End of the Road

This is the letter I sent to Donald’s team on Monday:

Dear Team,

With the team meeting coming up Wednesday, I wanted to get some of my thoughts out to you all ahead of time. I understand that my opinion carries very little weight but I can’t in good conscience say nothing. I care very much about what happens to Donald. I want permanency for him just like you all do but after reviewing Donald’s most recently monthly report and all the recent critical incident reports (which have clearly increased since the fall), I am extremely concerned with the current plan moving forward.

Last summer when the team discussed the idea of reintroducing BirthMom into the kid’s lives, there were several comments made that BirthMom would need counseling for months if not years before being ready for face to face visits (rather than just letters or phone calls). Its been less than year and no one has been able to secure counseling for BirthMom. You have asked an extraordinary amount of her with nothing but the HOPE that one day Donald will live with her. You have offered her NO training on how to deal with a foster child and the unique needs of a PSTD/RAD child. You have not assisted her to get the counseling she needs to accept responsibility for her actions leading to the kids coming into care to begin with. Yet you have watched as she moved her grandmother into a home that the division believed was unsafe. You have encouraged her to move away from the only support network she has. You have her jumping through all kinds of hoops yet are giving her NO tools to deal with the very real situation of Donald being transitioned into her life and that of her family.

During the team meeting in July, the team agreed that Donald should not live in a home with pets or any children. The team decided that Donald needed two parents in that home. These were not only for the safety of a potential family but also to avoid Donald being triggered. How has that changed? How will BirthMoms pets be safe? How will stepsister be safe? How will BirthMom be safe when new husband is away at training for 2 months this year?? If you look at Donald’s monthly reports, you will see a severe spike in the number of physical assaults over the past few months (up from 3 per week in July to 24 per week in January). What indicators do you have that his physical assaults will decrease after transition? History tells you that Donald will blow through the glass ceiling upon being placed in a family. His behaviors are confirming that right now. BirthMom does not have a padded room. BirthMom does not have a team of staff with which to “change face”. BirthMom has not been trained in safety holds. How could you possibly expect that she will be able to keep her family OR Donald safe without these tools?

Furthermore, can you be sure that Donald will not harm stepsister? That he will not project his feelings for Daffy onto stepsister? I beg you to read through the reports of the harm that Donald has done to Daffy over the years. I implore you to talk to all previous foster families about the level of rage he had towards his sister. From Daffy’s “accidental overdose of medication” in June 2006 where Donald gave her the medication to kill her, to the Oct 2006 ER visit with the foster family indicating Donald choked and punched his sister, to the day that he tried to drown her in the lake (as reported by Daffy) and the attacks he raged against Daffy while living with the former pre-adoptive family in 2009 and here in 2012. Not to mention the potential sexual abuse issues. Donald’s anger runs very deep and he is dangerous. Do you have measures in place to protect stepsister from this abuse?

I truly believe that BirthMom being a part of Donald’s life is an asset to him. Its obvious that she is willing to do whatever it takes to be a part of his (and Daffy’s) life. She clearly loves him. My concern is that she is being set up to fail and that someone will be seriously hurt as the end result. This is a process that can NOT be rushed simply because Donald reports that is what he wants to have happen. I’m obviously not a social worker so I can’t make any recommendations about how to balance Donald’s needs and the safety of BirthMom and her family, but these safety needs can not be ignored.

If I sound frustrated right now, I am. I have made several of the above points numerous times along the way (and have emails to document). The divisions involvement with this family began in 2002. Its been ELEVEN YEARS with almost no progress for Donald. This is unacceptable. Putting your heads in the sand about the seriousness of this situation will not make it go away.

At this point, I feel I have nothing left to offer the team. I have provided my history with Donald. I have expressed my grave concerns for BirthMom and her family. There is nothing more I can do. As for Daffy’s relationship with Donald, I am working under therapist’s guidance for what is best for Daffy, which happens to align with what was recommended during the conference call last summer. I am letting Daffy guide their relationship. (Donald is also making his own choices in the relationship as well.) I am not forcing Daffy to call or write, although I do suggest it weekly. I am no longer forcing her to have visits. Daffy has a right to work through the anger she has about the abuse she endured at the hand of her brother. I can not place his needs above hers any longer. He has you all to worry about his needs. My focus has to be on Daffy.

