Friday, July 29, 2011

Improving the Foster Care System - Part XXVII

In response to Nobody Wants the "Bad" Kids, LK wrote:

At some point you gotta look at the end result and say, hey, there is too much corruption and too many systematic failures to justify their existence, even when they can claim a success story such as in your case where the child was adopted. That's all it takes for them to make themselves look good in the eyes of the sheep, by how you measure success and sell it to the public through the public relations departments. "The state adopted out X number of foster kids this year." Then sweep the rest of it under the rug.

They are not doing right by these kids, you know that, I know that, they are only making their situations worse by bouncing them through an uncaring and incompetent system then passing them off onto the first people who are gullible enough to believe that with love everyone will live happily ever after.

LT was failed in every way imaginable, both before and after she was taken into care. Her story is all too common, yet all the people involved from the worker to the foster parents are viewed by society as the Angels of Mercy because they are "protecting the children from abuse or neglect." Not one person ever made the commitment to her and many other kids. Yet they're all heroes in the eyes of the ignorant.

Nobody is ever held accountable for any of these failures either, except for the child and the parents (real or adoptive) of course.


Although I'm categorizing this post under my Improving the Foster Care System series, this post is less about what can be done to improve it, and more about identifying the fact that we are dealing with a very messed-up system.  It's not just that the foster care system isn't working, it's that the entire child welfare system, from bottom to top, is completely broken.

There are so many places where the system is not working:
  • Child abuse reporting, investigations and mandated reporting.
  • The foster care system itself, not only in the way that it cares for the children, but in the way that it treats foster and birth parents.
  • The reunification process.
  • How children are aged out.
  • The adoption process, and how it rarely concludes with the "happy ending" that the public relations folks want publicized.
The system has created a lot of angry and hurt people:
  • Damaged children who suffer lasting educational and psychological challenges.
  • Destroyed birth families.
  • Disillusioned and burnt-out foster familes.
  • Frustrated adoptive families who are parenting children beyond their abilities without the appropriate help.
  • Angry former foster kids.
  • Angry adult adoptees.
Are there some folks who are happy with the system?  Sure, if you look hard enough there will always be a few satisfied customers, even when you are dealing with the worst of the worst.  Countrywide Financial, who was at the heart of the mortgage meltdown, had some surprisingly happy customers.  I know this, because we once had a very fair, 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage with them, and we never had any complaints.

But the reality is, just like with Countrywide Financial, who wrote more than $14 billion dollars in bad mortgages, a handful of satisfied customers doesn't mean that the system is healthy.

So are there people who have been touched by the system who felt better for the experience?  Sure, I'm sure there are a few.  Unfortunately, for the majority of us, whether we are birth, foster or adoptive parents, current or former foster children or adoptees, we've been damaged by the system.

We have all been hurt.

What I find so incredibly sad is that we have folks from all of these groups bashing away at each other on the Internet.  I've seen so many sites, written by angry former foster and adoptive children blaming their birth, foster and adoptive parents for the ills in their lives, when the real problem is the system.  I see foster parents bashing birth parents and birth parents bashing foster parents, and anti-child welfare system sites bashing everybody.

What it seems is that many people are forgetting that we all want the same thing.

I think we can all agree on the following:
  • Children should not be abused by birth, foster or adoptive parents.
  • We need a mechanism for protecting children who are truly being abused.
  • Supports need to be in place for the children who come into the system.
  • Supports need to be provided to parents whose children have come into contact with the system.
  • That system needs to be fair to everyone.
  • The system should be designed to genuinely help people, not simply to punish them for their failures.
Now I have to honest and say I have no idea how to design such a system.  I suspect the difficulty in designing such an organization is precisely why the current system sucks as bad as it does.  Right now, I think the only people who really benefit from it are the social workers and supervisors who collect paychecks, and the politicians who can use these systems to look good. 

Guess what everybody?  We've cut x million dollars from the budget, while adopting out y thousand kids, isn't that great?

Yeah, right.  Bite me.

What I do find troubling, though, is how so many of these groups are intent on bashing each other, when, if we boil down what we really want to the basic essence, we all really want the same thing.

We all want what's best for these kids, and we are working with an absolutely sucky system that doesn't provide the right supports for anyone, kids and adults alike.  It doesn't matter whose side you are on, the system is broken from all angles.

I wonder what would happen if, instead of folks bashing each other on the blogosphere, or making sport out of creating false child welfare investigations because they don't like someone's opinion, people take all that energy, dedication and persistence to go out and do something to fix the broken system at its roots?  Instead of attacking the perceived failings of birth, foster or adoptive parents who dare blog about their experiences, how about doing something to correct the broken system?

It's easy to shout criticism at individual birth, foster or adoptive parents, especially if they have difficult children with whom they are struggling.  However, I don't think that leaving nasty comments (especially those that include name-calling, threats or profanity) solves anything.  If you want to help kids in care, attack the system.  Make the system better.

Because honestly, if birth, foster and adoptive families received better supports, there would be fewer kids in foster care in the first place, and those that were touched by the system would be far better off for the experience than they are now.

So honestly, it seems to me pretty ridiculous to attack a family because you disagree with their decision to give a misbehaving child a peanut butter sandwich, or another because they publicly write about their struggles.  Instead of attacking  people, which doesn't help the kids, why not use that same energy to create change in a very broken system?

If every Congress critter got even some of hate mail I get in any given week, they might actually sit up and pay attention.

But no, it's easier to send nasty anonymous comments and e-mails, even though it's far less productive.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Misdirected Rage

In response to Respite, Erika wrote:

She seems really, really angry at you two. I wonder if there's a way for her to express that in a safe way - so that she is expressing her anger but not harming person or property. That always helps my little one. And I'm not a bit surprised that the child abuse report triggered this. Can you imagine? I mean, there she is thinking that you two majorly suck - and then a professional comes in and agrees with her to the point of hotlining you for abuse. I don't know how you move through to a place of mutual trust and respect with your daughter. This is so intense. I'm really sorry. 

