Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Discouraging Academic Progress

We recently received Danielle's results from the state-mandated academic testing.  The results were very discouraging.  She took the standard test for math, and the modified (easier) test for language arts.  She scored at far below basic proficiency on the math exam, and didn't get enough answers correct on the language arts for them to give her a score.

Obviously, she isn't anywhere near passing.

I am frustrated, because all along this journey the teachers and academic professionals who have worked with her have been telling us how well she's doing.

If she's doing so well, why aren't we seeing improvements in her test scores?  Each time she's taken the tests (even the modified ones) she's always scored at far below basic proficiency.  I realize that each year the tests increase in difficulty, but shouldn't we be seeing some evidence of catching up by now?  Arguably, Danielle's language arts scores are worse than they were last time around, as at least then they were able to produce a score.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


We recently received word that one of Danielle's birth siblings was convicted of a felony and sent to jail.

Given what I know about the particular family member involved, I'm not at all surprised, but the news made Danielle cry.

Oh how I wish we could cut off all contact with Danielle's birth family.  They bring no joy at all to our house.

But of course Danielle wants to see them anyway.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Medication = Incapable?

In response to Capable or Not, Does it Matter? Lisel wrote:

Well, but, if you want to medicate her, this would also imply that you think she CANNOT hold it together without medication. So where is the difference between your point of view and mine?

I think originally it was a good idea to speak of "CHOICES", because it meant to the children that they are not their acts.

It was meant to tell them: you screwed up once, but this does not mean that you have screw up every time. We do not like the way you act, but we still like you as a person.

However, I now get the impression that the use of the word "CHOICES" has evolved. It is used to indicate that everyone is responsible for his actions and that the bad behaviour was done on purpose, since it implies that the person could have chose to do otherwise.

I do not believe that your daughter's behaviour is a CHOICE in this sense of the term.

I think it is more about she lost it or never learned how to hold it together. So I think that an approach trying to deal with why she looses it could be more beneficial than a pure behavioural approach.

Sadly, therapists who know to delve into those kinds of problems seem to be few and far between. And it might not work for everyone. 

The point I was trying to make in my earlier post was that it really doesn't matter if my child (or any child, for that matter) can make better behavioral choices.  The point I was trying to illustrate was that once my child gets out into the cold, cruel adult world, nobody is going to care if she is able to control herself or if she simply refuses to do so.

If my young adult child throws a temper tantrum at work, starts calling people foul names, makes threats, and slings furniture around, there will be consequences.  At the very least, she'll lose her job.  She might even find herself arrested.

Do I think Danielle can control her behavior?

Yes, absolutely.

I've seen her do it.  I've seen her keep a lid on her rages, even when she was absolutely, over-the-top furious.  I know she can do it, because I've seen it happen.  I've also seen her consciously choose to misbehave, and to tell me she was doing it.  I've seen her be absolutely, completely, and totally obnoxious, just because she can.  I've seen other times where she's exploded because she hasn't even tried to put the brakes on things.

Why does she do it?  I don't know.  Maybe it's simply because she's in the mood for a good temper tantrum.

I believe she can control her behavior.  I also believe that she frequently chooses not to do so.

But again, I don't think it matters whether she can or cannot. What matters is that once she reaches adulthood, there will be profound consequences if she exhibits the same behavior out in the world that she does at home. Employers, teachers, friends, law enforcement and judges won't really give a hoot anymore about why she does what she does.  They will only care that she did what she did, and the natural consequences that follow.

I don't agree that offering Danielle medication is an acknowledgement of her inability to control herself.  I simply see medication as adding another tool to her toolbox that will help her do what she already can, should, and needs to do.  I see it akin to giving a kid a bicycle to ride to school.  Sure, he could walk to campus, but giving him a bike will enable him to get there faster and more easily.

Sure, there are some kids out there who can't make it without medication.  I agree that out-of-control, violent and dangerous kids should be medicated.  If we have to dope them into submission so they are no longer violent, then that's what should be done.  There are some kids, even with medication, who won't make it because they truly are not capable.

But again, it doesn't matter.  The long-term consequences for those adults are the same either way.  A person who commits criminal acts will eventually be locked up.  The "lucky" ones may end up in mental facilities as opposed to jail or prison, but the consequences of their actions will follow.  People won't care a great deal why a young woman is violent; they will simply demand that she be locked away to keep society safe.

So that's the point that I'm really trying to make here.  Everyone, even the sickest, most mentally ill people, are ultimately held responsible for the choices they make.  Even if someone isn't capable of rational thought, the system will still impose consequences.  Violent people, regardless of the reasons they are violent, will face repercussions when they are caught.

My biggest concern about assuming some kids can't control themselves is this: if we spare children the consequences of their negative behaviors, we teach them that they will get a pass if they do wrong.  I think we should assume that every child is capable of doing better, and teach them as such, because to do otherwise is a huge disservice to them.

