When AJ Bernstein first met IACD Executive Director Forrest Lien, she was a frustrated in-home therapist. Before that position, a caseworker. In both positions, she didn’t feel like she was truly helping parents and their children struggling with reactive attachment disorder. The parents AJ worked with were frustrated too.
Even though AJ knew a great deal about reactive attachment disorder, she felt defeated on how to help families struggling with the disorder. She saw adoptive parents desperately trying their best to provide effective resources for their adoptive children. Yet, the parents had little resources for services and respite to get real help. She also saw foster children with reactive attachment disorder passed around from placement to placement. Foster parents were burned out without the right support. Therefore, frequent moves occurred. AJ had a difficult time seeing the foster children who never found a forever home.
AJ left her position after years of frustration and called Forrest for advice on how to further her career to really make a difference for kids and families. That phone call led her to where she is today – an attachment specialist and therapist at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development. Looking back, she shares what frustrated her most as a professional working in “the system”.
AJ’s 3 top frustrations as a caseworker and in-home therapist
1. Lack of authority to get families the help she knew they needed. AJ believes that the Institute for Attachment and Child Development is the best placement and option for kids with reactive attachment disorder. Yet, she felt frustrated within a system that placed multiple barriers to placement of children at IACD.
2. Lack of effective services available for families of kids with reactive attachment disorder within the system. Plenty of resources offered services to treat trauma, but very few provided services that directly addressed the attachment related issues. She saw services for trauma were confused as one in the same. In fact, however, the attachment piece often went unaddressed.
3. Lack of cohesive support networks for families within the system. Adoptive parents often feel alone in their struggles and reluctant to reach out for support. Parents told AJ that they did not feel comfortable leaving their children with others because of their behaviors. One of the reasons in-home treatment often failed is because parents were too burned out for AJ’s suggestions to have any real impact. Parents need to get breaks in order to think more clearly about themselves and what is truly going on with their children.
AJ knows many families and professionals continue to struggle and face the same sense of hopelessness she once did. “If I had the chance to say one thing to families and professionals working with kids with reactive attachment disorder, it’s this,” she said. “Because a child is struggling it’s not your fault…you didn’t cause it, you didn’t create it, and you’re doing the best you can with what you have and what you know.”