The sad reality here is that our child isn't really angry with us. Oh sure, she's got a certain amount of  teenage, angst-ridden, "my parents suck" going on because of the typical teen reasons.  She thinks she shouldn't have to help out with chores, that she should be allowed to do anything and everything that she wants, and that somehow we owe her an expensive car for her 16th birthday.  So sure, she's ticked off at us because she doesn't want to help out around the house, we supervise her more than she would like, and we've declined to buy her a $50,000 SUV* on her birthday.

Pretty much all teenagers go through a phase where they think their parents are stupid, worthless, and selfish, and Danielle is no exception.

That is not the real problem.  The true basis for her rage has nothing to do with us.  Over time, it's become clear that her anger is caused by something else, something that we didn't do.

She's pissed off at a number of people, including her abusers, social workers, therapists, and birth family.  She is furious, rightfully so, at folks who have hurt her, betrayed her, violated her trust, or abandoned her.  Since the people with whom she's really angry aren't available, she takes that rage out on us.

That's all very understandable.  Misdirected rage is a common problem with foster and adopted kids.  What makes this problem so serious is that our child routinely fails to express her misdirected rage in safe ways.  If she were just angry, it wouldn't be as much of a problem.  It's that her rage is expressed by verbal aggression, threats, and acts of violence.

It's just not safe.  It's not safe for her, it's not safe for our pets, and it's not safe for us.

It's especially frustrating that she regularly fails to employ her coping skills, because she's had so many interventions already to address this particular problem.  The last professional who worked with us was here specifically to work with our child to teach her coping skills.  Even more frustrating is the fact that this person was the seventh mental health professional to work with our child and all of the professionals have spent time on coping skills to one degree or another.

It isn't that Danielle doesn't have a box full of tools, or that she doesn't know how to use them.  The problem is that, for whatever reason, she does not use them.

Danielle is angry...all...the...time.  She is angry when the sun comes up, and when it sets.  Even when things are calm, her rage is seething just below the surface, and the smallest thing can cause it to explode.  We've seen violent fits of temper triggered by small things, even when we weren't in the room to cause any of it.

So we completely recognize that it's not us that she's really angry with.  Sure, she's pissed off because we enforce rules, boundaries and limitations in our home, but all teenagers are angry about that.  Normal teenagers stomp about the house, grumble under their breath, and occasionally slam a door or two when they don't get their way.

This is different.  This is a level of fury that wants revenge.  This is a level of anger that wants to hurt people and to break things.

And it's not about being asked to take out the garbage or to do the dishes.  It's not about a friend who didn't show up for a planned outing, or an electronic device failing because it had been dropped one too many times on the concrete.

This is about a child who has dangerous, boiling levels of rage, bubbling just below the surface, all the time.  This is about a teen who is so angry that when even the smallest thing happens, the cauldron spills, pouring out red-hot lava that incinerates anyone or anything in its path.

It's absolutely clear the kid needs help.  Unfortunately, Danielle often isn't self-aware enough to  understand the true nature of her anger, so she spends her therapy sessions complaining about all the  things she perceives that we've done wrong.  She complains that we give her an over-abundance of chores, and that we never let her do anything.  Her gripes are filled with the typical teenage phrases like, "you always," and "you never," and to date she's never had an astute-enough therapist who has realized that her explosions over dishes or being asked to take a shower aren't about chores or bathing at all.

The question of how we can possibly work through this is a question to which I have no answer.  Until our child figures out that violence, threats and verbal aggression aren't acceptable ways of resolving conflict, we have a problem.  Until she realizes that it's not us with whom she's really angry we have a problem.

So how do we get to a point of mutual trust and respect?

I have no idea.  

I don't think it's possible right now, at least not without getting Danielle better help than what she's received so far.

Though perhaps The Adoption Counselor is right in saying that therapy really doesn't work for traumatized kids.  Perhaps the best we can do is to bide our time until our child becomes an adult, where she'll have to figure these things out on her own, with a more developed and mature mind.

* I realize that pretty much all teens have unrealistic expectations when it comes to cars.  When I was the same age, I wanted my parents to buy me a Ford Mustang.  I got a Subaru instead.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Danielle is away at respite.

Originally, I'd planned not to write about this publicly, but when I saw how Baggage is feeling incredibly alone because her child has been placed in RTC, I figured I should say something.

Our child is away at respite, because her verbal and physical aggression has been increasing exponentially.  Since the July 4th weekend, when she made some horrifically bad choices, things have been incredibly, unbelievably difficult.

Add to that a betrayal on the part of a professional and another unfounded child abuse investigation, and we've had the perfect storm of unpleasantness.

I hate that we had to send our child away again.  We shouldn't have to put our kid in respite.  Normal families don't live with the absolute chaos, and the level of verbal and physical abuse that we  regularly experience at the hands of our child.  Although many parents might sigh with pleasure at the thought of having some time alone when their kids go away for a slumber party, I don't imagine that most parents are genuinely relieved at the thought their children will be gone for a period of time.

The truth is, I have become afraid of my child.  I am afraid of her violence, her false accusations, and her manipulations.  Even when things are going well, I feel anxious, because past experience has taught me that things can go from good to extremely bad in an instant.

When we left her with the respite provider, she barely said goodbye. Although there were hugs exchanged with everyone as we left, she declined to participate.  As we drove away, we waved.  Everyone waved back but our child.  She stood there on the porch, stony eyed and unmoving, as she watched us drive away.

As angry as she was when we left her, she had been carrying on since before school ended about how much she wanted to be somewhere, anywhere, else.  When we finally selected a respite care provider, she carried on about how much she couldn't stand living here, how much she was looking forward to leaving, and how she wished she could move in with our friends forever.

It's a sad situation that the child escalated her behaviors to the point where it's best for all of us that she be somewhere else for while, but then feels angry about the outcome that she created.

At any rate, she'll probably have more fun in respite than she will here.  There, she'll have the company of a stay-at-home mom and several younger children.  Here, she has few friends, nowhere that she can go unsupervised, and two parents who have to work all day.

Although I'm breathing a definite sigh of relief at the idea of a break, I am also anxious because I worry that Danielle's destructive behaviors may arise while she is gone.  Of course she will honeymoon, at least for a while, but I still worry.

Our friends, thankfully, have seen our child in action.  They know her behaviors and think they can handle them.  Most likely, she'll keep it together for the majority of her visit, since most children tend to behave better away than they do at home.

