The Stories About Childhood Trauma You Might Not Know (and what you can do to change the narrative)

Updated: May 6


Caela and Joe at the beginning of their parenting journey, before living with reactive attachment disorder.
Caela and Joe at their adoption shower, before living with reactive attachment disorder.

Maybe you've never heard the true stories of what can happen after childhood trauma. You may assume that the end of the story is when the trauma ends.


Or maybe you know all too well how false that misconception is—that, in fact, trauma can end in reactive attachment disorder (RAD) and wreak havoc on the child and their relationships for a lifetime.


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Part of the problem is that the stories, like the one about Caela's family are rarely told. They're undisclosed for many reasons. And because so few people know the whole story, too few know how to help. But that can change, starting with you.

Joe and Caela before parenting a child with reactive attachment disorder
Joe and Caela before parenting a child with reactive attachment disorder

By the time Caela and Joe adopted from foster care, they felt very ready. After all, Caela decided that she wanted to do so back when she was in elementary school.


"We were raised to be do-gooders," says Caela. "So when I heard there were children in the world without homes, that's what I wanted to do."


But Caela and Joe didn't have what they needed to meet the needs of a child severely impacted by early trauma. They didn't know that their son Jack* had meth, cocaine and marijuana in his urine at age 2 when child protective services (CPS) removed him from his biological parents.


They did know that Jack’s maternal aunt adopted him. He was removed from that home as well, as she was also abusive, and sent to live with foster parents. Jack literally had a broom with his name on it while living with his aunt.


Jack had no psychological evaluations in his record when Caela and Joe adopted him at age 10. The couple didn't know that he had developed reactive attachment disorder from the impact that early trauma had left on his brain. And they had no resources to prepare them for the serious and complex disorder.


Jack's early trauma continued to impact him and his family over the years. Their home was full of chaos. The school called home constantly about problems. Jack stole Caela's wedding ring and money from their wallets. He ran away from home and school frequently.


Caela found every parenting book and resource possible to help Jack, including various therapies. "We tried everything," said Caela. "I felt like if we could just be the best parents then we could fix it."


Because so few know about the rest of trauma stories, so few people know how to help. But that can change, starting with you.

But Jack only grew bigger, stronger and more troubled every day.


By the time Jack was a 200-pound teenager, Caela and Joe were at the point of hiding from him in their bedroom when he escalated. Although Joe grew up in a military family, even he had learned it was safer to be out of Jack's way at those times.


It was far from the happy family Caela and Joe had dreamed of when they brought their little boy home.


Eventually, Caela found the nonprofit organization RAD Advocates. The advocates, parents who once walked in her shoes, educated her about reactive attachment disorder. "Through their work, I've been able to understand what happened to our family," says Caela. "Now I'm able to help other families going through this as well as advocate for a systems-level change."


But Caela wishes she had found RAD Advocates sooner. By the time she did, it was too late to save their family.


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Jack ended up back in the foster care system after refusing to return home from a crisis center. The superficial environment, away from Caela and Joe who attempted to nurture and care for him, felt safer to Jack. It is the sad nature of the disorder.


"If we had found RAD Advocates earlier, I believe they could have helped us find appropriate treatments and services," says Caela. "It may very well have saved our family and resulted in a much better outcome."


There are still so many kids and families struggling with reactive attachment disorder, perhaps even your own. With the right support and education, RAD families can have a better outcome than Caela's family did. You can help brighten our collective story as families of children with reactive attachment disorder.


"If we had found RAD Advocates earlier, I believe they could have helped us find appropriate treatments and services," says Caela. "It may very well have saved our family and resulted in a much better outcome."

“I believe we could've worked with the system and explained what was going on. RAD isn't a parenting issue, it's a mental health issue," says Amy VanTine, RAD Advocates President. "Maybe we could’ve come up with a better solution from a team approach in the best interest of Jack, of the whole family, a solution that would've prevented having to go back to social services. We want to keep kids out of the child welfare system."


With your support, you can help to educate more professionals about reactive attachment disorder and advocate for families like Caela's before it's too late. Supported parents beget stable homes and brighter futures for kids like Jack.


Please don't wait—you can make a difference today. Whether you share your own story or help to change those of other families, we can all be RAD advocates from our own corner of the world.


Please join RAD Advocates in bringing support and advocacy to families like Caela's. Consider a donation today.


*names changed to protect identity

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