Category: Stories from other parents

What to consider before telling your RAD parenting story

RAD parents have unbelievable, and unbelievably important, stories to tell.

Too often the issues around parenting kids with complex mental health issues, like Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), are told from the armchair of a clinician. But it’s our stories of lived experience that have the unique potential to highlight the dysfunctions of the system, raise awareness about the disorder, and effect change.

For this reason, you may have thought about sharing your story, perhaps writing articles or a book. This can be a worthwhile and noble endeavor, but beware: parents writing about their kids comes with ethical and legal issues, and will be even dicer for you because RAD is a controversial topic. Through the process of writing blog posts, articles, op-eds, and my memoir, But, He Spit in my Coffee, I have learned a lot about this space and gained some wisdom.

Here are some of the important lessons I learned that may help you along the way.

Agents only want stories with a “happily ever after”

(but you can self-publish)

I received over 20 requests for full or partial manuscripts from book agents when I queried But, He Spit in my Coffee. This is a staggeringly good response, but none of them picked me up as a client. The feedback I received was positive about my writing, but pretty much unanimous that there isn’t an appetite from publishers for stories without a happily-ever-after ending. This was disappointing because I could not change the ending of my story. In fact, the whole point of my memoir was to underscore the lack of happily-ever-afters for RAD kids and their families.

If you choose to tell your story, you may receive a similar reception. Fortunately, there are several options to explore other than traditional publishing. One is self-publishing through a vanity or subsidy press. These publishers will charge you a fee to publish your book, along with providing services including editing, book cover design, and marketing. Generally you share royalties with the press. If you go this route, do thorough research because there are many authors who have been scammed by these types of deals. Another option, is to self-publish through a publisher like Amazon’s KDP. This is the route I chose for my memoir. You’ll still need to invest in an editor and book cover design, but you do not share the royalties. (I went with KDP, but there are several other self-publishers including Apple Books and Barnes & Noble Press worth consideration.)

You’ll miscommunicate and you’ll be misunderstood

(but you can work with beta readers on that)

It took me six years to write But, He Spit in my Coffee and thousands of hours of writing and rewriting. On my first round of beta reading I received the invaluable critique that the book was dark and hard to read. Since I was writing for the general public, not only the RAD community, this feedback was the impetus for a complete rewrite including several lighter subplots and also incorporating writing techniques from famous suspense authors to draw the reader through the book. I went on to hire a professional editor who, after his initial read, emailed me something like: “I have to tell you, I’m really struggling reading this book. I don’t like you or agree with a lot of what you do. Do you still want my feedback?” Absolutely, I did. I’ll tell you, his feedback was hard to read, but it made the book what it is today. Without changing the facts, I was able to change how I told my story, including foreshadowing and internal dialogue, to help the reader better connect with my meaning.

If you choose to tell your story, don’t assume you come across to your reader exactly as you intend to. The feedback you need to correct and clarify any misunderstandings won’t come from beta readers in the RAD community. They “get it.” You need to get your manuscript in front of people who don’t get it, who have never heard of RAD before, who are predisposed against your story. You won’t necessarily be able to change their opinions, but you can work to ensure they clearly understand what you are trying to say.

RAD is a topic fraught with landmines. Finding a guide to learn to navigate them, especially in our cancel culture, is invaluable. I was fortunate enough to have an editor, who at the time worked with the Institute for Attachment and Child Development. RAD is very controversial and the language we use to communicate with those outside the community can make the difference between our message being heard or not heard. It’s important to keep in mind who your audience is and not set up any unnecessary barriers to them connecting with your message.

You can get sued for violating your child’s privacy

(but there are protective actions you can take)

I went into writing my memoir assuming I had no real legal concerns… then I talked to an entertainment lawyer. I knew about libel, where writers can be sued for damaging another person’s reputation by telling untruths. But I was telling the truth, so I knew I had minimal legal risk in this area. However, the lawyer said the huge risk memoirists (especially parents) don’t consider is invasion of privacy.

While this cannot substitute for legal advice, I’ll share what I understood about my memoir and my situation. My child, or anyone else I write about in my book, could sue me for Invasion of Privacy if I am revealing information they can expect to be private and/or is embarrassing to them. The laws vary state-to-state, but harm is assumed by the court. This means that, unlike libel, the plaintiff does not have to prove damages.

Contrary to pop legal opinion, the following do not protect you from Invasion of Privacy lawsuits:

  • Changing names and identifying details does not protect you from legal action, because these are our children so no superficial changes are enough to shield their identity.
  • You “consenting” on your child’s behalf when they are a minor does not protect you from legal action once they turn 18. They cannot consent under 18 and you consenting as their guardian is not sufficient defense for invasion of privacy.
  • Sharing details of someone else’s story only when it intersects with yours does not protect you from legal action if it invades their privacy

Most importantly, carefully consider the ethics of sharing the information. In my own story, I left out gratuitous details and some events my son specifically asked me to not disclose. I made an effort to include only what was necessary for my purpose. In addition, you can consider getting a legal release from your child and anyone else featured in your book. I obtained a written release and compensated my son, daughter, and their birth mother.

Also, learn about plagiarism. Plagiarism cannot be avoided by merely restating something in your own words. Plagiarism occurs when you use someone’s words, ideas, or even mimic their style without proper attribution.

My top recommendations for writers

The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers by Matt Bird. This is an amazing resource with techniques and strategies that can be applied to any type of writing.

Scribophile: Online writing group and writing workshop This is a great place to find beta readers.

Natural Reader: AI text to speech. Listening to your manuscript will help tremendously in the editing process.

Writing for Audiobooks: Audio-First for Flow and Impact If you plan to turn your book into an audiobook these are important techniques for making the manuscript audio friendly.

Print sample paperbacks using KDP for your own editing and beta readers. Even if you don’t plan to publish through KDP you can easily format your manuscript and print proof copies which will be enormously helpful in the editing process.

A Chat about the Reality and Strategies Through the Hard Work of RAD #NAVRAD22

I’m in Atlanta at the Navigating RAD 22 conference with RAD Advocates this weekend. For those of you who couldn’t make it, this is your place for the highlights from the amazing speakers!