If we hold the bar low, children never learn to jump high.  It's true that children often don't meet our expectations for their behavior.  Still, I think it's important to set the bar high because they will almost never give us more than we expect.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Adopted Child Syndrome

Secret Pepper Person, over at The Secret Pepper Society may have started out trying not to pee in people's punch bowls, but I think that she will manage to piss some people off.  She writes about Adopted Child Syndrome, a controversial, but rather descriptive term that tries to explain antisocial behaviors such as problems in bonding/attachment disorders, lying, stealing, defiance of authority and acts of violence, by associating them with a child's adopted status.

In her post, she spoke about the ineffectiveness of foster/adoptive parent training:

Of course the flip side is that if prospective adoptive parents were given the good, the bad and the ugly statistics in their MAPP classes would anyone ever adopt? Certainly those on the fence might climb off leaving behind the seasoned veterans who actually know what they are getting in to but even those seasoned veterans who've already experienced and won battles are sometimes taken by surprise.

She went on to say that so many of the adoptive families she knows have children who are now in trouble with the law:

Of the five families I personally know who have adopted boys, now in their 20's two are currently in jail, the third has been arrested four times and the fourth has been arrested 3 times.

Only the fifth has never had a brush with the law but is currently living at home driving his parent person insane.

Go read her post.

Whether or not Adopted Child Syndrome is accepted in the professional community or should exist as a formal diagnosis, I think it's an accurate way to describe the behaviors of some adopted children, especially those who have been adopted as older children and teens.

Secret Pepper Person is absolutely right in saying that prospective foster and adoptive parents should be educated about just how badly these kids can behave, and that there isn't enough attention paid on this problem before parents come into the system.  People come in with great intentions, and often don't find out until after their adoptions are finalized just how sick their kids really are, and just how few resources are available to help.

So in my book, I think Pepper is right on the mark, and if she ends up peeing in someone's Pollyanna-flavored corn flakes, that's probably for the good.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Capable or Not, Does it Matter?

Over the years that I've been blogging, I've received a number of conflicting opinions about the root of Danielle's behavioral problems.  Here are a couple of recent comments that reflect those opinions.

In response to The Doctor Medicates, Lisel wrote:

Why do people suppose that she CAN make choices? Perhaps all this irrational behavious is simply the expression of deep emotional/psychologic disturbance that may or may not be caused by abuse?

Why do the doctors not try to understand what is behind the behaviours? Dissociation? Psychosis? Anxieties? 

In response to Sometimes, Sorry Just Ain't Enough, LK wrote:

Unfortunately the only real solution would get you into trouble.

You can buy into the bleeding heart, it's only a child, psycho-babble BS all you want, but the reality is that it's a disciplinary problem.

Kids need to learn respect. It's as simple as that. Some learn easier than others. Parents didn't have these kinds of problems with their kids back in the old days when the fear of God and the fear of Parents was the general rule of thumb.

When I was in school, there was no such thing as ADHD and the teachers had control of the classrooms. Why is that?

This is not advocating for child abuse, it's just stating the fact that there are kids out there who deserve a good ass whooping every now and then. 

Two very different opinions here.  One that presupposes children like Danielle are not capable of controlling and managing their behavior, and one that presupposes that they can.

Which is it? Does it matter?

I would argue that, at least in terms of the quality of a young adult's life, the answer doesn't matter.  When a child reaches adulthood he will be held to a higher standard of behavior, and if he can't comply, the natural consequences will likely result in things like joblessness, homelessness or incarceration.

Although people like Kari make some very good arguments about how schools, employers, the law,  and the community at large should make accommodations for people with brain impairments like FASD, the reality is that our society doesn't make those accommodations.  Our culture has a very strong sink-or-swim mentality, and the safety nets put in place for the poor, the weak, the elderly and the disabled are very much lacking.

People who lie, cheat, steal, throw temper tantrums, make threats, or become violent will face social, financial and legal consequences.  If a person is convicted of a crime, the legal system doesn't spend a whole lot of time focusing on why the crime was committed.  It evaluates the person's past history, the likelihood of re-offense, and it passes judgement based on those factors.  Although a judge might be willing to go easy on an offender with FASD for the first or second, offense eventually the patience of the court will wear thin.

I argue, because our society and legal justice system really doesn't care if a person is impaired or not, that the question of capability is irrelevant.

If children grow up to be anti-social or violent, they will suffer the consequences.  That's it.  Maybe it isn't how our society should be, maybe it's not how our justice system should operate, but it's the reality.  Either you can live within societal expectations and laws or you can't.

I think treating impaired children, even if they have emotional or physical challenges, as incapable does them a great disservice.  Yes, we should provide them with supports, yes we should be understanding, but at the end of the day if our kids aren't doing the things that enable them to live peaceably and successfully in society, we shouldn't excuse them or give them a pass on the consequences.

How many times should emotionally or physically damaged children be given a pass on their out of control behavior?  Once?  Twice?  A dozen times?  What about kids like the Georgia boy who murdered his grandmother?  Where do you draw the line?

