Why Don’t Those Parents Just Get Help?!?!

   Have you ever wondered why some parents don’t “just get help” for their kids?  You know, the kids who appear to always be in trouble but in reality have probably been through more trauma in their lives than most adults experience in a lifetime. The kind of trauma that gets them quickly labeled as thugs and illicits other nasty name-calling by adults who should know better. Oh, and their parents, are somehow to blame. It’s the parent’s fault that they were put through hell before adopted, played like a ping pong ball in divorce or foster care, bullied on the bus, assaulted by someone that should have been trustworthy, involved in a bad wreck, or a million other traumatic events that developed into emotional issues sometimes expressed behaviorally. Those parents also should somehow be able to create treatment programs out of thin air and force existing, full ones, to accept their children. Sure. Why not?

     “Why don’t those parents just do something? Can’t they see that the child needs help?” Those words certainly do roll off the tongue easily…

     Nevermind that the application process can be much harder than getting someone accepted to college, and there are not enough appropriate treatment options. That aside, there is often little help from even systems, like outpatient counseling programs or post-adopt services, who promised to help some folks. However, there will never be a shortage of people to point fingers for any imperfections–even if they failed to help when obligated to do so.

     Costs are astronomical. This is a quote from a recent program. I assure you, this is the norm among ones who are not supported by faithful congregations and other folks–we need more of those supportive people. (That mission field is WIDE open…)

     “Costs for treatment:

One time enrollment fee of $2,500
Monthly $6,850.00 of which on average $4,000-$4,200 is therapy services. The therapy services can be billed to your insurance company as a claim, filed by you.”

     The program will not bill insurance, and your insurance may decline. You are encouraged to apply for multiple personal loans to secure financing or do whatever it takes.Treatment is expensive. They do have a lot of liability, security, and staff. You also definitely want trained therapeutic staff–at least access to some Master’s Level or higher clinicians  in some key positions, plus your facility psychologist and psychiatrist or medical practitioner. 

  The next time you hear someone suggest that parents need to “just do something,” thank them for volunteering  to pay for the $31,000 treatment program. 


Photos Speak Volumes


This is a picture of currently available mental health and crisis services for people in many states. Some pieces are broken and smashed to dust. Others are completely missing. They no longer all connect, but only by the grace of God, some light still gets through.

This is an actual vehicle windshield that has been kicked by a child. The child was sent home less than 24 hours prior to the damage from an ER crisis assessment by a contractual worker in which the parent was dismissed and armed with only a paper behavior contract and a referral to the worker’s employer for outpatient counseling. Nevermind that the parent had clearly stated the child’s history of trauma, past failed attempts at outpatient, and other clinical issues. Nevermind that the child had been so distraught and out of control (mental health and grief issues not discipline issues) that a handful of police officers physically had to carry the child to assist in de-escalation and transportation to the ER. The worker indicated that risk to harm self or others was no longer enough for the child to be hospitalized in order to become stable and transitioning to appropriate treatment. He would have to state that he wanted to kill himself or someone else. Jumping out of a moving car would not be enough intent to harm self unless he stated he was trying to kill himself, and throwing objects at someone or grabbing a steering wheel was not intent to harm others unless he would specifically state he was trying to kill them.

This is where it got worse: the contractual crisis worker was fixated on whether or not the parent would profess some type of refusal to take the child back home with only the outpatient referral and behavior contract. The worker told the child, who already had residual attachment and trauma issues from time stuck in the child welfare system (from which the child was already rescued and adopted,) that if he did not go home he would be placed back in foster care. That is absolutely unacceptable as “mental health treatment” or treatment of another human being. Period. The crisis assessment actual made a bad situation even worse and more dangerous. Consequently, the child became extremely upset later but refused to see a counselor for fear he would never see his adoptive family again if he had to be hospitalized. This is how the windshield fared in that conversation…

Unfortunately, this is not at all an uncommon scenario among families in which a child is unable to access appropriate mental services. Youth who have a history of trauma or attachment issues fall into this category. It appears that the percentage of children with significant residual mental health issues that have been in foster and adoption services is much higher than actually reported.

Keeping the Team Together

With permission from a friend in a parent support group, I am printing the letter that she created for her child’s IEP team. I am removing identifying information.

A letter is especially helpful for those of us with kids who have attachment and trauma issues–most kids in the foster care and adoption systems. Many people really mean well, but some of their actions, without their knowing it, trigger setbacks and problems for our kids and families. This type of letter serves to keep everyone on the same page.