Looking Back: A Chat about the Reality and Strategies Through the Hard Work of RAD

Tracey Poffenroth Prato, RADTalk Podcast

Highlights & Take Aways

Tracey began by sharing the story of how she and her husband adopted siblings, ages 2 and 9 years, not knowing both had Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). After years of intense struggle to parent these children and fighting her way back from the lowest of lows, Tracey is now offering hope and support through the RAD Talk podcast, coaching, and retreats.

Tracey interviewed adoptee, Anderina, who was diagnosed with RAD as a child but is now thriving as young adult. Anderina shared these insights into the disorder from her personal experience as a RAD kid.

  • What made her want to change:
    • Anderina’s change began to happen when she saw oher kids at school having a fun, normal life and wanted it for herself.She came to trust her parents after they were consistent for a long period of time.
    • She says, “For me it was a choice. I had to get to a point where I wanted a happy, better life.”
  • What helped her heal:
    • Neurofeedback was very helpful in processing emotions. However, because it got Anderina working through her emotions, it caused her behavior to escalate. She didn’t feel comfortable with feelings or being vulnerable.
    • Working with one particular therapist was pivotal because that therapist didn’t let Anderina off the hook.
  • How is she different today:
    • Anderina likes herself and is her authentic self
    • She has friendships and positive relationships with her family
    • She still struggles with intimacy and vulnerability, but believes this isn’t necessarily RAD. She points out that many people have these struggles.

To hear Anderina’s story, listen to RAD Talk Podcast Episode #39: A RAD “Kid” Recovered and She Plans to Help Other Kids Just Like Her.

Sign up for the mailing list so you don’t miss out on #NAVRAD23

Tracey Poffenroth Prato, RADTalk Podcast

Tracey Poffenroth Prato is a personal development coach and founder/host of the RAD Talk With Tracey podcast. Tracey knows all about the highs and lows that come with being a RAD parent. She’s been there, done that! Tracey helps you navigate through your experience and shows you how to step back into your power and move forward. Tracey started coaching because of her passion and skill to help people in crisis. She understands RAD parents and connects with their struggle in a way no one else does. Tracey also started a podcast to raise awareness about RAD, create a community for RAD families, and give RAD parents a safe place to connect and share their stories.

Find Tracey at RADTalk with Tracey

The Struggle For Love – How it All Began

I remember waiting in line to pick up my son from school and messaging back and forth with my husband. I was on a mission to convince him that we REALLY needed to adopt a child. Not just any child, my heart wanted a baby girl. We had 2 beautiful boys already, but I was getting older (good grief, I was only 26) and time was running out! I was so impatient because anytime I got an idea, I was all in and it needed to happen right now, or I could possibly explode! I was filled with butterflies and so much nervousness that he would say no, but I really needed him to say yes! I am not sure what was causing me more anxiety; the possibility of him saying no and needing to reformulate my approach to convince him to say yes, or the idea of adopting a baby. I was so close to him saying yes but he hadn’t officially said yes. 

He had lots of questions that I didn’t have answers to, and I think he honestly was content with me staying at home with our boys. We had a beautiful home; he was happy with only 2 kids and he loved the consistency that we had built. Our boys were 3 and 5 and full of energy, anything trains and loved doing everything with their dad. My oldest was a tiger in the cub scouts, my husband was a leader and our littlest tagged along as an honorary tiger. Unfortunately, this all felt slightly boring to me and I was ready to toss predictability out the window for adoption. 

I had absolutely no idea how much it would cost, how long it would take or where or who to call? All these questions flooded my mind as I was waiting in line to pick up my son from Kindergarten. While I waited. I searched my phone and found the name of an adoption agency and guess what! Not only was the agency in our city but I also somehow connected that “This must be the perfect one to call and God is arranging all of this just for us.” Recalling this is actually making me roll my eyes at myself and those foolish thoughts. By the time I got through the pickup line, I felt like I was walking on clouds because my husband said YES!! I couldn’t even believe he agreed so quickly, but I was so thankful because now I could fast track this whole process and adopt a baby in just a few months. Well, that is what I envisioned. 

We adopted our first daughter in 2011, which was 4 years after opening our home as foster parents and 5 years after my husband agreed to adoption. Our second daughter was adopted in 2012. There are so many things I wish I could go back and tell that 26-year-old version of myself. I am fairly certain I have a list a mile long that would save her from so much anxiety, grief and worry. If she would listen, I would tell her all of them. That younger version of me was a lot like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Bursting of dreams for a perfect child, hopelessly clueless as to the reality of the foster care system and filled with so much love. 

I am fairly certain that we had so many children placed with us because I could find a solution to any hurdle the agency would present and I was endlessly accommodating. Our certifier knew that we wanted to adopt so with each phone call asking us to take another placement, there was a twinge of hope left with us that this could be long term or possibly permanent. I held my breath in anticipation with each new foster child that showed up to our home. Would they be “the one?” This anxiety rollercoaster can almost become addictive to someone who has a strong burning desire to make an addition to their forever family. I wonder if this is something that the agency knows?

After 10 years of being a foster parent, I finally saw that man behind the curtain. I am not sure why I didn’t see him there the entire time or maybe I did? Either way, in that single moment, all 10 years of belief and hope I had in the foster care system was completely shattered. I was able to see that we had fostered 77 children and yet only 2 were ever available for adoption. We never adopted a baby, nor did I have a baby ever placed with us for adoption. We stepped into foster care having no idea what we were walking into, not having anyone prepare us or shelter us. There is no manual or best course other than making mistakes and doing your very best. 

We learned that the foster care system is so completely overburdened and sometimes in order to find a bed for a child to sleep in, you may be allowed to believe that this child could someday become your own. I have seen it be a beautiful experience, I have seen it completely wreck families and I have seen a lot of in between. The foster care system is not a place to search for a child to adopt. Would they be “the one” now shatters my heart in shame. The naivety of not understanding that these children belong to someone else is truly embarrassing to me. We were blessed to find our forever child through fostering, but the intention of the system is to return children to their family of origin. Our blessed occasions were ultimately at the cost and destruction of other families. 

