Our fist Angels Foster Family Network class two Mondays ago left us with the word “RAD” ringing in our ears.
What’s RAD? Your first thought might be 1980s surfer lingo, but in this case, it’s a bit more serious than catching a sick wave.
RAD: Reactive Attachment Disorder. All our relationships throughout life stems back to these basic feelings in utero of feeling loved, wanted and cared for throughout our first three formative years, or just the opposite causing a break in the human bond.
Without those three qualities, some children develop RAD.
Researchers continue looking into root causes, but basically even the symbiotic in utero relationship can be strained if the mother is experiencing trauma of her own: abuse, domestic violence and other prenatal issues, such as drug and alcohol abuse. The stress hormones pump through their shared connection; and unborn babies can also hear.
More than 25 percent of Angels children separate from mom in the hospital due to being born positive for drugs. The numbers drop off significantly, but include basically physical neglect, abuse and emotional maltreatment in concert with other domestic violence or crime. Other reasons for separation include sexual abuse, parents with their own developmental delays and abandonment.
Nationwide, most children end up in foster care due to neglect, which is when the child’s basic needs of food, shelter and care are not being met. Statistically, foster agencies across the country report that bonding with children of sexual abuse tends to be the hardest and most frustrating for foster or adoptive parents.
I’ll spare you the descriptive words used by our fabulous case workers at Angels who explained how to spot sexual abuse. But let’s say, it’s tear worthy stuff.
Angels contracts its services to the County of San Diego system, as regulated by the State of California. But they operate under a different business model.
We agree, as an Angels family, to care for a little one – mostly infants – until the court-ordered reunification succeeds or the parental rights are terminated and the baby becomes available for adoption. In cases of reunification, that could take 16 months and for adoption, about two years.
The County allows for multiple children to be placed and there’s no commitment on the part of foster parents to provide care until the case resolves. Angels aims to provide just one home, rather than multiple temporary homes, to reduce the disturbances in living situations.
But it’s a heavy commitment – both of time and of heart.
Our class of about 15 couples seems dedicated, capable and split down the middle of those hoping to adopt and those wanting simply to provide a loving, nurturing home to these fragile children.
More than half of Angels babies do not reunify with their biological parents. What we’ll know about the biological parents will be limited to the reasons for separation. Should we make it to the adoption stage, we’ll get the “telling” of the parents – a case history of their lives and how they came to lose their kid. Often, these are sad stories showing a cycle of abuse they themselves experienced.
Though we love all the support we’ve received from family and friends, what we can tell you about our foster baby will also be limited. No identifying information can be made public about the child so long as it’s a foster child. Basically, you’ll have to visit us and take a turn (or two) holding that little darling.
And that’s a good thing. I’m learning more about the power of bonding than I ever would have before.
Bonding doesn’t just mean holding or touching, though those are powerful indicators. Bonding begins with the voice in utero and the eyes upon birth. It’s the two initial indicators a being has of connection with other humans.
Example: Ever talk to someone who looks around a room when you’re trying to engage in conversation upon first meeting? How does that make you feel? Often, I walk away thinking they were completely disinterested in me and generally lacked the confidence to look me in the eye.
Those signals tell of a deeper issue in human bonding, which begins at our basic foundations to experience confidence, love and trust. Without the ability to feel and develop those connections with other people, forming healthy human relationships becomes a tougher hurdle. In comes the feelings of isolation, abandonment and in rare, extreme cases, pathological behaviors leading to a complete lack of empathy for others.
Imagine never feeling sorry that you hurt someone because you never felt anyone cared if you were hurt? Sounds pretty lonely and can lead to those other dangerous, at-risk criminal behaviors.
After two and half of hours of these classes, I leave feeling down and drained. But it also motivates me to really dig deep for these little ones who might benefit from my contact in their lives.
Growing up in a family where my parents are still married and they raised four healthy, self-sufficient kids gives me a different perspective of “family” than these biological families.
One that tugged at my heart strings is about a toddler, though Angels doesn’t place many, who watched her foster mom make dinner in stone silence one night. As they sat down to dinner, the little girl finally asked cautiously: “Are you going to jail now?” The foster mom looked at her in confusion and asked why she might think that. The little girl pointed at her beer bottle.
At three, a child’s brain is nearly a 90 percent formed adult-sized brain. They’re little sponges soaking up every experience and in tough situations, trying to survive.
Early intervention in formative years becomes key and while some fear the “drug baby” scenario, we’re learning those kiddos have as good a chance at bouncing back as any other kid provided they’re in a supportive environment. Some of the tougher cases to rectify with corrective behavior tend to be the toddlers who experienced abuse and neglect over a couple years.
Tough, but not impossible.
As I go blind on paper work, I read through our lesson plans that discuss the sort of behavior issues we might face at the end of this eight-week journey. Even in my loving, two-parent family, was I prone to “aggressive behavior,” “yelling” and “tantrums?” You betcha.
No kid born is without challenges and as my friend Erin keeps reminding me, no path to parenthood is easy. At the end of the day, it’s about having a family and that sounds pretty rad (surfer meaning, of course).
Got a question about our experiences? Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.