Updated: May 10, 2021
I still remember the moment clearly. With my notepad and pen in hand, I was eager to jot down everything the woman said in the foster parent training class. That is, until she got to one specific point.
“It’s not if you get investigated but when you get investigated,” she said.
That’s when I put my pen down and looked up—shocked. I understood that many children in the foster care system suffer from the effects of early trauma. I hadn’t considered false allegations though.
But, years later, it’s clear. False allegations and reactive attachment disorder often go hand in hand. Here at RAD Advocates, we have experienced the painful combination ourselves after adopting children with reactive attachment disorder.
Register for Navigating RAD 2021, a unique conference for parents of children with reactive attachment disorder.
Although our families were proven innocent, our journeys were incredibly difficult and life-altering nonetheless. Here at RAD Advocates, we hope to prevent or alleviate that pain for other families.
How false allegations begin…and thrive
False allegations are a sad “normal” for children with reactive attachment disorder. Due to their early trauma, the children develop survival skills that last a lifetime without effective intervention. As such, they rely only on themselves, have an extremely strong need for control and reject nurturing from their caregivers. They use false allegations in an effort to meet those needs.
Specific situations can trigger children with reactive attachment disorder to move forward with false allegations. They include:
—The children don’t get something they want or something is taken from them
—They might feel triggered by something and desire others to feel the pain they do
—The children experience previous memories and project those memories onto the wrong people
—They feel instinctively frightened by nurturing from their primary caregivers and want to leave their homes
—The children succeed at removing themselves from their home environments and don’t want to leave the treatment facilities, hospitals, etc.
—They may lie to get sympathy, gifts, etc. from others
Another sad “normal” is that many people believe the false allegations from the children—also the nature of the disorder. Here’s why:
—The children often seem charming and polite to adults outside of their own homes.
Children with reactive attachment disorder charm adults in order to manipulate them. They do so to control their environments and create triangulation amongst the adults in their lives—the perfect opportunity for further control. Yet, they privately display disturbing behaviors toward their primary caregivers to push them away.
—Parents of children with reactive attachment disorder often appear unstable to others.
Because the children typically reserve their most outlandish behaviors for one particular person—often a mom or dad—that parent is stressed and exhausted. In fact, that person may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result. And because everyone else sees a charming child, that parent seems unreasonable. Furthermore, when no one believes the parent, that parent feels isolated and may act defensively. Ultimately, the parent appears unreliable.
These two factors combined help to unjustly support the children’s allegations.
How caregivers of children with reactive attachment disorder can protect their families
Regardless of how false allegations unfold, it’s vital that caregivers put measures in place beforehand to best prove their innocence. They must also remember that children with reactive attachment disorder can falsely accuse anyone in the home. Primary caregivers are not the only people targeted. That said, parents must also consider the protection of other children and family members.
Here are tips for caregivers to prevent and prepare for false allegations:
—Install recording cameras throughout your home with guidelines from your home state.
—Install alarms on your disordered child’s bedroom door as well as home windows and entry doors.
—Create a specific safety plan for each person in your home.
—Should your disordered child act out or threaten others, use phone voice recording when video cameras are unavailable.
—Lock up all sharp items, medications, poisons and other items that may be used to inflict harm.
—Remove nonessential items from your disordered child’s room, paying extra attention to objects that might be used to cause harm to oneself or others.
—Create boundaries for where your disordered child can and cannot go in the home.
—Always keep your disordered child in line-of-sight when the child is in common areas of the home.
—Ensure that your disordered child is never left alone with another family member.
—Document daily and with detail. Your child may claim that you neglected to provide him or her with basic necessities and care. That said, include food you offered and if your child refused the meal, attempts to dress your child in appropriate clothing for the weather, etc.
—Document any bruises or injuries on your child and how they happened. Take pictures and save them in an easily accessible file.
—Set aside financial funds for the cost of an attorney, loss of income and bail money. While doing so can feel extremely uncomfortable in the moment, the somber reality of false allegations can surface overnight.
What caregivers can do after false allegations occur
A false allegation is extremely jarring. While parents rightfully feel highly emotional, we strongly advise caregivers to remain calm.
Specifically, here are tips for falsely accused caregivers:
—Cooperate with the authorities who investigate the case, no matter how shocking or absurd the allegation. To get defensive with authorities isn’t helpful. The investigators must simply do their job. They are usually well-meaning people who want to help.
—Prepare to set the tone and educate the authorities about reactive attachment disorder as they will likely not understand. To approach the allegation from a space of calm and education rather than defensiveness allows the authorities to truly listen to you.
—Hire a qualified attorney (or have one on retainer just in case). To find a lawyer who understands the complexities of developmental trauma and how to build a case around the disorder is difficult at times. If time permits, seek one ahead of time.
—In case of an open investigation, line up a friend or family member who is willing to take your other children if they are removed. While we understand doing so feels incredibly scary and stressful, preparation is vital. If the authorities must place your children elsewhere, you don’t want them staying with strangers.
—If authorities remove your children from your home, try to stay calm. Know that their primary goal is always to get your children back home. To remain calm (as incredibly difficult as that may be) will help your children to feel safer as well.
—Have copies of your documentation ready to give to authorities. Don’t ever give anyone your originals.
—Become a RAD Advocates member. To have a third-party to support you and to help educate about the disorder can help others to view your case from a different perspective.
—Take care of yourself. Self-care is more important than ever right now. Make sure you get plenty of water, healthy food and sleep in order to keep going strong. If you can, try to exercise to alleviate some stress.
No one wants to imagine the impact of false allegations. They can devastate families. But because each of us understands the tragic ordeal firsthand here at RAD Advocates, we cannot let the topic go unrecognized. Preparation and advocacy can help to lessen the storm. And we are available and ready.