COPING WITH A DCF-ADOPTED CHILD
WHO HAS SEVERE PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEMS
By Atty. Michael H. Agranoff
Revised: October, 2012
One of the saddest parts of this job is to see parents who say, “I adopted a child through DCF. Now the child has severe problems: RAD (reactive attachment disorder); PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder); severe depression; etc. I tried to get help, but now DCF wants to substantiate me for neglect.”
It’s a common occurrence. During one week, I had three sets of parents, at their wits’ end, over DCF-adopted children who had RAD.
When your child has a psychological disorder, you often go to the internet and look up as much as you can about the problem. You are dismayed to find that the problem has no cure, and that the treatment prognosis is poor. You are more dismayed when you realize that DCF never disclosed the extent of the problem to you during the pre-adoption process; let alone advised you what you should do to try to treat it.
The reason is obvious. If DCF made a full disclosure, the kids might be unadoptable. Then the state is stuck with years of residential care.
DCF will, of course, let you know that the child was abused or neglected by his natural parents. However, you are unlikely to get full details. As adoptive parents, you try to find out as much as you can, and you fully intend to right these wrongs and make a difference in the child’s life.
Incredibly, psychologists have recognized a trend in some adopted children, that the longer the child is in the care of his or her adoptive parents, the more likely it is that he or she will revert to the characteristics of his or her natural parents. Regrettably, I am unable to cite this research, but I was told of it by a distinguished clinical psychologist in this area. Whether or not it is actually true, it is certainly a distinct possibility.
This is another reason, albeit counter-intuitive, that trying to make a
difference in the lives of adopted children may be a frustrating situation. It
is all the more frustrating if DCF blames you for subsequent problems with the
child’s mental health. This is yet another reason why dealing with DCF without
a lawyer is not a winning proposition.
There is no general child welfare system in this country. We have a mixture of social security, state welfare, town welfare, school help, church help, and DCF voluntary services; but no one agency is “in charge.” The idea that Obamacare may solve the problem is a thin reed: the resources simply do not exist.
It is possible that your child needs expensive services, or residential placement, and you cannot get it; or you get it only at the cost of being accused of neglect. In that case, we may be able to help. We cannot create psychological resources where none exist, but we can help you to navigate the web of available services, and effectively utilize DCF voluntary services if appropriate.
It may seem anomalous that a lawyer who has no medical or psychological formal education can navigate those bureaucracies. But the fact is that the medical profession is notorious for box-like thinking, and for lack of communication.
It is often obvious that a child needs a neuropsychological evaluation. But this may never be suggested, as it is very expensive. We may be able to help get it done.
I once attended a meeting at the Institute of Living in Hartford. I represented parents who had a child with severe mental health problems. There were various psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists, and the DCF social worker, all discussing what they thought was best for the child. The discussion focused on the child’s formal classroom education, and which courses he should take.
I suggested that we discuss what the child was actually interested in, and try to arrange classes and extracurricular activities that would pique his interest. Everyone looked surprised; they had never thought of this common sense approach. Fortunately, they did agree that it was worth pursuing.
This is not a cheap shot at mental health professionals. It is simply a
recognition that specialists often fail to see the big picture. No person is
successful at everything; the trick is to find what someone enjoys and is good
at, and work on developing that strength.
It is routine to see a child (or an adult) who has a primary care physician, a psychiatrist, an individual therapist, and a family therapist, and that not all of these providers actually communicate with one another. That may seem laughable or impossible, but it is true; and the lawyer often can facilitate communication. The quick flow of information that you see on TV shows such as House is simply not accurate.
Parents are understandably reluctant to face the prospect of a child being institutionalized. However, that is sometimes the only answer.
If you adopt a child with severe psychological problems, and possibly incurable ones, due to past abuse or neglect, it is not your fault. You are a victim as well.
Further, the real goal is to get help for the child, so that he or she has the chance for a successful adulthood. Achieving that goal may, and often does, require legal help.