I ask myself this question all the time when I am faced with my child's struggles.  How long should parents be forced to endure verbal, emotional or physical abuse in their homes?  My child regularly threatens to kill me, my wife, my pets, and herself.  She has hurt us, hurt herself, and tried to injure our pets.  We've asked begged for help, and yet the system that's supposed to step forward to help us has given us very little in the way of support.

So does it matter if our child is indeed capable of doing better?  I argue not, because once she becomes an adult, the legal system won't care.  If she abuses her friends, her employers, her spouse or her children, in the way that she's treated us, at best she'll find herself without relationships, housing and a job.  At worst, she'll find herself incarcerated.

Will the doctor's powerful tongue-lashing have any lasting effect on Danielle's behavior?  Perhaps not.  Will the consequences of her behavior at respite make any lasting mark on her psyche?  I have no idea.  What I do know is that as she ages, people will become less and less tolerant of her abuse, and the consequences of her actions will become more costly.

Whether Danielle has emotional problems, a brain impairment, or just a bad case of teenage cranial-rectal inversion, it doesn't matter.  Her behavior is what it is, and the consequences are what they are.  I won't go to my friends and beg them to reconsider.  Honestly, after everything that happened, I don't blame them for their decision one tiny bit.

Do I have sympathy and empathy for my child?  Yes, but that sympathy and empathy is becoming tempered by the fact that my wife and I are extremely tired of her verbal, emotional, and physical abuse.  We shouldn't have to live in a home where our physical safety, our pets and our possessions are regularly threatened.

We shouldn't have to live this way.  Nobody should have to live this way.

But the sad thing is adoptive parents have to live this way, or they can face criminal charges for abandoning their children* if they decide to relinquish their kids because they cannot manage behaviors at home.  There should be other alternatives, but they do not exist.

In the end, I think shielding Danielle from the consequences of her behavior does her a great disservice.  If she is capable of learning (which I believe that she is) she needs to understand that her actions have consequences.  Assuming, even for one second, that she isn't capable of learning does her a disservice, because it denies her the opportunity to learn if she can.  If she's truly not capable of understanding and controlling herself, it won't matter, because she'll still face the same legal consequences she would face if she were capable and simply chose not to control herself.

The sad truth is that adulthood is a hard, cold, cruel time, and people stop being so quick to forgive and willing to say the phrase, "but she's only a child!"

* Hat tip to La estudiante de vida for the link.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Doctor Medicates

Finally, after years of begging, our pediatrician finally agreed to write a prescription for medication.

I'm not sure that the selected drug is the best choice given the circumstances, but our state-funded medical insurance has specific rules about psychotropic medications, and it seems they go with the cheapest one first.  If it fails to work, the doctor will incrementally increase the dosage to the safe maximum; after that she'll switch to other drugs.

It's a start, anyway.

The doctor was finally convinced when we showed her the long list of acting-out and crazy behaviors that Danielle has engaged in over the summer, both at home and while at respite.  The list included things like threats of harm to self, pets and other people, going AWOL, paranoid ideations, violence against others, endless manipulations, lying, stealing, and a really disturbing act of self-harm.

The list was pretty impressive, and the doctor was not amused.  She gave Danielle a tongue-lashing, telling her that it was time she grow up, quit acting like a little child, and to knock off the drama.  She told FosterEema that Danielle was behaving just like a four-year-old, throwing tantrums, being self-absorbed, and engaging in all kinds of irrational thinking.

I doubt the lecture did any good, but it certainly made Danielle squirm in the doctor's office.

I hope the medication does the child some good, but the doctor admonished Danielle and told her that she needs to change her behavior. The medication might help, the doctor explained, but ultimately Danielle is responsible for her choices.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sometimes, Sorry Just Ain't Enough

In response to Burnt Bridges, Erika wrote:

Helping her make repairs is a really important part of healing. She's used to bridges burning - she needs to learn to ask for forgiveness and to give forgiveness. Relationships grow stronger through these kinds of breaks and repairs. Hopefully.

Unfortunately, one of the lessons that Danielle is going to learn is that sometimes, sorry just ain't enough.

Danielle apologized, without any prompting from us, for her behavior while away at respite.  Sadly, an apology just isn't going to be enough in this case.  Although one can certainly argue, and Jewish law will agree, that one has to forgive someone for their transgressions, one is not obligated to forget.

Our friends have accepted Danielle's apology, but they have made it clear that her remorse will not change the consequences that come as a result of her actions.  She's no longer welcome in their home, nor will she be allowed to spend time with anyone in their family if we are not present.  Our friends have made it clear that, in a perfect world, they would have no further interactions with Danielle.  Considering everything, I can't say that I blame them.

Although Danielle's behavior wasn't bad enough to warrant calling police, and no one suffered any permanent injuries as a result of her actions, what she did was absolutely unconscionable.  Worse, it wasn't just an isolated incident or two of problematic behavior.  It was a pattern of conduct, combined with a few really terrible episodes, that pushed our friends over the edge.

