Tuesday, April 24, 2012

High School Exit Exam

This afternoon, we received a copy of Danielle's state high school exit exam results.  This is a test that, at least in our state, all students must pass before they graduate.

As we predicted, Danielle failed.

In order to pass, a student has to score 77%.  Danielle scored 75% on the English/Language Arts portion of the test, and 73% on the Mathematics.

She failed, but not by much.  We are both quite surprised to see she came so close on her first try.

I have to say that I'm blown away.

FosterEema and I have both listened to her read, quizzed her on her comprehension, and read her writing.  When I compare samples of what she writes with things I wrote at a similar age, the difference is astounding.  It makes me scared, not only for Danielle's future, but for the future of this country.

I can't believe that our academic standards have fallen so low.  It's no wonder the United States is falling so far behind.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

In-School Services On Line

I apologize for my unannounced, and rather long, blog absence.  Since the middle of February, I've had a lot of stuff going on in my personal life that has had nothing to do with Danielle's behavior.  It's left me with a huge lack of time, energy and motivation to write about the same.

Although most of the events that have taken me away fall into the category of good news, two are certainly not.  FosterEema has received news that one of her grandparents is expected to pass away, after battling Alzheimer's Disease for many years.  This news has had a profound effect on our family.

I have an extended family member who is facing surgery and a long recovery from a procedure designed to ameliorate some long-standing pain issues.  As the geographically-closest family member, the responsibilities of post-operative care and basic housekeeping will fall to me.  I expect that over the next few weeks or months, I may be posting even less.  I just don't see myself as having much in the way of free time as I try to juggle the responsibilities of running a business full time, managing my family duties and relationships, and caring for a recovering family member.  I will be back; it just may take some time.

So that's the bad news.  There are several pieces of good news which also have contributed to my absence.

I've launched a couple of other writing endeavors (a new blog and a novel) that have been sucking up almost all of my free time.  Neither of these projects have anything to do my family, foster/adoptive parenting, or the badly-broken child welfare system, and being able to focus on something intensely positive has been quite a relief.  Although the situation with Danielle hasn't changed, having something that makes it easier to ignore everything going wrong in our family is a welcome distraction.

We will be adding a new companion animal to our home.  After Sir Spudly's passing, we had planned to wait a while before adding another critter to the house.  Several lucky coincidences happened, enabling us to add a new friend.

I learned that I will receive an award for some volunteer work.

The camping season has officially started in our area, and we had the opportunity to take a short trip during Spring Break.  Danielle did not go with us on this trip, as she was staying with the grandparents, but it gave us a welcome and badly-needed break.

So, those are the reasons for my long absence.  Now, here's the update on Danielle, which I think is why most of you are reading my blog.

First off, it seems that we've managed to get the problem with Danielle's in-school counseling  straightened out.  A few brief e-mails and phone calls later, everybody on Danielle's team at school realized that someone had screwed up.  Within a day, a plan was created to fix the problem.  Within two days, we were at Danielle's school, signing authorization papers for her to begin individual counseling.

While we were at school, we again raised the issue of Danielle's desperate need to have some sort of transitional living plan.  The school agreed that Danielle's current plan, which is to examine the feasibility of moving out of state, working as a waitress, joining the military and going to medical school, isn't really an adequate educational goal.  We have a year and a half left, people, so we need to be working towards attainable goals, not examining the feasibility of those that are completely out of reach.

For some kids, moving out of state, saving money, joining the military and going to medical school are attainable goals.  For Danielle, these goals seem pretty lofty, especially since her size and psychological conditions will keep her out of the military, and her lack of interest in learning, especially when any sort of reading is required, will most certainly keep her from meeting the prerequisites for medical school.

Danielle regularly repeats a phrase that claims reading causes a terrible, difficult-to-treat, and often fatal, disease.

It makes me sad when I think of all the things she is missing because she simply hates to read.