When we adopted, we didn’t understand how the long list of diagnosis’ and trauma would affect the girls, the boys, our family, our marriage, or, and let’s be honest, any of our mental health. Today, my life looks nothing like what I imagined adoption life would look or feel like. I say feel because it has encompassed emotions from the far reaches of happiness to the deepest level of grief. Both girls are approaching their teen years now and life is becoming more challenging as the complexities of their early childhood trauma, adolescence and demands of young adulthood set in. Both have Developmental Trauma Disorder with a diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder. I use the word “challenging” because they are exceptionally smart, and I believe they know me better than I know myself. This makes most days hard because a calm and peaceful home for me doesn’t feel that way to them. They are incredibly creative, so they are never short on ways to make sure they feel comfortable. Which translates to: Mom is upset, stressed out or agitated. 

After losing half my hair from stress, suffering from severe anxiety and ptsd, I decided I needed to try parenting them differently.  I now let them learn from natural consequences and have let go (I am still such a work in progress) of my internal need to control and manage their behaviors. The more I have let go of trying to control them or their actions, the less anxiety I have. This is definitely not something that has been easy, in fact it is by far the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I now see it as loving them the way Jesus loves us. He doesn’t step in and correct us directly. He lets us mess up, destroy or even blow up our own lives and then is there when we ask for help. The love he has for us is truly unconditional, it is Agape love. To see how unloveable I have been and God still loves me is how I strive to be for my girls each day. I have seen some minor shifts from them behaviorally, which makes me believe we are on the right track. Some Days are so much harder than others but I just keep moving forward, drinking a lot of coffee and praying. 

Someone suggested the other day that I stop the “natural consequences” approach and try spending more quality time with them instead. Take them to ice-cream or talk to them about how much they hurt my heart or how I would prefer they treat others. This is what most parents would do. This is how I parent my boys, but I think they had forgotten that I had already spent 10 years parenting them this way. What I know to be true over the years is the method of parenting the boys does not result in the same outcomes for the girls nor has helped them attach.  Even more deeply, I am not sure a child with trauma unique to their experiences, is capable of intrinsically being receptive to something they don’t feel the same way as children without trauma feel. What is it they don’t feel you might ask? It’s the feeling we develop that tells us we are worthy of being loved and gives us the capacity to love others.

Just to be perfectly honest, I don’t believe that either of them love the members of their family, nor have ever loved us. Each of them deeply struggles with their own acceptance of being good and worthwhile people.  While life is not a pity party, I don’t believe that they truly know what love is. How can they care for someone in a way that they don’t understand or feel inside themselves? While I had only suspected the incapacity for love at the time, I never wanted to believe it to be true.  Then, one day my husband asked one of our children if they loved me? The response was “that’s a really hard question and I’ll need to think about it.” This alone was enough to break my heart. Then, shortly after sharing the belief that they do love me, they proceeded to answer how they knew.  Their response came in the form of a story about a time when my husband and I went to Hawaii. They said, “One night when you and Mom were gone, I felt a little nervous before I fell asleep. That’s how I know I love mom.”  

Until next time,

Book Review | Me, The Boy, and the Monster

By Hannah Meadows

It’s hard to overstate how much I love this book. I had the joy of proofreading it for Cat (the author) in December and before I’d finished it I was telling my husband he needed to read it too. It’s one of those books that you just want everyone in your life to experience: family, friends, teachers… they all need a copy!

For me, Me, the Boy, and The Monster is up there with Sally Donovan’s legendary No Matter What in its practical, down-to-earth, reality-led perspective. Cat McGill is trained in psychology and really knows her stuff, and as an adoptive parent she is able to apply it in a meaningful way so you know she speaks from experience, not just theory. She gets it. But more than that, she lives it, just as we do. That’s what makes it so helpful. 

For example, I think most adoptive parents by necessity have a reasonable understanding of the amygdala and its function within the brain, but Cat brings our understanding of the brain to life in an accessible way, using Jane Evans’ analogies of the ‘meerkat brain’, ‘elephant brain’ and ‘monkey brain’. 

‘The Monster’ – Cat’s family’s label for her son’s trauma-fuelled behaviours –is a great way of personifying the problem and giving it an identity separate from her son, so that he isn’t viewed by others or himself as being to blame for responding to the trauma or things that trigger memories of it. This distinction is at the core of the book and is so incredibly helpful, particularly when conveying this necessary separation to family, friends, and teachers who need to understand.

I really think this should be on the shelf (or the Kindle) of every adopter, prospective adopter, post-adoption support worker, teacher… and so on. It deserves to be an adoption classic.

Get your copy of Me, the Boy, and The Monster here, and be sure to let Hannah and I know your thoughts!

Hannah helps fellow adoptive parents look after themselves and find the practical resources they need so that they are equipped to help their families thrive. She’s the adoptive mum of Joanna (10) and Charlotte (9), both of whom have additional needs. These include attachment disorders, PTSD, autism, ADHD and pFAS. Find her on social media @HLMeadows.

Navigating Reactive Attachment Disorder – And Succeeding!

Guest post by Gina Heumann

We knew something was off right away.

We had just traveled 2700 miles to pick up our second child in Guatemala – our second adoption from the same country. Our first baby, Landrey, was incredibly easy, so much so that my friends called him “The Stepford Child”. We were convinced his awesome behavior was due to our stellar parenting, so we assumed that new baby Maddox would be just as easy.


We didn’t know the signs to look for back then and had never heard of attachment disorders. We chose Guatemala because we could get babies as young as 4 months, and assumed if there were any issues before we picked him up, we would be able to fix them with love and attention. Boy, were we mistaken!

From the beginning, Maddox was a fussy baby. He didn’t make eye contact and didn’t smile easily. In fact, we discovered as he got a little older that the only way to get a picture of him smiling was to have someone chase him while another person set up the camera and tried to capture him as he was running past.

