Chapter 4: Two secrets

Date: 2007-12-05
Source: freep.com

Chapter 4: Two secrets

Lisa hides pregnancy from state, says adopting Ricky was big mistake

BY JACK KRESNAK • FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER • December 5, 2007

Tim and Lisa Holland were keeping a secret in the fall of 2003.

Lisa was pregnant.

They already had their hands full. They were adopting 6-year-old Ricky, who continued to exhibit erratic behavior, and his half-brother, Trevor, almost 2, who was developmentally delayed.

They also were foster parents to the boys' sister, Sarah, then almost 1. And for several months until early September, they were caring for Lisa's 2-year-old nephew as a foster child.

But the Hollands held off telling their Department of Human Services caseworkers about the pregnancy because they were hoping to take in yet another child: a fourth sibling to Ricky, Trevor and Sarah. He was a boy, Brett, who would be born Dec. 3 and placed with the Hollands the next day.

Lisa was worried the DHS would balk at giving them the baby if they knew she'd soon have a newborn. Lisa waited until three weeks after Brett arrived to tell the DHS her secret.

In October, Lisa was home alone with the kids while Tim, a civilian intelligence specialist with the Army, was getting training at a base in Arizona for possible deployment to Iraq. She wrote to Tim, telling him that everyone missed him and the family was managing "the best we can." Ricky was acting up, as usual, lying about things and having bathroom issues. "I usually put him in his room and forget him," she wrote.

And then she revealed another secret.

Deep down, she wished they could have adopted Sarah first.

"I would not have done the boys at all," Lisa told her husband.

Trouble at school

Every six weeks or so, Ricky was seeing psychiatrist Dr. Aurif Abedi at Foote Hospital in Jackson.

Abedi adjusted Ricky's medications based on Lisa's reports of how the kindergartner was doing at home and at Cascades Elementary in Jackson. The doctor tried to set dosages that would calm Ricky down without harming his ability to learn. Ricky now was taking a drug for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, a mood stabilizer and an antidepressant to help him sleep.

An assessment by his adoption worker earlier that year was upbeat -- school was going well, tantrums were only occasional and the medications seemed to be working. The Hollands told the DHS there were no problems they couldn't handle.

But in May, there was a serious incident at school. Ricky refused to do something his teacher asked, talked back to her and ran out of the building and down Wisner Street. The interim principal had to get in her car to catch him. He was suspended for a day and a half.

Through the spring, the Hollands reported to the DHS that Ricky's behavior was worsening. Lisa also asked the school to evaluate him for placement in special education. But the school decided he was on target academically. Lisa insisted he be assigned to ride the special-ed bus anyway. Ricky hated having to leave class early to do it.

Finally, Ricky's foster care worker, Theresa Bronsberg, decided Ricky might need to go back into counseling, something he hadn't had for about a year after Lisa Holland resisted it. But Abedi had recommended it all along, and therapy was required for Ricky's foster care support and medical subsidies -- then almost $30 a day -- to carry over to adoption.

Adoption goes through

Lisa met Sept. 17 with therapist David Snyder at Family Services & Children's Aid in Jackson without Ricky, so Snyder could learn more about the boy and set a schedule for counseling.

"I believe it would be in Ricky's best interest that no other children be placed in his home until he perceives that his own situation has stabilized," Snyder wrote afterward. Right away, the Hollands raised objections. They wanted family counseling, not just one-on-one therapy for Ricky.

Tim e-mailed Bronsberg the next day, saying he didn't trust the agency to help Ricky because "they don't want Lisa and I involved." And family counseling wouldn't be possible if Tim was sent to Iraq.

Lisa canceled a follow-up appointment to have Ricky seen at the agency as Bronsberg -- unaware the counseling wasn't proceeding -- was telling her superiors that Ricky was in therapy and the Hollands would be meeting with his therapist weekly.

Based on that information, the adoption subsidy was approved and the Hollands formally adopted Ricky and Trevor on Oct. 21.

He steals food, denies he's hungry

Ricky was in the first grade at Cascades, and his behavior soon began to border on the bizarre. He was snatching other kids' lunches and going through trash cans, looking for food. The school suspended him for three days in November for stealing food.

Some at school thought he wasn't being fed at home, but when asked, he would rattle off a list of things he'd eaten for breakfast -- pancakes, eggs, bacon, cereal. Yet when a bus aide looked inside his lunch bag one day, she found what she called a "carrot sandwich" -- carrot slices and mayonnaise between two slices of bread. Ricky hated carrots.

Lisa Holland began stapling the bags shut. She also fought with the school about whether Ricky should be restrained in a harness on the bus. The school sided with the driver and bus aide, who thought Ricky was fine without it.

In April 2004, near the end of her pregnancy, Lisa abruptly pulled Ricky out of school. She said it was too stressful for him and she would homeschool him.

Carol Coxon, the school nurse, was alarmed. She dispensed Ricky's medications and saw bruises on his back and chest earlier in the school year, though Ricky never said anything to make her suspect he was being mistreated. Lisa attributed the marks to wearing the harness on the bus. But after Lisa took Ricky out of school, Coxon called Child Protective Services.

She told investigators about Ricky's apparent hunger and odd behavior with food, the time he ran away from school and once when he arrived wearing a soiled diaper. She and others believed it was humiliating for the first-grader to wear diapers, but no one called CPS at the time.

The CPS investigation concluded the complaints were old and Ricky's former caseworker, Bronsberg, had no concerns whatsoever about the Hollands' handling of him. "Based on the additional information we collected, the child does not appear to be harmed," Coxon was told by letter.

In late April, after witnessing Ricky repeatedly slap himself during a visit, Abedi concluded the boy was showing signs of a more serious problem -- bipolar mood disorder. He suggested hospitalization, which upset Ricky. Abedi continued the boy's medications and asked the Hollands to closely monitor him and report back. But the Hollands stopped taking Ricky to Abedi that July. Lisa called once in November to ask for refills of two prescriptions; Abedi agreed, as long as Lisa promised to bring Ricky in for an office visit. She never did.

Lisa, meanwhile, had asked again to have Ricky placed in special education and, in May 2004, she learned the results of testing done between February and April: He was performing at or above grade level in academics, and measures of emotional disturbance and anxiety were mostly in the normal range.

But he's fine with grandparents

Lisa delivered a baby girl on May 19. The following day, her father drove Ricky from Jackson to Tim's parents' home behind their party store in DeWitt. Tim's adoptive mother, Arcie Holland, recalled that Ricky stayed three or four days.

He played in the store -- just as Tim did when he was a boy. Ricky would greet customers, introducing himself and telling them that his mom just had a baby. A police officer gave him a cardboard badge and Ricky shook the man's hand. His parents hadn't sent toys, so his grandmother bought him a few games. He spent hours playing pickup sticks and Chinese checkers.

Ricky wasn't aggressive, impulsive or out of control.

"He was a good boy while he was here," Arcie said. "He had fun here."

Contact JACK KRESNAK at 313-223-4544 or jkresnak@freepress.com.

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