It just saddens and frustrates me that we see this in such huge extremes.  It's a terrible thing that our child's angel times are uniquely reserved for relative strangers, while anger, tantrums and physical abuse are what we regularly experience at home.

I sometimes wonder if our child is even capable of understanding how much hurt and fear she has created in this family.  If she understood, would she care enough to stop?  If she cared, would she be able to put an end to the violence?

Summer often seems to be one of the hardest times of the year for our family.  The unstructured time, combined with a complete lack of constructive things for teens to do in our town, and the fact that FosterEema and I are occupied with work during the day, makes for a bad combination. Summer vacation is supposed to be a time when parents can fully enjoy their children, but this often seems to be our child's season of restlessness, discontent, conflict and violence. As a family, we all dread the end of the school year, and pray for the beginning of the next to come soon.

During the break, we are all thankful for whatever respite we can manage.

Like Baggage, we feel alone.

It shouldn't be this way.  We were supposed to live happily ever after.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Nobody Wants the "Bad" Kids

On Sunday, LT wrote that she finally had an answer for why she was never adopted:

Nobody wants to adopt a REALLY bad kid. It is hard enough to adopt a kid, let alone one that is REALLY bad. Right? My foster care records are full of “bad” things I did — wet the bed, pissed on the floor, ran away, stole, hoarded food, hid food, stole clothes for my mom (long story), cried, had flashbacks, had nightmares, burned the Hippie’s records, drugs, cutting, eating disorder, etc, etc, etc — how many labels were in those records? Did it say I was beaten to a pulp and raped repeatedly? Did it say my dad stabbed me and was in prison? Did it say I couldn’t read well? Did it say I was “traumatized?”

It's a sad truth that her foster care records were probably a barrier to her adoption.  Many adoptive families don't want to take overly-troubled children into their homes.  This is why so many families go the route of private or overseas adoptions, even though they are substantially more risky and expensive.  They are hoping to spare themselves of the pain of adopting a damaged child.

No there's no denying that there are a certain number of good people who are willing, ready and able to take care of kids with these types of histories.  They come into the system with their eyes open and the knowledge and experience to handle it.

But the problem is that for many parents, they aren't prepared.  They don't know what they are getting into.  It's easy to think that one might be able to handle anything and everything that could be thrown one's way, but it's an entirely different experience to live it.

And some families, whether we want to admit it or not, are duped by the system.  Social workers lie, or they use their doublespeak to conceal or misdirect prospective parents into thinking that a child's problems are less than what they are.  Even when a family is very clear about certain things they feel they will or will not be able to handle, social workers are very good at placing kids without telling them that the very conditions  the foster parents said they would not accept are placed in their home anyway.

A small example in our case was that we were very clear that we weren't willing to accept children infested with lice, or kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder.  Every child placed in our home had lice, and the second foster child placed in our home had severe RAD.  It made me wonder how many parents take in children they aren't really able to parent, but don't realize that until they've already fallen in love with them and make decisions with their heart, thinking that they can handle it.

The reality is, though, that many parents bypass the more troubled kids (at least when social workers are honest) because they understand their limitations.  The smarter prospective adoptive families also know that the promised services and support will be hard to find (if not totally unavailable) even though officials will promise otherwise.

I would never have agreed to knowingly adopt a child with as many issues as LT described.  It's not because that child is less deserving of a home or a family, or because she was inherently bad or defective as a human being.  It's simply because I would have recognized my own limits, and known that I wasn't the right person to parent a kid with all those issues.  If the opportunity had presented itself after I'd had some experience with the system, I also would have known that the counseling and other mental health services a child like LT would have needed and deserved, are not available in our area, even if we could afford to private pay.

If we were in the market to adopt an adult child, which we are not, I similarly wouldn't want to adopt someone with significant mental health problems.  It's not that someone like LT doesn't deserve a family, or that she is inherently unworthy.  It's just that I recognize that I wouldn't be able to give her the unconditional support she needs.

I frequently find myself overwhelmed with my own child's behaviors and needs.  She definitely had issues prior to the adoption, but we never dreamed that they would get worse.  Kids are supposed to get better as they age.  At least that's what everyone told us, and that's what we really wanted to believe.

We thought we were doing the right thing.

Clearly, we were wrong.  Although there are myriad reasons why we probably shouldn't have adopted our daughter, the biggest one was because it placed her in the untenable position of having divided loyalties.  She should never have been put in the position of having to choose between remaining in foster care (and being bounced around from home to home to home) or legally terminating her mother's rights so that she could remain with us.

That's a terrible, terrible, terrible decision to force a 13-year-old to make.

Why couldn't there have been a third option?  Why couldn't there have been an option that would have allowed her to remain in foster care, to receive the appropriate counseling and mental health services, and to remain in a home that wanted her for as long as she wanted to stay?  I think that would have been the best solution for all of us.

And, if, we found ourselves in the position we are now, where our child wishes she could live anywhere else but here, then that would have been a viable option.  Unfortunately, with a finalized adoption behind us, our state and our county do not leave us any option to find her a more suitable family.  Short of legally abandoning our child, and facing the accompanying felony charges, we have no real options.  She's not sick enough to qualify for state-funded residential treatment; she's not violent enough to sustain a trip to juvenile hall or a group home, which she disturbingly claims to want; and we aren't wealthy enough to afford a private RTC or boarding school.

Ideally, our child would simply get better so that we wouldn't be in the position of having to contemplate out of home placement.  Given all that we've done and all that we've tried, I don't think that's going to happen.  It's especially not going to happen when we can't find suitable long-term psychological care.  We will start, very soon, with mental health provider number eight.

Why so many?

Because our county doesn't authorize long-term psychological services for anyone.  They approve a limited number of visits with a provider, and if that doesn't work, the approval process must be repeated again.  Often, by that time the provider has moved on or has too many other cases, and you move to the next person.  Out of all the providers we've worked with, we've only fired one.  Even then, it doesn't really count, as her service contract only allowed us to have a total of eight sessions with her.  We had completed seven.

Guess how many sessions will be authorized with the new provider?


Of course they claim that the number of sessions can be extended, just like they have in the past, but I don't expect that will happen.

Can someone please tell me how a child who has suffered years of abuse will be made measurably better in eight weeks?

