There need to be far better resources for parents who need help after adopting.
It’s a painful truth, brought to mind again with the conviction of Tim Ferriter, an adoptive father in Florida. Tim and his wife Tracy had a daughter adopted from China, and a son they’d adopted from Vietnam, in addition to their two younger children. Their son reportedly had reactive attachment disorder and would act out violently, endangering others. The Ferriters reportedly consulted counselors and child psychologists, to no avail.
What should parents in crisis do? Where can they turn when they cannot manage their children, and they feel threatened by kids with problems they never intentionally signed up for?
How the Ferriter family fell apart
By all accounts, Tim and Tracy Ferriter looked like ideal parents (most of the time, at least.) Both parents were gainfully employed. They were active in their church. They passed the homestudy process, more than once. Others held them in high regard, for their family photos on social media looked like the all-American adoptive family. What was actually going on behind closed doors was anything but, of course.
When their son was eleven, they began dealing with his misbehavior by locking him in a windowless room outside of school hours. This continued until the boy was older, during which time he is said to have run away periodically, brought weapons to school, voiced fantasies of harming others, stole knives, and fought with his parents. He stole money at church and lied to police about where it had come from. He attempted to drown other kids in a swimming pool and caused serious bodily injuries to other children and adults. He served beer to a four-year-old for his own amusement. The strict Catholic couple who’d adopted him were undoubtedly at their wits’ ends. They allegedly used physical beatings and verbal reprimands to discipline him, also, but eventually, their son went missing and when found by police, reported them.
All four of the Ferriter children were removed from the home, and both parents were criminally charged with aggravated child abuse, neglect and false imprisonment. The Ferriter family is now in ruins, and their lovely home has been exposed as a house of horrors. Clearly, what Tim & Tracy did was wrong, but what nobody in the court has been able to testify to is what they could have/should have done, to fix their son’s RAD diagnosis and spare everyone all this heartache?
Everybody’s worst nightmare
When couples adopt, they have the highest of hopes and the best of intentions. Responsible adoption professionals typically advise adopters of the risks and unknowns, but nobody goes into a placement anticipating a kid who will be perpetually out of control and a danger to himself and others. Even adoptive parents who have studied up on Reactive Attachment Disorder harbor still hopes that the child they adopt will be able to bond with them and have healthy connections in life, in time.
The best of adoption agencies offer their clients post-adoption support, but nobody can offer ironclad guarantees of placement success, unfortunately. Behavioral problems that arise may often require professional intervention, yet whether or not qualified child psychologists and treatment programs can “fix” issues that face families is out of the control of even the finest of adoption professionals. Adoption dissolution and/or rehoming should always be a decision of last resort, as the rejection and abandonment will further damage the psyche of any adoptee. Yet not every family has the means to explore other alternatives that may be necessary, like residential treatment.
Options for parents who need help
It’s all too easy for society to blame the parents, especially those who’ve adopted and found they bit off more than they can chew. But options are needed for adoptive parents who need help, like peer guidance from other parents who have adopted, post-placement support groups, family counseling and respite care.
Sometimes, just knowing that others care goes a long way to helping parents at the ends of their rope hang on for dear life. Adopting parents need to know that love is not “all it takes.” And adoption professionals need to do more to prepare clients to meet the after-adoption needs of children with complex histories.
For adoptive parents who need help: Abrazo cannot always promise to have all the answers, but our staff is always ready to listen, and to do whatever we can to help you explore possible solutions.