3 Lessons I Learned the Hard Way After Getting Arrested While Raising a Child with RAD

Updated: May 6


Caela and her husband wonder if finding RAD Advocates sooner might have changed their story


“The last guy we arrested spit all over back there,” the officer said as he guided me into the squad car.


I was too overwhelmed to worry about whether they had cleaned it up.


I leaned forward in the small plastic seat to avoid crushing my handcuffed hands behind me. In the high-80s outside, it must have topped 100 inside the small plastic cubicle. The only ventilation was three small holes to my left. I never realized the space in the back of a cop car was so small. How could a full-grown man fit back there? It must be so prisoners can’t kick or thrash too much.


I wondered if any of my neighbors had seen me paraded handcuffed down the street. And then I wondered how I got here. I never imagined in my life that I’d be hauled off to jail. How did my dream of helping kids in foster care end with my husband and I being arrested?

It certainly never crossed my mind that this is where the journey would take us.


The Dream

Like many other adoptive parents, we began the adoption journey to try to make a difference. We welcomed biological siblings, a 10-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl, into our home in 2016. We were not given critical background information, and the children had not received psychological evaluations, so we went in blind to the extent of the issues we might face. Once you sign the dotted line, the department of family services is not interested in helping—at least not in our experience. We were left to try and figure out things on our own.


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As we learned the hard way, figuring things out on our own was far from the happy family life I imagined when we adopted. To navigate our particular kind of parenting on our own ultimately landed us in front of a lawyer. Our son needed services we couldn’t possibly afford on our own. No one in our home, including our son, was safe without these services. We paid the lawyer to help us get those services, in any way possible. So while we were expecting our lawyer to receive civil charges on our behalf that day, the surprise twist was the handcuffs. None of us had planned for jail time in an effort to care for our children.


But let me start from the beginning.


The Reality

After our children were placed in our home early on, with my digging, we learned about the in-utero exposures our son had and scary details about his early childhood. I now know that trauma, the cause of reactive attachment disorder—complicated further by those early exposures to drugs and alcohol—was the culprit of our son’s struggles. But we didn’t know that in the beginning. While he racked up a litany of diagnoses, the reactive attachment disorder (RAD) diagnoses didn’t come until early 2020, when he was 14 years old. Throughout his six years with us, we dealt with virtually non-stop arguing, anger/rages, meltdowns, lying, stealing, sneaking, food issues, school issues, running away, and negative attention seeking, among other things.


No one can judge RAD parents until they’ve walked in their shoes. It’s unlike anything else a person can imagine. And far from parenting neurotypical children. It’s not any one behavior, one time, that’s the issue—it’s all the behaviors, all day, every day. So while the behaviors may look neurotypical to an outsider, life inside the home is anything but typical. It’s exhausting, frustrating and defeating. And because kids with RAD charm people outside of the home, it’s also isolating. No one else saw what we did.


We loved our son and tried everything to help him: various therapies, medications, school interventions, tutoring, extracurriculars, essential oils and supplements, special camps, residential treatment, wraparound services, and a litany of parenting techniques. We also sought individual therapy to work on our triggers and be the best parents we could be.


For the first four years, I absolutely believed we could somehow find something that would help him. And perhaps if we’d gotten a correct diagnosis—and I’d discovered RAD Advocates earlier—we might have. But as things were, he only grew bigger and angrier.


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For kids with RAD, the mother is the “nurturing enemy.” The original caregivers/parents were not consistently available and responsive to the infant/toddler, and therefore the child does not trust primary caregivers, is triggered by them and pushes them away. For mothers like me, it’s like being in an emotionally abusive relationship that you can’t escape.


In early May 2021, our son blew up at us once again. We hid in our rooms. Eventually he agreed to go to the local crisis center, where he’d often gone. But unlike previous visits, in the days that followed, he remained adamant he no longer wanted to live with us.

If an angry nearly 16-year-old won’t return home, you can’t force him to want to be part of the family or part of the solution. Because of his RAD, he was not bonded to us. For someone to begin to heal, they must want that. You can provide all the therapy in the world, but if the client doesn’t want to be there, it won’t do any good.


How did my dream of helping kids in foster care end with my husband and I being arrested? It certainly never crossed my mind that this is where the journey would take us.

We had already tried residential treatment that his insurance would cover the year before. We are not rich and couldn’t afford therapeutic boarding programs that average $7,500 a month. We had previously asked both our state’s department of family services (DFS) and the state we adopted from for help and got none. Adoptive parents like us are just normal people, yet we’re expected to be able to deal with complex issues even experts have trouble addressing.


We were mentally and physically exhausted. We had tried everything we could afford and needed help.


