It's funny how as life changes, so does your circle of friends. When Kassidy was born, my group of friends slowly shifted from young married couples to people with children... we shared a common interest. Five years later, when Kennedy was born, my group of friends quickly shifted to parents of kids with Down syndrome. I learned from those who were farther ahead on the path than I was, and I bonded with those who had children around Kennedy's age as we walked our path together. Another five years later, as we started our adoption process to bring Kellsey home, my group of friends shifted, just slightly, again. Once again I surrounded myself with those ahead of me on the path we were walking. I soaked up information about adoption, about Ukraine. I watched other families bring their children home as our naive excitement grew and grew with every piece of paperwork we completed.
And now, four years later, harsh reality has slapped us in the face and I find that my friends have shifted one more time. Now, those that I confide in, commiserate with, and identify with as we walk down the same path of our lives are a shockingly growing group of families whose adoptions are not all sunshine and roses. These are the families who have brought home kids with RAD. These kids have dealt with trauma beyond what most of us can ever imagine and the results of that are tearing their new households apart. While all the families I am in contact with are fully aware that the child is not to blame, we are also aware that we went into adoption with rose colored glasses on. We thought we would bring this child home and we would love them into "normalcy". We would immerse them into our lives and our culture and everything would be ok. We would all live happily ever after.
When you have a child with RAD, it just doesn't work that way. We know this NOW because we've lived through it. Sure, many families took classes during their adoption process... some classes were even focused on RAD, but almost every family I have spoken to admits that the classes were a big joke. Maybe there's really NO effective way to prepare a family for RAD? Others, like us, had never even heard the term RAD before our lives were thrown into chaos and we started digging for a reason to explain what was happening to our family. In our case specifically, not only did we not take classes, but our social worker never even MET Kellsey. There was no follow-up to our adoption process, no post placement visits to make sure everything was going ok or offer support. When we brought Kellsey home, we emailed our social worker to let her know and she wished us well and we never heard from her again. Most families that I talk to are surprised by this as they had some sort of follow up on their adoption once their child was home (and most people had to pay heavily for it, but it was required).
Some families are still fighting for and with their children... they battle the effects of RAD every day. Some days are good, other days are really, really bad. Others, seeing how RAD can cause a family to fall apart, decided that they and the child needed a break and sought out respite care. This gives them time to look at what's happening with a clear head. It gives them time to pray, to look for resources and help and see if they can bring this child back into their home and have their whole family co-exist effectively. Still others, not wanting to let go of hope, have sought residential treatment for their children, hoping against hope that with 24 hour psychological help beyond what they could ever provide on an outpatient basis, their child will be able to eventually fit into their family and be able to cope. And lastly, others chose to disrupt. They admitted they couldn't do it anymore, even knowing that others would judge them as failures and horrible parents, they decided to put their family, their entire family, first.
"Disruption". If you know anything about adoption or the adoption community, this word leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth. How can a family commit to a child and then throw him away? He's not a puppy! People who have had picture perfect adoptions tend to turn away from the families who disrupt. They don't get it. They don't understand. Sadly, most people don't even TRY to understand. They just judge what they think is happening in someone else's world without ever getting the clear picture.
Granted, on our journey with Kellsey, we've had a small circle of friends who, even though they may not have always understood, supported us in any way they could. I've had many come to me privately and say, "What the heck is going on?!" And then I was able to share... sometimes more than what I write on my blog and sometimes just enough to be honest yet still protect my family. The harsh reality is, not everyone who asks, does so out of concern or kindness. Many ask to be nosy, so they can take what they want from it and run to others. We had/have many who judged us harshly, who have said horrible things about us, or simply walked away from years of friendship without a word... without even trying to come to us. And that added to the pain of what we were/are going through.
So why am I talking about this? First of all, issues with RAD are very hush hush in the adoption community. The powers that be push for beautiful homecoming pictures of happy families... kissing siblings, smiling faces, easy transition because their parents SAVED them from institutions and a certain death. They want to put these pictures on billboards at conventions and on websites to show what an amazing thing adoption is. And it can be that way. I know a lot of families who have had the "happily ever after" endings.
However, there's another side to adoption too.... when you have a child with RAD and rip them from the only environment they've EVER known and throw them into a family who is so excited to have them there and loves them (or at least the thought of them) so completely, you have the potential for chaos to ensue... especially when the family is not equipped to deal with it all. RAD can leave a path of destruction that I don't think anyone is ever prepared for. We definitely were not. It can affect EVERY member of the family in different negative ways... we've seen that first hand. But if you talk about it, if you seek help, if you are hurting so badly that you fall apart, others see that as a weakness in YOU and most people don't offer help. They judge - sometimes silently and sometimes loudly - so most families keep their mouths shut, and the pretty, happy pictures take over while the rest of us suffer in the background.
