As A Kid, I Didn’t Like Taekwondo

When I was about J’s age, I cried a lot in Taekwondo, primarily because I wasn’t good at it. I felt I was embarrassing my parents by consistently getting my butt kicked and would bawl my eyes out after losing matches and insignificant injuries. In my experience, my parents were easier on a crying child than a defiant one. For example, an adult’s response to a child who angrily walked off a baseball field in the middle of a game (which I shamefully admit I did in 8th grade) was much more severe than a child who just got upset at the same situation. I realize now, as an adult, I have the same attitudes toward this as my parents.  I questioned J’s tears and intentions after 2 hours of physical and verbal anger directed at himself, Erin and I, and the dogs.

What We Knew

We figured out very quickly that J had been diagnosed with ADHD but hadn’t been treated for it in over a year.  We also found out that he had displayed aggressive behavior towards others and attempted to self harm.  In the week that we had him, we had witnessed the manic mood swings that can occur with ADHD.  But he was never physically combative towards us or others.  We observed the contrary when we visited the Children’s Museum.  He shared with the other kids, seemed to listen to us, and even made a friend. Finally, we knew he had some kind of learning disorder, possibly dyslexia, after he had a breakdown trying to read to Erin.

ISS And The Precursors

When I picked up J from school on that Monday, his Spanish teach informed me that she had to send him to in-school suspension (ISS).  He was acting out, crawling on the floor, arguing with classmates, and being disobedient to his teacher.  Things didn’t get much better that night.  We restricted his tablet use and helped him complete his homework.  And then, I was woken at 2 a.m. to the sound of movement downstairs (a benefit of living in an old house).  To my surprise, J was fully dressed in his school uniform and watching TV.  I put him back in bed and took the TV remote upstairs with me.  He would wake us up two more times that night insisting he wasn’t tired. After a long night and subsequent morning, I received two e-mails from J’s teacher indicating he was being disrespectful to other students and school staff. The teacher’s disciplinary attempts were unsuccessful and met with “I don’t care!”

What The Hell Just Happened?!

I think the cosmos was trying to warn us when there was a pretty horrific 3 car crash right in front of the house as the school bus was dropping J off.  Shortly after we came into the house, Erin and I found J lying on his bed, completely sullen. Erin’s voice was calm and her volume low.  We told him his privileges (tablet, tv, toys, etc.) were being taken away until his behavior improved.  He reacted by clasping his ears with his hands and burying his face in his pillow. To our horror, he then proceeded to wrap the bed blanket around his head, neck, and mouth.  Knowing his history of self-harm, we got scared, and Erin attempted to pull the blanket from his head.  This was met with kicking and wailing and outbursts of screaming. Thinking we were playing a game, Six Pack rushed into the room and started playfully nipping at Erin and I. Quite possibly the only humorous part of this story! And after a few minutes of physical and verbal resistance, we were able to slightly calm him.

Side note: as foster parents we are never allowed to touch a child, especially in an aggressive, matter unless the child is exhibiting self-harm, and we are concerned for their safety.  We never would have engaged J had we not been feared for his own well-being, and even then, we tried everything else before it resulted in physical confrontation. This truly was worst-case scenario for us.

I Don’t Want To See Your Faces

While I called the DCS emergency hotline, Erin stopped J from barricading himself in his room. We were still convinced he could hurt himself, as he was still visibly angry.  After quickly leaving a message on the DCS line, I turn around and spot him trying to leave through the front door, wearing his winter coat and backpack. I don’t remember the part in our foster training where apparently we’re supposed to just let the child run away if they want to. But that is exactly what we should have done. We didn’t do that. We didn’t want him to hurt himself or others on one of the busiest streets in Indianapolis.  So I put myself between him and the door, trying to avoid physical confrontation, which unfortunately didn’t work. “I don’t want to see your face!” he repeatedly yelled over and over.  At this point, his feet were against the door frame, as we tried desperately to keep him from opening the front door.

Just Let Him Stay The Night

We frantically called the DCS hotline, our case manager, J’s case manager, and at one point almost 911. I had been a parent for a week and we were considering calling 911 on our child. That fact is not lost upon us. The DCS hotline operator wanted us to let him stay the night.  Our case manager wasn’t answering her phone.  J’s case manager was helpful but could only do so much.  As we started packing his belongings, we discover hidden candy rappers under his bed, broken toys in the dresser, notes, and missing homework in his book bag. We were well beyond our breaking point and insisted he be picked up and removed immediately.  We could deal with all the child behaviors, but the aggression and self-harm were too much for us as first time foster parents.

What Went Wrong?

After taking a couple of days, I think we’ve decided that this was just an overall bad situation. DCS shouldn’t have put J with us. I’m not making excuses, but we were not equipped for the manic behavioral issues. Thinking back to J threatening Six Pack “I’m going to punch you in the face unless you get out of my way!”  And grabbing my drill and pretending it was a gun to “shoot” Six….we should’ve seen the warning signs. We should not have spoiled him, but we thought he deserved the nicer things after what he had been dealing with leading up to his arrival with us. And unfortunately, in the moments waiting to be removed from our home, we observed more indications that he cared more about the material things that we provided him then the emotional support we were offering.

We’re still not fully healed from the trauma of this entire situation, but we’re getting better.  If nothing else, we’ve learned to trust our instincts.  We’ve learned to ask way more questions before taking a placement – and even when the questions are answered, ask again.  Because DCS likely knows more than they say they do – they just have to dig to find the answers.  And finally we’ve learned to say no.  No to privileges when the kids really don’t deserve it. No to bad placements. But most importantly, no to situations we aren’t comfortable with.  These kids need us, but we need ourselves, our sanity, and our safety even more.


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