In a previous post I shared our introduction into trauma parenting when our old son entered our home at age four. We were a good intentioned family trying desperately to connect with our child. Our assumption was that time, love and the right parenting techniques would eventually begin to work and soften my child’s hardened heart.
We had come back from Colorado with a whole arsenal of new Empowered to Connect material and principles that we were eager to implement. We set to work with building attachment through connection. We had him tested for Sensory Processing Disorder. The school tested him and agreed that this was accurate. They even made up a nice little sensory diet for him. However, they shut down any and all assistance in the classroom.
I began homeschooling. My initial idea was that this would foster attachment and help build the foundation he had missed in his early years to learn basic social skills and regulate his emotions. In every way possible we were trying to make up for those earliest deficits.
Behaviors continued to increase with age. We seen stealing, lying, manipulation, triangulation, lack of respect for boundaries, and the need for constant supervision. With the addition of our two younger children he began to attempt to build a hierarchy amongst the four of them, with him as the dominant one controlling them all. There was increased inappropriateness so we turned our home into a matrix of alarms, cameras, and motion detectors.
By eight years old he had begun to set fires. Always the creative one, he would use plastic toys and melt them to his lightbulb in his bedroom. As we began involving crisis workers to evaluate him for psychiatric hospitalization he was able to convince the them that this was only experimentation. Later he would openly admit that these were actually attempts to burn the house down and kill his entire family.
We began to see that we were dealing with mental illness, but found it difficult to navigate the right roads to access interventions. As terrifying diagnosis began to pile up behind his name we became more and more desperate to figure out where to turn next.
For us, post adoptive services were our first real avenue of services. We were able to gain an in-home therapist several times a week. We were introduced to EMDR therapy and actual attachment work. We found some respite for our other children who were really left on the back burner as this child’s needs dictated every moment of our lives. We also obtained very thorough and sobering psychiatric evaluations that confirmed what we already knew-we could not manage this anymore.
By nine years of age our child was experiencing command hallucinations ordering him to kill his family. These were not threats , but actual plots and attempts. One of these involved putting ant poison in our food. We were now on a rollercoaster ride of psychiatric hospitalizations. Sometimes he would only be home a few hours before we were making another crisis call.
It was not just my son who was in crisis. We had become a family on the brink of disaster. We were all being held hostage to our son’s mental illness. We may have come into this with the best of intentions, but our experiences left us feeling as if we had entered a series of systems of care that had set us up for failure.
The foster care system withheld vital information from us and provided us with a very sketchy and vague timeline of his history. The same red flags were seen by several previous foster homes but the system failed to give him early interventions or even stability.
The school system also failed us. Rather than providing the proper evaluations and supports they were happy to simply call me every single day to come handle my unruly child. It was not until the fifth grade that I was able to secure the proper IEP for him.
The mental health system stuck bandaids on a triage patient. Many times we left bewildered from a psychiatric stay. The child that days before tried to kill seven people was now in charge of creating a safety plan and being sent back home with us! No one was informative and honest with us about the weight and trajectory of the diagnosis he had. We were still believing that we had just not found the right medication or treatment, but when we did we would have a whole new kid.
More importantly, it all took too long. This child entered DCFS radar at birth, being cocaine exposed. It was not until age nine that we were really beginning to figure out how to track down services. We were running headlong in the dark chasing every lead and possible resource. WHERE WAS OUR VILLAGE?
As parents, we made a commitment to this child to be his family. Our family motto is “family means no one gets left behind”. We were striving to give him permanence and love, but also safety. What happens when we can no longer provide safety to him or the rest of the family. All it took was him being successful once and then we would just be a newspaper headline! I will continue to war with each of my children against they’re haunting demons, but this child could no longer live safely under this roof. He has now spent nearly two years shifting between residential services, yet another frustrating system. I have had several people in the mental health field suggest we cut our ties and place him back in the state’s care! He is NOT disposable. He is NOT and orphan or an island. He has a family, thank you very much!
For many years we felt isolated and alone. We thought we were the only ones struggling with these issues. However, I have found that there are so many families that are attempting to parent a child just like mine. The same things are playing out in too many homes. WHERE IS OUR VILLAGE?
The systems are not only broken and failing but putting all the onus squarely on the shoulder’s of the family unit. Successful change will only take place when the needs of the family as a whole are listened to. The family as a whole must be supported. These systems need to work with the whole family, not simply the child in crisis. It takes a village to raise a child.