This is her letter:

“Greetings to all the IEP moms and dads out there.  After years of fighting the Disneyland Effect, this is the new attachment to my child’s IEP (Warning: long post):
–I will supply a bag of clean clothes. If he shows up with torn, smelly, poorly fitting clothes, you have the option of telling him to change.
—Don’t use physical affection (hugs, I love yous). Use high fives, but not excessively.  Even affectionate, family-type phrases like, “We’re your family while you’re at school” have been misunderstood by him as school staff wanting to be his new foster family.
—Use natural consequences (if he tears apart his shoes or wears a summer shirt in 20 degree weather,  he can stay inside during recess, rather than getting attention, donated clothes,  or criticism of home for “sending him to school this way”)).
—Avoid excessive rewards (if he gets a whole series of rewards during the school day–praises, hugs, stickers, iPad time, candy, prize box items–he gets extremely frustrated at home when he can’t get that same quantity.  The frustration often leads to more resentment of home, long meltdowns, runaway or property damage behavior).
—It’s his homework, not mine.  I will have a homework desk and school supplies available and will help (not do it for him). If he keeps refusing (or “losing” the homework), the consequence will be at school.
—-The consequence for missed homework or other negative choices should not involve increasing one-on-one attention.  Having adults giving him talks about homework or letting him stay inside (at recess) to be the teacher’s helper reinforces the behavior.
—Offer some rewards that are shared with home (like a “praise report,” via email home, or a small ice cream or pizza gift certificate that he can bring home).  That gives him an example of adults communicating versus a competition between his “home family” and “school family.”
—Understand that the charming, helpful, shy, and entertaining  behaviors seen at school are very unlike behaviors at home. This is part of RAD, that kids with early trauma often seek to control their environment through developing a public prescence that everyone loves, or by teaming up with outside adults against home (triangulating).
—Avoid making home the “bad guy.  RAD parents don’t become overjoyed when other adults say, “He behaves perfectly for me . . . Maybe if you did/read/bought/said something different . . . ” Then, professionals blame the parent for “not appreciating him enough” and seek to rescue him.  This is damaging to the tentative bond he is forming with home.
—Make consequences quick and praises specific (versus all-encompassing statements, like “You are so awesome”).
—It helps when adults resolve differences privately, versus in front of my child.
—Use email early and often. This prevents misunderstandings from turning into resentment between home and school.
—Understand the “parent-shopping” phenomenon. Even though he no longer jumps into professionals’ and strangers’ laps or hugs their legs, or asks to move in with them (thanks to all these therapies), the “shopping” behavior has become more subtle. And it leads to fantasies about moving in with favorite teachers and having a life with no rules. Yes, all kids do that at times, but he carries it many steps further, threatening to run away or to kill me or my family if he can’t live with that person. The goal is to keep him out of residential care or the juvenile system.
—Pass on this information to any substitute or aide who will be working with him.
—No individual sessions with the counselor.  He can participate in the group programs, such as the counselor coming to the classroom to talk about bullying or friendship.
—Limit one-on-one time with adults (such as having him eat lunch in the classroom with the teacher while the aide takes everyone else to the cafeteria).
—Any advice about home should be about academics only (such as educational computer games kids can do at home).”

About Light for the Broken Road

Light for the Broken Road aims to provide encouragement, resources, and information for parents/caregivers/families of those dealing with trauma and attachment issues, mental health disorders, and relevant topics.

As many are realizing not just within the United States but around the world, there is a disconnect between the reality of these issues and what the general population and even some professionals believe. Significant trauma and attachment issues appear to be prevalent in the foster and adopted poulations. They also seem more common than once realized among other children within public schools and other common settings. Trauma can impact ANYONE. As one peels the onion layers of issues like substance abuse, it is often at the root. It may also play a part in the development of mental illness. There even appear to be correlations between some untreated trauma and domestic violence and other crimes.

Unfortunately, if access to appropriate mental health services is sparse, it is even more so for post-adopt families and biological families trying to prevent their children from landing in the criminal justice system or worse.

In the near future, I would like to publish some anonymous letters from families (written so that they cannot be identified) regarding what does and does not work with suggestions for improving systems. 

Light sometimes shows us a clearer path, and other times it illuminates problems so that we may seek solutions.