Tom and Jan, therapeutic treatment parents at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development, once dreamed of opening an orphanage. “Years before we came onboard with the Institute, I naively pictured the house on a hill where I could teach the kids how to play baseball as the sun set,” said Tom. After foster parenting, however, Tom and Jan realized that their “house on a hill” dream wouldn’t be so straightforward. While they knew their foster kids would have unique and special needs, they didn’t expect to feel so alone in their work. Their house did indeed feel like a house on a hill—but in isolation.
A missing piece of reactive attachment disorder treatment – teamwork with the “system*”
While Tom and Jan had the necessary experience and education for their jobs, they realized what they lacked early on as foster parents—support, especially for kids with reactive attachment disorder. “Kids with reactive attachment disorder sabotage their own well-being. They are so adept at manipulating their foster parents, parents, therapists, and social services,” said Tom. “Everyone needs to work together consistently—despite the children’s extraordinary abilities to break those teams apart.” Tom and Jan found anything but a team approach, however, as foster parents.
*What’s the “system”, really? It’s a slew of adults – from caseworkers to judges – on individual missions to make a difference in the world. It’s a big job and we’re all overworked. But when we don’t work as a team, kids suffer. Let’s start talking – invite Forrest to present as your team or parent group. (303) 674-1910.
An unfortunate journey with James
Such obstacles were particularly true for one boy, James. At six-years-old, James moved into Tom and Jan’s home and trouble began almost immediately. Although the county provided traditional therapy for James, those services were sporadic and didn’t address the serious issues they faced. James physically attacked other children in their home. He regularly banged his head against the floor, wall, and wooden bunk beds. He told Tom and Jan’s pregnant daughter-in-law that he was going to stab her in the stomach to harm her baby. After a year of his violent and aggressive behaviors, Tom and Jan sent James to a residential treatment center so they could get a break from the constant chaos in their home. In that facility, 7-year-old James bit one of the employees so viciously that she had to go to the emergency room. The residential treatment center banished James from their facility permanently.
When James returned to Tom and Jan’s home from the residential treatment center, his behaviors continued. But Tom slowly began to get through to him. Tom and James finally began to bond. James became less aggressive and they actually enjoyed his company. It seemed that just as soon as James settled into their home, however, he got a new caseworker. That caseworker told James that she was determined to find James an adoptive family. After their conversation, James began to get violent once again. When the caseworker eventually found him a potential adoptive family, James was removed from their home.
Three months after James moved in with the new family, the adoption fell through. He was placed in yet another foster family. Tom and Jan attempted to remain in contact with James through the county without success. They only knew that James moved in and out of multiple foster families and in various residential treatment facilities for three years.
At age 11, James got another new caseworker. His caseworker called and asked Tom and Jan if they’d take James back into their home. He was most successful with them, she said. Tom and Jan agreed to meet with James and were astounded by what they saw. “He had neglected all personal hygiene and smelled awful,” said Jan. “He looked like a zombie.” His caseworker informed them that the staff at the residential treatment centers had to restrain him about 40 times each month due to his violent behaviors. He was heavily medicated to keep him from harming himself or others.
A glimmer of hope…
Tom remembered back to when he was in graduate school in social work. At that time, he heard about the Institute for Attachment and Child Development and their success. It was the only hope left for James, he thought. Tom and Jan agreed to welcome James back into their home with one stipulation—that James get attachment therapy from the Institute for Attachment and Child Development first. To their surprise, the county agreed.
Tom and Jan attended therapy sessions with James at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development while he lived with an IACD therapeutic treatment family for nine months. For the first time, Tom and Jan were a part of a team. The Institute for Attachment and Child Development bases their model on teamwork. The therapeutic treatment parents, therapist, and psychiatrist work consistently alongside the children’s guardians or parents, law enforcement, and school officials. The kids cannot break down the team. If the team breaks down, the kids do not feel safe with caregivers. At IACD, James realized he couldn’t manipulate the team and he’d be there to stay. He began to feel safe. That’s when the real work began.
When James returned home, Tom and Jan were relieved. James no longer needed restraint or sedation. He had learned how to acknowledge his feelings and self-regulate his behavior. Tom and Jan were able to talk with him and redirect him during the moments when he felt out of sorts. They had fun as a family. Tom and Jan were so impressed with his success, in fact, that they underwent training at IACD and became therapeutic treatment parents themselves.
No longer isolated
Five years later, Tom and Jan remain treatment parents at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development. They continue to face challenges as they attempt to work with James’s caseworkers and others who come and go through county services. Yet, they find relief and support through the team at IACD. Today, Jan and Tom are full time treatment partners in helping kids with attachment disorder. They knew their days wouldn’t be easy but they are rewarding. They’re no longer isolated in their home and they get to see children genuinely smile, sometimes for the first time in their young lives.
Please call and invite Forrest Lien to speak at your parent and professional groups nationwide at (303) 674-1910. When we learn together, we can work together to fight attachment disorder.