Minnie Mouse

Only one member of the team responded (and I swear she is on crack). I am considering whether or not to share that here . I feel comfortable sharing letters *I* have written, but a little more nervous to share something someone else has written due to the sensitive nature of the case and privacy issues.

The team meeting is today. I’m not going. It will mark the first meeting I have missed since we began this journey in October 2011. While I do have quite a bit of guilt about pulling back, there truly is nothing else I can do to advocate for Donald. I did what I could and its cost me a lot. It’s time for the professionals to do what they can for him. The blood will not be on my hands.

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The Donald Update

So, where is Donald at, you ask? Sadly, no where new. He is still at the RTC. We have continued to call him almost daily, write letters and visit him 2-3 times per month. He is definitely pulling away from us, telling us most days that he does not want to talk and not calling on Mondays (his call day). His clinician is, of course, turning this around on us, having told the former fosters that she “doesn’t know how long we will be  around.” I feel like that is a completely unfair statement as we have been 100% consistant both in actions and in message for the 9 months since he disrupted from our home.

The team has finally secured a TFCBT therapist for him and he has been going for about a month now. It has been noted that his behaviors are escalating, as expected under the circumstances.

He has continued to have 2 visits monthly with his birth mom. The clinician is HELL BENT on sending him back to her. She believes that they have the right to another chance to fail (or succeed) together. The team is quite divided on whether or not that is the best course of action. Honestly, I am not sure what I believe is best. On one hand, his birth mom had NUMEROUS chances to “get it right” since the kids were first pulled from her home in 2004. While there is no question that she LOVES him, there are certainly doubts about her ability to parent him. She is also remarried and has a young step-daughter living in the home as well as numerous pets. It has been determined that Donald should be the only child in the home and that he should not have access to animals. Sending him back to live with her/them is dangerous for them and a set up to fail for him. She still lives in the same home where he was abused. His birth father (the abuser) still lives in the same town. Both will be huge triggers for his PTSD.

On the other hand, Donald WILL go back to her, whether its legally when he is 18… or gets his license and can drive there… or runs away. They are drawn to each other. Knowing that is a certainty, maybe it IS best if the state works with the birth mom to get her to point of being able to understand him and learn to cope with and manage his many behaviors. Maybe its best of the state explores this with Donald so that he can understand the reality of what living with her will be like rather than the fairy tale he has built up in his mind.

The team is scheduling another consult with the top trauma specialist in the state to get her thoughts on a reunification (which would technically be an adoption since TPR occurred 4+ years ago) You can read about the first consult here… interesting that the state picked and chose what recommendations they wanted to listen to from the last consult, especially the part where she recommended that we should not be involved at this point since it’s too confusing for him to have so many “families” in his life. [Shaking my head]

Anyway, I spoke with Daffy’s therapist about the fact the team is considering sending him back to the birth mom. This would be devastating to Daffy. When I brought the idea up to Daffy at one point, she said there was NO WAY her birth mom would let Donald come back because she would never choose him over her. 😦 The therapist suggested that we not even try to process this with her at this time. She said even if Donald starts to transition back to his birth mom, there is a good chance he will disrupt so there is no need to get Daffy all wound up about something that is so unlikely to succeed.

It’s bizarre that while we have crossed the adoption threshold, this is still such an active case with so much more to deal with.

The Day After

This morning a slew of emails began. The team members who left the meeting early (or at the end, depending on how you look at it) were wondering how things had gone and those of us who attended…. ok, ME….. needed to process what the hell just happened.

Its been more than 24 hours now and I still dont know if I can wrap my arms around yesterday’s events.  Donald’s clinician believes that he had a PTSD reaction and truly doesn’t remember the events of what happened after we told him Daffy would be adopted. Initially, I believe he understood and simply wanted to kill his sister, but after talking to him tonight, I am not  so sure.

