As you may recall, 9 months ago, Molly went to a therapeutic boarding school for girls with Reactive Attachment Disorder. The plan was a minimum of 1 year, to help her address her unsafe behaviors and hopefully get to the place where she could function in a family. I dropped her off in mid-May.
At the end of June, I was awakened in the middle of the night by phone calls from Mississippi. The school owner - social workers - CPS - needless to say, I didn't get any more sleep that night. The short version of the story is as follows:
While Molly had only been at the school for a month and a half, many of the other girls had been there much longer. Keep in mind, these are angry, manipulative girls... that's why they were at the school and not with their families. Of the variety that the following could be amazingly accurate...
"How can you tell if she's lying? Because her lips are moving."
Adoptive parents of kids with early trauma will understand that completely. Others, including professionals, may not. These kids stayed alive during the abuse and neglect of their early lives by learning a variety of survival skills. They learned to manipulate others to get what they wanted or needed, but to shut people out and to hold everyone at arms length (or futher) in order to avoid getting hurt. Every word, every action is an exercise in control. These "hard case" girls are the epitome of that. In a highly structured environment like this school and others like it, the girls don't have a lot of control. That's part of what helps them learn to trust - because they aren't able to manipulate people, others are making choices for them, and still, they are taken care of, surviving, and even thriving. Well... they found a crack in the armor and took advantage of it.
Some of the older girls at the school hatched a plan to get out of there. They took the moments when they could whisper and not get caught to perfect their plan, then got the younger girls involved with the promise "If you tell the police and the social workers what we tell you, you'll get to go home." Molly fell right into that trap. It was much more devious and detailed than I'm going to lay out here, but the long and short of it is this: When the school staff was distracted by a visiting guest, one of the ring leaders snuck into the staff bedroom, stole a phone and called 911. They claimed they were being horribly abused. CPS and the Sheriff rushed out to the school and shut them down immediately. Because they'd rehearsed, every girl was able to give the same (false) stories. So rather than evaluate the kind of girls they were dealing with, they took the words at face value. (Because who doesn't want to believe a child who says they are being abused?) The fact is, The professionals should have known better. Reactive Attachment Disorder and false allegations are ridiculously common among this population. But the girls worked them over with ease.
All the girls were removed from the home and placed in foster care, where they were rewarded for their lies - treated like queens and given gifts and privileges to make them feel better about their "horrible ordeal." And the parents were all told to come retrieve their daughters immediately. Most of the parents live in Washington State, and I'm sure I don't have to tell you a last minute flight to Mississippi from Seattle doesn't come cheap. I'm pretty sure there wasn't a parent among us (we know our kids) that didn't have doubts about the girls' stories. And sure enough, as soon as I got there and asked Molly what happened, she spilled the beans about the plan, and admitted they were always treated well and never abused. In fact, within a couple of weeks, nearly all of the girls made the same confessions. Only a few actually came home, while most transferred to other residential schools immediately, but even in that new environment, they told their new administrators what really happened, and the older ones even wrote and signed depositions stating the truth.
The parents of these girls banded together in support of the school, who was being ripped apart in the community by media, losing financial support and the respect of the local population because of the lies these girls told. We started an email group, the ones in this state met up at our counselor's office, and tried to determine how to best handle this, in light of what we knew and the girls confirmed... the allegations were false. We contacted the local paper and set the record straight about the school and the staff and the allegations, and a reporter did several follow up stories. Slowly, community support for the school returned.
(Meanwhile, I'd just completed training for a work from home job that I loved - taking dining and activities reservations over the phone for a major theme park - a company I love. I started the training right after she left. I got to work just a couple of days before having to go retrieve Molly... knowing the level of supervision she required wouldn't allow me to work while she was home.)
What struck me the most (besides the lack of knowledge from the professionals involved), was the smug look on Molly's face, for weeks... even after she confessed she'd lied, she was reveling in the knowledge that the plan had ultimately worked... she said what the older girls told her to, and what they promised came true... she got to come home. The whole experience set her very much backwards in her healing - it reinforced the power of lying and control.
In early December, after getting the go-ahead from local agencies, the school reopened, and I took Molly back. Her behavior at home was more of the same, and she was still unsafe to have around the other children. I spent the night at the school, I talked at length with the couple that runs the school about all that had been happening, we watched a movie together and I helped her settle in, then began the journey home again. Alone. For several weeks she was the only child at the school. Once they finally had their court date in mid January, and the judge dismissed the case without delay for lack of evidence, other girls started returning as well.
But she's back at school. She's doing well. She writes a couple of times a week, and I write back, call occasionally and send gifts for holidays... and hopefully, hopefully, we're back on the path we intended almost a year ago.
One of the speakers at the adoption conference I went to this past weekend made a statement that struck me pretty profoundly. She is in a similar position with one of her daughters, who is preparing to return from a similar residential school and try life with the family again. This is a paraphrase of what she said:
"Often I don't know how I'm going to survive even one more day with this child. But I know that God is going to do a mighty work in her life, and I know I want to be there to see it."