Sunday, August 31, 2008

Adoptive mother attempts to kill her daughters and herself.

This is a tragic story of a single adoptive mother who reached a point of complete overwhelm and hopelessness—way past her window of stress tolerance. If you are not familiar with the news report, here are two links for more information:

This tragic event was blamed on the stress of finances and the economy. While this is truly a factor, it is no coincidence that this horrendous situation happened with an adoptive mother. Here is a mother who over six years ago was happy when her daughters came home but something went wrong.

Many of you reading this blog know exactly what happened. Many of you are saying to yourself, “Yeah, I understand how she got to this point.” And the hair stands up on the back of your neck because it is unnerving as a human being to realize that you actually comprehend and understand what it means to get to such a point.

Raising children with traumatic histories coupled with a parent’s own “unfinished business” is what creates this intense dynamic. All too often, adoptive parents go from a place of utter joy, travel half way around the globe, spend thousands of dollars, endure an invasive adoption process, only to find themselves six years later in a place of utter hopelessness, misery, and despair.

Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way anymore! There is hope. There is a way to make all of this different. I know there is both from personal and professional experience! It takes a new understanding of our children, insight into our own reactions, and support around us to make our way back to love. Putting love into action, free of fear, is the answer. Love never fails!

To me, what is more tragic is the media’s lack of response to do a follow-up story to help prevent history from repeating itself. I made numerous calls this past week to the media explaining that this is my area of expertise and offered to speak with them or even travel for an interview in order to create more understanding behind this news story. As many of you know, there is an entire chapter in my book that is devoted to explaining why parents get so hostile and angry. I also have a research study, published in the Journal of Social Work, explaining the stressors adoptive mothers face when raising children with special needs (You can read this at:

I even called a publicity agency with whom I have been in contact but the reply was that they were too busy with other clients. I was willing to pay someone to help me connect with the media, but to no avail!

My efforts have fallen onto deaf ears, so I am asking you to help me. Would you do that for me? Would you write a letter to the editor of one of the major newspapers in Minneapolis, asking them to consider reporting on more than just the gruesome details of this mother and her children? Could you make some phone calls to news stations? Call Oprah for me. Call Jerry Springer if that is what it takes! Somehow, we have to find a way to break through to the public in order to prevent one more family from falling this far into fear.

Thank you for considering this call to action.


FAScinated said...

I am an adoptive parent of chidren from Minnesota's foster care system and this story deeply saddened me when I saw it on the news. I know there is more to this story than what made headlines because I live in this world.

My two children were prenatally exposed to alcohol and other drugs and both have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Both struggle with behaviors and learning and parenting them is the most difficult thing, without a doubt, that I have ever done.

But I love them deeply. They are mine and I will do what it takes to parent them.

I train on FASD in Minnesota and one of the resources I use regularly is your website and I subscribe to your email newsletters.

Children with early life trauma, attachment disruption and prenatal exposure histories need parents that are willing to abandon the typical parenting tools that often exacerbate the problems and learn to think differently. I write a lot about this on my blog-

Thank you for all you do for families, Heather.

Linda B. said...

Hi Heather, I'm so happy to see you have a blog now! I am often on your website looking for info on how to help my kids (help me!. We have 4 who are adopted. Two internationally and from foster care. Like Kari's kids, they are diagnosed with FASD. The type of parenting it takes is nothing like we thought it would be. Not having known that or having support with that would make life unbearable. Thank you for your books, newsletter, all of your resources!

I read about this woman and her daughters when it was in the paper. It is very disturbing to know how a person can be struggling so much without anyone knowing about it. How horrible for these little girls.

Jessy said...

Heather. I wish people knew more to help more. I have a blog as well that I will be using to encourage and support parents.
Big HuG!

Sandy said...

It is no surprise to me that the media doesn't want to hear the "whole" story of this incredible tragedy. It wouldn't play into their liberal agenda. That agenda being to blame this incident on the financial situation in our nation. While I can't dispute the stress that must have been evident in this mother's life because of economic struggles, we know the stress that goes beyond human capacity sometimes, that contributes to that feeling of hopelessness and that there is no way out. To let the people hear that story would burst their bubble of another tragedy due to the economy brought on by the current administration. People's lives are so much more than finances and somehow the people out there need to know the truth.
Sandy (McKees Rocks, PA)

Sandy said...

It is no surprise to me that the liberal media does not want to hear the real story behind the tragic violence that struck that adoptive home in Minnesota. The truth would not do anything to further their agenda, which is to make it out that the current economic struggles were responsible for this act of violence, and the blame can then be placed on the current conservative administration. However, there is a public out there that wants to know the truth, and sadly, too few people understand the stress that invades the home of adopted children. While no one is discounting the fact that this mother's financial woes added to her helplessness and hopelessness, but that is not the entire story. Keep trying to get the word out so that others will be more vigilant with parents who display the kind of despair this woman did, and that they will not hesitate to intervene for the health and well-being of the entire family.

Anonymous said...