Given the closeness of our friendship, the amount of time we spend together, and the fact that Danielle cannot be left unsupervised, absolutely no contact between Danielle and our friends isn't really practical.  However, the consequences of Danielle's behavior will affect us, as we won't be making any more visits to our friends' home as a family.  When we are together in other venues, Danielle will be asked to remain on our side of the street, so to speak.

It's a sad situation, and it's one that we've warned Danielle of many times.  As she's continued to abuse us over the past few years, we've told her that she's causing lasting damage to our relationship.  We've reminded her that someday she will abuse the wrong people, and they will not be so ready to accept her continued presence in their lives.

We've told Danielle, countless times, that there are several parts to an apology:
  1. One must apologize, with sincerity, for one's actions.
  2. One must make amends for the wrongdoing.
  3. One must change one's behavior to ensure that the transgression doesn't happen again.
Danielle has always been very good at offering up seemingly-heartfelt apologies, but she is often unwilling to make proper amends, and rarely makes lasting changes to her behavior. 

The reality is, there are some things for which one cannot truly make amends.  There are some lines, once crossed, that cannot be forgotten. The natural consequence of abusing one's friends is that they will eventually choose to close the door on the relationship. 

Danielle has systematically destroyed just about every relationship she has.  She's damaged her relationship with us, everyone in our extended family, and with all of our friends.  Even her relationships with her peers are becoming difficult, as her conduct affects her friends, and makes their parents unwilling to grant them permission to visit.

It's a damn shame that things turned out this way.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Burnt Bridges

Danielle is back from respite.

While she was there, she managed to completely and systematically destroy the friendship and relationship she had with our friends.

We adults are still friends, but Danielle is no longer welcome:
  • in our friends' home
  • to be left alone with their children
  • to be alone with any adult in their family
Our friends did some things for Danielle that were pretty darn nice, and she repaid them with many of the same behaviors we see at home.  They bought her a gift as an early birthday present; she didn't even bother to say thank you.

Danielle has done some serious burning of bridges with our friends.  Until now, she has always been terrible at home and a perfect angel out in public and with friends.  Now, that's changed.  I don't know whether I should be relieved, terrified, or both.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Back to School

In my opinion, this has to be one of the best television commercials ever made.

Can you hear all the parents rejoicing? I know I can.

Friday, August 19, 2011

More Frustrations

Yesterday afternoon, I finally heard back from the director of Danielle's special program.  I shared my concerns, with regards her recent cutting and threats of violence.  He agreed that FosterEema and I had every right to be worried, and made some specific promises regarding additional psychological services and supervision.

It's a starting place, I guess.

We recently received the results of Danielle's state-mandated academic testing.  Once again, she scored at far below basic proficiency.

I am feeling incredibly frustrated at the moment.  I'm asking myself, "What's the point of having Danielle in a special program for emotionally and behaviorally challenged students if her behavior and her academic skills are not improving?"

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Incredibly Frustrating Aftermath of Disturbing Events

Last weekend, we learned that Danielle did something very disturbing.  She told us that she cut herself, with the help of another student, at school.

The timing is a little unclear.  We aren't sure if this happened before the regular school year ended, or if it happened while she was attending summer school.  It's also possible, that she could be completely lying about where and when it happened.

Regardless of where or when she carved the name of a boy into her stomach, both her new therapist and her school should know about it.

I have been trying to reach these people all week and have been unsuccessful.

I called the therapist, but was not able to leave a message until this morning, because her voice mail system mysteriously wasn't accepting messages.  I called the director of Danielle's special program and left messages, and he has not returned my call.

This is, to put it mildly, incredibly frustrating.

How are we supposed to get the right help in place for this child, if we can't speak to the people who are in the position to help?

Monday, August 15, 2011


This past weekend, we discovered that Danielle has done something very disturbing.

She decided, with the help of a friend, to carve the name of a boy she likes into her flesh.  This happened a few weeks ago, it seems.  The cuts have already healed and the scars appear to be permanent.

I have no idea what to say or how to respond to this.  We left Danielle in respite for some additional time so we could figure out what we should do.

I see this as hugely unfortunate for Danielle, even though the cuts are located where they would be covered by normal school and work attire.  The marks will mean that she won't be able to wear certain types of revealing summer clothing, unless she wants to field questions about the boy whose name is carved into her skin.  This will no doubt complicate her future love life, as I suspect every man with whom she becomes intimate will ask, "Who is x?"

What makes the situation even more sad is that she doesn't have a relationship with this young man outside of school. She is not allowed to date, and I wonder if the supposed relationship she has with him may be entirely in her head.  He has not once called the house and asked to speak with her, and as far as we know, he's never asked for a visit with her outside of school.

We asked the question which would come to anyone's mind under these circumstances.  Why?

Danielle had no answer.  "I don't know," was her shrugged response.

She alleges that the cutting was done last semester, at her request, by another student while she was at school.  Given that both girls are in the special program for behaviorally and emotionally challenged youth, I have my doubts.  Still, I will notify the folks in charge of her program as soon as I am able, even though I think it would be a difficult feat for Danielle to have managed.  I suspect that she did it when she was spending the night with a friend. We've since learned (by way of a separate incident) this friend's mother has a substance abuse problem, and the supervision has been lacking.

