In the 1993 comedy movie Groundhog Day, actor Bill Murray plays a man stuck in one day of his life. “I’m reliving the same day, over and over,” he says in the movie. Although our take on Groundhog Day 2017 here at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development isn’t at all funny like the movie, we understand the sentiment.
While we’ve seen progress in regard to advocacy and education about reactive attachment disorder, there’s a long way to go. It still can feel as though we’re reliving the same day in a world that lacks knowledge about how to help children suffering from the effects of early trauma. This insufficiency prevents children from moving forward toward healing.
4 problems that leave kids with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) stuck:
1. Children with RAD have opportunities to manipulate teachers, police officers, their extended family members, clinicians, and other adults. Children with RAD have a knack for manipulating others. That’s simply a part of the disorder. They do so in order to feel less vulnerable and in control of their surroundings. This manipulation includes lying about their adoptive or foster parents and breaking down relationships.
When children with RAD have the capacity to gain control over healthy adults, the following often occurs:
- Children feel less safe—Healthy adults should help to guide children, not the other way around. Children with RAD do not trust adults that they can manipulate, further contributing to their attachment issues.
- Children have reduced chances to heal—Children with RAD will interrupt therapeutic progress and break down relationships whenever possible via manipulation. When therapists, parents, teachers, and other adults aren’t united and working together in the best interests of the children, no one can. Children’s chances of healing from early trauma are especially grim without the support of healthy parents, therapists, and other adults.
- Healthy adoptions and foster homes disrupt—Many children with RAD falsely accuse their adoptive and foster parents of abuse and neglect. We fully support police officers and caseworkers in their efforts to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect. However, these professionals need to understand that RAD includes symptoms of lying and manipulation. When they understand this dynamic well, they have the capacity to protect some children from themselves. To remove children from safe and healthy parents only adds to their attachment difficulties and puts them at risk for further harm.
- Parents feel isolated and overwhelmed—When adults give children the ability to triangulate, parents ultimately have no support. Instead, school staff, therapists, friends, and family point fingers at parents. Lack of parental support, resources, and emotional stamina can also lead to adoption disruptions.
2. There’s a lack of education in regard to RAD across many systems. Friends and family of adoptive parents, police officers, caseworkers, clinicians, teachers, and parents themselves lack sufficient information, education, and support to effectively recognize, understand, raise, and work with children with RAD.
When parents can’t find the education, support, and services they need to raise children with RAD, the following often occurs:
- Adoptive and foster parents lack preparation and support to raise their children—Parents have less emotional stamina which can lead to divorce and adoption disruption.
- Parents can’t find effective help for their children in most capacities, including therapeutically—Children do not get the effective treatments they need to heal. People who don’t receive effective treatment for RAD and comorbit mental illnesses as children do not “outgrow” them. Children with untreated RAD typically grow into adults with borderline, histrionic, antisocial, narcissistic, dependent, or obsessive-compulsive personality disorders. Such disorders and mental illnesses often result in adults with addictions, who are frequently incarcerated, and who pass the cycle of abuse and neglect onto their own children.
3. Parents can’t get the funding they need to provide effective help for their children. The most common financial means adoptive parents rely upon for treatment of RAD include Medicaid, adoption subsidies, or private insurance. These resources do not effectively cover the high costs to effectively treat RAD, however. Even parents who are financially secure quickly end up in debt due to the costs of medications, various therapies, and residential treatment centers (which are often ineffective anyhow).
When parents cannot afford the support and expertise they need to help their children with RAD heal, the following often occurs:
- As addressed above, children do not get the effective treatments they need to heal from the effects of early trauma and comorbit mental illnesses.
4. The foster care/adoption systems use “revolving door” policies in which children move to and from various homes too often. Our legal system requires efforts to reunify children with their abusive and neglectful parents. The reunification fails if the emotional problems leading to abuse are not clinically addressed. Meanwhile, children often move from foster home to foster home during the reunification process because they are emotionally and behaviorally acting out. The moves can contribute to the attachment problems in the child.
When children are moved multiple times, the following often occurs:
- Children’s attachment issues are further impacted when they lack opportunities to grow up with healthy “forever families”.
The impact of broken systems in regard to reactive attachment disorder
Children who were abused and neglected early in their lives already have battles within them to fight. Our obligation as a society is to protect our children from further harm and support them as they work to overcome the effects of early trauma. We fail to do so when we neglect to educate and support the healthy adults who work with and raise them. We fail to support children when they lack the financial resources they need to get the professional help they deserve. We fail to protect them when we remove them from stable and healthy families. Ultimately, the children, their foster and adoptive parents, and society at large pay the price for these recurring problems. As mentioned prior, children with RAD who aren’t treated effectively often grow into adults with addictions, who are frequently incarcerated, and who pass the cycle of abuse and neglect onto their own children.
The two things we can all do (with you) to break this harmful cycle
The good news is that we’ve seen progress over time. More people are paying attention to reactive attachment disorder. It’s our time as advocates to educate, educate, educate. We’re on a mission here at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development to diminish the negative effects of neglect and abuse on our children and in our communities worldwide through quality treatment for and awareness of reactive attachment disorder. Just like parents can’t raise kids with RAD without support, we as an organization can’t advocate alone.
We invite you to join us in our mission to educate, advocate, and create paradigm shifts in our nation. No matter what you do, where you live, or who you are, the two things you can always do are to learn more about RAD and to educate others. Be the squeaky wheel. The more we are united, the greater difference we can make.
By the way, Bill Murray figures out at the end of Groundhog Day how to learn from his mistakes. He changed his words and behaviors and changed his day for the better. Can we do that too as a nation for the sake of our children? It starts with you. You have a voice.