Now that in-school counseling is coming on line, we are now at a point where we sit and wait.  Danielle's new therapist will have to establish some rapport with her, and we'll have to see where that goes.  We are also, of course, waiting to see if her new medications will create a permanent change in her behavior.  Her behavior has been better since she started the new anti-depressant during the second week of March, and the new anti-psychotic earlier this month, but it's hard to tell if the medication is truly working, or if this is simply a placebo effect.  When she first started her previous antidepressant, it seemed to work for a short while, but then her tantrums and explosions grew worse, not better.

So, we are back to waiting and seeing.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Ball Gets Dropped, Again!

I suppose I ought to be emotionally fired up over this.  I suppose I should be outraged, angry and ready to go to war with the powers-that-be.

Instead, about all I can muster is a great big meh.  I am not at all surprised.

As I've mentioned before, Danielle is attending a special program for emotionally and behaviorally-challenged kids.  This program is supposed to be providing in-school counseling for these kids, but so far, it hasn't happened, at least for Danielle. Back in January, I spoke to a very nice lady from an outside agency that was supposed to be providing counseling to Danielle.  A couple weeks later, I had a brief phone call with the person who would be providing the counseling just as soon as they got their paperwork sorted out.  I was assured things would start right away.

Then, I heard nothing.

I had assumed that everything was going all right, because that's the way counseling seems to work in our area.  In our experience, therapists who work with Danielle are a tight-lipped bunch and they barely will acknowledge that they are working our kid, let alone share anything with us.  Danielle doesn't volunteer anything, either, so when she goes to counseling, it's very much like a great big black hole.  Plenty goes in, but nothing gets out.  We assumed, that since we hadn't heard anything from anyone that Danielle hadn't made any homicidal or suicidal threats, and therefore no news was good news.


On Friday, we got a phone call from the person who was supposed to be working with Danielle.  She claimed she never received the appropriate referral from the school; therefore, Danielle's case was being closed and she would not receive any in-school counseling services.

Of course this happens on a Friday afternoon, during Spring Break, so everybody is gone and there's nobody to call.

Last night we sent out an e-mail to all the people who were supposed to be involved in Danielle's case.  We got an e-mail back saying that staffing within the counseling agency had been changed, and our message had been forwarded to the new person.  A little while later, the school's special program psychologist called.  He told me he had personally sent out the referrals to the county mental health program, and had received an e-mail back from them acknowledging receipt of the paperwork.  It was their fault that the paperwork hadn't reached the outside counseling agency.

I just didn't have the energy to get angry about this.  I explained that we have a kid who, in 18 months, will be come a legal adult, and who won't be able to continue living here due to her abusive behavior.  I told him that I was very concerned about the fact that the ball keeps getting dropped in her case, because she will soon be an adult, without a high school diploma or some kind of transition plan, and that this was not okay.

In the past, I might have yelled at the psychologist and started making phone calls to complain to his boss, his boss' boss, and maybe even his boss' boss' boss.  This time, I just explained the problem, and left it at that.

I explained to the psychologist that I feel like I am trying to herd cats when it comes to getting services for my child.  "All these people are supposed to be helping a very sick kid," I explained, "but there's a whole lot of finger-pointing going on.  When I talk to one person or agency, they tell me to talk to someone else.  When I talk to them, they tell me to go back to the first person."

I think it is easier to get blood out of a rock than it is to get appropriate mental health services for a sick child.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Psychiatric Follow-Up

Recently, we paid a follow-up visit to Danielle's psychiatrist.  As planned, she made some adjustments to Danielle's medication regimen.  She left her at the same relatively low dose of the new anti-depressant she started last month, and added a new drug that will function as a mood stabilizer.  I think it will be interesting to see how this medication affects Danielle's behavior, as this drug is classified as an atypical anti-psychotic.  She has expressed some pretty delusional thinking at times, and I hope this will provide some relief in that area.

