Since publishing my book in June, I’ve heard from many RAD families who are struggling or who have had to relinquish their kids: and I’m shocked by the lengths some RAD kids will go to in order to remove themselves from their current families. Each RAD parent I spoke to was literally at the end of their rope, uncertain of how to keep themselves and/or their other children safe; and some were grappling with the idea of removing these kids (who they love) from their homes.
One woman I spoke with (we’ll call her Sally) was a daycare provider for over 20 years. Friends and clients referred to her as “the baby whisperer” and she loved working with and raising children. When she became a foster parent as a single mom, she was thrilled. She took in a sibling group and shortly afterwards, more children, until she had eight kids living under her roof. The foster care system determined she was an excellent mother and she became a "go-to" for kids in need of a home.
One of her oldest was diagnosed with RAD after a long journey to find the proper diagnosis. This isn’t uncommon, as my own journey led me to a RAD diagnosis after almost ten years of being misdiagnosed with ADHD, ODD, bipolar, sensory processing disorder, and other afflictions. If the child is too old at the time of RAD diagnosis, it could be too late to really see much healing in their attachment. A child in this situation may not have a chance at a normal life.
This seemed to be the case with Sally's story. Her RAD son was violent and most everything that came out of his mouth was a lie. He was sexually abused as a child before being removed from his biological family, and therefore, was acting out sexually, including molesting one of his younger siblings. How on earth is a mother supposed to handle a situation like this?
In addition to installing cameras throughout the house so she would have documentation of his middle-of-the-night antics, she determined she would try to keep her younger children safe by locking his bedroom door at night. I struggled with this decision myself, after my RAD child punched me in the head while I was sleeping one night, eight hours after I took away his video games for bad behavior. But ultimately, I was uncomfortable with the idea of either locking him in or locking my door. Fortunately, I also have a husband here to protect me, which Sally did not.
RAD Lies & Manipulation
Sally’s RAD was much older than mine, and, at 15, went to the authorities and told them his mother was “caging” him at night. He was adept at manipulation, and convinced the police that he was a sweet boy living in a house of horrors. (Many RADs are extremely good at lying and triangulation.) This led to a CPS investigation and police ultimately threatened her by estimating the thousands of dollars it would take to fight the charges, which she ultimately couldn’t afford as a single mom of eight children. Instead, they bullied her into signing away her rights to all eight children. She also lost her daycare license. Sally is devastated and dealing with PTSD, depression, and newfound negative celebrity after being featured in the local news.
This is not the first story I’ve heard about RAD parents being wrongly accused of abusing their kids. RAD parents really fight an uphill battle most of the time; trying to provide a loving, stable home to their violent children, while keeping other family members safe and secure. A child with reactive attachment disorder is almost “allergic” to love and attachment, and fights back with full force whenever a new caregiver gets too close. In Sally’s case, her RAD will be placed in another family and may act sweet and charming until the new family gets too close, and then will revert back to violence and unpredictability.
What Can We Do?
I wish there was a solution. First of all, our society needs a better way to get these kids diagnosed at an earlier age, so that it’s not too late for attachment and a chance at a real relationship. And when a child is diagnosed with RAD, we need to have a support system in place; advice on how to handle extreme situations, respite care for exhausted parents, and affordable therapy that includes the whole family. And knowing these kids are prone to lies and manipulation, a little understanding and trauma-informed training for law enforcement would also be helpful.
If we could get a better understanding of reactive attachment disorder into the media, it might save a lot of families from false accusations and heartache. RAD parents are some of the strongest people I know, but they certainly aren’t invincible. Moms like Sally have jumped through many hoops to adopt their kids, and do so because they love children and want a big happy family. Let’s try to help them achieve that dream. My heart goes out to Sally today.
Some details of Sally’s story have been changed to protect her livelihood.