But the damage is already done.

In addition to the school, we will notify Danielle's new therapist.  We are also going to try to track down the boy's parents, as I think they should know what's going on.  Although I don't expect them to really do anything, I think they should be aware of what's happened.

If I were parenting a so-called "normal" kid, I would want to know.

It seems as though some of my worst fears are coming to fruition.  I've always worried that Danielle would start to make choices that would affect her life in the long run, and this is certainly one of them.  Granted, this won't make as serious an impact as going to jail would, but it seems she's starting to make choices that aren't necessarily good for her future but that have permanent repercussions.

We found the young man's profile on a social media site, and he claims to have a girlfriend. 

Her name is not Danielle.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Separating the Behavior from the Child

Yesterday, in response to A Checklist to Prepare Yourself, r. wrote:

Maybe you should spend more time focusing on her #3.

Just to refresh everyone's memory (and to save people the trouble of having to go back and look) here's that item from Tara's list:

3. Be prepared to separate the behaviors and mental illness of the child from the child himself.

This is one item from Tara's list that I'm not sure I entirely agree with.  Although this advice may work for certain families and situations, there are other times where I think that advice is very, very bad.

In the interest of safety, there are occasions where one cannot separate the child from his or her mental illness.  If a child is so ill that he makes homicidal or suicidal threats, hurts animals, sets fires, sexually perpetrates on other children, or becomes violent, his behaviors and mental illness can't be divided into some imaginary separate category.  If a child is dangerous, his behavior needs to be taken seriously, and he probably needs to be locked up.

One can't lock up a child's behaviors or mental illness.  Behaviors and mental illness can't be conveniently removed from a child; therefore, it is he who must be locked up, medicated or treated in some way.

Understanding where behaviors come from does not make them any less dangerous.  In the end, it almost doesn't matter why a child is dangerous.  The fact that he is should be enough to get him the appropriate interventions and to keep his family safe.

But of course that's not the way the system works.

I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about this idea of separating the child from the behavior, and I've wondered for quite some time if this isn't just some form of professional doublespeak to convince parents to keep their troubled and dangerous children at home.  This enables them to say things like, "it's not your child that really hates you, it's the mental illness talking."

It's certainly an easy thing for professionals to say, and maybe it convinces some parents to keep going long after others would have given up.  However, trying to conveniently separate people into their component attributes doesn't change their behavior. But even more fundamentally, what makes up the core of a person is the summation of his thoughts, feelings, actions and behaviors.

Removing value judgements from the equation and just looking at behaviors, I think everybody would agree that they don't want to associate themselves with people who lie, cheat, steal, threaten or become violent.  If those behaviors are part of a person's regular menu, I'd argue those behaviors are a pretty good indicator of who that person is.

Mental illness may very well explain a child's out-of-control behaviors, but just like in the adult world, I don't believe that it should excuse them from the consequences of their actions.  Every day we as human beings are faced with making choices, and every day we experience the consequences of those choices.  It's no different for the mentally ill, the traumatized, or the disabled.  Even with minds and bodies that don't function properly, they are still held responsible for their actions.

People agree that even the most mentally ill person who commits a murder shouldn't be allowed to walk free afterward.  Maybe their consequence might be slightly different from a sane murderer (state hospital for criminally insane as opposed to prison) but they are still going to face the consequences of the behavior.

Even when people really do want to love and care for their mentally ill family member, sometimes there comes a point where one reaches the breaking point.  I just started reading Ninja Poodles, whose author separated from her bipolar husband.  In  her post, she writes that although mentally ill people are not at fault for being sick, they are responsible for their behavior.

No matter how good the good times are, the bad times of living with a bipolar person are pure hell. It's not their fault that they're ill, but they ARE responsible for their actions. The thing that makes it hard for "normals" to deal with it is that it is not logical. Where we have something happen, and feel a corresponding mood in response to that, a cycling bipolar person feels the feeling, the mood, FIRST. For no reason except that their brain is broken. Upon feeling that mood, they must then cast about externally, looking for a REASON for that mood. If they feel angry, and you're the only one there, brace yourself. You're about to have done something horribly wrong, whether you know it or not.

So are our mentally ill children responsible for their behaviors? I believe, absolutely, that they are.  Do I believe that they should be held accountable?  Again, yes, especially if their behaviors are dangerous.

Frankly, I think that endlessly excusing a child's dangerous behaviors tends to make the problem worse.  Certainly this is true in cases where parents repeatedly ask for help from mental health professionals, child welfare officials and police, only to have the professionals and police say they are just expecting too much from their ill child.  The kids realize that "nothing" is going to happen to them, and they are emboldened to act out further.

Eventually, some of these cases escalate, and people get hurt.  Cases like this, this, this, and  this.

It took me less than a minute to find four cases of adopted children murdering their parents.  If I had the time and inclination, I'm sure I could find a lot more.

