Our son needs help
Health Editor Barry Nelson talks to a family who are finding that there is a lack of support for their adopted son who they say suffers from behavioural problems.
By Barry Nelson
June 25, 2009 / The Northern Echo
WHEN Peter and Jane were told it was highly unlikely that they could have children, there was one obvious solution. Peter had been adopted as a small child and had had such a positive experience that he felt adoption was a great institution.
“I had a very good experience and it seemed the right thing to do. I wanted to give kids the kind of life I was given,” says the self-employed Darlington businessman.
So, in 1995, the couple formally applied to their local authority to be accepted as potential adoptive parents.
Because they both smoked and had both lost one parent, the authority turned them down, partly on the grounds of smoking and partly because they had a “poor support network”.
Determined to adopt, the couple waited four years and applied again.
This time they cleared the various hurdles and were allowed to adopt a boy, aged 22 months, and his half-sister, aged nine months.
At the time the couple were told that both children had had a difficult start in life and had been neglected by their natural parents, who also had severe mental health problems.
Incredibly, within a year of adopting the two children the couple found out they were going to have a baby.
A baby girl was subsequently born and the couple now had a family of three to raise.
It was during the toddler and early-school stages that both adopted children started to demonstrate developmental and behavioural problems.
In junior school, the boy became increasingly violent towards other children, teachers and his adoptive father.
The local education authority was called in and agreed to place the boy in a unit for children with behavioural problems. Unfortunately, the unit closed after only six months.
Back at home, his behaviour became more violent and manipulative and he was referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) of Tees, Esk and Wear Valley NHS Trust.
CAMHS told the parents that the boy had an “attachment disorder” and asked them to attend what were called super-parenting classes.
The boy was sent back to mainstream school but his behaviour got worse, holding a teacher hostage with scissors.
In April last year, the boy was sent to a school for children with behavioural problems. In January, his problems escalated.
“He regularly trashed his room and was subject to violent outbursts,” his father says.
“I have a heart condition and he would goad me into angina attacks then laugh. He was also very violent with other children. We were at our wits’ end.”
At this stage Peter and Jane pleaded for help to keep the family together.
Their local GP referred the matter to Darlington Social Services and the boy’s school also referred the matter to social services, but the couple waited until February 21 before a social worker visited.
Peter said: “We suffered a month of continuous violence and we asked social services for urgent help.”
Only a few days later, the boy tried to sexually assault his sister then tried to stab his father with a kitchen knife. The boy was taken into emergency foster care, but then allowed home.
In a 90-day period between early January and the end of April, Peter calculates that his adoptive son made “three serious attempts” to stab him, as well as setting traps for his sisters with broken glass and by altering the thermostat on the shower to scald them.
APART from offering parenting advice, Peter claims that social services have done very little to support them.
After research into attachment disorders, the couple are convinced that their son is suffering from a condition called Reactive Attachment Disorder, or Rad.
Commonly found in fostered and adopted children, Rad occurs when a child is not properly nurtured in the first few months and years of life.
The child, left to cry in hunger, pain or need for cuddling, learns that adults will not help them. The Rad child develops habits of dealing with the world in a way he or she believes will keep them safe.
Some therapists argue that without treatment, Rad children never develop the attachments to other human beings which teach them to trust, accept discipline and take responsibility for their own actions.
“When we read about this it was like seeing lights coming on. We realised this was our lad they were talking about,” Peter said.
The couple discovered that a centre offering residential treatment for Rad is just across the Pennines in Rawtenstall, Lancashire.
While the company that runs the centre does not guarantee success, it claims that virtually every child is better adjusted and better able to cope with life at the end of the course.
But so far their attempts to persuade Darlington Social Services, Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust or their GP to refer their son to the, admittedly expensive, Keys Attachment Centre have fallen on deaf ears.
“A place at this centre offers hope of a cure, but a local authority referral is required. Yes, it is very expensive, but not half as expensive as keeping him in secure accommodation or a prison for the rest of his life.”
Peter says unless his son – who is 11 next week –is treated for Rad he will undoubtedly end up taking somebody’s life.
The couple have even offered to pay the £700 needed to cover the cost of an assessment at the Keys centre to see whether he is suitable for treatment – but so far their offers have been turned down.
“They won’t even let us spend our own money,” Peter said.
“We have had him for most of his life, he is our lad, we love him and we want him back but that is only going to happen if he gets the treatment he needs.
“He needs this therapy”.
? Peter and Jane are not their real names.
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