Mental Illness

I have struggled with the decision to write this.  In many ways, it is none of anyone’s business, but at the same time, I wonder if my experience can help someone else who is dealing with similar circumstances. And I know people have questions. This won’t begin to answer all those, but it’s a start.

My daughter, Sarah, struggles with mental illness.  Hers is not the type that can be medicated; it’s much more on the sociopathic side of the house.  This has resulted in all sorts of unpleasant behaviors, from continuous lying to manipulation to preying on those she considers to be “weak” to animal abuse.  She doesn’t have the “normal” emotions of compassion or regret, which makes real change almost impossible (why change when you are getting what you want by using people guilt free?). She is also incredibly charming, so those who only know Sarah on the surface can’t begin to understand our life together.

In October of last year, I decided we could no longer live under the same roof due to fear for my animal’s lives (as well as my own to be completely transparent). I also felt that after 8 years of structure, love, and more types of therapy than I can count, perhaps this was the last chance she had at making a real change. Kind of the “maybe if she hits rock bottom” theory of life. So, we went through the long process of having her moved to a group home; that happened in March.  According to the adults there, she isn’t making much progress. She is the most manipulative client they have had (is it wrong to be thankful they immediately saw that?), she preys on the weaker girls, she lies, her grades are not great (she has the intelligence to be a straight A student), etc. She tells me she is working hard in counseling, but somehow that isn’t reflected in her day to day life. I don’t know what the future holds for her, but it looks a bit grim from where I stand.

It’s been a rough time for both of us.  I’d like to say it’s much harder on her, but I’m honestly not sure she has the emotional capacity to be impacted much by life events. I have thought long and hard about what has “created” this in my child, and what we can do to prevent it from happening to other children.

The foster/adoption system is broken.  I don’t think that is news to anyone, but I have had a much closer view into it than most. And I am going to say something that the system might view as totally radical. Reunification should NOT always be the goal.  Sometimes, parents should get 1 strike, maybe sometimes they get 2… and then they need to be done parenting.  Sarah’s birth parents had approximately a million chances.  And the courts never did take away their rights to her; they eventually surrendered them (but were allowed to keep her 4 younger siblings, because THAT makes sense). Sarah and all of her siblings were physically abused by her father, and her mother stood by and did nothing.  Her father was in prison for a year for statutory rape of the babysitter, yet the children remained in the home, even after he was released.

In my opinion, this maniacal focus on reunification is what ultimately caused Sarah’s mental illness. When you are yanked in and out of the foster care system, reunited with your birth parents, abused over and over again… it turns out the young developing brain snaps.  And those wires can’t ever be repaired or reconnected.

I don’t know how to fix the system.  I have known amazing and wonderful DSS workers, both on Sarah’s case and others, but they are understaffed and underpaid and overworked.  When Sarah’s family moved from the mountains to the beach, I asked if the authorities there would be notified.  I was told that they can choose to make a courtesy call to the agency in the new county, but that honestly, no one would check on them unless something was reported, because they simply don’t have any extra cycles.

So what do we do about this? I don’t have answers, but it’s a discussion that desperately needs to happen.  There are 500,000 children in the foster care system, and many of them will wind up like Sarah. Attachment is impossible, trust doesn’t exist, and there is no fix. And then we throw them out into society when they are 18 and wish them luck. We owe these children so much more.

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