Below is an email (edited for the purpose of making it less searchable) that I sent to the team after talking to Donald tonight:

I had a great chat with the clinician this afternoon [Dont even go there…. I am pretty sure I still disagree with her on most points, but I do feel that somewhere deep down she cares about Donald even though she isnt the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree] and she suggested that I follow through on our nightly phone call to Donald. I am really happy that I did and wanted to update you about some things he said on the call…. These are sort of in random order….

First I asked how he was doing and he said not so good. I don’t know that I have ever heard him sound so “down”…  The only other time that comes close was when he was heavily medicated at the PSYCH Hospital in February. He talked far slower than usual and his voice was, well, depressed. I asked if he was still upset about yesterday and he said yes.

He asked me if we were adopting Daffy, to which I replied “Yes” and he said he thought she was getting adopted by a different family. I am wracking my brain trying to think about what I said yesterday that might have given him the impression that it wasn’t US that was adopting his sister and I cant think of anything. It could just be his poor memory, disassociation, or confusion, I suppose.

He asked if his sister could come on Saturday’s visit and I told him “No”…  I said I thought things needed to cool off, but said that they would see each other [in the future]. I also reassured him that even after adoption, Daffy would still be his sister. Adoption doesn’t change that.

I reminded him that we told him yesterday we would help him work to be ready for adoption, too. I  further explained that he and his sister are 2 different kids with 2 different needs and that the team is making choices that are best for each of them. I told him that Daffy still hasn’t seen their birth mom because the time isnt right for her (which he seemed to love and said “I am“, very proudly), and then took the opportunity to say that she is ready for adoption and he isnt yet. I then hammered home the point that “different kids do different things” when the time is right. He seemed to accept that, at least for the moment.

I told him that at the meeting yesterday I advocated for him to be able to see his birth Mom on an ongoing basis and reminded him of a conversation we had when he lived here when I told him that I would help him locate her when the time was right for him. He seemed to remember and I reminded him “I kept my word”… Then I asked if he wanted to continue to see his birth mom and he said “Yes, like I see you” [ugh, heartbreaking] and I told him that’s why it was important for him to speak at the team meetings about what is important to him. I told him that I knew it was scary, and if he wanted, he could sit with me at the next meeting. I reminded him that its important for him to be honest about his feelings.

He asked again if Daffy could come Saturday and I reminded him that now was not the right time. I said “Are you still angry with her?” and he replied “Yes” and I said “We need to wait for things to cool off a bit and work through some of the big feelings” and again reminded him that he WILL see her, just not right now. He seemed okay with the fact that Mickey & I would come alone. I told him that I wanted him to be safe between now and then and he agreed to try. We chatted a bit about what the RTC’s weekend event might be like. He said if they had a bounce house (and it was okay for adults to go in) that he would go with me. I also told him how he was a great photographer and asked if I brought my camera if he would take some pictures for me and he agreed. He then paused to tell a peer about how when we met he took hundreds of pictures with my camera. I suggested that taking photos might be something he would like to do for a job when he grows up. (I don’t think he believes he has a future, sadly, so I took this chance to remind him.)

Overall, its probably one of the most intense conversations I have had with him (outside of maybe the time he disclosed sexual abuse when he lived here in January). I felt like he was genuine and at least somewhat open to talking about scary feelings more than most days we have talked with him.

In closing, I am sad. Like I said to the clinician today, when we began this journey we purposely sought a sibling group with the goal of keeping siblings together in a system that often does whatever is easiest. We believed this was our calling and our strength in foster parenting. It’s ironic that because ofthe siblings we were matched with, we ended up fighting for the very opposite. The clinician mentioned hoping we would be a resource family for Donald in the future and I could say without hesitation that we ARE in this for the long haul with him. He & Daffy may not be able to live together but they will ALWAYS be connected and ALWAYS be siblings and we will do everything in our power to preserve that relationship and help them to achieve a healthy relationship going forward. Although we may not be the best match for Donald and may not be able to best meet his needs, we ARE connected to him and that will not change.