Given cases like these, I think it's incredibly unwise to try to creatively separate a child from his behavior, because the behavior reflects who he is as a person.  Can a child change?  Possibly.  But trying to create some imaginary distinction between a child and his behavior would be like trying to separate my cockatoo from her tendency to scream.  Cockatoos scream.  It is what they do.  Still, that doesn't prevent me from giving my bird consequences for her behavior.  If she's sitting on my shoulder and elects to shriek in my ear, she'll be removed and placed in her cage.  She's learned, over time, to mitigate some of her more undesirable screaming, which makes her much more pleasant to be around.

If my bird can learn not to scream in my ear and not to crap on my shirt, then a child ought to be able to learn how to stop threatening and hurting others. He may very well have all of those feelings behind the behaviors for the rest of his life, but at some point, he'll have to learn to control them, or he will end up locked up somewhere.

And that's really the rub.  Either a mentally ill child can make it in the free world or he can't.  If he can't, he should be locked up, not only for his protection, but for the protection of others as well.

Understanding the causes of bad behavior is certainly important, but continually excusing them doesn't address the real problem.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Checklist to Prepare Yourself

This morning Tara, over at The Short Bus, wrote a list of the things you need to be prepared for if you plan to become a step-parent.

After reading her list, I noticed that the majority of it applies equally well to foster or adoptive parenting.

Go read.  It's a good list.

I couldn't help but notice that there were recurring themes in her list:
  • The strains that are placed on one's relationship with one's spouse
  • The abuse, disrespect and lack of regard the children have for their step-parent, which is exacerbated by past trauma and history of mental illness
  • The triangulation of parents, teachers and professionals
  • The involvement of child welfare officials
If you remove "step-parent" from this list and replace it with "foster parent" or "adoptive parent," I think this sums up many people's experiences.

Granted, I think the presence of any children in a home, whether they are biological, foster or adopted, can create similar situations.  Unfortunately, I think the problem is worse when dealing with a step, foster, or adoptive parenting situation, simply because of the number of people involved. It seems that, no matter what you do, there is always someone watching over your shoulder, making second-guesses about your parenting.

Add to that a special needs child, especially if that child has attachment problems, FASD, or past trauma, and the possibilities of false allegations, accusations, and criticism become endless.

I think this serves as a larger commentary on our society.  Why is it, when we look at the challenges special-needs children have, that parents are always presumed guilty until proven innocent?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


As I've mentioned before, Danielle is away at respite.

It is amazing how quiet the house is now.  The stress level is lower, I've slept better, and even our pets seem happier.  My wife and I have been able to get a taste of what life used to be like, before children.

Animals are affected by the emotional timbre of the home in which they live, and it's clear our avian friends are more content than usual.  There is less screaming, less feather picking, and more beak grinding.

It won't be long before Danielle comes home.

I feel anxious about it.

I feel anxious, because we have some new worries about Danielle's safety at home.

No, that's not entirely true.  We are worried about our own safety. 

We had a locksmith come and install a locking doorknob on our bedroom door.  The key matches the lock to our home office, and athough the lock isn't strong enough to keep a determined burglar out, it will be enough to slow our child down (and for us to wake up) if she decides to harm us while we are sleeping.

After the locksmith left our home, I couldn't help but think, what a terrible situation we are in.  Nobody should have to live this way.  Nobody should have to be so afraid of what their child might do that they have to install a lock on their bedroom door.

We have an appointment to meet with Danielle's new therapist.  We will meet with her alone, while Danielle is still away at respite, and then they will begin meeting after she returns.  We will, of course, share our concerns, and the disturbing things we've discovered.

Will this therapist help?

I don't know.

It's hard to hold out a lot of hope when so many others have failed.


When Danielle comes home from respite, I know that more than anything else, I will miss the quiet.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Missing the Person I Used to Be

Last weekend Jen, over at Couldn't Make It Up If I Tried, blogged about all the things she used to be before she became a mom to a severely traumatized kid.  She mentioned how she grieves the losses she's experienced as a result, and how she wishes she could be the person she used to be.

I think many foster and adoptive parents can relate to what she's saying.

For many of us, our children become all-consuming.  Their needs, their behaviors, and the therapeutic interventions required often take a lot of time.  For many parents, things often feel like there is nothing in life besides the basic must-dos, such a work and maintaining the house, and the ever-increasing demands from their damaged children.

It feels like a cycle that never ends.  Get up.  Make sure child is ready for school.  Get child to school.  Work.  Fetch child from school.  Manage child's behavior.  Deliver child at appointments.  Manage child's behavior.  Make dinner.  Manage child's behavior.  Go to bed, exhausted.  Do the same thing day after day, dreading weekends and holidays because it means even less of a break and more challenging behaviors.

The tougher the child, the less parents meet their own needs.  For some, it's not uncommon to go weeks or even months without seeing friends, taking time for themselves, or doing something that doesn't involve talking or thinking about their troubled child.

It often feels true here.  It seems that my wife and I spend most of our non-work time either talking about, or dealing with, our child's needs and behaviors.