This is why LT is right when she says that nobody wants the more difficult kids.  People don't want to live with a child's out-of-control behaviors, especially when the system that's supposed to help the kids completely fails to do so.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Will Damaged Children Heal in Adulthood?

On Saturday LT, over at I Was a Foster Kid, wrote about how she thinks that it is possible for children of trauma to eventually heal, although it may not happen until adulthood. She believes that the most damaged and abused kids shouldn't be thought of as lost causes.

Although I admire those who have eternal optimism for kids who have been abused, traumatized and mistreated, I no longer share it.  At one time I did, but as the realities of living with such a child have unfolded, my hopes for the future have faded.  As I've seen my friends (both online and in-person) struggle with their damaged kids, and I've maintained relationships with people who work in the child welfare system, I've learned that the happy endings don't come nearly as often as the adoption recruiters would like people to believe.

I've had a number of my critics opine that the only place that my child is functioning poorly is at home.  As much as certain people might like to believe that, it's patently not true.  My child was sent to a program for emotionally and behaviorally challenged kids, not at our request, but at the insistence of her previous school.  Officials were concerned, because of behaviors they were seeing at school, and it was they who insisted on the mid-year move.

Although from an academic perspective our kid is doing well, there are number of things that still concern me about her future.  My biggest worry is that my child hates to read, and will go to great lengths to avoid it.  Even though she can read, and her teachers tell us that her reading skills are good and her comprehension is nearly at grade level, she will go out of her way to avoid it.  When we are in a situation where there really is "nothing to do" (whether it's a waiting room or down-time at home) she will absolutely refuse to read.  When she's asked to read a passage at school, she complains about it bitterly.

Her lack of interest and willingness to read worries me because it is through reading that one learns and succeeds in higher education.  If our child will not read, she's going to have a difficult time in life.  Even most vocational schools require some reading, and her absolute unwillingness in this area is going to set her up for failure.

The biggest area of concern we have is that our child seems to have virtually no problem-solving skills.  When faced with a problem, whether it be a social problem, a mechanical problem, or a logistical problem, she simply has no idea of how to come up with a solution.  When she's faced with a challenge, and you ask her, "how do you think you can solve this?" she is never able to produce ideas on her own,

Life is about problem-solving.  As an adult, one has to face the daily challenges of finding and maintaining food and shelter, and I fear that her lack of problem-solving abilities will put her at a severe disadvantage in life.  This is especially true because it seems that her only coping skill is to resort to threats, fits of temper, and sometimes violence.  Although her violent episodes have mainly been directed at us, I believe that she will use those same behaviors when she's not in our home.  She's admitted that violence was used to solve problems in her birth family, she now tries to use those same techniques with us, and I have no doubt she will use them in the future.

While she is a minor, it seems our legal system is willing to give her a free pass.  That will no longer be true when she's an adult.  Whether she is hitting us, a future spouse, or her children, the consequences won't be pretty when she becomes a legal adult.

Whether or child heals as an adult obviously will remain to be seen.  What is clear, at least at this point, is that she will face a number of very difficult years in her young adulthood.  If she does not learn to reign in her violent tendencies, she will not be able to continue to live here.  If she doesn't develop a work ethic and some motivation, she will have an incredibly difficult time making a living.  If she doesn't develop some self-control and problem-solving skills, she will not be able to turn whatever income she may have into life's basics such as shelter and food.

We've tried to discuss these concerns with our child, but she's simply not ready to accept that the world doesn't work in the magic way she believes.  She is convinced that, as soon as she turns 18, all the skills and experience she will need to find and build a wonderful life will magically be bestowed upon her.  She is convinced that these things just happen, and that she won't have to go to any great effort to have the perfect life.

In my experience, life is rarely that easy.  In my experience, life is difficult, and one has to work really hard to achieve any level of financial stability.  Once has to exercise a great deal of work ethic and self-control, and it's not always easy.  For a child who lacks a solid work ethic and problem solving skills, I see this as a very difficult, if not impossible, task.

I would very much like to teach my child these skills, but I cannot.  Even if we had a child who was receptive to our instruction, I have no idea how to teach things like problem solving or self-control.  I exercise both on a daily basis, in my personal and professional life, and I've often explained the how and why to my child, but she still fails to grasp even the most basic skills in these areas.

If my child is to heal in adulthood, I think it will only come after the school of hard knocks has made her weary.  I would like to spare her the pain of those ugly lessons, but it seems that her teenage brain has locked onto the idea that we are stupid, and that she knows everything.

So often things happen in our child's life where she is forced to admit that we, her parents, were right.  Even though she's seen this happen time and time again, she's still not willing to accept that when it comes to life, we've done a lot more of it, and we might know something of the way the world works.

Will our child eventually heal?  I don't know.  Certainly for much healing to happen now seems impossible.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

On Failure

It seems that Last Mom's post about anger and resentment triggered a rash of commentary from other bloggers. I commented on it, as did Baggage, Corey, Story of Our Life, and a few others.  Although I think the idea of "never give up" is a good one, there comes a point when the practical realities of our situations overshadow hope.

Friday morning, Corey wrote:

Just for the record, while it was one specific post that pulled the trigger for me, it was a general current that I was responding to. And I *never* want people to think that I don't want to hear what is working for them or about how their child is responding.. That is not the case at all. It is more the fervent "never, ever, ever quit" mentality that makes moms whose kids are not responding to any therapies feel like failures. It breaks my heart when people write to me and say that "It must be me. S/he would have done better if only s/he had a different family.". I just don't buy that, even though I once felt that way. A child with severe mental illness does not heal just because they have a different family. They just have a severe mental illness somewhere else. (They may FUNCTION better in a different living environment, and YOU may function better, but they are still mentally ill.). As the saying goes, whereever you go, there you are.

Over the past couple of years, I've thought the same thing a thousand times over.  But Corey is also right when she says, "wherever you go, there you are."  We often say a similar phrase, "wherever you go, that's where you are."

But it means the same thing.  Wherever you go, whatever you do, the problems that are inside you will ultimately reappear.  The emotional baggage one carries through life will eventually appear no matter where one is or what one is doing.

