911, 411, Mass 2-1-1: which one do you pick?

small black mobile phone in man hand

I remember thinking quickly on my toes to get what I needed for my three amazing children.  Sometimes I would be searching on the web, reading an article or a book and I would come across something I knew I would need.  I would say to myself,  ”The next time I feel alone or in crisis, I have to remember this.”  Other times when I was going through a crisis with my oldest son, who was behaviorally challenged and experienced unpredictable trauma flashbacks, I’d have to call 911 for the police to assist. The running, the standing in the middle of the road wanting to die or the violent physical aggression would overwhelm my ability to cope.  It was then that I would call. I have to admit I did not tell the police about his violent behavior toward me because I did not want him arrested.

All this was prior to our new law, Child Requiring Assistance (CRA), which has created a few more resources.  This was the old CHINS days, where I would have to bring my child to court to access certain services .  So, I would call and have one to two cruisers with officers in uniforms dispatched to help my kid.  911 was the resource I’d reach out for to have someone to help me keep him safe.

I was fortunate to know the sergeant in town. He would come and talk to me and my son and try so hard to figure out what could he could do.  During those conversations  is when filing a CHINS  would be mentioned.  After researching it more, I decided it was an option I did NOT want and sometimes I’d have to dig in my heels and fight not to use it.

Parents like me are often given the option of CRA and told we need to pick a choice and or direction. As a parent I would go back and forth on what to do, where to go and who to talk to. I would also think “maybe I am a bad parent, screwing up and not helping my kid.” But many of you reading this may know a parent like me or be one like me.  Sometimes, we find we are alone and the blame and shame we feel makes our story and voice feel weak.

For kids who go to court and may have to enter detention, Department of Youth Services is redesigning the options through an approach called Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI). In the JDAI principles we discuss alternatives to detention, mental health in secure facilities, youth with trauma, racial disparities to say the few.  I continue to read on bias and decision making when you believe that the child is “bad” or label the parent “dysfunctional and bad.”   Remember, I was the parent that called 911, 411, and Mass 2-1-1 regularly.

Mass 2-1-1 connects callers to resources, benefits and other programs.  What it doesn’t do  is the next level questions on helping with your needs.  It’s great for basic info but not for the help you need in raising a child, especially one with lots of needs. I have called several times.

Ever try dialing 411 to get the local Emergency Mobile Crisis team? It’s not going to happen unless you already know the name and location of that CSA (Community Service Agency) in your area. Then, if you get their 1-800 number, you have to be patient, calm and able to explain what you need so that the person on the phone can even try to figure out where to connect you in their agency.

Then we get to dialing 911 or the police .  The police have to keep the community safe, it’s their job to take care of the full community.  After being at PPAL for 10 years, I have had the pleasure of working with many police departments, academies and school resource officers. All and all I have been embraced with thankfulness and gratitude for having resources and information to share with them. But at the end, I also hear, “where do we go when the CRA isn’t working? What can we tell parents that feel lost?” Sometimes I walk away thinking that they have been asked to be things they are not : clinicians, doctors and evaluators to keep kids safe.

The best network beyond Mass 2-1-1, 411 and 911 is to connect to a parent to parent network like PPAL or a youth peer network like Youth MOVE Massachusetts. It amazes me that we have reached many so parents, young adults and peers.  They, too, have reached out to get ideas, support and knowledge.  That network is strong and offers tailored customer service which allows you to express your need and get a specific answer.   Let’s help youth and parents and give them resources that work and understand them! But also teach them what each  toll free number can and cannot offer!

It’s true that there are different things for different needs. 411 locates the local pizza, Mass 2-1-1 can get you to resources like WIC, and 911 is the fast route to help in a medical emergency.   The good news is that the parent and youth network is there to offer understanding and support and direction. It may not be Mapquest or Google but it sure can connect!

Meri Viano is our guest blogger.  She is the parent of two sons and a daughter who continue to inspire her blog posts.

2 thoughts on “911, 411, Mass 2-1-1: which one do you pick?

  1. Being a parent of two special needs teenagers these quick fixes like 211/911/411 just don’t help to fulfill the bigger issues. It is just another quick fix.

  2. If you aren’t aware of the Parental Stress Line (1-800-632-8188), you might try it. It is the only 24-hour helpline in Massachusetts that exists exclusively for parenting issues. Volunteer counselors are trained to listen empathetically and without judgment and to hold a conversation about how a parent can make their situation better.

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