He didn’t sleep. It seemed the planets had to align in order to get him down, and my husband spent several hours every night putting him to bed. For years. He awoke at least 4-5 times a night until he was eleven.

Even at 6 months old, the kid was DIVING across the table to grab our food. It was then (and after meeting his completely detached former foster mom) that I started to suspect he was neglected before we adopted him.

As he grew older, we started to experience intense meltdowns. Like REALLY intense. He could scream for four hours over something as silly as asking us to play a song again – on the radio. If we were unable to fulfill his requests, he would scream. And scream. And scream. And then throw things – whatever was within arms length, and when I figured out to keep items out of reach, he’d take off his shoes and throw them. As time went on, he would destroy property – TVs, computers, lamps, car windshields, you name it. If we put him in timeout in his room, he would throw the lamp, the table, even take pictures off the wall and smash them so that the floor was covered in glass. He’d throw things at me, punch holes in the door, pull my hair. At one point, he punched me in the face. At 3am. While I was sleeping. Because I took away his video games eight hours earlier.

We were at a loss. We tried therapy. In the beginning, they assumed it was a parenting issue and offered us behavioral charts, marbles, stickers. You know, the techniques that work for “regular” kids. All of them worked on my first son. NONE of them worked on Maddox.

Over time, we tried other types of therapy: individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, in-home therapy (which is really weird – a therapist comes to your home and tries to be invisible while you go about your business and pretend he’s not there… then he interferes as necessary. So uncomfortable!) We took parenting classes. We tried homeopathy, neurofeedback, nutritionists, and even the Brain Balance program. 

He was eventually kicked out of school, sent in handcuffs to the Juvenile Assessment Center, appeared in court, and had to serve a summer of community service at the ripe old age of 12. That felt like rock bottom to me. 

I have never felt so helpless and alone in my whole life. Strangers in the grocery store witnessing a public meltdown would assume I was a terrible parent. Most of the time I could tell by the looks on their faces, but on rare occasions, they’d tell me right to my face. “You should be embarrassed. You’re failing as a mother”, said one lovely woman who was “only trying to help.” UGH.

Not until we identified a proper diagnosis 10 years in were we able to find an expert in Reactive Attachment Disorder. With this doctor’s help, we were finally able to find some peace for our family. We did a family intensive therapy that lasted two solid weeks, four hours a day, with four therapists, and all four of us. This experience was hard… probably the most intense and soul-searching thing I’ve ever done, but over time, we realized that this therapeutic effort was the greatest money we’ve ever spent on our family.

We also found Maddox a school that was designed for kids with social, behavioral and academic challenges. The environment offered incredibly small class sizes, experiential learning, meditation and yoga, a social worker on staff who met with them every day, and even a weekly visit from the school therapy dog.

That was three years ago. Today, Maddox is doing amazing. He’s finishing up his freshman year at the public high school, which he chose primarily because he wanted to be in a marching band. Music has been great for him, and he’s now a member of six different bands both at his school and in the metro area. He is playing both the tuba and the bass trombone. Smallest kid, biggest instrument. He loves it!

We haven’t seen a violent incident in over two years and he’s incredibly mellow now. His grades have improved. He has a group of friends. He even has a girlfriend, who he’s been meeting at the mall or the library for almost a year. Life is good.

I’m so proud to have a success story to share. Our journey wasn’t easy, and I wouldn’t wish RAD on my worst enemy, but I’m happy to say that we never quit searching for answers and trying new alternatives. I love this kid with all my heart. And love never quits.

Gina Heumann is the author of the upcoming book, Love Never Quits – Surviving & Thriving After Infertility, Adoption, and Reactive Attachment Disorder, which is due to be released in the summer of 2019. Find her at or on Facebook and Instagram @loveneverquits.

Out Of Options, Parents Of Children With Mental Illness Trade Custody For Treatment

Illinois NewsroomJul 31, 2018

When Toni and Jim Hoy adopted their son Daniel as a toddler, they did not plan to give him back to the state of Illinois 10 years later.

“Danny was this cute, lovable little blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby,” Jim said. There were times Daniel would reach over, put his hands on Toni’s face and squish her cheeks.

“And he would go, ‘You pretty mom,’” Toni said. “Oh my gosh, he just melted my heart when he would say these very loving, endearing things to me.”

But as Daniel grew older, he began to show signs of serious mental illness that manifested in violent outbursts. When his parents exhausted all other options, they decided to relinquish custody to the state to get Daniel the treatment he needed.

Listen here as the Hoys tell about how they gave up custody of their son to get him needed mental healthcare.

“To this day it’s the most gut-wrenching thing I’ve ever had to do in my life,” Jim said. “But it was the only way we figured we could keep the family safe.

To this day it’s the most gut-wrenching thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. But it was the only way we figured we could keep the family safe. Click To Tweet

Across the U.S., children encounter many barriers to mental health treatment, including a shortage of psychiatric beds and coverage denials from insurance companies. In a desperate attempt to get their child treatment, some parents have discovered a last resort workaround: they trade custody for treatment.

Known as a psychiatric lockout, a parent brings a child to a hospital and refuses to pick them up. The child then enters foster care, and the state is obligated to pay for their care.

This happened to Daniel in 2008, and has happened to thousands of other children before him, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

Today, despite a 2015 Illinois law that states families should never have to trade custody for mental health treatment, at least four children a month enter state custody this way, according to data obtained by Side Effects.

Out of options

Daniel grew up as the youngest of four children in Ingleside, just north of Chicago. As a baby, he’d been severely neglected — starving and left for dead — and the early trauma Daniel experienced affected his brain development.

At around age 10, his post-traumatic stress disorder manifested in violent outbursts.

“You could almost tell the stories that would describe him like a monster,” Toni said.

“He held knives to people’s throats. He tried putting his fingers and his tongue in the light sockets. He broke almost every door in the house.”

In the car, there were times when he’d reach over and grab the wheel while Toni was driving to try and force the car into oncoming traffic. Other times, he would lash out at his siblings.

“At the same time, he’s a little boy,” she said. “He didn’t want to be that way. He didn’t like being that way.”

