I called my first adopted daughter my “lifesaver.” She came to me at a time in my life when I was desperately alone and sad. In the aftermath of losing my only birth child, I needed to be needed and to be part of something larger than myself. Hazel and I created a family of two, and I survived.
Now it is my turn to try to save her life. I fear, however, that I will have little lasting effect.
Hazel came to me just before her 9th birthday. She was diagnosed with many issues that are typical of children coming out of foster care: ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder, attachment disorder, etc. As a new foster/adopt parent, I had been introduced to these issues, but I was ill-prepared to deal with them. The last six years have given me an amazing education: therapeutic parenting, counseling, various applied therapies, love, patience, frustration, and heartbreak. I have learned many things. Hazel’s first years were hell, and she absorbed those lessons perfectly. “Unlearning” early programming is nearly impossible. Attachment disorder is a frightening thing, filling our prisons and homeless shelters everywhere. And now I am trying to learn how to live with a child who doesn’t know how to love or be loved.
Foster children usually display many difficult behaviors. Many of these can be “cured” by love, patience, discipline, and therapy; however, some cannot. Depending on the severity, attachment disorder can be a virtually “untouchable” issue that a family can only hope to survive.
Approaching her 15th birthday, Hazel is now past the “phases” of misbehavior that most parents see – a lying phase, a stealing phase, perhaps a destructive phase. Hazel literally does not know how to be honest. She lies pathologically, she destroys other’s property with no remorse, and she deliberately hurts the feelings of the people who care for her. She has no real interests or friends. She has no ambitions or goals. She spends time planning how to make others miserable but never how to make others smile. We no longer live under the illusion that she will “grow out of” these things. Her therapists and teachers agree: we have a case of full-blown reactive attachment disorder, and all the therapy in the world may not have any affect.
The key word there is “may.” There is always a ray of possibility to which I cling, but the likelihood of transitioning her into a productive adult citizen is becoming less every day.
She flunked out of the excellent charter school that she attended for the last three years, so we have enrolled her in a school specifically designed for teenagers at risk. She has alienated her last remaining “friend” and now has none. She has been caught sending inappropriate texts to boys. She is a truant and a runaway waiting to happen. We are extremely apprehensive of what the coming school year will bring.
So what do we do with this child? I take adoption seriously; she is as much my daughter as if I birthed her. I am committed to her wellbeing, while being equally committed to the wellbeing of the rest of my family. And so we go on trying. More therapy, more behavior modification attempts, more locks on valuables, more family stress.
There is no answer offered here. There is little real hope for Hazel. She will either find her way, or she will be lost – in spite of everything we have done. I am not generally a praying type, but I do send them up regularly for this troubled young girl. Please join me… Perhaps together, we can save her life.