People want to complain about CPS and how tragiv things are for children but I can't tell you how difficult it is to find help! We have had two counselors drop (one just left all his patients with no answers and the other was a contract issue with the state), Many unreturned phone calls, and lack of understanding. I pray that you will be able to get through so people can stop talking and start working to repair the damaged (system, children, parents, etc).

CJ Merrell said...

I heard this guy speak at a writers conference.. He's good! He has an agency down here.. I think in Dallas.
Here are some more links I've found on him. Hope the info helps.
I'm sending the blog bit to all my friends. We gotta get this message out!

Heather said...

Hi Heather,
Thank you for all of your incredible work enlightening and educating parents and the field about adoptive families. I will do what I can to further the goal of educating others through a letter to the editor of our local newspaper. This tradegy is, sadly, not a surprise to me. I am a child psychologist here in Minneapolis whom specializes in attachment and adoption issues (i.e. early trauma) and regularly hand your book out to the families I work with. I have read most of the "parent support" literature in this field and none of it truly addresses the needs of these children and their families like your literature. I have been working in this field for roughly 10 years, working hard to prevent disruptions in adoptive families. I have not always been successful, but continue to possess a deep passion for changing how we understand traumatized children and the families who care for them. The work is ALWAYS about supporting the parent(s), guiding them to examine their own triggers, and assisting the children in processing their trauma histories while building more secure attachments. I am presently looking for a certified Beyond Consequences trainer to work with my colleague and I and provide a parent support group for the parents in my private practice. I also plan to attend your training, but have found it difficult thus far to make the times and locations work for my schedule (I am also a mom of 3!:-) Thank you again for your work.

Heather Cargill, Psy.D., L.P

Leaders In Learning said...

Tragic. It's sad but true that there is little support for adoptive parents. Even with the best case workers, it is difficult to keep up with all the children and their needs. The caseworkers try to find the support for their clients but are unable. Many agencies claim there is not enough funding to support adoptive parents and their is more support for "temporary" foster parents than adoptive families. In our part of Florida, there is no funding by CHS for respite care for adoptive parents and there are few therapists that can help in these situations. Therapists in centers keep moving up the ladder and our children lose yet another attachment (if they can open up at all to the counselor). One of my children has had three therapists in a three month period. The state probably won't pay for attachment therapy even if we could find a center in this area that practices it. To boot, many Doctors and Therapists either are uneducated about attachment issues or they don't believe in RAD. That leaves us parents searching for help on our own from the internet, books and anyone who has heard of such issues. It doesn't surprise me that the media won't cover the real issues. They are sensationalizing just like they do with other issues. Thanks for your blogspot and resources online. I will be busy reading and learning.

Leaders In Learning said...

Wow, do I feel stupid. I just found out your BCI is one hour away from me. I'll be calling to get info soon.

Unspeakable Joy said...

i'll definitely share this on my blog for other moms of RADical kids!! thanks and i hope you get some response.

CJL said...

We do not know all the details of what happened.

As an adoptive mother, I did wonder if the special stressors that may exist when parenting adoptive children contributed to her breakdown. It is irresponsible to assume, however, that they did. My own child, while presenting me with some challenges (!) has no clinical issues. To assume that all adoptive children have mental health/behavioural probems does them a great disservice.

Many parents of adoptive children are dealing with unusual levels of stress from parenting children with post-trauma diagnoses, but not all of us.

Deb said...

Heather, I wanted you to know that I took you up on your request and I emailed, and called Oprah about this. Right now she is looking for "stressed out moms" for an upcoming show, and believe me RAD can have you stressed out x10!
Here is the letter I forwarded (and read over her phone in line.) Hopefully it will generate some response and she will do a show on attachment issues and the challenges parents face.
I am an adoptive mom of three, one of whom (6yr old)has RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder.) I truly believe that the normal stress of parenting is magnified 10 fold for myself and others like me, and I wish that you would do a whole show on this little known concern.
There really is a great lack of support and education about behavioral and attachment issues in children, and all to often those of us who experience this lose our friends, extended family, and even our marriages over the stress of trying to cope with our children and help them heal. It can be a depressing and lonely place, far worse than any thing I have ever experienced. You need only look to the local news to find stories of other families whose struggles with similar attachment problems have ended tragically, and sadly I believe through education of the public and better support it is avoidable tragedy.
Recently in my own family, my mother in law was criticizing me as I spoke of my concerns about my RAD daughter and her new school at a family gathering, and she then physically assaulting me (in front of my children) over it. She does not believe there is a problem, or at least that is nothing more than my being a poor mother. As a result we are now cut off from all our extended family. This however is not the only area in which we struggle with our child and RAD, it is so much more debilitating than anyone who is not in our home could imagine.
We can't find a therapist who understands RAD well enough to help our daughter, and she gets progressively worse, and our stress and coping ability diminishes. Our child abuses the dog, her older and younger siblings, my husband and myself. She lies, steals, and rages most of the day, every day. At school she harasses the other children and tells lies about her father and I and makes up stories in order to frighten the other children in her class. She aims to shock and anger those around her because it makes her feel in control when she really is feeling very scared and out of control. The usual methods of parenting (as in what works for our other two children) do not work for her at all.