What I can tell you is that there are hundreds of hurting families out there. Hundreds of well-intentioned, kind-hearted, wonderful, loving parents who simply can't handle RAD. Who aren't prepared. Who don't know where to turn or what to do next. Some are pushed to their limit and eventually snap. There has been story after story of kids who are adopted internationally who have been killed, abused, put back on planes with a note, and more... Russia is freaking out over this. The kids that no one in their country wants are adopted by families here, without full disclosure of possible issues they might have. Many have suffered severe abuse, neglect and trauma at the hands of the caretakers in their country.... and then when they end up dead here, Russia freaks. How entirely hypocritical of them. I am not in any way advocating abuse or murder... or putting your child back on a plane, but what do they THINK is going to happen?
The adoption process on both ends - here in America AND in Russia (and Ukraine and many other countries) - is faulty. There are people on both sides pushing these adoptions through because it's a cash cow. There are people on BOTH sides getting rich off Americans adopting. They don't care about the ramifications afterwards, they care about the here and now and the money they will make off these kids who are many times so broken and hurting so badly that they can't figure out what it means to be in a family.
So what's the answer? Close down adoptions completely and let these kids die in institutions? Surely not. God has called us to adopt very clearly in the Bible. Is the answer more education here in the States before the adoption happens? Maybe. I think the biggest factor needs to be support for the families after the child comes home. Many families could take classes every DAY before they travel but won't take heed, because "it won't happen to them". They see cute pictures of their children online and they imagine what they will be like. Whether they mean to or not they dream of things they will say, how they will act, what they will do together. They have created this child and personality based off of one picture, and when the child becomes reality and it's not what the parents thought it would be, it's a shock. Especially if the child has RAD.
These are all my thoughts as a result of this article that I read online today. This article focuses on a little boy named Max who was adopted from Russia and died in a Texas hospital. They are blaming his parents for killing him. I wonder though, how much more there is to this story. Now that I know so many families who have kids with RAD and some of what goes on behind the scenes, I'm not convinced he was injured at the hands of his parents. I have seen my own child chew her fingernails off... pick at her skin until it bled... chew holes through her lips and bang her head against the wall over and over for hours while she raged in anger. She was constantly covered in sores and bruises. I have talked to other parents whose kids with RAD have seriously injured themselves and others over and over again in ways that even I cannot comprehend. I have heard them cry tears of fear, frustration and anger because they don't know what to do next and their family is falling apart. They don't know how to protect their child or the rest of their family and still keep everyone intact. I have seen families on the brink of losing all control and I have seen families drown. We WERE that family. We ARE that family. We have cried more tears than we can count. Like I said, I don't know the whole story of THIS family, but I do hope that the investigators will take every factor into consideration. I hope they will not jump to conclusions... I hope that the truth, whatever that is, will come out.
As for the rest of the world, if you know a family who has adopted internationally, please lend some support. Offer respite, offer to cook a meal, offer to take their other kids and let them have time to bond with their new child. ASK how you can help them. If you are in authority in a church, lift the family up in prayer and be prepared to help if needed. If you are another adoptive family who is having an easier time with your adoption, or if you have never adopted before and have no idea what it's like to be on this path - don't judge. If you're wondering what's going on, ask. Chances are that family needs a listening ear instead of a gossiping mouth. Even if you don't totally understand, you can offer support. You can offer prayer. You can offer your silence and confidentiality because I promise you, this family is hurting enough without false stories or accusations or assumptions being thrown around. Not ONE family I know has gone into adoption with the thoughts that it might fail someday, or that they would disrupt if it didn't work out. They also didn't go into it thinking that their entire family would completely fall apart and be hurt in ways they could never comprehend.
If you work for an adoption agency, please please please educate your families about RAD. Let them know it absolutely CAN happen to them, even if their children are young or have other special needs. Let them know where and how they can get support if it does happen to them. Let them know that it's NOT their fault, and it's not the child's fault. Follow up... don't make the families come to you... check in with them, even if it's just on email, and ask what you can do to help them. Give them a chance to be honest and say, "Things are not going well and we need help." And then follow through. Because that's what most families need.
Adoption can be a beautiful thing. I have many, many friends who have brought their children home and everything has gone smoothly... I have many, many friends who had a rough start with their newly adopted children but after lots of hard work, sweat and tears, they're finally in a good place... I have many, many friends who are suffering in silence, whose families are falling apart, who have had to make decisions for their children that no parent should ever have to make, who don't know who to trust or where to turn for help. I am still in those shoes. And while I am, I am going to be a voice for them. For the families, for the children with RAD who are hurting just as bad as anyone else, and for my own child. Even though I will never know the extent of the trauma she endured before we brought her home, I can promise that we will ALWAYS do the very best we can for her, to get her the help that she needs, to love her even when she doesn't want to be loved, and to help her have the fullest and happiest life possible - wherever that may take her.