The roots of Donna's problems go back to two troublesome conditions of her childhood, protruding ears and a lycoma, or fatty tumor, on her spine. About the lycoma, according to Mary Schenk, "The doctors said, 'Oh, it's going to go away.' Well, it never did. It kept getting bigger. As she grew, it grew, and the hunchback of Notre Dame and the Dumbo-fly-home ears became a problem at school. So, when she was in the sixth grade, we did the ostoplasty, or plastic surgery, on the ears to help with her self-confidence. It worked. She wasn't coming home like this," says Schenk, hunching over. "She would stand up straighter."
The Schenks also had Donna's lycoma removed the following year because a doctor worried that it might cause scoliosis. Things seemed to be looking up for Donna then, but her grades in school were so bad that her parents decided to hold her back a year. "And maybe that was the wrong decision to make," says Mary Schenk. Schenk began to notice that her daughter was "hanging out with the wrong crowd." Eventually Donna, now an early teen, began taking drugs. Mrs. Schenk blamed it on the influence of a woman in the family's Skyline neighborhood. She called Child Protective Services on the woman, who had five children of her own. Eventually the woman had all but her youngest child taken from her, but not without, Schenk believes, retaliating on her informant.
Since tips are made anonymously, it is difficult to say how many, if any, of several visits to the Schenks' household by Child Protective Services were instigated by the woman. They all concerned Donna's treatment in the family. But the agency wrote up one charge of "sexual abuse of child" by Donna's father as a "vindictive call"; a "general neglect" call as "inconclusive"; and a "physical abuse" charge against Donna's father as "evaluated out." A phone call to Child Protective Services, whose workers cannot be quoted, revealed that "evaluated out" means unfounded or a false report.
As part of her involvement in the legal-detention system, Donna Schenk received a complete psychiatric evaluation at the behest of the juvenile-probation department, after which the agency sent her for treatment to the California Family Life Center in Hemet. There she is currently receiving therapy in a group setting, along with other disturbed teens.
Donna's psychiatric evaluation lists the following conditions: chronic depression, amphetamine dependence, conduct disorder, marijuana dependence, post-traumatic stress disorder (chronic), and major depressive disorder. She has remained on antidepressants, and the facility in Hemet has prescribed 100 mg of Seroquel to "help her with her explosive nature," according to her mother. In larger doses the drug is used to help paranoid schizophrenics.
Because of the number of child-protection referrals mentioned in the probation officer's report, the psychiatric evaluation also makes a judgment that her parents may have initiated Donna's hostility. But since all the referrals were deemed inconclusive, Mary Schenk finds this unfair, especially since the evaluations were the reason Donna was taken from her. Schenk says, "When I talked to the probation officer about that, she said, 'We don't look to see what the outcome is, we look to see how many calls were made.' "
Recently, however, the Schenks have been thinking more positively about getting their daughter back. After a hand-wringing session, a new therapist working with Donna at the California Family Life Center suggested to the family that they stop "beating themselves up so much." And she suggested that they get in contact with the Parenting Project sponsored by the San Diego city attorney's office. The organization tries to help parents learn how to deal effectively with difficult teenagers.
Mary and Roger are still struggling. After an emergency appendectomy and following several weeks' disability, Roger was laid off from his job with a heating and air-conditioning company. Still, they are no longer talking of signing Donna off to the state for financial reasons. Revenue and Recovery has agreed to delay the family's monthly payments for a year.