Despite Toni and Jim’s efforts to help their son with therapy, the violence escalated. Daniel was hospitalized almost a dozen times over a period of two years.

His doctors said he needed more intensive mental health services than he could get while living at home. He needed 24/7 residential treatment, but both Daniel’s private health insurance, and the secondary Medicaid coverage he received as an adoptee, denied coverage.

So the Hoys applied for a state grant meant for children with severe emotional disorders. They also asked for help from Daniel’s school district, which is supposed to cover a portion of the costs when students need residential care. They were denied both.

“We were told we had to pay out of pocket for it,” Toni said. The treatment could cost up to $150,000 a year, and that was money they didn’t have.

Then, during Daniel’s 11th hospitalization, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, or DCFS, gave the Hoys an ultimatum.

“[They] basically said, ‘If you bring him home, we’re going to charge you with child endangerment for failure to protect your other kids,’” Toni said. “‘And if you leave him at the hospital, we’ll charge you with neglect.’”

Out of options, the Hoys chose the latter option as a last-ditch workaround to get treatment.

Once the DCFS steps in to take custody, the agency will place the child in residential treatment and pay for it, said attorney Robert Farley, Jr., who is based in Naperville.

“So you get residential services, but then you’ve given up custody of your child,” he said. “Which is, you know, barbaric. You have to give up your child to get something necessary.”

Get Toni’s book here.

Taking it to the courts

The Hoys were investigated by DCFS and charged with neglect. They appealed in court and the charge was later amended to a “no-fault dependency,” meaning the child entered state custody at no fault of the parents.

Losing custody meant Toni and Jim could visit Daniel and maintain contact with him, but they could not make decisions regarding his care.

Toni spent months reading up on federal Medicaid law and she learned the state-federal health insurance program is supposed to cover all medically necessary treatments for eligible children.

The Hoys hired a lawyer, and two years after giving Daniel up, they sued the state.

Less than a year later, in 2011, they settled out of court, regained custody of Daniel, who was 15, and got the funding for his care.

Around the same time, Farley decided to take on the lack of access to mental health care on behalf of all Medicaid-eligible children in the state. He filed a class-action lawsuit, claiming Illinois illegally withheld services from children with severe mental health disorders.

“There [are] great federal laws,” Farley said. “But someone’s not out there enforcing them.”

In the lawsuit, Farley cited the state’s own data that shows 18,000 children in Illinois have a severe emotional or behavioral disorder, yet only about 200 of them receive intensive mental health treatment.

In a settlement in January, a judge ruled the state must make reforms to comply with Medicaid law. The state has until October to come up with a plan to ensure all Medicaid-eligible children in the state have access to in-home and community-based mental health services.

A law that didn’t fix the problem

While these legal battles were taking place, lawmakers began their own work to ensure parents no longer have to give up custody to get their children access to mental health services.

In Illinois, six state agencies interact with at-risk children in some form. But Democratic state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz said they operate in silos, which causes many children to slip through the cracks and end up in state custody.

“It’s almost like these there’s a vacuum, and the kids are just being sucked into DCFS,” she said.

Feigenholtz worked to get a bill passed in 2014. The Custody Relinquishment Prevention Act, which became law in 2015, orders those six agencies to work together to help families that are considering a lockout to find care for their child and keep them out of state custody.

So the agencies developed a program together that launched in 2017 — years after the deadline set by the law. It aims to connect children to services.

But Feigenholtz said the fact lockouts still happen shows a lack of commitment on behalf of the agencies.

“I think the question is: Shouldn’t government be stepping in and doing their job? And they’re not,” she said. “We just want them to do their job.”

B.J. Walker, head of DCFS, said the reasons lockouts happen are complex. “If law could fix problems, we’d have a different world,” she said.

Walker said many children in need of residential treatment for mental illness have such severe or unique conditions that it can be a struggle to find a facility that’s willing and able to take them.

Even for families that get state funding to pay for the care, families Side Effects Public Media spoke to said the waiting lists can run six months or longer. When parents are unable to arrange a placement, the child may enter state custody, and as ProPublica Illinois reports, they could languish for months in emergency rooms that are ill-equipped to provide long-term care. Some out-of-state facilities are not willing to accept Illinois children, citing concerns over severe delays in payments that stem from a recent two-year budget crisis in Illinois.

The program to prevent lockouts requires families take children home from the hospital after medical providers have done everything they can. But many parents say it’s not an option for them because their child remains too violent for home.

For these reasons, children continue to enter state custody as a final effort by their families to help them.

A spokesman for DCFS said in an email that, when the agency gets blamed for this problem, it’s like when a pitcher comes in at the end of a losing game to save the day and gets tagged with the loss.

What it will take to prevent lockouts

Lockouts can happen anywhere, but Heather O’Donnell, a lawyer with a Chicago-based mental health treatment provider, Thresholds, said the situation is particularly bad in Illinois.

She said a big part of the problem is that society sweeps mental health conditions under the rug until there’s a crisis.

“We don’t have a very good system in Illinois for children or adolescent or young adults with significant mental health conditions,” O’Donnell said. “What Illinois needs to put into place is a system that helps these families early on so that these kids never get hospitalized.”

That’s what the state is trying to fix now.

The consent decree issued as part of the class-action lawsuit settlement requires the state to propose a plan by October to ensure all Medicaid-eligible children in the state have access to mental health services in their communities, with changes slated to begin in 2019. Farley estimates the changes will cost the state several hundred thousand dollars, based on what it cost other states like Massachusetts to implement similar reforms.

The difference treatment and family can make

Daniel Hoy is now 23 and has been out of residential treatment — and stable — for five years. He has a 2-year-old daughter, works nights for a shipping company in Rantoul, in central Illinois, where he recently moved to be closer to his parents.

Daniel said treatment was tough, and he would not have gotten better without his parents’ love and support.

“Sometimes it’s so hard to do it for yourself,” he said. “It almost helps to know that I’m doing it for myself, but I’m also doing it for my family and for our relationship.”

