10-year-old's dark side frightens mother
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By David Davich
March 8, 2009 / Post-Tribune
Kay woke up from a nap during the afternoon on Feb. 28 with a kitchen steak knife poking her neck.
Her 10-year-old son, Thomas, whom she adopted as a baby, was at the other end of the knife.
"Were you trying to hurt me?" she asked.
Thomas only smiled.
"Were you trying to kill me?" she asked.
Thomas continued to smile.
Kay, who's 52, called the police. This wasn't the first such incident involving Thomas. And she knew it wouldn't be the last.
Thomas, a "drug baby" with multiple medical issues as an infant and emotional problems as a child, always had a dark side.
Maybe it's because the first several months of his life were in a hospital with little physical contact, let alone intimate bonding. Maybe it's because he struggled with reactive attachment disorder, characterized by severely disturbed and developmentally inappropriate ways of relating socially.
Or maybe a mental health expert was correct when he diagnosed the boy - at age 5 - as a sociopath, defined as someone whose antisocial behavior lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.
Either way, Thomas never bonded with Kay, and never really liked her. Despite years of her love, affection and attention, he often called her the B-word. Or wished she would die. And a couple weeks ago he socked her in the face.
I'm scared of my own son," Kay told me last week after the knife incident. "He meant to kill me. He told me so."
"Love could fix everything"
Kay and her husband, Jim, have been foster parents for 20 years, allowing all kinds of kids with all kinds of problems into their home. When the state children's welfare office needed a bed for a wayward child, it knew it could call on Kay and Jim to say yes.
"We took in so many children, the state kept raising the limit on our license," said Jim, a mild-mannered man with an easy smile.
Jim knew which days Kay said yes to the children's welfare office because on those days she made spaghetti for dinner. "We had a lot of mouths to feed," Kay explained from her living-room chair.
In addition to Kay's three birth children, the couple also adopted seven others through the years. They were all minority youngsters with various health issues or developmental disabilities, like Thomas, who has an IQ of 65, several psychological disorders, and has been in therapy since age 4.
Still, it didn't deter the couple. And, according to state records, they have had no violations as foster parents. "We figured love could fix everything, and it was God's gift for me to love children. But maybe," Kay said, her voice trailing off, "maybe we were wrong."
A few of the adopted kids proved too much to handle, and they now live in residential treatment facilities. For example, one 15-year-old son who was "just plain mean" is now living at the Indiana Developmental Training Center, or IDTC.
The IDTC is a residential treatment center in Indianapolis that houses roughly 200 youths with special needs and emotional problems, with a satellite center in Lafayette.
Also, the family has been on the radar of Crown Point Police, whoÕve been called to their home five times the past few years for domestic disputes involving juveniles, according to Police Chief Pete Land.
Today, the couple has only one child living in their home, an 11-year-old daughter who has a history of health problems and a mental disability. On the day I visited their home, she was doing homework at the kitchen counter and she never stopped smiling.
"She's always happy," Kay said. "She's our miracle child."
She's also quite vulnerable, and Thomas has threatened her in the past, just as he has threatened Kay. However, he has never threatened Jim, and his dream is to be rid of Kay and his sister so he can be alone with Jim.
"He told us he wants me and him to move into an apartment in Valparaiso," Jim said, shrugging at the absurdity of the idea. "But that will never happen, especially now."
"I can't take him back"
Last Saturday, Thomas was grounded to his bedroom for stealing another youth's toys. Maybe this is why he stuck a steak knife at his mother's neck with a devilish smile. Maybe not.
Regardless, Kay immediately called the police, who pretty much told her that Thomas is her responsibility, and they couldn't take him. An ambulance was called instead, and Thomas was taken to a local hospital for evaluation before it rejected him.
"They told us he was too young," Kay said.
He eventually wound up at a children's treatment center in Mishawaka, where he remains today awaiting his fate.
Kay and Jim agree that Thomas is a serious threat to Kay and his sister, and he needs permanent residential care away from their home. They also showed me the steak knife he used that Saturday, while explaining how they have gotten rid of any butcher knives.
"I will not take him back," Kay said through tears. "I can't take him back."
Monday, two days after the incident, Kay received a call from the Indiana Department of Child Services, or DCS, telling her, in effect, that she has to take him back. She's been told in the past that if she doesn't allow her son back into her home, she would be charged with child neglect or abandonment. And she would also be placed on a registry of child abusers, officially branding her a bad mother.
"This is what the state is doing to parents in our situation," Kay said. "I'm not the crusader type, but we didn't do anything wrong."
"It's not fair, but ..."
On Tuesday, a DCS worker arrived at the couple's Crown Point home to investigate the case. I had arrived a few minutes earlier to investigate the investigation.
