Danville, which is about 90 minutes north of Harrisburg. With Domain's previous placement in Erie, Forshey was able to visit her only once. It has been more than a year since she's seen her daughter.

At Danville, Domain has told staff that she has a baby, as well as a twin brother, neither of which is true. "I think Patty's trying to have an imaginary friend," her mother said, "someone who will be right there beside her to tell her, 'Patty, it will be fine.' "

In one report given to Forshey early this year, Danville officials described Domain's behavior as bizarre -- using a paper cup as a telephone and "having extended conversations with people not in the room." She has attempted suicide many times, and once was found rubbing the blunt end of a pencil on her stomach and arm.

She said she was trying to erase herself.

Danville is the last stop for adolescent delinquent girls in Pennsylvania, an H-shaped building on the grounds of a state hospital set apart by a high fence topped with razor wire. A year ago, Danville officials began placing girls with mental health problems in a special unit, where there is greater attention paid to therapy. But the girls are still expected to conform to the highly regimented daily schedule and they are accountable to the facility's rules.

"We are first and foremost a secure facility," said Claudiette McEvoy, program director at Danville.

McEvoy said she could not comment on any resident, or even acknowledge whether Domain was there.

She said that while they get teen girls with serious mental problems, "In some cases, the girl has significant behavior issues, and attention needs to be focused on that first. It's hard to do mental health counseling when we don't have her attention."

Some teens may come to Danville for seemingly minor offenses, McEvoy said, but usually that's followed by several "failures to adjust" in other, less-restrictive programs. Each placement failure, which can include repeatedly running away, is considered a probation violation, and moves the youth deeper into the system.

Unlike those running privately operated programs, Danville officials cannot refuse teens referred to them. Despite that, McEvoy said, she could think of only two cases during the past year in which girls probably would have been better off in a psychiatric hospital. "For the most part, we've been able to manage their mental health issues," she said.

In Domain's case, though, progress has been slow. Just two weeks ago, Danville officials reported that Domain still "has not adjusted since her arrival" in November. They have a long list of violations by Domain, including not following directions, threatening others and talking about suicide.

Forshey thinks that's why Domain's probation officer plans to recommend that Domain stay in Danville another six to nine months during a teleconference hearing tomorrow. Forshey wants her home with her and hopes to get her into a county mental health program.

"If she ever had thoughts to suicide," her mother said, "she will if she doesn't get out."

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