So it's been a very interesting experience having her away at respite for a few weeks.  Unlike when we sent her away to boot camp last summer, we haven't had regular status updates or contact.  In many ways, this has been a more complete break than last year.

Rather than spending every minute dealing with our child, FosterEema and I have been rediscovering each other and the things we like to do.  Prior to this break, if it wasn't work or family finances, we mostly talked about Danielle.  Now that she's gone, we've had time to watch marathon sessions of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and we've enjoyed getting into some pretty deep conversations about the existential questions created by Commander Data

Now I'll be the first one to admit that there is no real point to having these conversations, since Commander Data doesn't exist, and the creation of a sentient artificial life form is probably decades, if not centuries, away.  Still, we are having a lot of fun.  These are the kinds of conversations that my wife and I used to have before we started doing foster care, and it has been a long, long time since we've been able to have them.

Like Jen, I miss the person I used to be and the life I used to have before we had children.  I had a lot more fun, and I didn't have to take things so darn seriously.  I didn't have to keep medications in lock boxes, or install locks on my bedroom and office doors to keep everyone safe at night.  I didn't have to worry about the answers to scary, hypothetical questions that keep me awake at night.

I miss walking around the house naked. I miss unscheduled mealtimes, and being able to eat what I want, when I want.  I miss being able to do things, without pre-planning, or worrying about how my child will react to the unexpected change.

But most of all, I miss being able to have fun, without worries, guilt, or fear of later payback.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why I Think International Adoptions are a Bad Idea

This morning I was once again going through my blog logs, and I noticed that a site called Rally Ethics for Orphans & At-Risk Minors had linked to me.  It turns out that I'm not only on this site's blog roll, but my series on the costs of special-needs adoption was also mentioned in one of their posts.

I'm flattered, and I'd like to give this blog a shout-out, because I think they have some valuable things to say.  Now it's important to point out that I do not agree with everything this blogger says but there is one thing upon which we absolutely agree:

The adoption system, both domestic and international, is desperately broken.

Ever since I started blogging back in 2006 on my now-defunct blog, Navigating the Maze, I haven't been a big fan of International adoption.  Now I won't go so far as to condemn people who have done it, but it's just that I've always felt that children within our own country deserve priority.

So this morning, when I was trying to think of something to write about, and discovered the Rally site, I thought that I should share why I think International adoptions are a bad idea.

No Guarantees - As with the domestic adoption system, there are no guarantees when one adopts from overseas.  However, when one adopts from a foreign country (which usually includes an assortment of legal, cultural and linguistic barriers) there is even less assurance that a child has been treated well.  Although some countries are known for their caring orphanages, others are not, which makes the likelihood of adopting a mentally and physically healthy child even smaller.

Family and Medical History Less Available - In the United States, most children who come into the foster care system have some type of history.  There are case files, interviews with parents, and medical records that are provided.  When one adopts from overseas, the family and medical history may be incomplete or non-existent.  If one doesn't speak or read a child's language, important medical information may be missed, even if it is provided, due to poor or incomplete translations.  A domestic adoption (even if mostly closed) offers some possibility for continued exchange of important medical and family information.

Expense/No Financial Support - Adopting from overseas is expensive.  Parenting children is expensive, and parenting special-needs children is even more so.  Many children, especially older or special-needs kids, require a lot of help, which falls upon the adoptive family to provide.  If a family adopts from the domestic foster care system, financial help can be available.  Many special-needs children are automatically covered by some form of adoption assistance, which often includes state-sponsored medical insurance.  Although coverage under this system isn't perfect, it's better than nothing.  Although many adoptive families go into the process at a time when they are financially secure, that can change.  Having a little extra help, even if it is from the government, can sometimes be a life-saver.

Loss - All adoptions create loss, but International ones create even bigger losses.  Although a child might be disconnected from his or her family and culture with a domestic adoption, at least some things remain the same.  The child remains in his or her country, and a possibility of contact with birth family members still exists.  With an International adoption, that is rare.  Children lose not only their birth family, their culture, their religion, and their language, they lose everything that was once familiar to them.  Not only do they lose everything, the possibility of finding their birth families later is very small.

Even when families are reunited, the end result isn't always happy.  Sometimes linguistic and cultural divides make it impossible for the adult child to make a happy homecoming.  If you haven't seen it, check out the movie Daughter from Danang.  It's an absolutely wrenching tale of a half-American Vietnamese child who was sent to the United States to be adopted.  Her adoption wasn't happy, and her reunion with her birth family was not, either.

Charity Begins at Home - Although I absolutely agree that we should help those less fortunate, I think the reality is that charity must begin at home.  Especially during these difficult times where our country is in financial turmoil, we need to take care of our own people first.  Yes, it's laudable to help children in need overseas, but we need to help our own kids first.  We have hundreds of thousands of children trapped in our domestic foster care system, and those are the kids who need help first.  Although one can certainly argue that many of those children shouldn't be there at all, the ones who are legitimately there need our help, first.