And I think the same is true for troubled kids.  You can put a kid in another foster home, adoptive home, group home, residential treatment facility or jail, but whatever baggage that kid is carrying will go along for the ride.  Certainly, in some settings kids will do better (i.e. a kid with severe attachment problems will probably do better in a facility where he perceives no one cares) but the baggage is still there.

Eventually, with the exception of those who exhibit the most severe mental illnesses, violence or criminal behavior, kids will become adults and they'll walk out of whatever placement they are in, and they'll go out into the world.

And they will still be carrying that baggage.  Some, I expect, will learn from the school of hard knocks and change their ways.  Others, like some of the children Cindy describes, will continue into adulthood with their dangerous, defiant and criminal behavior.

We parents will have been unable to redirect these children from their dangerous, impulsive, violent and criminal ways.  We will have failed.

In the end, it is these children, as young adults, who will have to make their own choices about the way they live their lives.  We can lead them, guide them, show them the way, encourage them, coerce them, consequence them, and punish them, but in the end they make the decisions for their behavior.

It's easy for an outsider to say "so-and-so is a bad parent."  It's easy to criticize, to blame, and to insult.  It's easy to pick up the phone and file a child abuse report against a friend, a neighbor or even a total stranger because you don't like or agree with someone's parenting.  It's easy to find fault, to point fingers, and to set the blame, but it's an entirely different thing to live with damaged and difficult child.

I admit that I have failed.  I can't fix my child.  We have gone through seven mental health professionals, and in a few weeks we will be assigned yet another, but I have little hope that this person will be able to accomplish anything more than the other seven.

Even after years of therapy and interventions, our child still hasn't mastered any level of reliable self-control.  At almost 16 years old, her coping skills often consist of destroying her room, making threats, or committing acts of violence against other people.

In five years, a child that used to throw herself to the floor to tantrum and scream when she didn't get her way, now sometimes resorts to threats and violence to solve her problems.

Clearly that's not much of an improvement.

Many of my critical commenters have opined that I am at fault for my child's rages and tantrums.  Although I might once have believed that, now I do not not.  Given a few recent rages that were triggered without any of our involvement, I believe that the problem rests within my child.  Her ability to deal with frustration and circumstances outside of anyone's control is low, and her ways of dealing with those feelings are impulsive, often dangerous, and destructive.

Is the problem that our child can't do better, or simply that she won't do better?

In the end, it won't matter.  As our child reaches adulthood, the world becomes increasingly intolerant of aberrant behavior.  As every parent of a disabled child suffering from cognitive disabilities, FASD or autism knows, once a child reaches the magic age of adulthood, behavior that is adjudicated to be criminal is handled the same way.  It doesn't matter if a child is disabled or not, the legal system views criminal and violent behavior as criminal and violent behavior.

Am I sad for her?  Do I grieve for the future she might have had if her first family had treated her with the love and caring that she deserved?  Absolutely.

The reality is that sometimes love is not enough for our damaged and broken children.  Sometimes, all the love, all the treatment, and all the services in the world aren't enough to overcome mental illness, neglect, and abuse.  We cannot repair the organic brain differences that are caused by prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, trauma, cognitive disabilities, and inherited mental illness.

I think every foster or adoptive parent starts this journey with a profound desire to help.  They want to make a difference.  They want to help children be the best that they can be.  The problem is that some children, as much as we'd like to think otherwise, cannot be helped.

Although hope is often a good thing, in that it keeps us going and it motivates us to work for a better day, there comes a point where people have to accept reality.  The accident victim with a spinal cord injury isn't going to walk again.  The young man who lost his eyes in an explosion isn't going to see again.  The child with cognitive or emotional difficulties is never going to be "normal."  There comes a point where we have to accept the realities of our children.  They may never achieve healthy, productive and independent lives by any standard of "normal."

And though hope for the future is always good, we have to come to a point of acceptance.  Otherwise, we spend our time unproductively beating ourselves up for our children's inability to succeed and our perceived failures.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Stupid Things Professionals Say

On Thursday, Jen over at Couldn't Make It Up If I Tried, wrote about her frustrations with the so-called "professionals" that are supposed to be helping her currently-hospitalized daughter.

Jen's post really struck a chord with me.  She was writing about some of the really stupid things her professional team had said to her.  This one really got to me:

"What you really need to do is make sure Little Turtle knows the expectations and hears from you that physical violence is not okay."  (Oh, is that what you're supposed to do?  Never would have thunk it on my own although I do think I did a pretty good job of explicitly and firmly saying, okay yelling, "You may not bite my boob," as she was latched on with her full set of teeth one night.)

When I first read this, I wanted to shout at my computer, "Are you f--cking kidding me?"  But of course Jen is not, because we've had many supposedly-brilliant professionals say similar things to us.

Our kid knows (at least when she's calm and rational) that violence is not okay.  However, that doesn't make any difference when she's angry or upset.  Sometimes she will dial it back in.  Sometimes, she won't.

There's an entire collection of stupid things professionals have said to Jen, so if you are parenting a difficult child, go take a look. I'm sure some of her post will strike a chord with you as well.

I know for a great many parents, it seems that we know what's better for our kids than the professionals who are supposed to be helping them.  It's pretty embarrassing when a supposedly-experienced therapist manages to be thoroughly manipulated and triangulated.  But of course the therapist doesn't recognize that she's been had, and everything comes down to the fact that we parents obviously must not be doing the right thing. (Can you hear the sarcasm in my voice?)

At one point, we raised the issue of our child's behavior with her pediatrician.  Do you know what she said?

She told us to withhold the child's allowance so that she would behave.

We did as the good doctor suggested, just as we've tried zillions of other parenting techniques that haven't worked.

I suppose you can guess how well withholding our kid's allowance worked out...

It didn't.

But the idiocy of the suggestion sure made me want to stab myself 10,000 times with a titanium spork.

Maybe withholding a child's allowance is a way to obtain compliance from a "normal" kid, but it sure didn't work here.  As the doctor suggested, we set up a chart, and kept score, and you can guess how many weeks our kid was able to keep it together long enough to get her money...

For our kid, money simply wasn't a sufficient motivator.  Or perhaps the entire concept was too abstract.  Who knows.

So telling a kid violence is not okay is about as effective as spitting into the wind.  It's probably less effective, because at least spitting into the wind will get your face washed.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Improving the Foster Care System - Part XXVI

This week, it seems that a lot of adoptive bloggers have picked up on the topic of the anger felt towards their behaviorally-challenged kids.