Sadness overwhelms me tonight. I ADORE Daffy and cant imagine my life without her, but leaving her brother behind was never part of the plan.

Donald’s Bad Weekend

Wow! What a weekend! When Mickey called Donald on Sunday, he said that he had run away and got poison ivy all over his body. Before Mickey could ask for details, Donald said he didn’t “feel like talking so long” and hung up. I promptly emailed the clinician and asked for details.

The next morning we received an email about Donald’s weekend. Apparently Saturday started with an altercation with a peer and some [quote] “awkward” behavior following. Next, he pulled an apple peeler on staff with the intent to do hard. Finally, he and another peer decided to run away. They were apparently brought back by the police an hour later.

A few of my feelings on the above events:

  1. If we are considered his family to the point that the clinician has been pushing for home visits, why would staff NOT have called us to let us know that Donald was missing??? And furthermore, why would they not have mentioned it before putting him on the phone Sunday night? Its completely inappropriate for us to learn of this type of information from Donald himself.
  2. It’s Tuesday night and we have yet to see the Critical Incident Reports from Saturday’s events. The clinician told us yesterday she was still trying to get ahold of the staff that was on duty during Saturday’s incidents. Ummmm, communication break down, much? Tomorrow will be 4 days since the events that took place and his clinician doesn’t even officially know what happened?  How can she have already taken him off the safety watch without all the details? I swear, as long as I live, I will never understand her.
  3. He pulled an apple peeler on staff and you think he is ready for home visits??? Fat chance. I have said from the start that we were not willing to take him back here until he was safe. We do NOT expect perfection, but we DO expect to be safe. That is NOT too much to ask. Clearly the  2 weeks that he has been “on level” do not indicate safety. Pretty sure I said that at the last team meeting, but the clinician just ignored it and continued to push her own agenda. God, I hate her
There are lots of discussions to be had as a result of this weekend’s incidents. In addition to the consult we have scheduled on Monday, we have added a “pre-meeting” to discuss the questions for the trauma specialist and a post-meeting to discuss the call as well as have another team meeting before our quarterly court check in later in July. There are so many things changing and happening right now. Literally within each day there enough ups and downs to make me feel dizzy!
Praying that one day soon this ride will stop and we can all get off and live happily ever after.

No meds? Are you nuts?

I spoke to Donald’s group home today and they shared that they (along with a nurse practitioner) are removing him from his lithium over the next 8 days. I don’t support this on any level.

1. During his hospitalization his liver enzymes were high (to the point of being a raging alcoholic with liver failure) from having taken the previous concoction of meds.

2. They chose lithium as a course of treatment because it is filtered through the kidneys rather than the liver. They also added Abilify.

3. The Abilify caused his liver enzymes to sky rocket again so they removed it on discharge day leaving him with lithium as his ONLY medication.

4. The lithium stabilized him to the point he could be released (going from being physically assaultive twice per day to every other day).

5. He is mentally ill. In addition to previous diagnoses of ADHD, PTSD & RAD, they determined he likely has childhood biploar disorder.

Does this sound like a kid that should come off ALL MEDICATION for 2 weeks???? I am truly terrified for the other children in the residential home and the children in his classroom.

Respite. Will it be enough?

We were initially told we needed to use our own natural resources to provide care for the children. Since we are a pre-adoptive home, it is thought that we shouldn’t rely too much on the services our agency offers and more on ourselves since it will eventually be “just us.” It took our social worker just 6 days into the placement to set up respite for only the second full weekend Donald would be with us. Yeah, it’s that bad.

He is on a respite weekend right now, and while this does afford us safety for the weekend, I still have not been able to calm myself from my anger of yesterday morning. My heart still feels like its pounding and I am filled with anxiety knowing he will be back tomorrow to start the abuse over again. I honestly don’t understand how or why people stay in domestic violence situations. That is truly what we are living each day and its something we were not prepared for, and may never be. Even with all our sarcasm, we would never treat each other like he treats us.

