Spoiler Alert – Devon did spit in my coffee, but that’s not what the book is about. It isn’t about what Devon did or did not do, or about his behaviors. It is about the dysfunctions of the mental health system. “But, he spit in my coffee” is a piece of dialog from a conversation I had with a therapist who insisted that my son spit in my coffee as a Christmas gift for me because he loved me so much. In complete disbelieve I spluttered out, “but, he spit in my coffee!” I chose this title to reflect the extreme ineptitude of the “help” currently available to parents of children with RAD.
Isn’t RAD a “fake” defunct diagnosis?
RAD continues to be a valid diagnostic code in the DSM (313.89) and our children are being given this diagnosis by psychiatrists. This book factually documents my son’s repeated diagnosis of RAD by multiple clinicians, including psychiatrists in mental health treatment facilities and hospitals. However, I do believe that the RAD diagnosis is not adequately serving our children. I strongly support the inclusion of Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD) in the DSM as a much more comprehensive and helpful diagnosis. Learn more here: RAD vs. DTD: What’s all the Controversy about
Do you support adoption?
Absolutely. I support adoption When birth parents are treated fairly and respectfully; and when reunification is appropriate, birth parents have been given, not only the opportunity, but the resources and tools to be successful. I support adoption when the needs of the child are the criteria used to select appropriate adoptive parents for the child. I support adoption when parents are provided with adequate training and all available information about the child is disclosed to them. I support adoption when the child has access to effective treatments for early childhood trauma and any other needs they may have.
From the back of the book
What gives you the right to tell Devon’s story?
I don’t have the right to tell Devon’s story, and I am not. I am telling my story, the story of how I adopted a child with RAD and my struggle to navigate the child welfare and mental health systems. As part of sharing any experience, such as this, there is always the intersection of the stories of other people. As a society we routinely discuss the experiences of caregivers—caregivers to the chronically or terminally ill, to aging parents, to children with autism, to babies born prematurely, and to those with a myriad of other special needs. The experience of parents like myself, caregivers of children with RAD, needs to be told as well.
Did you receive Devon’s permission to publish this book?
Devon has given me permission to share and publish what is contained in this book and he is benefiting financially from it. There are situations and events I have not included in this book at his request. Furthermore, I have chosen to exclude details that are unnecessarily gratuitous. Ultimately, though, this story is not about Devon. It is about how “the system” is failing our most vulnerable children and the families that care for them.
Why are you disclosing Kayla’s sexual orientation?
Kayla specifically asked me to include the details that I have in this book. She has been open about her sexuality for several years and hopes that our story will encourage parents to be supportive of their LGBTQ+ children.
Is Sarrah okay with you telling this story?
Sarrah has consented to my sharing how she lost her children. She believes, as I do, that many birth mothers unfairly lose custody of their children when they should receive services and help. Sarrah is one of the most honest and courageous women I know, and I am honored to be able to speak up on her behalf about how she was victimized by the system.
Don’t you realize you weren’t a good mother to Devon?
Of course, I realize this. I deeply regret my inability to be the mother Devon needed. I hope my honesty and transparency in telling this story will make clear that mothers of kids with RAD are being asked to do the impossible and our best is literally not good enough. By blaming and shaming moms, child welfare and mental health professionals have been able to deflect away from their lack of effective treatments for RAD and other outcomes of early childhood trauma. As a result our children and families are not getting the help we need.
What happened between the end of the book and when Devon turned 18?
Due to Devon’s age and dangerous behaviors, it became increasingly difficult to find facilities willing to treat him. This was especially true when he began to get charged with misdemeanors and felonies. Ultimately, a facility filed a “Health and Safety Discharge” which enabled them to discharge him without securing a new placement. This meant he was being discharged to home. They contacted me with an ultimatum. They would withdraw the Health and Safety Discharge and keep him if I would pay them thousands of dollars out of pocket (under the table, and in addition to the Medicaid payments they receive). As this was my only option to keep Devon and his siblings safe, I made the payments to keep him in care until he turned 18.
What’s your relationship with Devon like now?
When Devon became an adult, with real-world consequences and responsibilities, he began making better choices. Also, our relationship was no longer hostage to the dysfunctions of the “system”—I no longer had to fear Devon leveraging false allegations against me and the police would come to my aid if necessary. As a result, my relationship with Devon is on a path of healing. We have talked about what has happened and I’ve apologized for not being able to be the mother he needed. While nothing can ever make that right, I think Devon is coming to understand some of the “why.”
Where is everyone now?
Devon is working to integrate into the community and to mitigate his outstanding criminal charges. He loves video games, Anime, and animals. Kayla is a young adult and is exploring potential career paths. She likes to skateboard, rap, and spend time with friends. Sam is working as a self-employed barber. Amias is serving in our military as an aircraft mechanic. Brandon is in high school and hopes to become a veterinarian. Delano passed away in 2019. Becky and Jason and I continue to go on vacations together with all the kids, now young adults and teenagers. We still celebrate holidays together at “Auntie Becky’s house.”
What does “based on a true story” mean?
Most importantly, it means that the substance of this story has not been fabricated. However, in order to write this as a reads-like-fiction narrative, I have taken non-material and other liberties. Dialogue has been reconstructed based on my recollections, the recollections of others, my journals, and other documentation. In addition, names and personally identifying details have been changed in most cases.
What documentation did you use while writing this book?
I leaned heavily on my own extensive journals and contemporaneous notes, as well as the recollections of others. I also relied on thousands of pages of formal and informal documentation I have collected over the years. When I began this project, I also requested records from the professionals and facilities our family interacted with to supplement my documentation.
Did therapists really say those things to you?
Many of the interactions with therapists that I’ve described in this book may be surprising or even hard to believe. However, these interactions did happen and I was able to very closely and accurately recreate the dialogue based on my contemporaneous notes and documentation. As other moms of kids with RAD will attest, this is the unhelpful advice and guidance therapists provide to our families. This is why developing effective specialized treatments for RAD must be a priority.
Why can’t I find any of the facilities named in this book?
Most names of facilities and people, as well as identifying details, have been changed. This book is not intended to be an exposé of any specific organization or person. It is intended to be an exposé of the systemic failures and dysfunctions of the child welfare and mental health systems that are not adequately supporting children with RAD and their families.
Why did you write this to read like a novel?
The lives of moms of children with RAD are unimaginable for those who haven’t experienced it. I wrote this story to read like a novel to enable readers to “experience for themselves” the struggles and nuances of a family in crisis and “see for themselves” the shocking dysfunctions of the systems that are failing our children and families.
My hope is that the community—therapists, doctors, mental health professionals, educators, and others—will gain a newly informed perspective to begin to rethink their assumptions about our families. My hope is that our family and friends will “get it” and begin to offer us empathy and support. My hope is that everyone who reads this book will become an advocate for the child welfare and mental health reforms our kids need.
Why did you use the stages of grief to structure this book?
C.S. Lewis wrote, “I sat with my anger long enough until she told me her real name was grief.” Writing is a cathartic experience and ultimately it was how I “sat with my anger” and became introspective enough about these events to understand my own feelings. I realized that I was grieving the unfilled expectations I had for myself as a mother, and the unfulfilled expectations I had for adoption.
A note about active shooters
In the interest of telling this story accurately, I included the conversation I had with my kids about the “Batman shooting” true to what I said at the time. However, I’ve since learned from active shooter training to run if you can, hide and barricade if you cannot, and fight back as a last resort. Please educate yourself and your kids on how to stay safe.