Wednesday afternoon, Sojourner Truth wrote about an online support group:

[T]oday I realized that I have been doing really well with my anxiety. I have been pretty chilled out with the son's behavior. I am pretty sure that is directly related with the opening of the group. I have had a place to vent AND hear others vent. It has taken the taboo out of saying "I don't want to look at my child" or "Hugging them makes me want to vomit". Do we still hug? Sure. But there, it is okay to admit to yourself and others that you had that feeling. It may sound really ugly and really bad, but you realize that those feelings are not solely in your own head. For me it has allowed me to love myself again.

I think feelings of anger and resentment are normal when one is parenting a desperately-troubled child.  It's hard not to feel resentful when one looks at other "normal" families who don't have children who behave in dangerous, impulsive and destructive ways.  It's hard not to feel angry when a child, again and again, does things to injure you, your spouse or your pets.  It's hard not to feel frustration and despair when the promised post-adoptive services magically disappear when you need them, or fail to provide any meaningful or lasting help.

It's just so damned hard.

And the worst of it is, even if you know in your heart that you can't help your child there's no graceful way out.  There's no way to admit failure without incurring massive legal and financial consequences.  Parents who are in over their heads can't go back to the Social Services Department and say, "I've failed.  I can't do this.  Please help me."

What happens if you do?  In our state, you'll find yourself with a substantiated case of child abuse on your record, and you'll likely end up facing felony child abandonment charges as well.  Even if everyone agrees that your child would be better off somewhere else, there's no way to gracefully do that.  Our county has to approve every adoption or guardianship arrangement, and they have a blanket policy of denying guardianship or re-adoption of children that were previously adopted from the county.  Even if your child is the sickest of the sick and somehow manages to qualify for residential treatment, that option is only temporary.  Unless your child murders someone or commits a serious felony, no matter how sick or how violent he may be, he will eventually come home.

If you aren't wealthy enough to afford boarding school or private residential treatment, there is no way out other than to commit an act of felony child abandonment.

That's just so wrong on so many levels.  Parents shouldn't be forced into such a dreadful no-win situation.  Children shouldn't have to be abandoned by their parents in order to qualify for the help they desperately need.

The truth is that there are cases where adoptions fail.  Is it right that those parents, who thought they would be able to handle their child's challenges and gave their best effort, should be punished with criminal charges, jail time, and forever being listed in the child abuse databases?

No.  There ought to be a way for the system to recognize that there are some children and some parents who turn out to be a bad match after the adoption has been finalized.  There ought to be a mechanism to provide relief to the families (and the child) without destroying everyone in the process.

But there isn't a way, and this is just another example of how our foster care and child welfare systems are insanely broken.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


In response to When Hope Dies, Chicago asked the following question:

FosterAbba, I have a question that I have been hesitating in asking because I don't know how it will be received.

I read your blog and others and it seems like there is this little-known secret about adoption. Some of the blogs I read are from happy "easy" adoptions, some from ones like your's but the parents still feel some hopefullness. And then I read several where the parents are in similar positions to you.

I am a total outsider, neither foster child nor parent. I had at one time considered adopting but I have changed my mind due to serious health issues I have.

So here is The Question I have been holding back. Do you,and other parents in your position, feel scammed? It sounds horrid to say that, since children are not 'things' and there are no guarantees even with bio-kids.

But is seems there is something terrible happening here, and everyone suffers for it. The children do not really find homes, and no one is better off for the adoption.

I am dating myself here, I know, but this seems to me another glaring example of how Reagan got it wrong, all those years ago. By closing state facilities, there is nowhere for these kids (who quickly become young adults) to go, where they can live safely.

My heart truly goes out to you and your family, and all the others whose lives have been torn apart by this. If I were you, I would be furious. I would feel scammed.

As it is, I am angry that good, decent, people are being treated like this, misled and essentially ignored at every turn.

I have learned so much and appreciate you (and others) putting it out there for clueless people like myself, who assumed that adoptions were handled so, so differently than they are.

Chicago asks a very valid question here.

Since I don't really know what other adoptive parents think or feel, I don't feel that I can answer this question on behalf of anyone else but myself.  So rather than answer the question for everyone, I will just answer whether or not my family feels scammed.

There are two parts to this question.  The first is whether or not we feel scammed because our agency somehow misrepresented Danielle's challenges to us.  Although this is certainly true for some adoptive parents, I don't think that it was the case here.  I think the reality was that people really didn't know all there was to know about Danielle's case, though it was clear certain things were kept from us with respect to her biological family's history.  If we had known more about Danielle's biological family, would it have made a difference in our decision to adopt?

I'm not sure that it would have.

When we adopted our child, we knew that we were facing some pretty significant problems.  We knew that she was profoundly behind in school, and we knew (based on her previous behavior) that she was a challenging kid to parent.  What we didn't know, and I'm not sure anyone could have predicted, was how bad things would eventually get.  I don't think that anyone could have predicted the level of violence that we would one day see in our home.

So on that score, I can't say that we were scammed by the county.  Our friends Jack and Jill, who also adopted two children from our county, probably were.  Their youngest child has severe problems, and the root cause (prenatal drug and alcohol exposure) was deliberately concealed from them.  I've never had the chance to ask if my friends feel scammed on this count, but if I were in their shoes, I certainly would feel that way.

The second part is whether or not we feel scammed when it comes to promised post-adoptive services. In that area, I am not sure that I would go so far as to use such a strong word as scammed, but certainly mislead and disappointed apply.  We adopted, thinking that appropriate mental health and supportive services would be offered on an ongoing basis.  What we found was that our county has done everything they can to ignore us, make excuses, and fail to pay for mental health services that were promised by our adoption worker.

I think Chicago is also quite correct in saying that something terrible is happening, and everyone suffers for it.  Kids suffer, because they don't get the services they need, parents suffer, and siblings suffer.  First families suffer too.  The entire system doesn't ameliorate suffering; rather, it increases it.

While families and children suffer, millions of dollars are used to perpetuate a system that doesn't prevent abuse, fails to treat victims, and doesn't help the children and families who suffer as a result.  The system claims to be operating in "the best interests" of the children.  Instead, I see a system that operates very much in the best interests of itself.

