HomeHealthMom posed as child to text student crisis line
Mom posed as child to text student crisis line
November 10, 2023
This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
A Colorado mother and parental rights advocate was horrified by the responses she received when she posed as a 9-year-old to text a state crisis line promoted in schools.
“I was sickened,” Lori Gimelshteyn told Fox News Digital. “My first gut instinct is, oh my gosh, we have to protect these kids.”
Gimelshteyn is the executive director of the Colorado Parent Advocacy Network, which promotes school transparency and accountability, parents’ rights and a non-political educational experience for students.
Last month, she texted the Colorado Crisis Line posing as a 9-year-old dealing with gender confusion. She told the crisis specialist she was “just sad” and wants to be a boy, according to screenshots shared by CPAN.
“i think i am trans but don’t want anyone tonknow [sic],” Gimelshteyn texted.
The person on the other end said it can “help to explore your gender identity on your own terms before discussing with others,” then asks, unsolicited, if this has “brought up any thoughts of killing yourself?”
The specialist also promised their messages would not be seen by the “9-year-old’s” mom and shared a link to the Trevor Project for more resources, Gimelshteyn said.
A Colorado Crisis Services spokesperson said they could not confirm whether the text messages were real, citing confidentiality.
But a state official said he stands by crisis line staff and the services they provide.
“Sadly, suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people,” said Marc Condojani, who works for Colorado’s Behavioral Health Administration, which manages CCS. “We want to make sure that the young people know that they’re seen, that they’re valued, and that that help is available if they’re struggling.”
The line is intended to help anyone going through a crisis, including but not limited to depression, grief, suicidal thoughts, trauma, drug and alcohol use, and domestic violence.
Parents in the Cherry Creek School District flagged Gimelshteyn about posters promoting the crisis line in their local elementary school.
She said they objected to language on the posters, which included “My family is great at pointing out my faults.”
The posters “seem to be really fostering this negative impression of families and a parent’s role,” Gimelshteyn told Fox News.
Posters from CCS are provided “as required by state law,” a spokesperson for Cherry Creek Schools told Fox News.
State law also requires the crisis line number and website be printed on the back of every public school student’s identification card.
Two other CPAN members also texted the crisis line in late October, posing as sad or bullied 11-year-olds, Gimelshteyn said. Neither brought up suicide or self harm, but in screenshots from both examples, a crisis specialist asks whether the sadness is “making you want to kill yourself at all.”
While Condojani wouldn’t confirm whether any of the messages were real, he said the “alleged” responses from a crisis line specialist “followed standards of care.”
Lawmakers allocated $20 million to create CCS in response to the 2012 Aurora theater massacre. The statewide behavioral health crisis response system includes the hotline; mobile crisis teams that can be dispatched by hotline responders; walk-in centers where people can get 24-hour treatment, medications and therapy; and respite care facilities where individuals can stay for up to 14 days after being referred by a walk-in center.
About 10% of CCS’s $31 million annual budget went to the crisis line in 2019, which served 54,826 individuals the year prior through text, online chat and call services, according to the Colorado Department of Human Services.
Crisis line specialists receive three weeks of training that includes “culturally responsive and safe support for youth,” the CCS spokesperson told Fox News.
Gimelshteyn said she was also upset that the specialist promised to keep the girl’s concerns secret from her mom and advised the student to check whether a teacher has to inform her parents about information she shares before confiding in the teacher.
“Why are you engaging with somebody, 9-year-olds, and telling them that you’re not going to tell their parent about it and then giving them resources to explore their gender identity?” she asked, adding that CPAN feels the crisis system was a reactive approach without proper training and guardrails.
Condojani, who has two children, told Fox News he’s sympathetic to parents’ concerns. He encouraged them to learn more about the crisis line and be active in their children’s lives.
“Ask questions if you’re worried about them,” he said. “We hope that kids are comfortable talking to their parents … [but] if my kids for some reason didn’t feel safe talking to me about something, I’m really glad that Colorado Crisis Services is available so that they can talk to someone, a trained professional, that can offer support.”
Retired Morrison, Colorado, Police Chief George Mumma helped CPAN craft the plan. He said he’s concerned that schools are encouraging students to keep secrets from parents.
“That’s not okay,” Mumma said. “As a parent, I don’t want somebody telling my child that they’re the trusted adult and they can keep the secrets from me. And that’s exactly what’s been going on.”
While the crisis line texts from CPAN didn’t involve real students, the Cherry Creek spokesperson did tell Fox News, “Teachers are never directed to withhold information from families.”
Gimelshteyn said the state legislature is partially to blame, but she doesn’t give Colorado schools a pass, arguing districts could make it clear that promotion of the crisis line is required by the state. Instead, they are “choosing not to be transparent with families about these initiatives,” she said.
“In fact, they’re actually doing the opposite and they’re doubling down, saying parents that are complaining about this are extremists, they’re hysterical culture warriors, they’re anti-LGBTQ,” Gimelshteyn said.
CPAN is a non-partisan group, Gimelshteyn said, though in October members joined with Turning Point USA, a conservative organization, to protest against allegedly pornographic books in Cherry Creek schools.
Condojani didn’t directly address CPAN when Fox News spoke with him, instead saying he’s “more interested in making sure that everyone in Colorado knows that help’s available.”
“Colorado Crisis Line, whether you’re catfishing or for real, is gonna be there to respond to you,” he said. “We hope it’s used by people that really need it, and that could be parents as well that might be struggling with parenthood.”