The psychiatrist seemed to think that the new drug will help Danielle solidify her identity.  I see this as a positive, as I have sometimes wondered if she even had one.  She has no interests, no hobbies, and nothing really motivates her.  She often reminds me of a chameleon, taking on the coloration and characteristics of the friend she happens to be with.  I've wondered, for a very long time, where is the authentic Danielle?

I have a hard time believing that her true self is limited to being The One Who Rages.  There has to be more to her than that, but it is invisible and unknowable, at least in her unmedicated state.

Here's to hoping the medication works.

The doctor also shared with us a rather discouraging factoid.  She said that kids Danielle's age, with the issues she has "almost never" experience successful adoptions when they are adopted. Although the county is always happy to see these kids find "forever" families, they are rarely happy and successful in their new homes.

Our unfortunate outcome, seems to be the rule and not the exception.

If that wasn't depressing enough, we got some more discouraging news.  The psychiatrist told us, after having time to look over Danielle's file in detail, that she felt that it was reasonable to confirm a diagnosis that we'd asked about at least five years ago.  Unfortunately, for all of us, Danielle didn't receive help for it when she was younger, and possibly more malleable.  Still the psychiatrist told us that even though there are supposed "experts" who specialize in treating kids with this particular disorder, there is no scientific evidence that the treatments actually work, and a growing body of evidence that at best they don't work, and at worst do more harm than good.

The doctor's remarks made us curious, so we started doing some research.  Some of the stuff we learned was pretty stomach-churning.  It turned out that the discipline program that our county teaches and encourages all foster parents to use was created by someone who has been highly criticized, and who later lost his license.  We spent quite a bit of time researching all of this, and even the program that has been claimed to be the most effective "evidence-based" treatment wasn't tested using true scientific method.

It turns out, if you talk to real scientists, there is no agreed-upon treatment for Danielle's disorder, and there is no consensus that anything really works.  Sure, there are anecdotal tales from families that claim that x treatment or y treatment helped their troubled child, but no scientific, double-blind studies that have proven that anything works.

When we met with our family therapist this week, we shared what the psychiatrist had said, and what we had found in our research.  She confirmed what we had discovered, and we all agreed that we have a child who cannot be fixed.  Danielle can be given training and coping skills to better deal with her problems, and we can always hold out hope for a better future, but she will likely not be "cured," at least in any traditional meaning of the word.

There are some physical injuries from which the majority of people do not recover.  Spinal cord injuries, for example, rarely heal to the point that a quadriplegic has completely recovered.  Someone who suffers a complete separation of the spinal cord will likely never walk again.  I think, in this case, that Danielle suffered permanent psychological injuries as a child that are so severe she will never recover.

Is there such a thing as a spinal cord injury to the soul?

Perhaps there is.

Both the psychiatrist and the family therapist understand why Danielle will not be able to live with us past her 18th birthday, and so the focus is beginning to change.  We are all acutely aware that she is a mere 18 months away from becoming emancipated, and we all see a certain amount of urgency in helping Danielle come up with a workable plan for independence.

The troubling thing, we all realize, is that Danielle may not be willing to put in the work required to execute that plan.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Off Leash Fail

We recognize, given Danielle's age, that she should be given more freedom to be in the world unsupervised.  This needs to happen so that she can be ready, or at least as ready as she can be, to launch when she turns 18.

Over the weekend we let her do something, unsupervised.

It turned out to be an epic fail.  Instead of doing what she was supposed to do, she did something else, which included hanging out with people she didn't have permission to see.

Not only did she lie to us about it, she lied to the person she visited, claiming we had said it was okay.  Fortunately, the person she visited became suspicious, especially after Danielle started to beg the person not to call us.

We got the call, and the gig was up.


How can we give our kid the freedom she needs to develop when, each and every time, she is caught doing stuff she isn't supposed to do?

We can't trust Danielle even the tiniest little bit.