Adina is a 14 year old African-American teenager who was born in Africa and grew up in Malden after being adopted when she was five years old. Adina came to the attention of ACS when her parents filed a Child Requiring Assistance (CRA) application with the juvenile court because she was doing poorly in school, out of control at home, and displaying risky sexual exchanges on her Facebook page. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) placed Adina into a foster home at age 13, but her adoptive parents insisted that Adina was mentally ill and needed to be in the structured environment of a residential program.
The court requested the assistance of an ACS clinician to help identify the best solution for Adina and her family. The comprehensive ACS evaluation, which involved Adina, her adoptive parents, her foster parents, and a careful examination of her background, revealed that Adina had endured an endless series of traumatic events throughout her short life before she was given up to a foster home as a toddler. Then, at age five, Adina was abandoned once again, this time to a completely new country and culture, when she was adopted by an American couple in Malden.
Parenting was a challenge for Adina’s adoptive parents due to their own trauma histories, resulting in difficulty establishing boundaries, lack of nurturance skills, and their fluctuation between too permissive and too restrictive parenting styles. Adina’s adoptive parents also had a 7-year-old adoptive son when Adina joined the family. Adina eventually charged that the older brother had sexually abused her for many years.
At age 13, Adina was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), a condition found in children who experience extreme neglect and/or the absence of emotional warmth and nurturance during the first few years of life. RAD can prevent the formation of stable attachments.* The trauma Adina faced throughout her life, together with her adoptive parent’s lack of nurturing due to their own trauma history, left Adina in a very precarious emotional situation. Without specialized treatment she would likely lack the necessary skills to form healthy relationships for the rest of her life.
The ACS clinician working with Adina faced a challenging decision: Would she be better served in the structured therapeutic environment of a residential institution as her adoptive parents insisted, or would her current placement in foster care, which offered a stable family environment make more sense for Adina and her family?
The clinician decided that it was vitally important for Adina to learn the attributes of positive social interactions that were lacking in her traumatic and chaotic childhood. More than anything, Adina needed a stable home in which to learn how to experience the “give and take” of normal family relationships, healthy nurturing and guidance. Adina’s foster mother was an excellent role model who set and enforced limits and modeled nurturing and coping behaviors. She was able to help Adina to communicate feelings and understand the consequences of her own behavior.
In her recommendation to the court, the ACS clinician explained how the family history of trauma had impacted Adina and recommended that she stay in the foster family where she could be part of the kind of stable family she never had. She also recommended that Adina’s adoptive parents engage in therapy to address the unresolved trauma and childhood maltreatment that may have prevented them from fully understanding and responding well to Adina’s issues.
Adina is now doing well. She is attending a therapeutic school, where she receives the support she needs, and is acquiring important social skills. Through ongoing trauma therapy for all members of Adina’s adoptive family, the ACS clinician hopes to help create a stable framework for rebuilding relationships within Adina’s adoptive family and perhaps Adina’s own family in the future.
* Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) prevents the formation of stable attachments. Attachment develops when a child is cared for and the caregiver consistently meets the child's needs. Through attachment, a young child learns to love and trust others, develop healthy relationships, and a positive self-image.