Although I think Reagan had the right idea in freeing mentally ill people from hospitals if they could be treated in the community, I think the plan was taken too far.  There were some people who could manage in the community with the appropriate supports.  Unfortunately (and this is largely to blame for the huge upswing in the mentally ill homeless in our area) some people cannot or will not do well when they aren't in a structured, hospital setting.

At the time, it seemed freeing all these poor people, especially those being held against their will, from the mental hospitals was a good idea.  The problem with it was that they decided that everybody could be treated on an outpatient basis.  As a result, families with seriously mentally ill members had nowhere to turn.

I get tired of hearing from everyone that comes in contact with our family the phrase, "there is nothing we can do."  The police can't do anything when children are violent, because there isn't enough room for the kids already incarcerated in juvenile hall.  The mental health professionals can't do anything because there is no money in the state budget to pay for treatment and our child isn't sick enough to qualify for residential treatment.  The school says there is nothing they can do, because our child's most violent behaviors are confined to the home environment.  Even the crisis people admit they are powerless to provide any meaningful help, because they are limited to a handful of visits.

So although I don't feel scammed per se, I do feel as though the amount of post-adoption support we were going to receive was grossly misrepresented.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Disservice to Adoptive Parents

All I can say is, "oh yeah," to what Corey said yesterday:

[S]omething has been bothering me for some time, and it came to a head yesterday with a post someone wrote about anger. In the "trauma" community, I have seen a trend that maybe started as cheerleading and people wanting to be supportive. But somewhere along the way, it has morphed into something hurtful. It is this unwavering assertion that all children can be healed, and a fervent "don't EVER give up hope!" mentality.

Corey goes on to say why this mentality is hurtful to the adoption community. Please, please, please, go read her post.

She goes on to say more...

Parents of neurotypical kids don't understand. Parents of adopted kids who do not have attachment issues are even more critical and judgmental, IMHO. After all, THEIR kid is okay, so it must be you.

And it's not just parents of neurotypical kids.  It's therapists who are manipulated and triangulated by the superficial sweetness and charm of our damaged children.  It's family members, friends, social contacts, and even well-meaning strangers*.  It's even creeps from the Internet who think it's okay to stalk, harass, and threaten my family.

And then she writes:

I realize this sounds angry and reactionary. Clearly it struck a nerve with me... but I am tired of moms whose kids are not healing feeling like they have to stand in the back. If your child is not healing, is is NOT because of you. It is not because you don't love them enough or you haven't tried enough therapies, or you're not parenting them the "right" way or ANYTHING that has to do with you. It's because your child has a mental illness, a personality disorder that stole from them and from you. And while it is not their fault, it also is not YOURS that you can't heal them.

Bingo.  Thank you Corey.

* Given our family's experiences, I am not sure I can say that most strangers are well-meaning.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When Hope Dies

I haven't been blogging as much recently for several reasons:
  • We've been doing a lot of things (mostly involving self-care) that pull me away from the Internet, which leaves less time for blogging.
  • It's clear from my site traffic logs that I've attracted the attention and ire of some more people who intend me harm. Nice.
  • I just don't know what to say anymore.  Much of the time I feel like I am repeating the same story over and over and over again.  Given my group of "fans" (and I use the term sarcastically) I'm not sure that it's smart to publicly write about what is going on in our home anymore*.

Baggage made a really good point this morning about hope.  She was commenting on Last Mom's post about the anger and resentment one might feel towards their adopted child, and said the following:

[H]ow do you not be resentful towards someone who accuses you of child abuse, who destroys things, who causes you trouble left and right in all sorts of ways, when all you have tried to do is love them, to parent them "therapeutically," to do everything you can to make it better.

I understand these feelings more so than ever.  Baggage went on to say that she had high hopes for her child when she was nine years old.  Now that her daughter is a teen, all she hopes for is that the kid escapes death and incarceration.

I understand. I understand. I understand.

This morning, we had a big meeting with the folks at our county's mental health office.  The meeting seemed pretty pointless, and a waste of seven people's time.  They told us they were going to give our kid the same services that we'd discussed over the phone.  So why, since they had already told us what they are going to do, did they make us come down and chat about it for 90 minutes?

Oh, I know why.  It was so the meeting organizer could compliment all the other people involved in our daughter's case on what a great job they are doing. 


Of course my frustration is that the services they are going to provide are coming far too late.  They are basically going to be a repeat of what we've been doing all along, just with another new person. The only difference is this time we are going to see someone who is licensed.  That's an improvement, but it should have been done years ago. What are we on, now?  Mental health professional number eight?

This is insanity.  Let's do the same things, over and over again, and hope for a different result...

I have no hope left.

Our situation at home isn't about putting on an oxygen mask, being better parents, or anything else like that. It's about a very sick and troubled child, who is damaged (possibly beyond repair) and a system that doesn't have the resources or willingness to really help her.

* I am considering opening up a private blog.  If you are interested, shoot me a private e-mail.  If there's enough interest, I'll set something up, though invites will only go out to folks that I "know" either through comments, or their own blogs.

When Adoption Isn't Fun

Yesterday afternoon, I found the following over at Urban Servant.

Many adoptive moms carry a terrible secret around in their hearts.
It's the overwhelming weight that they can't even whisper to their husbands late at night.
It's the guilty relief they feel whenever their kids leave for school and the excruciating despair they face when three o'clock rolls around again...

At it's barest essence it boils down to the the heart breaking reality that they don't love or even like their newly (or not so newly) adopted kids.

There's more. Go read.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Baggage, Too

It looks like I'm not the only one who is sick and tired of pointless child welfare investigations.  Baggage is tired of it, too.  On Saturday, she wrote:

I'm so sick of everything involving DFS. My kid is hospitalized again, and we are trying to get her into residential. We have another investigation against us. The investigator was really nice, and I'm sure it will be unsubstantiated, because of course, it was unsubstantiated. And my daughter, she is sick and she needs help. I keep telling myself that.

All I can say,  Baggage, is that I completely hear you.  I'm sick and tired of pointless investigations that waste my time, make my child upset, and make it impossible to get any good, productive work done.  Let's face it -- one can't concentrate on work when one is thinking about what might happen when the social worker comes calling, even if one knows they have done nothing wrong.

