Yesterday the Toronto Star published an article (found here) profiling families where a parent had called the police on their child.[1] While a good portion of the article focused on the issue of ‘tough love’, it was hard not to read between the lines to see that what was often at play was a mental health issue. Before I say more let me be very clear about one thing. This is not an indictment or judgement upon parents who are faced with tough situations. The over use of the criminal justice system to deal with mental health issues is systemic and complex. When it can take a year to get off of the therapist’s waiting list, it isn’t hard to see how things can break down and come to a head in the interim.

That being said, there are a number of things to consider when contemplating calling the police on your child.

  1. You don’t control whether your child is ultimately charged.

Unlike what you see on American television, it’s not up to the complainant to ‘press charges’. This discretion lies solely with the police. A parent needs to accept that once a call to the authorities has been made, the ultimate outcome, whether they desire it or not could be the criminal conviction of their child.

  1. There are a number of financial repercussions to a criminal charge.

In many cases it will be the parent who is footing the bill for the legal costs. This will typically be multiple thousands of dollars, money that if it has to be spent is probably better used on a privately retained therapist where mental health issues are the underlying factor. Further, the parent will often also be the surety for the child. This will usually involve a pledge of money to the court that is forfeited should the child breach the conditions of their bail. Where mental health issues remain unaddressed and problems persist, this leaves the parent in the difficult position of having to phone the police again, which will likely result in the police laying a brand new criminal charge for the breach, or risking the forfeiture of the pledged money.

  1. A criminal conviction can carry far reaching undesirable consequences for the child.

Incarceration is far from the ideal environment for therapeutic success. Where mental health is the underlying issue for the adverse behaviour, spending time in lockup can, in addition to not being helpful, often be outright detrimental to the psychological well-being of the incarcerated individual. A criminal conviction can (among other things) also complicate future attempts to obtain employment, cross the border and where ordered can result in probation with strict conditions.

In sum:

As said previously, parents can be put in difficult circumstances by the behaviour of a child, often through no fault of their own. Access to mental health related resources can be scarce and difficult to obtain, leaving behind a lack of good options. It is important however that decisions about how to react to an adverse situation be made in an informed manner with a view to the long-term consequences, because sometimes ‘tough love’ can be much tougher than intended.

[1] I use the term ‘child’ in this article in the context of the parent-child relationship. A child may or may not also be a minor.

Disclaimer: The above information should not be construed as legal advice and no client relationship is formed through its reading. Should you require legal advice on the above topic or any other please contact Robert Wulkan to request a free consultation.