Toni’s thankful that despite losing Daniel while trying to help him, they ultimately made it through intact. She’s in touch with other families that have gone through lockouts too and most, she said, are not as lucky.

That’s why Toni said she will continue to speak out about this issue. “Kids do need services,” she said. “But they also need the support of their families. And when they have both, a lot of kids can be a lot more successful.”

Get Toni’s book Second Time Foster Child: How One Family Adopted a Fight Against the State for their Son’s Mental Healthcare while Preserving their Family

Republished with permission. This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health.

Believing “children are resilient” may be a fantasy | Psychology Today

How did resilience become a standard? How did we come to view children almost as nuisances who just need minimal support? How did children’s needs become dismissable?

via Believing “children are resilient” may be a fantasy | Psychology Today

Adopted baby nephew

My youngest sister gave birth to a baby boy in 2008. She has had a substance abuse problem and has always been more concerned with what guy will pay attention to her rather than love her own son. For 18 months we watched as this little boy was always sick, always angry, and never cared for the way he should have been.

My now husband and I got him for a couple months in October 2009 and had made leaps and bounds with him but unfortunately nothing was legalized so when she wanted him back we had no choice but to turn him over to her. From then until January 2013 (he was 4 at this point) she stayed clear of me so I only heard stories from my mother about how out of control he was.

My husband and I were asked to keep him for a week and I went with temporary custody papers and a plan. We sat down with my sister and begged her to straighten up. We offered for her to live with us, to help her with school, to take her to her job, to give her a home with her son. There was no structure or stability in his life at all. She promised to take the help. During the next year we tried everything to get her, and even the father of my RAD, to step up and take care of him. She visited maybe 5 times in this time. I have a huge folder of every conversation.

Documentation is everything. In 2014 my husband got a job that would move us out of state. All hell broke loose. Letters were sent to the judge about us keeping him from grandparents, kidnapping him, etc. So we filed a petition to adopt him. We spent all summer locked in a battle with lawyers, ad lidem, visitation supervisors, and therapists. My sister went to the first, and last visit. That was it. She signed her rights away after that. She has since had another boy and is due any day with nother child… the other boy is worse than my RAD from what I hear. So, no change in her.

Then comes the grandmothers. They enabled their own children to be crappy and then blamed me for taking him away. They have never supported us and in fact have gone behind our back multiple times and allowed visitations, phone calls, letters, etc. Even taking my RAD to a prison behind my back. We had to cut off communication with all of them.

Now to my RAD, he turns 10 this coming week. Biologically My nephew and has despised me from the jump. We didn’t know about RAD until a year ago… too late…. he has harmed my other children, animals, has a fascination with fires that could have ended badly, steals, lies, fights me on everything. Peeing is his way to control and get back at us. Hundreds of times. We tried every kind of parenting trick. Nothing worked. Therapy? Nope. Still no support from family who say there was nothing wrong with him. We are too hard on him. He’s perfect for them. Etc.

The bottom fell out. In December we started looking into treatment facilities or boys home. We wanted extensive counseling for him but couldn’t find it. Either he was too young, no financial help, or the facilities were full. So, we had purchased a door ALARM for his room because he was up in the middle of the night and to us, that’s a safety issue. I made the mistake of telling my mother whom I was trying to repair my relationship with. Mistake. She called the other grandmother and they called CPS. I was drug tested, children were interviewed, pictures taken, the whole nine yards. I prayed and prayed and spoke the truth. CPS closed the case and I was done. The last 4 months have been the worst of my life. My RAD stepped up his peeing game and I threw in the towel. I called the paternal grandmother and we signed custody over to her. She is the lesser of all the evils in this.

When I told him he was going he was sad. He said she is the one who told him to lie to us so that’s why he did it. There is nothing I can do. Since he has been gone my home is completely different. We are happy again. 5 years living in chaos had taken it’s toll on me and I’m healing slowly. But it’s not easy. My younger boys miss their brother but know that it’s for the best.

We have been judged and outcast by family and friends, he continues to lie to us about certain things, and all I can do is document and report to our attorney. My own sister is looking for ways to stab me in the back.

They are bribing my RAD with gifts to be good and of course right now he is behaving perfectly. Everything is my fault. They aren’t doing anything for his mental health. All I can do is collect the information and thank God I am in a different state. He was put back into the same enviornment we tried to save him from, this time he is with his father who can’t even be bothered to take a paternity test or spend any time with him.

I think about what type of man he is going to turn into and my heart breaks. They have never taken the time to listen to how he has behaved in the last 5 years. They don’t believe in RAD. It’s going to turn out bad.

I wish it could have been different. I wish my sister would be a good mother. I wish I had kept him at 18 months. I wish that when we got him at 4 years i would have taken on the mother role instead of trying to try make my sister do it. I wish I had support from the grandparents. I wish that mental health programs were better. I wish I had been strong enough to keep him. You all know how a RAD brain works so you know all the obsticals we have faced.

Now we are trying to decide if he will stay where he is. He wants to come home. Now that he’s had a taste of what he’s been asking for he doesn’t want it anymore. But for the safety of my family, I’m not ready for that. And he’s only 10. I can’t imagine what he will be like at 15 or 20. Well I can, and it’s not good.

I will only adopt cats from here on out.

Since I was about 16, I have wanted to adopt children. Not babies, children. I really felt God had called me to it to help fill a niche. Most people want babies so the kids get left behind. I helped my husband get hooked on adoption after I married at 32. Well, before that. He knew that was how it would be well before the wedding. Heck, we had a fundraiser for it at our reception.

I had this incredible dream where I felt I had seen my daughter. It was so different from any other dreams. I remembered details. I still do. She was in Russia. She was 6. She had a little brother somewhere else. He was 2. I found out later that toddlers would be in different orphanages from older children in Russia. But Russia didn’t pan out. It was closing after that lady sent her son back there alone on a plane. I worried that by looking elsewhere, I was turning my back on God’s plan. Others assured me I was not.

