Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What happens to the child nobody wants?

We've been in touch with C-son by telephone lately.  The telephone contact is likely to continue.  We'll probably try to visit him a couple of times a year.  But he's not coming back to this home.  What happens to a child nobody wants?

It's probably worth backing up and explaining how he came into our lives in the first place.

About a year or two ago, a woman who I'll call "Susan Social Worker" (not her real name) contacted our family social worker with C-son's profile.  She said, "I think yours is the perfect family for this kid".  We looked over the profile and said, no way.  His history went like this:  he moved into a home, was wonderful for a little while, and then got so violent that police were called.  Repeat that scenario 10 or 20 times with minor variations, and that was his story.  We didn't want that around our kids.

Early in this calendar year, we got a nibble from Susan about a pair of brothers needing a home but fast.  Were we interested?  They seemed like decent kids; we said we'd give it a look.  Last-minute, the brothers got moved into another home.  But, Susan added, C-son was still there.  And his written history was misleading, she said.  The violence was all in the distant past, a result of one family's abuse, long ago.  Time, therapy, and drugs had brought great changes, and all this kid needed was a chance.

We met with Susan in March.  She was aglow about this boy.  She didn't have an updated profile to give us (the current one was 2 years old), but he was a darling kid.  Model student.  Great smile.  Really wanted a home, really wanted a family, everybody has misunderstood him and he really needed a chance.  And so we said, yes.  And a few weeks later, on April 5, he moved in.

If it seems like I'm pointing a finger at Susan Social Worker, you read me correctly.  Later, when we got the updated profile, we discovered he'd been suspended from school in March -- not exactly a model student.  And his therapy and drugs hadn't really cured his violence at all, as we were to find out.  My experience with the foster care system has put me in touch with all sorts of amazing, admirable people (Tammi-the-Terrific was our first social worker, and I've leaned heavily these past few years on Amanda-the-Awesome).  But I've heard stories about the Susans of the social work world, the ones who mislead themselves and the families they work with, just so they can place kids.   And that's what happens to some of the kids that no-one wants:  some over-zealous social worker convinces a family that everything is going to be okay, and the child ends up taking over the family's life.  If you're curious about this side of it, just look up "Reactive Attachment Disorder".

So, as I said: that's what happens to a small fraction of foster kids that nobody wants -- somebody gets them anyway.  If C-son had managed to hang on and stay adorable for a few more months until we'd legally adopted him, he'd have been our kid for life.  But there's a legal waiting period between move-in day and adoption day.  And here's what happened with C-son during that waiting period.
  • April 5th, C-son moved in with us.
  • At first, he was the most amazingly perfect kid you could have imagined.
  • By early May, he was starting to have melt-downs, hiding under his blankets or in closets.  I figured "Love is not enough", and decided to stay home with him instead of going to work this summer.  I was going to give him attention that he desperately needed . . . I thought.
  • By late May, I was getting twitchy, reading books about positive reinforcement but also growing nervous about being on my own with the boys for the entire month of June.  Three boys on one mom, with one of the three being particularly unpredictable.  I was writing things like, "So, can I say how happy I was to have a trouble-free weekend last Saturday and Sunday? This is something that I used to take for granted, but now I'm watching for this like a farmer of a parched field watches for rain."
  • By early June, C-son was starting to pick fights with his brothers.  Bedtime became an increasingly convoluted routine of protecting C-son from slights (real or imagined), and conversely protecting his brothers from him.  But during the day, things were fine, mostly.  
  • By mid June, C-son was doing great at chores on his own.  I was spending a lot of time supervising him -- I realized I couldn't leave him at home alone without worrying about an outburst.  But as long as I was there, we were getting a lot done together.  It was actually quite nice in its own way.
  • But it was increasingly clear that even mild criticism from an adult set him over the edge.  One day after he and J-son were talking in church, I moved J-son over to the other side of me so they couldn't talk anymore.  In response, C-son stormed out of church and wouldn't talk to me.   That kind of reaction was becoming the norm, not the exception.
  • By the end of June, C-son was getting mouthy and was openly taking things that weren't his.  I was getting so sick of tip-toe-ing around him that I "picked a fight", telling him he couldn't use my tools for one day.  He sulked mightily for the whole day, though he finally came around.  I hoped things would get better once he realized I was back in control.
  • Things calmed down.  The boys visited my sister for a week, and during that time of peace and quiet, I decided to stop being a whiner and redouble my efforts.
  • But even before he got back home from my sister's place, things got worse, much worse.  Blatant stealing.  Outright defiance.  Temper tantrums.  
Finally, there was the two nights in a row that he exploded.  Throwing things, punching things, cursing.  Police were involved both nights.  And when it was a clear he was posing a danger to himself and possibly to others, he was taken away for mental health evaluation.  

Where does a child like this go?  For the past three weeks, he's been in a mental health hospital an hour from our home, getting his meds back on track and getting some additional therapy.  (He'd had both meds and therapy while in our home, but obviously this is more intense).  Next week, he'll move into a Group Therapeutic Home even further away, and that will be his home for the indefinite future.  Not with a family, but under constant supervision and managed care.  And definitely not coming back here.

And what does this mean for our family?  This post is long enough already.  I'll write more about that tomorrow.

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