Yesterday morning Donald got up early (what else is new?) and started pounding on Tink and Daffy’s bedroom door. He is NOT happy at all that they have locks. He hasnt expressed it verbally but you can tell by the pounding and kicking that he is furious he can’t get in to do what he wants. Tink told him to go back to bed. He continued to rage in the hall when Tink realized one of the cats was out there. She opened the door to get the cat and he attacked her. He punched her 3 times and kicked her to the point of bruising 5 or 6 times. Eventually she was able to get back in her room and he continued screaming and swearing at her. Mickey got back from dropping off Goofy at school and Donald bee lined it to his bunk. Mickey is pretty much the only thing that can keep him somewhat in control. Donald insisted he wasnt going to school. However, after he showered, he calmed down. And moved on. And so should everyone else. Or so he thinks. No, Donald, Tink does NOT forgive you in 6 minutes for kicking her, for punching her,  for being physically and verbally abusive to her. She does not want to answer your question about whether or not you did a good job coloring in your Green Lantern coloring book. She doesn’t even want to see your face and honestly, I dont blame her.Our agency is all about natural consequences. The natural consequences for Donald attacking Tink are her not liking him. Rejection triggers his PTSD. Vicious cycle.

When we began this journey, we could not relate in any way to families who disrupted. People are not returnable. And then we were placed with Donald. And now I can completely understand why so many families have given him back. This is no way to live. They shouldnt have had to fear daily for their pets and their own safety. And neither should we. I am still committed, but each day it becomes more and more challenging to follow through on that commitment. Our focus is safety rather than attachment. I try not to look into the future, but will it always be about safety? We can’t live like this for another 7 years. We just can’t.

Feeling pretty good

So, this morning, Donald met with yet another social worker, this one doing an intake assessment. I am really impressed with him that he takes all these visits in stride. He is willing to blindly trust these adults with the drakest part of his life simply because they suggest he should. I was in awe of him… first because he was able to sit in his chair (albeit wiggly and fidgeting) for 45 minutes but mostly because he was able to answer some really tough questions about his past and about how he deals with it on a day to day basis. For the most part, he was dead on it the way I would describe him. Seeing that he understands his own hatred of life made me feel all the sadder for him. No child should have to have endured what he has and while he has some behaviors that make him tough to live with, it really isnt his fault. I need to remind myself of that more often.

This afternoon, we met with 2 more social workers (the ongoing ones that he is going to really need to get used to). I was terrified to see his reaction to us telling him he is going on a respite weekend. There is a part of me that feels bad for allowing this happen to so soon, but there is another part of me that knows that part of  what got us all through this week was knowing that he is going and knowing there is a break in sight. He took it fairly well at first. He seemed nervous but excited. And then he started copying his sister. They went back and forth to the point I wanted to scream. And then he came over and held his fist to her while she sat on my lap. Ugh. WHY? Why did he have to be treated that way? And why does he need to pass it on? Anyway, after he hit her in the head (not hard, just to make a point, I think), she decided to go in another room and we were able to redirect him. I think the social workers think that we are always able to redirect him so easily. Not true. That was his “best behavior” because they were there and he doesn’t know them that well.

I was supposed to also tell him about being moved off the regular bus and being transported by the “little bus” but I was too stressed to actually follow through so I guess thats a conversation for tomorrow. Its hard for me to imagine him taking that well even though he complains all the time about how noisy the regular bus is.

Tonight, I am focused on feeling grateful for the few smiles we have seen, the great big hugs he gives and the hope that the future will be brighter than the dark days of the past week.

Can you feel my fear?

Discharge day has come & gone in a whirlwind. Let me try to get caught up on the last week…..

Friday we took the kids to see their new school. Both were SILENT. They were clearly terrified, with Donald even HIDING behind Mickey. I wasn’t thrilled with the lack of planning on the school’s part. Both kids came into their classrooms during activities and were not made to feel very welcome at all. As we left the school it was Daffy’s turn to use a particular Nintendo game and Donald was not happy about it, refusing to give it up. This went on for a few miles and I finally demanded that he do it. He promptly threw the game at his sister and slammed the system into my hand and began using his classic profane language. When we pulled into the driveway, he refused to get out of the car (one we are borrowing because Mickey’s transmission went a few weeks back). Mickey leaned in to unbuckle him and he promptly started kicking him all the while screaming like a girl. He then began kicking the dogs who came out to greet us as they do every time we get home.  What a freakin’ fiasco! Mickey had to practically drag him into the house where he continued the nonsense of swearing and throwing things at us. Needless to say, that set the tone for the long holiday week.