We are to the point where unexpected visitors to the door create great anxiety for everyone in the house.  Earlier today, a woman came to the door wanting to talk to someone who doesn't live here.  It turned out the door-knocker was at the wrong address, but her badge, dress and professional manner of speaking (she wasn't from the child abuse patrol, as near as we could tell) gave everyone a brief scare.  Our child stepped away from the door, wide eyed and frightened, as if she'd seen a ghost.

We shouldn't have to live this way.

NOBODY should have to live this way.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Insanity of Child Abuse Allegations

In our county, if someone calls the child abuse hotline, even if they report something that is legally not abuse, authorities will investigate.

We've now been investigated four times for child abuse. With the exception of one investigation two years ago, that was triggered because our child lied to police and claimed her arm had been dislocated*, everything else we've been investigated for is complete nonsense. Since all of these allegations have been completely bogus, all investigations have cleared us of any wrongdoing.  The charges have been unfounded.

We've been investigated for "forcing" our child to change her name and religion at the time of her adoption (untrue), not allowing post-adoption contact with her birth family (also untrue), sending her to a summer boot camp for troubled kids (true, but not abuse), griping about her annoying behavior (true, but not abuse), and most recently, because our child has been hitting us.

So that big violation of trust?  The crisis counselor filed a child abuse report on us because Danielle was hitting us, we were discussing out-of-home placement, and I'd told the counselor I wasn't going to follow some of her advice, because I disagreed with it.

So let's take a quick look at these allegations, shall we?
  • A child hitting her parents is not child abuse.  It's elder abuse.
  • Considering out-of-home placement is not child abuse, especially when said child has been violent in the home for close to two and a half years.
  • Parents disagreeing with a therapist's advice is not child abuse.

    In this case, the crisis counselor wanted us to buy our daughter a new cell phone, and give her increased freedoms and perks.  It didn't seem like a good idea, since we were debriefing after another episode of our daughter's violence.  Given our troubles over the July 4th weekend, I think restricting, rather than increasing, her freedom is probably the wise choice.
I'm not even sure what to say about this situation, other than I'm pretty unhappy with the crisis counselor at the moment.  I would have understood her actions if she was reporting something that actually could have been considered abuse if it were true, but this is just a complete pile of baloney.

We were investigated and cleared in one day.  The charges were unfounded.

But that one day resulted in a ton of lost productivity at work and caused our child so much anxiety and distress that I can't even describe it.  I am so unhappy about what happened that I don't want the counselor back in our home.  We are done.  She's fired.   Of course firing her is probably unnecessary, as she would have moved on in a week or two anyway.  This agency only provides short-term counseling services.

We spoke to the counselor's supervisor, and at first she tried to hide behind the mandated reporter laws.  That's all well and good, but what was reported was not abuse.  Then, she tried to backpedal and say that the worker had contacted authorities because our child was abusing us, and this simply turned into a miscommunication between her agency and the child welfare people.

I call bullshit.

Seriously.  If you pick up the phone and call the child abuse hotline, what do you think you are doing?  Ordering a pizza?

Give me a break.

The supervisor offered to facilitate a meeting between their agency and the child abuse investigation people.  No thanks.  Danielle has been traumatized enough.  She's terrified of social workers, and each time she is interviewed by one, her reaction is increasingly negative.  This time, she suffered through two hours of a panic attack, complete with vomiting, headache, heart palpitations, and dizziness.  My kid doesn't need to be subjected to more of this.

Then, the supervisor offered to have one final meeting in our home to debrief.

Again, no thanks.  We are done.

It absolutely boggles my mind.  We were turned in because our child is hitting us, we are considering an out-of-home placement, and I told the therapist I won't buy my kid a brand new cell phone a week after she tried to kick me.


* Our child's arm was not, and has never been, dislocated.  The police could plainly see that she had not been injured, but they had to file a report anyway, because Danielle had made the allegation.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

When Professionals Violate Trust

After a difficult meeting with the crisis counselor last week, and a troubling July 4th weekend, we came home to learn that the crisis counselor had done something that really violated our family's trust.  The result of her mistake created some unbelievable drama and a traumatic event for Danielle that, once it was over, resulted in her having a two-hour-long panic attack.

The attack was so severe that we considered transporting Danielle to the emergency room.  She was vomiting and hyperventilating, and complained of a headache and heart palpitations.  It was bad.  Since her pediatrician bawled us out the last time we took her to the ER without a telephone consultation first, we called her office.  The doctor spoke to us and then to Danielle.  After about 20 minutes, she was able to partially talk Danielle down out of her emotional tree.

The logical choice would have been to call the crisis counselor, but of course it was her actions that had created the problem in the first place.

So what do you do when a professional violates your trust in such a profound way?

Once Danielle had calmed down enough to go to bed, we called the counselor, expecting to get her voice mail system.  Surprisingly, she answered, and my wife and I calmly let her know just how badly she had damaged our professional relationship and undermined Danielle's trust in her.

"What you did was not cool," I told her.

Her response?

"I was only trying to help."

Her "help" ended up creating two days of stress, drama, and unproductive, distracted work for us.  More importantly, she created two days of worry and stress for our kid.  Although the problem that was created has been resolved, the destruction of Danielle's trust is complete.  She no longer wishes to work with this particular counselor, nor does she wish to work with anyone else.

And I don't blame Danielle one little bit.

Although I really don't believe that the crisis counselor meant any malice in her actions, she failed to consider the effect they would have on everyone, especially Danielle.  Part of the problem, I think, is her lack of experience.  She is not a licensed therapist; rather, she's an inexperienced fresh-out-of-school intern, who failed to consider the fact that we are dealing with a child of trauma, and her actions stepped right onto one of Danielle's biggest triggers.

The only thing that frustrates me more is the fact that the crisis counselor had been warned in advance about this particular trigger, and she didn't bother to take it into account.

"I was only trying to help."

That may have been very well her intention, but it was a huge violation of everyone's trust.  We are trying to get help for a troubled child who needs it, and now the so-called helping professionals have once again made Danielle's situation much, much, much worse.

They created an enormous mess, and now we are the ones left trying to clean it up.