Amy felt as though she had nowhere to turn to save her family. Since she and her husband had adopted *Michelle from the foster care system, their daughter’s destructive fits became more frightening with time. Michelle’s punches through the wall, screaming, and death threats toward her siblings and parents were a common occurrence. Amy desperately needed to protect her daughter and the rest of her family. Yet, she didn’t know how to do so.
Amy and her husband had tried everything they knew to help Michelle with reactive attachment disorder. Michelle had undergone in-home services, play therapy, grief counseling, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR), and traditional therapy by the time she was only 11-years-old. Despite all of the efforts to help Michelle, everyone in the home continued to suffer. Amy and her husband were completely exhausted, Michelle wasn’t getting the help she needed for reactive attachment disorder, and Amy’s other children began to show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
The therapist working with Michelle ran out of ideas too. Although she suggested that Amy secure residential treatment for her daughter, Medicaid denied their family payment for that cost. Michelle’s therapist had only one final idea left for Amy to attain more comprehensive services for her daughter — to drop Michelle off at the emergency room at her local hospital and not pick her back up.
Amy was not willing to leave her daughter at the hospital. “It’s out there in the ‘RAD world’ that we’re to leave our children at the hospitals and refuse to pick them up in order to get services,” said Amy. “To me, that’s wrong…I did not want to traumatize my daughter anymore by refusing to pick her up.” Instead, she decided to call social services once more for help. Again, she was denied assistance. They told her that they couldn’t help her because no immediate crisis existed. After all, Michelle was in a permanent and well-adjusted family. “They are reactive, not proactive,” said Amy. “I could not wait for [Michelle] to hurt herself or someone else.”
Sadly, the decisions Amy faced are too common for parents raising children with reactive attachment disorder. They have no resources to protect their families. Their children with reactive attachment disorder only get worse. They are alone and scared.
Here’s how the dream of adopting a child from foster care ends in heartache for many families:
- There’s not full disclosure of information. The problems begin before parents are even aware. Caseworkers are under pressure to get kids into adoptive homes and close cases quickly. Therefore, many public welfare agencies don’t reveal information about kids until after parents finalize adoptions.
- Parents lack help. Once parents learn the truth about their children’s trauma, they don’t get much help. Public welfare agencies aren’t typically prepared to adequately train and support parents of children with reactive attachment disorder. At home, people who adopt often try parenting techniques that work with their biological children. However, those techniques don’t work for kids with reactive attachment disorder. As a result, parents feel exhausted, full of despair, and “crazy”. This is especially true for the primary caregiver, typically the adoptive mother.
- Things get worse and parents are alone. Adoptive parents lives’ quickly spiral out of control. Kids with reactive attachment disorder often run away from home or have trouble with school and the law. As adoptive parents are alone and don’t have resources, their problems build and they have little patience and strength of their own to help their children.
- Many helping professionals don’t fully understand reactive attachment disorder. Kids with reactive attachment disorder easily manipulate and control their environments. When parents turn to professionals for help, kids with reactive attachment disorder often lie and manipulate those adults. As a result, the police, school employees, or therapists often believe children’s accusations of child abuse or neglect. In-home services can make matters worse for children with moderate to severe reactive attachment disorder. At residential treatment centers, kids with reactive attachment disorder work the system so that they falsely appear to have improved. By the time parents find us, they’re relieved to finally find some answers and people who understand them. They are often out of resources and feel emotionally depleted themselves. Unfortunately, their insurance agencies often don’t cover specialized programs such as ours.
- Parents can’t afford treatments that work. After parents adopt, they often receive a small subsidy and Medicaid from their adoption agencies. However, those resources deplete quickly and Medicaid resources are typically ineffective. We advise parents to turn to the county where they adopted for additional financial assistance. However, counties often deny payment for specialized services. Instead, their counties help them find yet another Medicaid provider who lacks the expertise to treat reactive attachment disorder. Parents are back in the same predicament as before.
Although Amy was sadly in good company among other adoptive parents nationwide, she was still very much alone in her decision-making. She felt she had two options left—to wait for Michelle to hurt herself or someone else in her home or hand Michelle back to the county to get her daughter the services she needs and get charged with dependency and neglect. Stay tuned next week to hear what Amy decided to do…
*name changed to protect the child’s identity
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