Case manager LaTisha Reynolds was polite, pleasant and professional, and had just visited with Thomas at the Mishawaka facility. She didn't ask who I was, so I didn't tell her. I simply listened.
Kay began by asking whose authority is forcing her to take back her son or face neglect charges.
"The state," Reynolds replied.
"But who exactly from the state?" Kay asked.
"The governor," Reynolds replied.
"So let's say I allow him back into my home and he kills my daughter. Who's responsible then?" Kay asked. "Will I be a bad parent for then allowing that to happen?"
Reynolds replied: "I'm telling you, that's the way it goes. It's not fair, but that's what we're dealing with right now. We've had several cases just like this one."
Kay explained what Thomas told her after the incident: How he planned on waiting for Jim to come home to help clean up her blood and place her body in a garbage can.
Reynolds said it's typical for children with reactive attachment disorder to have ill feelings toward their mother or other women. However, she also noted that Thomas enjoyed living in their home and had no complaints of abuse or neglect.
Kay claimed she is doing the appropriate thing by asking for the proper residential care for her obviously damaged son. But she can't afford the cost, roughly $300 a day.
Reynolds countered by saying state budget constraints won't allow payment for the services Thomas needs.
"Everyone is watching the bottom line," Reynolds said. "So the only way for me to get my child the treatment he needs," Kay said, choking back tears, "is for me to be a bad parent? After spending 20 years taking care of other people's children, now I'll be branded a child abuser? It just isn't right."
"This would be a non-issue"
According to DCS spokeswoman Ann Houseworth, state statute precludes her from speaking directly about this case. But she did provide me with a few general answers.
Thomas can become a ward of the state "if he is considered to be a danger to himself or others, or if (he) needs treatment or care he is not receiving in the home and is unlikely to receive without the intervention of the court."
This would make Thomas a "child in need of services," or a CHINS case, and he would be a ward of the state, no longer the child of Kay and Jim.
"It is up to the presiding judge to determine if the actions of the parents rise to the level of abuse or neglect," Houseworth said.
One of the core values of the DCS states: "We believe every child has the right to appropriate care and a permanent home."
But what happens when appropriate care and a permanent home don't reside at the same place? Whose responsibility is that child then - the guardian or the state? Certainly not the biological parent in many cases, such as this one.
An ideal outcome, Kay and Jim agree, would be for Thomas to live in a residential center getting proper treatment while remaining their child, not a ward of the state.
With this in mind, Kay slumped into her chair and stared at the ceiling. She wondered if Thomas gets charged with attacking her, would she still be expected to take him back?
"He's only 10," Reynolds replied. "If he was 16, it would be different. There are not a lot of places for a 10-year-old to go."
Kay said that in the adoption documents she received, the state is supposed to pay for services that she could not afford. She also noted if she doesn't allow Thomas back, and she's placed on a child abuse registry, it would ruin her job as a substitute teacher.
Reynolds explained that she would discuss this case at a staff meeting the next day: "It all comes down to who is going to provide these services. That's the question here."
So, Kay reasoned, if she never adopted Thomas and instead kept him as a foster child, he would then receive those services as a ward of the state.
"Yes," Reynolds replied. "This would be a non-issue."
"Child will hurt somebody"
The Indiana DCS facilitates more than 1,500 adoptions each year, and situations such as this one happen "very infrequently," Houseworth said.
Foster parents who adopt children from the DCS, such as Kay and Jim, undergo training to handle children who often have disruptive behaviors as a result of abuse or neglect in their past. They also are entitled to post-adoptive services to help them.
"What often gets lost is that when a family goes into court to adopt a child, they swear an oath before a judge to provide that child with a 'forever family,'" Houseworth said.
"They affirm they will provide security, stability and love to a child who may never have experienced it before. They then become the parents, not adoptive parents, of the child."
Kay and Jim wholeheartedly believe they are the "parents" of Thomas. Kay even took Thomas, as a young child, to his grandmother's funeral simply so he could get a photo of him with his biological parents. The parents took the photo and quickly gave the baby back to Kay, and that was that, she said.
In other words, Kay and Jim have given Thomas love, nurturing and Christian values.
"Just as we did with our nine other children," Kay said.
But Thomas has set fires, hurt family pets, threatened his sister and even proudly stoned to death a baby bird that fell from its nest, among other hostile acts.
"This child will hurt somebody," Kay said flatly. "I don't want it to be us."
On Friday evening, DCS Case Manager LaTisha Reynolds returned to the Crown Point couple's home to tell Kay that the state is officially taking custody of her 10-year-old son, Thomas. Kay was also told to appear in court this week and answer to charges of child abandonment, Kay said.
Comment on this column on my blog at http://blogs.post-trib.com/davich; contact Jerry Davich at 648-3107 or firstname.lastname@example.org.