Adopted boy to get expensive treatment

Date: 2003-05-30

Grand Rapids Press, The (MI)
Author: John Agar / The Grand Rapids Press

OTTAWA COUNTY -- Before he approved a costly, two-year treatment program for a 9-year-old boy, Ottawa County Family Court Judge Mark Feyen wanted to know whether David and Holly Meyers would be there at the end for their Romania-born adopted son.

"This is my son ... and I love the child to pieces," Holly Meyers told the court Thursday.

"There is no way I can let him go. He's my son, and I love him."

After months of evaluations, Feyen ordered the boy to be placed in Villa Santa Maria in New Mexico -- a 16-patient residential facility designed for children with reactive-attachment disorder, or RAD.

In severe RAD cases, children -- neglected and abused after birth -- do not bond with a parent figure, and do not develop consciences.

Experts say that left untreated, many RAD children eventually will commit crimes until they wind up in prison. That was the expectation for the Meyerses' son.

Already, he has sexually assaulted his 4-year-old sister at night in her bedroom. Then, during counseling sessions and police interviews, he said he planned to kill his mother, then torture and kill his sister.

He also is a personable, charming boy, charismatic and manipulative -- all characteristics of a RAD child.

Assistant Ottawa County Prosecutor Judy Mulder reached an agreement in which the 9-year-old pleaded guilty to gross indecency, reduced from first-degree criminal sexual conduct, and she would recommend placement in Villa Santa Maria, which will charge the county and state about $219,000 for the two-year program.

Villa Santa Maria, which charges $300 a day, is one of three such centers in the country.

At Thursday's disposition hearing, the judge was not bound by the plea agreement.

While several therapists recommended placement in Villa Santa Maria, a county resource team that studied the case recommended a two-week intensive program in Colorado followed by placement in a foster home.

"In my opinion, the issue of money is an important one," the judge said.

"We need to take that into consideration ... how best to spend our financial resources to provide the (most help) for the most kids," he said. But, he said, the court also has to look at each case individually.

"That means, sometimes you spend some money on an individual child. In my opinion, this is one of the cases we want to do that."

This was the only first-time offender Feyen has sent to out-of-state placement in his 14 years on the bench.

Hearing the decision, the Meyerses wept. Holly Meyers held her son, then he jumped up and down, and said, "Thank you" to the judge.

"He could have taken the easy way out, but he chose what was right and honorable," Holly Meyers said.

"Our state will be blessed by his bold decision because numerous doctors have said the path (my son) is on would have, if untreated, led to a life of incarceration."

The boy's parents have talked to him about his disorder. He told the judge he wanted to go to Villa Santa Maria to be healed.

"I think I should go so I can get my heart fixed," he said.

Attorney David Macias, representing the boy, asked the court to find the best long-term solution. Authorities could "simply say, 'Let's get rid of him,' but that's not a solution, your honor."

He said evaluations showed his client had a "high risk to re-offend" without proper treatment.

Placement in the residential program was appropriate, said attorney David Zessin, representing the parents.

"He is the kind of people they treat," he said. "This is a person who is a danger to himself and a danger to the community."

The judge relied on reports by William Russner, a clinical psychologist, and others who examined the boy. Russner said the boy has no normal attachment to anyone. He sees "everyone as a potential threat from whom he must protect himself."

Because the boy poses too great a risk to his sister and mother, he cannot live in their home while receiving treatment. Russner said foster care should be avoided, and that the boy requires constant supervision and intensive, daily treatment.

The parents will have to fly to the center every six to eight weeks.

Experts say attachment disorders are a common thread of serial killers, and suspect that prisons are filled with those with the disorder. They say children adopted out of Romanian orphanages, where they received little attention from adults, are particularly susceptible.

When the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was in power, he demanded women bear five children. Parents, unable to afford the children, abandoned them when his reign ended.

But RAD and other attachment disorders can occur anywhere children fail to bond to a loving caregiver in their early months or years.

Therapists say RAD children, who focus on survival, can be helped with intensive counseling.

They also have trouble with trust. The boy once said in court that he was jealous of the attention his parents gave his sister. In reports, he said: "I'd feel happy if I killed her, because then she'd be gone and then I could get attention from my dad."

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