Saturday and Sunday were filled with varying degrees of agression on Donald’s part including him slamming coffee mugs, throwing things at people (including guests in our home) and punching a window. Good times.

We returned the kids on Monday night for our last evening without them. Needless to say, that reality kicked up some major anxiety for me. Tuesday I actually broke down and took a prescription med that I havent taken in months because I felt like I would have a heart attack. Mickey, Tink, Goofy and I made the final one hour treck to pick up the kids that afternoon. What should have been one of the most amazing days of my life was instead filled with dread, self-doubt and fear. Tinkerbell clearly felt the same way; she even cried as we were leaving because she was so sad for the future of our family.

I fully expected a complete meltdown on that first night, but we actually managed to survive with just the usual incessant arguing between Donald & Daffy. That is until 2am when Donald decided he had enough sleep for the night. What the f&@k?? Seriously. This is stressful enough without HIM being awake all night long. Obviously we sent him back to bed and there I lay, wondering if he was getting a knife to stab me or if he found a cat to strangle.

Fast forward to the next morning… the first day at the new school! Again, I fully expected a meltdown that didnt come. I weaseled my way out of taking them to school because I was so angry, I really didnt even want to LOOK at them. Mickey took them and said they seemed okay. My phone rang during the school day and of course, I expected the worst. Amazingly, an aide was calling to tell me what a “great day” he was having. Ha! Have fun on the honeymoon, sweetheart! I ASSURE you it wont last long!

I survived yesterday afternoon and evening with them and they were actually much better about staying in bed last night. My biggest issue right now is finding a way to let go of my anger at their “behaviors” to start each day new. Its extremely hard to do when the constant level of anxiety about what he will do next is always at a max. He is argumentative, defiant and assualtive on an almost constant basis. And while I know it seems that I am hyper focused on “him”, trust me SHE is no peach… her single goal in life is to send him into a rage all with an innocent look & a smile on her face. Gotta love Reactive Attachment Disorder! This is 1000% more challenging than I ever could have imagined and I can completely understand why so many other families have thrown in the towel, which are words I never believed I would say.

So, at this point, what I need most is someone (anyone? everyone?) to tell me that this is NOT what my life will be like every single minute for the rest of my life, because if it is, I will NOT survive. My biological kids won’t survive. My husband won’t survive. My family won’t survive.

Visits and Treatment Team

Wednesday: Daffy had her holiday concert on Wednesday! She was all dressed up and looked so cute! Donald and I went in support. After her group was done performing, she came off stage and moved into the audience. She called me over so she could sit on my lap. I felt like a GIANT as the only adult sitting in the front row, LOL She told all of her friends that I was her “new mom” … what a GREAT feeling!

Thursday: I had the chance to join both kids in their therapeutic  horseback riding lesson…. even so far as getting on the horse! It was quite amusing as it turns out Goofy is afraid of horses, LOL On the way back, Donald randomly stated “I love you”. My simple response? “I love you too!” It feels very much like both kids are attaching, but I have no background in RAD or PTSD, so I guess I dont really know. I am told things are going in a good direction and that the kids are acting out at an expected level. I guess thats good, right?

Friday: Today we had a Treatment Team meeting. I am always in awe of what an amazing support team the kids have in place. I received some great feedback about my response to what happened between Donald & Daffy this weekend (with the high heel in the eye incident) and we discussed the transition. I have to say I have been very frustrated that they are not registered or school and aren’t yet signed up with their new counselor but I was assured that will happen by the beginning of the week.

This weekend is out first sleepover! Needless to say we are all really excited about it!

-Minnie xo

[All names have (obviously) been changed to protect the privacy of our family.]