Legislating the RAD Mission
Almost four years ago, I was sitting on the floor of my closet, battered and bruised by my own child; feeling increasingly desperate, and crying. I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but it seemed to happen more and more frequently as those puberty hormones seeped into my already challenging child. I remember praying to God and promising that if I ever get to the other side of this RAD drama, I would make it my mission to help others. Today, I really felt like I made a difference.
My friends at RAD Advocates have been working with Colorado State representative Mary Young to try to make life a little easier for RAD parents like us, and today was a great start. It was Mary's first bill as a freshman congresswoman, and, although it wasn't a perfect bill, it was a baby step towards real progress.
House Bill 20-1012 focused on making residential treatment programs easier to access for families with children who have developmental disabilities - and RAD is considered one of those. Under current law, only a county department of social services may submit an application for a child under 18 to attend one of these treatment centers. That's fine if your child is a foster kid receiving services from the county, but if they have a permanent family, then it frequently means getting CPS involved in actively pursuing a case against the parents, or relinquishing your child so that you can get them the help they desperately need. As you can imagine, many of these parents who adopt kids with mental illnesses are teachers, therapists, physicians, etc. - where a case against them from CPS could cause them to lose their license and their job. The new bill extends this option to parents and legal guardians, so that parents don't need to put their lives at risk to support their kids. So basically it takes out the middleman. And since the State reimburses foster parents for using these Residential Treatment Centers, it will now reimburse parents and guardians as well. YAY!
I had never been to a House Committee before and there was much confusion for all of us upon entering the State Capitol. My friends from RAD Advocates, Amy and Kathleen, arrived before me and a very nice security officer gave them the lay of land. We managed to find the room where the Public Health Care and Human Services Committee was meeting today. They had many different bills to discuss, so we had to wait our turn until Bill 20-1012 came up for discussion. Fortunately, we were able to check in from a TV screen outside the chamber, so we didn't have to sit through all the topics.
When we saw on the screen that our bill was starting, we entered the room. At the front of the room are the congress people on this committee, and the committee chair, Jonathan Singer, had a great presence and a sense of humor, but also was welcoming and open to newcomers like us. First the committee went over the bill and heard from prearranged stakeholders, which included a doctor from Children's Hospital, a caseworker for foster care services, and a therapist. Each of them had three minutes to make their case why this bill is important, and they all did a great job of describing the frustrations and desperation of a RAD parent.
After their testimonies, they opened it up to the public; and Amy and I both volunteered to speak. I was asked to go first after Mr. Singer butchered my name twice. I had prepared a 3-minute speech highlighting the struggles of being a RAD parent, the lack of support we receive from - well - everyone, and the impact to society if these kids DON'T get the help they so desperately need. (If you want to hear my speech, tune into my Trauma Thursday Facebook video tomorrow!) Amy followed me with her testimony which she did off the top of hear head, and after outlining her need to relinquish her daughter to get help, there wasn't a dry eye on the committee.
Next, the bill sponsor, Mary Young, and her co-sponsor, Lois Landgraf, approached the stand to present an amendment that moves kids to the front of the line when the safety of the family is at risk, and the committee had the opportunity to vote. As I mentioned, this was Mary's first bill, so thankfully someone clued us in to the fact that a prank was about to happen. One of the members of the committee moved to table the vote indefinitely and, one by one, most everyone on the committee agreed. Poor Mary was obviously flustered and asked if they meant for this session of forever - and at that point they let her in on the fact that it was a joke. The vote passed unanimously.
When it was time to close this portion of the meeting, Mary came over and hugged us all. She indicated that the reason the vote was unanimous was due to our testimonies, and I hope she is right. The bill will head now to the Appropriations Committee to figure out how to budget for this, and when it's finished there, it heads to the full House for another vote. We will return to ensure that HB 20-1012 becomes a law!
As I said, this isn't a perfect bill and there is much more to be done, but we now have the ears of our representatives and we've made it clear that we'll be back. Nobody should lose their kids to get them help, and resources to heal trauma are so desperately needed. I am, thus far, impressed with the Colorado State House of Representatives for recognizing mental illness as an important topic.
By the way, the same committee also passed a bill today to make it mandatory to for all constituents to have an insurance-sponsored annual mental health checkup, just like going to the dentist and having your well visit! Hopefully this will help us curtail the growing suicide problem in our state.
Gina Heumann is the author of Love Never Quits: Surviving and Thriving After Infertility, Adoption, and Reactive Attachment Disorder. Purchase her best-selling book, GOLD recipient of the prestigious Mom's Choice Award here: Love Never Quits