Exploring RAD: Criminal defense used in previous child abuse cases in Florida
by Mike Magnoli
JUPITER, Fla. (CBS12) — In this special report, the CBS12 News I-Team is exploring a controversial mental health diagnosis. We decided to tackle the subject earlier this Spring, shortly after a story broke that shocked our community. Experts say it is a wake-up call about a condition affecting many adopted children with a history of abuse or trauma.
Tim and Tracey Ferriter, of Jupiter, are charged with child abuse and false imprisonment. Police say they were keeping their adopted teenage son in an 8x8 box in their garage.
Their attorney immediately issued a statement that it was the only way to keep the young man from hurting himself and others.
This is not the first time such a claim has been used as a defense in a child abuse case in Florida. The I-Team discovered the results have been surprising.
In court filings, the Ferriters say the teen is suffering from a condition known as, “Reactive Attachment Disorder” or “RAD.”
Doctor Jerome Poliacoff is a psychologist who specializes in child and family therapy. He says reactive attachment disorder, like autism, has a spectrum with different degrees of severity.
“We hopefully teach kids to do unto others as you would have done to you, and if you’re angry at someone, use your words not your hands. I think it’s important to note there are two different kinds of reactive attachment disorder: One is the inhibited kind, where the child doesn’t make social connections; the other, the more extreme, is the disinhibited kind, where the child is outwardly aggressive and doesn’t follow social rules,” Poliacoff said.
In February, when CBS12 News first brought you the disturbing story of “the boy in a box” in Jupiter, the case which seemed so difficult to believe, got even more incredible. The attorney for the Ferriters wrote a letter to investigators to describe the teenager’s “dangerous and disturbing” behavior in class and in the home, including bringing weapons to school, routinely attacking his brothers and sisters and fixating on murder. All symptoms, the parents claim, of reactive attachment disorder.
Dr. Poliacoff is not involved in the Ferriter case, but we asked him whether locking a child in a small enclosure, with just a mattress and bucket, might somehow help his condition.
“Well, let’s put you in a room with bare walls for 23 hours and see how you come out. You’re probably going to start to bang your head against the wall. And isolation is different than restraint; restraining somebody or keeping them in an environment that’s secure is very different than isolating them in a stimulus-free environment,” Poliacoff explains.
Next, we set out to learn more about the case of Eugenio and Victoria Erquiaga, a Sarasota couple with several adopted children, all with special needs. He’s a doctor, She’s an attorney. In 2016, their 12-year-old daughter ran away from home. Neighbors found her and told police her hands were zip-tied and her feet bound. The girl told police she was locked inside a small playhouse in the loft of the home for long periods of time with no bathroom. The Erquiagas were arrested and their story became national news.
“The headlines were very provocative in the sense that anyone who hears about a child being locked up is immediately going to have a strong reaction to that,” said Dr. Bruce Sogolaw.
Sogolaw is a licensed mental health counselor and he worked with the Erquiagas. He oversees a Florida program for families called "Radical Healing."
Gene and Victoria sought his help for their daughter long before their arrest. Dr. Sogolaw can’t discuss what was said in those consultations with his clients, but the Erquiagas suggested the I-Team contact him. They wanted Dr. Sogolaw’s perspective in this story, while they declined to be interviewed.
“We work with families of foster and adopted children where the adoption is really going poorly based on both the children’s history of trauma and the parents not being able to understand or having not previously understood the dimensions of the trauma and that goes way beyond a couple of months of good parenting. So they find themselves, again and again, unable to connect with this child and don’t know why,” Sogolaw said.
Family friends tell the I-Team the couple was in despair, and desperate to help their 12-year-old girl.
The state offered to drop all of the charges and expunge their records if they took her back into their home. They agreed.
The girl stayed with them until she turned 18, and at that point, when she aged out of the system, she was sent to live in a group home for adults with special needs.
“Instead of saying, why did you break the law? Why did you do this? Instead of saying, ‘well you did this horrible thing’ how about ‘how did you get here and what can we do to help you?’ Unfortunately, too often, when people adopt children, that’s when the system comes to an end for them and there’s not the kind of follow up that’s absolutely needed for the system to work well. So it's sort of like, everybody is in a hurry to get children adopted because we don’t have the facilities to have foster children and orphans cared for, and so, in the hurry to do that, often there’s not the kind of support that goes into after the adoption.” Dr. Sogolaw said.
We asked both the doctors in this story, “is it possible for a kid with RAD to round the corner?” They say yes, but it takes a lot of work.