Our children came in a way that looked like God had worked in it. Now we see it as dishonest. We heard about an agency that works with Poland. We set up a time to talk with them on the phone. But our cat died that day. So we talked the next. It was Monday. By Friday we had a referral. By the end of the year we were traveling. We only had to make one trip, though Poland is a two trip country. They asked us day 1, if we were sure we wanted to go through with this. The kids we small for their ages. They were 8 & 9 but looked 5 & 6. The boy spazzed out in tantrums. He hit us or his sister. We had heard of R A D. Still, I think anyone might be naive when they first face it. We thought it would get better.

It never got better. He got more violent. Daughter seemed okay by comparison. We were so busy putting out proverbial fires with him, we didn’t see her issues. We finally had him booked for assault when he was 12. He’d been hospitalized 5 times by then and spent six months traumatizing my older sister when she offered to take him in. He broke probation and was removed from out home.

Long story short: group home for delinquents, mostly truants. Got violent there. Very. Detention. MO Baptist Children’s Home. Violence. Hospital. MOBCH. Violence. Hospital. Level 4 security residential. Instigated other boys to attack staff. Fights. Safe rooms. Eventually, he decided to stop being violent. He moved closer to home. A couple different group homes then a residential with a transition program to transition him home. Family therapy with that was a joke. The therapist said just let both kids be verbally abusive to me and lie. At Christmas, he admitted to setting my sister’s house on fire two years before. Still he came home Good Friday of that year. On Mother’s Day, I awoke to him being violent. He went to the hospital and did not come home again.

Daughter: With him gone we could now see her issues. She lied, manipulated, triangulated, left her sanitary napkins in her underwear in the wash or threw them behind the dryer. She got worse with puberty. She stole and binged our food. We’d go to make dinner and find it missing. She is obese but told the school social worker that we didn’t feed her. She stole money, makeup, my underwear and other clothes. She shoplifted at least three times but none would press charges. She cussed us out almost daily, told us what to do, didn’t do as she was told. Didn’t do her homework. Looked up father/daughter porn on her phone and tablet. She was hospitalized twice. The last time was in October. She’d been refusing to go to school. I had to get up and watch her leave. Had to call the cops a lot to get her to school. She snuck back in after I went to work. Police were called to look for her. Found her at home. Said she was looking for something to kill herself with. She got new dxs: ODD and Severe Mood Disregulation Disorder.

In MO, you can legally move out of your parent’s home at 17. She decided in November that she couldn’t wait until April. She wanted to go live with my older sister (same one). She was occasionally violent and she was that day. She was going to be as bad as she had to be for us to say yes and let her go.

Of course now that sister says we threw our children away. That we were too strict and didn’t love them. She forgets that she kicked out my son before she knew it was him who set the fire. She forgets that she kicked my daughter out last month (she let her come back after 3 days). Brother and sister-in-law are adopting our son. Blames me for both their behaviors. Says we kicked son out. He forgets telling me, early on when son was still small, that we should give up, he was a lost cause. We didn’t then, still hoping. Now I’ve lost my brother.

So here we are, no kids at home (that’s the good part) but the loss of a dream, a calling, at least half my siblings. The fall-out is still falling. I lost my job and part of that can be indirectly attributed to our daughter. The trauma she put me through bled into my work.

On the plus side, I’ve gained safety and peace in my home. The only chaos is caused by kittens now.

I will only adopt cats from here on out. They’re my children now. I hope to host foreign exchange kids in the future. Other than that, I want to have only very limited contact with my kids. Son is doing better right now. But I can’t trust he won’t go back to violence as he has before. The wounds from my daughter are still too raw. She’ll be 17 in April. I hope she never moves back home again.


Today is Alexandra’s 12th birthday.

Over the last 16 months we’ve had people reach out asking why she isn’t in pictures etc. I have also posted a few times about reactive attachment disorder.

Alexandra no longer lives in our home. And she will not return to our home. That’s a powerful statement isn’t it? It’s definitely not one I ever thought I would make.

I’ll try to make this as concise as possible. Alexandra has always had issues…and that’s ok. No child is nor can they be expected to be perfect. We searched for help and continued searching when things didn’t work. We tried every therapy we could get involved with. I’m not going to get into our insurance and the joke of what they cover when it comes to mental health issues.

Alexandra was officially diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) when she was 9. RAD is hard…soooo hard to live and deal with. She was also diagnosed with early onset conduct disorder due to her destruction of property etc.
After her diagnoses she began to get more violent. Yes, I said more. We had many instances where one or all the kids were hurt. Both dogs had been hurt by her. She began really destroying property and making more threats. We continued with therapy. When our insurance wasn’t doing enough we went to the county. I sat in offices crying, begging them to help her, help us. They did. We finally got to where we were doing therapy 4-5 days a week, up to 7 sessions in a week including therapists in our home for hours at a time.

She would tell me that the day I died would be a great day in her life. She would remind me that she was getting bigger and stronger and I was getting older and weaker. I’ll never forget the look in her eyes.

When Alexandra shared her very legitimate plan to kill me (and apparently the rest after I was dead) I knew things had taken a very scary turn and more needed to be done. She shared her plan with one of her therapists and they stepped in. We spent 13 hours being observed in an emergency room before she was admitted to a psych hospital for a week. Her threats to finish the job when she got home, along with the documented history of behaviors, got her admitted to a residential facility.

I drove 6 hours round trip weekly for family therapy sessions. She would either ignore me or she would (and most often chose this) yell, scream and curse at me. In front of her therapist she would threaten to hurt and/or kill the other kids at home and said it was my own fault she wanted to kill me. While there, she treated them as she did us (stealing, lying, disrespect etc). She attacked other children as well. After 6 months they told us there was nothing more they could do for her. The county stepped in and Alexandra was transferred to another facility that was closer. I then spent the next few months driving 3 hours round trip weekly. Her behaviors didn’t change. She began making false allegations against staff and threatening to kill them.

Finally her therapist told me that Alexandra would continue to attack our other children if she came home. Social Services told us that if Alexandra attacked the other kids they would be taken out of our home because we couldn’t keep them safe.

Alexandra was given options. She could do her therapy and work on behaviors. We did not expect perfection but she was not allowed to attack or try to physically hurt the other kids. She had to make attempts to try to do better. She refused. She did not want to live where there were expectations and rules.

