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How a Woman Built Her Own Village for Families of Kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

Sateash Hime

By the time parents of children with reactive attachment disorder find Sateash Hime, they can be guarded at first. After all, most people tell them what they’re doing wrong as parents. Just be more tender and patient, they say, time and a stable home will heal all.

But not Sateash.

In her time working with youth in juvenile detention, Sateash knows that many of the parents have done everything possible to support their children. She understands that parents can’t fix reactive attachment disorder (RAD)—a serious brain disorder caused from childhood trauma—with love.

So Sateash brings a village of support, not blame and shame, to the table of parents trying to navigate the criminal justice system.

She is a big thinker full of tenacity, curiosity, and optimism. Her job helps to project Sateash's bright spirit further. But it wasn’t always that way.

A hard lesson (outside of class).

Just out of graduate school with a master’s degree in community counseling, Sateash worked for the Department of Human Services as a caseworker in a foster adoption program. She hoped to help children in need.

Sateash had recently started her new job when her supervisor brought a thick stack of papers to her desk. The case was for a child with RAD. It was complex and had gone through three different caseworkers by that point.

She was surprised, as she had only briefly learned about RAD in graduate school. “I learned it was very rare to ever come across someone with RAD," Sateash says. "I was told it only happened to children in orphanages.”

But similar cases kept arriving on her desk.

Whether or not the children had been diagnosed with RAD, she began to notice patterns among many of them. The children shared similar behavioral struggles and often had multiple diagnoses. They typically had biological parents with substance abuse problems or mental health issues. Nearly all of the children had been in and out of the foster care system.

Sateash typically juggled 25 families at a time with just 60 days to close each case.

No matter how many hours Sateash put in, she didn’t feel as though she was getting anywhere. There wasn’t enough of her to go around, that was certain. But she felt as though something else was also missing.

And then, one day, a mom on one of her caseloads suggested she speak with her advocate Amy VanTine from the nonprofit RAD Advocates.

The pivotal phone call.

The mother, who had adopted her child from foster care, said Amy knew everything about her daughter. “I had been on calls with Amy previously and it seemed that she was absolute about her stance with how to help the girl with reactive attachment disorder,” says Sateash. “This intrigued me.”

So Sateash called Amy. And they spoke for two hours. That one phone call changed the trajectory of Sateash’s career.

“Amy opened my eyes to an entirely different presentation of attachment than I had ever even thought of before,” says Sateash. “I had so many questions and the longer we talked, the more RAD made sense.”

While Sateash always knew that RAD is an attachment issue, she hadn’t previously understood its impact on families.

The child’s lack of attachment can’t simply be filled with love and validation. In fact, she learned, that closeness triggers traumatized children. The more parents try to show love to their children with RAD—just as everyone advises them to do—the more intensely the children push away. They do everything they can, from dangerous rages to false allegations about family members.

So everyone in the home, not just the child, struggles.

What Sateash and her colleagues had been suggesting to parents of children with reactive attachment disorder had been misguided. Sateash realized, in fact, that they may have inadvertently made matters worse for many families.

Once Sateash saw reactive attachment disorder for how it actually presents, she couldn’t unsee it. She suspected that the disorder she initially considered rare was all over her desk. While perhaps uncommon in the general population, so many of the children she worked with were impacted by early trauma—the very cause of RAD.

Still limited in and frustrated with what she could accomplish as a caseworker, she left her position. She desired to make a greater impact for kids and families.

Passion, ignited.

Today, Sateash leads a path forward rather than back for families. She builds a team around them as Pathways Partner Coordinator within a division of the Colorado youth and detention continuum, a position and team created specifically for Sateash.

"The parents we work with don't have a village of support," says Sateash. "So we bring the village to them."

It all starts with an individual services support team. “We’re giving people the grace and that place to not be okay and then ask how we can help. No judgment.” From respite care and crisis intervention to mental health services, Sateash and her team carefully select real help specific to each case.

And Sateash invites RAD Advocates to her village table at every opportunity.

Sateash is excited once again. Radiating. And ready for more. Her next step is to work with families of even younger children, a preventive measure so they don’t get to juvenile detention in the first place.

“I can’t tell you how incredibly grateful I am for Amy," says Sateash. "RAD Advocates is absolutely influential in making change and creating a shift and understanding about RAD. They are pivotal in the healing of families.”

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