Loss of Resources - On an individual level, perhaps adopting a single child from overseas makes no difference to the foreign land.  But, when these adoptions are multiplied by the thousands, the country loses a valuable resource -- people.  These children are the country's future, and when they are sent overseas, their skills, talents and brains are lost forever.

And, certainly in the case of China, adoption has contributed to a huge gender imbalance.  Although it's not fair to blame adoption for the problem, as China's one child policy and preference for boys created it, certainly adoption has contributed to the problem.  After all, the majority of the children adopted from China are girls, and it provided a convenient way for Chinese mothers to dispose of their unwanted children.

Child Trafficking - The last, and probably most serious, problem with overseas adoption is that there's no way to be certain the child is legally free.  Guatemala, for example, has been investigated for this sort of corruption.  If you adopt a child from another country, how can you be absolutely sure that he really is an orphan, and wasn't stolen from his mother?

You can't.

If you can't be sure that a child is truly an orphan, even if he's currently housed in abysmal conditions, are you doing the right thing by "saving" him?  I'm not so sure.  As long as he remains in his home country, there is a chance he will be found by his biological parents.  If he is sent to the United States, that chance all but disappears.

And finally, how do we know that these children are really "better off" being ripped from their roots?  If a child is loved by his mother, even if he lives in appalling conditions, isn't that better than being raised by strangers?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Self Care - Part VI

Periodically, I go through my logs to see what search engine keywords have been used to find my blog.  Sometimes it's interesting.  Sometimes it's discouraging.  Sometimes, I find things that are great blog fodder.

Yesterday, someone found my series on self-care by searching on the following:

what to do when you are burned out on your special needs adopted child

Wow. I bet there are a lot of foster and adoptive parents who can relate to that search.

So what do you do when you are burned out on your kid?  It doesn't really matter if the child is a special-needs child or not, or whether they are a birth, foster or adopted kid.  Granted, some children are tougher to parent than others, but I think all parents need a break sometimes.

So what do you do when you are burned out?

The easy answer, of course, is to put the kid in respite.  Getting a difficult child out of your hair for a little while can help a lot if your mental health is really suffering because of your child's behaviors.  Every parent needs a break now and then, and I've noticed that a lot of parents don't want to take breaks because they feel their children need them.  That works great, right up until the moment that burnout sets in, and the parent feels like they are about ready to implode.

So the better approach is to take care of yourself sufficiently from the very beginning, so that you don't find yourself in the position of being completely burned out on your kid.

The truth is this is very easy to say and very hard to do.  So many foster and adoptive parents feel a lot of guilt.  We feel guilty that we can't solve our children's problems, we feel ashamed that sometimes we don't like them very much on account of their behaviors, and we feel like failures because even when we follow the best parenting advice, our children still rage.  That guilt makes us feel badly when we finally admit we need a break.

It's really hard to meet a difficult child's needs while still meeting your own.  It's hard to carve out moments of peace, and time to do things you enjoy, when you are trying to juggle the needs of maintaining a house, caring for other children, demands at work, therapy appointments, your relationship with your spouse, and everything else.  It often seems that by the time everything else is done, there's no time left for you.

So the truth is, if you are going to make it, you have to carve out some time for yourself.  If you have a spouse, make time that you spend together.  If you have hobbies, schedule them.  Even if it means that you have to schedule your free time on your calendar, do it.

Because you are important, and you can't give what you don't have.  If you aren't taking care of yourself, then eventually you will become so depleted that you won't be able to take care of your special-needs children, your spouse, your house or your job.  Eventually, you'll find yourself so burned out that you have nothing left for anybody.

If you are already to that point, what do you do?

Put the kid in respite, if at all possible.  Even if it's difficult, even if it costs money, even if you can't afford it, even if you think there will be paybacks later.  If you are to the point of being that desperate, you must immediately put yourself first.  Get some distance between you and your difficult child and take a break.

While your kid is away, do things that refresh and renew your soul.  It doesn't have to be anything fancy.  It could be something as simple as watching several marathon nights of your favorite TV show.  Give yourself some time to do things that aren't centered around your child's needs.  Focus on yours.

If you can, get help.  For some families, counseling is valuable.  For others, simply tapping into a support network of other struggling families is useful.  Find someone, anyone, who can help share the load.

Finally, change your priorities.  Although your children are important, you must come first.  If you come to decision points where you have to choose between your well-being or your child's, choose yourself first, even if you feel guilty doing it.

The truth is, at the end of the day, you are the only you available.  If you aren't in good enough shape to take care of your challenged child, who will?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hypothetical Question: Lethal Weapon

Here's a hypothetical question:

What would you do if you discovered papers your child had written that stated something to the effect of, if I had x I would do y, where x was a type of weapon, and y was a lethal act the child wished to commit against his or her parents?

Would it make any difference if the writing you found was a couple of months old?  What if the writings were old, but the child had said similar things recently?  What if the child had a history of violence, but hadn't seriously injured anyone?

Would you call police?  Would you contact the mental health people?  What if you had a history with both organizations not taking you seriously?

Just askin'.