After pursuing a career in veterinary medicine and spending 10 years co-managing a large dairy operation, my husband and I realized our lives felt empty and unfulfilled without children and focus of family life. We decided to begin looking into adoption in 2008 since having children biologically wasn’t an option.
By May 2009, we had been paired with two siblings that were being raised in the foster care system as their parent’s rights had been terminated due to abuse and neglect. Michael was 4 years old and Elizabeth was 3 years old when they entered foster care and unfortunately this did not put an end to the abuse they were being subjected to. They endured an additional two long years of both sexual and physical abuse by their foster parents before CPS realized something was terribly wrong. By the time we became a family, the children had gone through four different foster home transitions. The last foster care home was a placement that was housing six foster children that were the hardest to find placement for because by this point in their lives their behaviors were so extreme due to traumas and emotional instability.
We were probably the typical “ignorance is bliss” couple walking into our adoption. Not realizing the severity of our children’s prognosis and having the age-old concept that our love will solve everything and it doesn’t. Michael was almost 8 years old and Elizabeth was 6½ years old. Michael was diagnosed with ADHD, ODD and PTSD. He was on a prescription of Adderall and Clonidine. Elizabeth was diagnosed with ODD, depression, attachment disorder, PTSD and bipolar disorder. She was on a prescription of Abilify. I remember as the adoption was taking place and I was maintaining their appointments with their existing psychologist and behavior therapist noting the phonebook size patient chart for each child. However we were now on our own and behaviors were still running rampant.
The first two years as a family were a steep learning curve for me and my husband. We searched frantically for solutions to help our children heal. We felt like a sinking ship without much hope as our children raged and acted out their anger every day at us and each other. The violence and aggression was unexpected but understandable as we became aware of their past experiences and traumas. We put all we had emotionally and financially into trying to help our children find help. I gave up my career to be a stay at home mom and even began homeschooling since it became quite evident that the children needed time to bond and learn how to regulate. This was impossible with a normal school schedule for them to accomplish. They would come home from school full of anxiety and stress from trying to maintain with peer pressures and school expectations and act out worse than ever. We began working with a therapist who specialized in children with reactive attachment disorder syndrome. We traveled to her office 180 miles from our home every week for a full day of sessions for almost two years. We participated in healing heart camps and had hired help come into our home. In total we spent over $90,000 in three years just in counseling support doing everything we could to give the children a chance at a life without the violence and anger they just could not let go of.
It wasn’t until the end of 2012 when we found the help that finally made the difference. We took the children for a five-day session of trauma treatment using the Instinctual Trauma Response model with Margaret Vasquez. It was amazing to watch the transformation of the children almost overnight. They were finally emotionally freed from feelings that had held them in bondage to anger for so many years. The time we had put into trying to help them before the treatment began to pay off. As parents we had already learned how to parent children with extreme traumas and behaviors so we could immediately begin applying these skills to help them undo bad habits. But the key was they were finally emotionally free to respond without the fear that their traumas were still occurring in their present state. Our insurance billing is evident to this healing transformation. Since the trauma treatment using the methods of the Instinctual Trauma Response model we haven’t spent any more time or money on counseling. We just had a full year anniversary from the treatment with complete success. Our children have begun to have healthy relationships with other children and participate in extracurricular activities that before they would always sabotage with their behaviors or tantrums. My daughter has made remarks to me that she no longer has the memories of sexual abuse like she did before, she says she can’t bring them up to mind even if she tries. Our children are prescription free and living normal childhood lives finally.
After watching the healing process that my children went through with their trauma treatment, I now realize how many children there are out there that could also benefit from this type of treatment. Many children that present challenging behaviors are stuck emotionally in fear-based responses because of life experiences that traumatically affected them at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, they are not able to respond to the love and logic parenting skills we are all taught until they can be released from the fear driving memories that keep them in high alert and survival mode. The benefits of treating traumas that are driving challenging behaviors from the start are huge. The investment of time and money was nothing compared to that spent in years of family counseling or attachment therapy which is almost always required to support adoptive families. In our case, our cost in trauma treatment was five percent of our total expenses for three years of intense counseling for reactive attachment disorder. Remarkably, the children respond to only the initial treatment without the on-going need of follow up treatments of any kind. What an alternative solution as opposed to the need for drug therapy to control unwanted behaviors. For the opportunity to increase the chances of any child’s ability to succeed in transitioning into a new family and finally having the ability to make choices in their behaviors, this treatment is such a small investment. Anyone who has lived with a child with destructive and challenging behaviors knows from experience the behaviors are irrational, self-sabotaging and stuck in nature. Without the proper treatment, we are asking the impossible when we expect our children to respond to our corrective parenting.
I can truly understand how families fall apart when faced with the challenges we faced when there is no end to the madness. Fortunately we were in a unique position where I could quit my job and afford the support we had until we got the help the children needed. It is of no wonder that so many of these adopted children end up in at risk homes or in the criminal system costing society so much more on the back end. I just pray that our testimony falls on open ears and hearts so more children are offered this type of help and can be freed from the emotional traumas that keep them stuck in the behaviors that destroy their lives and the people that love them. We all don’t want to hear more of the heart wrenching stories of failed adoptions and children abandoned over and over again because no one can help them receive help.