The Nightmare

This is when we hired a lawyer. We discussed our options since our son didn’t want to return home. She told us if we didn’t pick him up from the crisis center after 30 days, we’d be charged with civil neglect. Many RAD parents are forced to initiate such charges to get the state to step in and provide resources. So that is the path we took. We asked her if there was any chance we’d go to jail, and she said no, not unless we didn’t follow the juvenile court judge’s orders.


No one wants their family to end this way, but we didn’t know what else to do. She said she’d accept the charge on our behalf, so we weren’t expecting to see the police that day in June.


When four officers showed up at our door, we figured there’d been a mistake, and they were there to serve us the civil charge. We let them in, and they asked what was going on (no Miranda rights). Still in the dark, we explained. That’s when they said they were arresting us for criminal misdemeanor child abandonment.


No one can judge RAD parents until they’ve walked in their shoes. It’s unlike anything else a person can imagine. And far from parenting neurotypical children. It’s not any one behavior, one time, that’s the issue—it’s all the behaviors, all day, every day.

It felt like the bottom fell out—instantly sick to my stomach. I was still in my PJs working from home, so I asked if I could call our lawyer and change clothes. I went into the bedroom, and when I came out, my husband had already been hauled off to jail. I was handcuffed and marched down the block to a second cruiser.


When the officers told me it would be a minute before they let me out of the cruiser, I thought I’d pass out from heat exhaustion. Inside the jail, they led us to a counter, surrounded by cells, for booking. They said if we had a debit card and enough money, we could bail ourselves out after booking. (Later, when we got a new lawyer, he said we never should have had a bond put on us since we have clean records, own a home and have jobs in the community—we weren’t flight risks.)


Both of us felt so sick we needed to use the bathroom, but the only option was a glass jail cell. I tried to hold it in. After answering a million questions and filling out paperwork, we were able to post bond. But the bond conditions stated we could not live with or even talk to our “codefendants”—in that case, my husband. They said a judge would have to change that.


For the first four years, I absolutely believed we could somehow find something that would help him. And perhaps if we’d gotten a correct diagnosis—and I’d discovered RAD Advocates earlier—we might have.

We went straight to the courthouse but found the judge was out of town for two days, so my husband had to move out, and we couldn’t even text each other. That was torture. He was the only one who had been through this with me and understood, and I couldn’t talk to him. We couldn’t even communicate about our home plumbing emergency. It was crazy.

We also met with our lawyer that first day. She said we could be facing jail time up to a year. If that happened, we’d lose everything—our jobs, our home. I immediately thought of our two beloved rescue dogs. I called my 83-year-old mom, “If we go to jail, will you take our dogs?”


Next I called RAD Advocates. I certainly wish I’d done it sooner. They were a voice of reason and helped us navigate everything from there on out. If we’d involved them sooner, things might not have gotten so upside down.


After we appeared before the judge two days later, he let my husband return home. But the next month was incredibly stressful. We couldn’t get any decent communication from our lawyer. We switched to a new law firm. The old lawyer kept the vast majority of our retainer.


To make a very long story short, eventually the new law firm got the misdemeanor dismissed, but we had to plead “no contest” to the civil neglect charge. Our lawyer could have fought it since we never neglected our children, but he said it would take at least a year and many thousands of dollars more. The state had found a foster home for our son, which was what he wanted. It’s called parent shopping, and it’s not something attached children do. The state was willing to let us do a conditional relinquishment. Then they sued us for child support, which we’ll pay until he finishes high school.


The Hard Lessons I Learned

1. If I could do it all over again, I would’ve called RAD Advocates far earlier than I did. They walk parents, no matter where they are along the journey, through the various options and potential complications of raising a child with RAD.


2. I learned that choosing a good lawyer requires time. My advice to parents facing legal charges is to get the best legal representation possible. Check lawyer reviews and recommendations and interview multiple lawyers.


Next I called RAD Advocates. I certainly wish I’d done it sooner. They were a voice of reason and helped us navigate everything from there on out. If we’d involved them sooner, things might not have gotten so upside down.

3. I now understand how much reform the foster care system needs. When it comes to adoption, agencies need to be 100% honest with prospective parents—give them all the background information and results from a comprehensive psychological evaluation and current treatment provider. They also need to better prepare families for attachment issues, which are ubiquitous in traumatized children. Agencies need to set families up with appropriate attachment-focused treatment providers where they live. And they need to provide lifelong support for that family, including any specialized treatments the children may require. If not, many parents will continue to have cases like ours, where everyone loses.


Other parents' stories don’t have to end like ours. This is why I tell it. There is hope in RAD education and advocacy. There is hope in united voices and transparency. Parents must speak up and share the reality of their lives, even when it’s not pretty. This is how we educate and make a difference, no matter how small, day by day. I invite you to join me in moving forward. There is still hope.


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