We constantly worry that some of her tales will result in she and her siblings being removed from our home by social services. The harm done if that were to happen would be beyond belief for her already struggling soul. We will really ‘lose’ her completely in spirit then.
Every day we fight to help our daughter, to stay afloat just above our own depression and PTSD over this, and to battle the never ending stream of friends and family who turn against us because they simply cannot wrap their minds around what we are going through. It is exhausting. As a mother under the weight of this, I have become angry and hostile, forgetful and severely depressed, I have even begun to stutter and have frozen and become unresponsive in the midst of my daughter’s rampages. I am not the person that I once was, nor is my husband or other children.
I often try to explain to others how this child’s mind views me versus how my other two children do. I tell them if all three of my children were in the highway, and I urgently called for them to come to me because I saw a truck coming, my two other children would come immediately. They have learned that I am there to protect them and they trust that instinctually. My Rad child however, would rather stand in that highway and be run over than come to me when I called her.
The birthmother of my child used drugs and alcohol during her pregnancy, as well as was under a huge amount of stress, was often homeless, dealing with health issues. We believe that this contributed to our daughters condition (as well as did adoption loss issues.) There are many other things that can bring about a break in attachment for a child, it can happen in biological families as well, and it often goes as undiagnosed or diagnosed as other things like ADD, Autism among them.

PLEASE Oprah, I urge you to read the article above, visit the websites below, and consider doing a show to bring attention to this issue. If you consider that a break in attachment or a loss can set the stage for the high possibility of RAD, then you also have to consider all the foster children in America who are at risk, as well as the MILLIONS of orphaned and abandoned children world wide. These children are our world’s future! If we don’t help them and the people who are raising them recognize attachment disorder and help them foster strong bonds and healing, we as a society will pay in the long run.

Thank you so much,
Deb Donatti (Some of my old professional writing about RAD, adoption and loss) (Nancy Thomas) (Nancy Spoolstra)

Suz said...

I'm curious to know if this mother was recently put on Prozac or some other type of anti-depressant drug. When I was going through a rough time with losing my father, and a few other family issues, my RAD son made my life even more miserable. I knew that I was depressed and I called my doctor asking for ANYTHING to help me get through the depression. He prescribed Prozac for me and at first I felt better. A few weeks later I became giddy and hyper. Then I became a complete mess... and my therapist described it as being a soft-psychotic episode (triggered by the Prozac.) Believe me, it didn't FEEL soft at all and my mind was playing some very bad tricks on me. :(

I was in a bad place. A really bad place and I scared the heck out of my husband, kids, friends, and siblings. As soon as I went off the Prozac... I was back to my semi-normal self again... lol... and so glad to ONLY be depressed again. ;)

Yes, I think somebody needs to find out if that mom was recently prescribed an anti-depressant medication within 6 weeks of the time that she tried to kill her daughters. If it was the medication.... I honestly don't think that the mother should be charged with attempted murder. It's an unfortunate situation for everyone... particularly for the children... but I think somebody needs to take a look at the possibility that a medication may have caused a psychotic episode. Life stress... and raising a RAD child can make us all a little crazy and depressed from time to time but this mother was definitely psychotic. If a medication caused this psychosis... this mother should be HUGGED instead of made out to be some kind of a lunatic criminal.

My family knows that anti-depressant drugs can make a depressed person psychotic. Especially if that person happened to have any PTSD issues lurking about.

I really feel for this mother... and I also feel that we need to try to get the word out about anti-depressant drugs.


Lynn said...

I read your book and found much of it helpful in terms of understanding my daughter.

That said, I DO NOT find it helpful for you to email all of us on your email list a VERY disturbing article and then insinuate that this tragedy occurred because the mom had stress due to her adopted kids. I actually think this is a very DANGEROUS assertion to make, especially because you do not know all the facts of the case. Had these been biological children my guess is that the assumption would be that the mom was mentally unstable and very little attention would be focused on discovering if her children were a "source" of her instability.

How does the horrific image of a woman knifing and axing her kids serve our community? Thanks to President Bush we already have enough FEAR swirling around our nation. I expect better from you and your mass emails.

Thanks for listening.


Greta said...

Hi Heather:

The links bring us to two television stories and the AP story. It doesn't indicate if either the St. Paul or Minneapolis newspapers wrote about this. They might have the space and time to go more in-depth.

There is no sense in the coverage of whether the children were suffering from trauma or RAD or anything. It just says that the mother had sought treatment because she was afraid she might hurt the girls.

Blanket statements about the media are about as helpful as blanket statements about adoption. It is possible that the kind of deep information about this family that would make the story more compelling was/is just not available. The reports include information from a neighbor, but in cases like these no one would really know the entire situation like the mother. She didn't seem up for an interview.

Adoptive parents are in the minority in this country and the mainstream doesn't have much exposure to our issues. That gives us an opportunity to educate and inform.

It's too bad that Heather's efforts to do so were not accepted the way she wanted.

Keep trying!