The professionals did not feel or believe Alexandra could be successful in what’s considered a normal home environment, definitely not one with other children. Through a lot of phone calls, emails and meetings it was “decided” that Alexandra would not return to our home. Being in such an environment triggers her behaviors and aggression.

We continue to pray for Alexandra. That she heals, that she gets the help she needs. We have told her repeatedly that when she is in a place where she can call without screaming at us we encourage her to do that. We want to celebrate her successes with her and if possible help when she needs it.

I know this is a lot for everyone to read. And before people wonder how we could let this happen I feel it necessary to be very clear.

Alexandra planned our murders.
Alexandra planned to make attempts on our lives until she was successful.
Alexandra physically and emotionally/psychologically attacked her siblings.
Alexandra never apologized for her actions.
Alexandra never said she wanted to come home.
Alexandra never stated she would even try to do better and never made any attempts to show us through her behaviors at the residential facilities.

We are heartbroken over her choices. So today on her birthday please pray for her…for her safety and for her healing.


Rewind to five years ago. (Don’t I wish I could?) My then husband and I have enjoyed an empty nest for about 3 years after raising one daughter and two sons now 28, 29, and 30. I begin to push my husband toward my life long dream of fostering, and the adventure begins. After mounds of paperwork, fingerprints, and physicals, stacks of jammies and undies, toothbrushes and toys fill our hallway shelf in anticipation of our first placement.

So anxious, so naive. Foolishly, we accept a placement for a young sibling group of three. Sure that’s a bunch to take on at once, but hey, we had our own three in three years. We’ve got this. Plus, we’re told there are no reported problems with these kids who have been with an aunt and uncle for the year since their removal from their bio mom’s home. Are you laughing yet, dear reader?

Fast forward past the kids’ removal when our youngest bio son nearly dies when an infection ensues after a nasty spider bite. A few months later the youngest foster, Ashlee, then 4 1/2, returns to us. She has tantrums that can get pretty intense, is bossy and demanding, but we fall in love. Mom’s rights are terminated and despite being 56 and 57 with no prior intention of adopting, we can’t say no to this little sweetie who has won our hearts.

Besides the three littles, there are two older girls 10 and 12 years old. It looks as though they will not get placed and may have to go to a residential placement. My husband and I both feel a tug to take the 10 year old but I know in my heart this is more than we should bite off. When my husband actually begins to push, I take this as a sign and we begin the process that will be our undoing. Literally.

Yesterday, Kyla turned 15. In the four years she has been with us, she has stolen food, candy, gift cards, make-up, jewelry and most tragic…our smart phone and tablet. This last item allowed her to connect with sexual predators online resulting in her sending them explicit photos of herself and even an actual encounter in the woods of our neighborhood. Police report, rape kit, therapy.

Four years of therapy, most of it with a therapist specializing in connection for adoptive families. A week long hospitalization. Numerous runaways and tantrums resulting in visits by the police and CPS. Broken walls and doors. Charges of incorrigibility ending with a 2 month stay in juvenile detention. An attempt at an alternative living situation with her older sister’s adoptive family. And, the dissolution of my marriage as my husband’s anger became too much and I didn’t feel the girls were safe.

Last summer, after her guardians let us know they didn’t feel they could handle her, I found what I thought would be our saving grace. A way to keep her safe and get her through high school. A Christian boarding school for troubled teen girls, fully funded, welcomed Kyla to Kansas to join the other 14 girls being ministered to by a wonderful and committed staff.

Kyla thrived there at first, joining the volleyball team, making friends, enjoying the animals and farm setting. Then she began telling lies (lots of prior experience with that) and refusing to do chores. Lo and behold, there were consequences….something Kyla just cannot tolerate. She pulled out her arsenal of yelling, screaming, swearing, and running off. Behaviors she perfected while at home. These things the school expected and could handle.

When she didn’t manage to get herself kicked out to come home (where she had begged to leave whenever she didn’t like what we did), she needed to escalate behaviors. And escalate she did. She sexually molested her suite mate who reported to authorities. She sent sexually predatory type grooming notes to younger girls. She pushed a staff member and threw rocks at others. Finally, she succeeded in getting expelled and on February 6th, was flown home.

After having exhausted all know resources last summer when the guardianship failed, I planned to have to do the unthinkable and relinquish my parental rights. Perhaps the state would see the need to get her the residential treatment she needs and Ashlee would be able to grow up without this dysfunctional presence in our home and without the threat of insestual molestation. Hold the phone. Not that easy.

Turns out, if I hand Kyla back to the state, that’s abandonment. I am placed on the Central Registry, lose my teaching job and worst of all, lose Ashlee…the very one I am hoping to protect. Government logic. Oxymoron?

So, that brings me to today. Kyla is enrolled in our local public middle school. I have fully disclosed to the principal, counselors and social workers who have a safety plan in place. We had to rearrange rooms in my tiny 2 bedroom condo. Ashlee sleeps with me so that I can protect her. The past three weeks have been uneventful as far as behavior, if you don’t count Kyla taking and eating an entire Whitman’s sampler giving to me by one of my students on Valentine’s Day and her refusing to come home for two hours last Friday.

I have spent these weeks going from one phone call, appt, and lead. Pounding headaches, exhaustion and frustration. I believe I am not alone in experiencing what I’ve learned is called secondary trauma. I am glad I’m not alone and yet I wish I was. I hate to think so many of us are experiencing this debilitating condition.

Not sure how to end this post or how its contents will end….

Adopting family tortured by girl’s RAD illness |

It took Jay and Jodi Bean of Alpine years to figure out why their new daughter brought anger and fear into the family and triggered maternal hate instead of love. Jodi has written a book to help others who may, unknowingly, be struggling with a rare condition called RAD.

The emotional puzzle began five years ago. That’s when Jay and Jodi welcomed 4-year-old Victoria into their family, adopted from an orphanage in the former Soviet Republic of Belarus.

via Adopting family tortured by girl’s RAD illness |