Choosing Children: An Adoption Story

Trapped in time.

with 2 comments

The decision by CAS to suggest that I undergo counseling for a rape that happened 17-years ago has gone from slightly unbelievable to comically bad.

Let me first be clear about what I believe is reasonable. I believe counseling, for any person who has outcomes they want to address with a counselor is beneficial. I believe that victims of violence, including rape, will generally benefit from psychiatric and/or psychological treatment. I recognize that mental illness is disproportionately high among rape victims.

Specifically, with regards to adoption I believe that CAS has a duty to ensure that the prospective parents they are screening are sane, safe and healthy. To that end I agree that it would be reasonable to ask any prospective parent who has disclosed a traumatic past to undergo a psychological or psychiatric assessment to determine if they are suffering from trauma, or PTSD.

As I mentioned in my last post I have undergone counseling on several occasions for my past trauma. I was given crisis counseling immediately following the rape. On my own I sought out peer-to-peer counselling during my undergraduate and later became a peer-to-peer counselor. I have spoken in public, to large audiences about my experience in support of increasing supports for victims and against organizations, institutions and policies that blame the victim. When I was concerned that my masters degree, which focused largely on the experiences of women who were raped as part war crimes, was bringing up old trauma I sought counselling.

In each and every case counseling concluded when I and the therapist agreed that I had addressed the issues I came to address, that neither of us had any issues we thought I needed to address, that I was functioning and coping well and meeting success markers. No counselor is ever going to tell a patient they are “cured”, it’s not how it works. In my experience counselors will encourage a patient who is leaving to return to counseling if they feel they need it. In my case they would always suggest that I may feel that I need counseling if I have a child that reaches the age that I was when I was assaulted.

When CAS suggested that I undergo six months to one year of counseling because I disclosed a rape history, I was disappointed, but not surprised. I found it a bit excessive, but again, I was not surprised. We asked CAS three questions with regards to the counseling:

  1. Could we do the counseling concurrently with the adoption process, or was the counselling a prerequisite to moving to the next step of the process (PRIDE training)?
  2. Could we provide an psychological or psychiatric assessment by a psychologist or psychiatrist of their choosing, or one of my doctor’s choosing, as opposed to long term counseling?
  3. If we cannot provide the assessment what outcomes would I need to meet in counseling for it to be viewed as a success by CAS? What do they need to know about me and my trauma to feel confident that my past trauma is not going to be a negative influence on a child I am raising?
Last Thursday (September 8) we got a “reply” to our questions.

It is evident that you have received support for the traumatic events of your adolescence several times throughout your adulthood: following the rape, peer-to-peer at university, and later in response to your topic of study.  The counselors/psychologist/psychiatrist each recommended that you receive further counselling at the point of parenting.

In order to be the best parent possible, be it biological or adopted, it is important to take the time and learn to recognize and understand the impact of past trauma in your own life.  Doing so will help you to be able to recognize and become more sensitive to times when your reactions are coming from a place other than the immediate child/parent experience.  Re-experiencing past trauma is common when parents are placed in a stressful environment: and parenting is both joyful and stressful!

A child who has come into the care of the Children’s Aid Society and who is placed for adoption has experienced one or more traumas of their own.  Even a child who has come into care at a very young age has experienced an early loss of his birth mother and father.  Parenting such a child can be very stressful and can take its toll on the best of parents.   For a parent who has experienced their own childhood and/or adult trauma, it can be particularly difficult.  Preparation for this role, in your case through an examination of your past trauma in the context of your potential parenting role through biology or adoption is an important task at this time.

As I mentioned in our meeting, it is recommended that you seek counselling/therapy at this point in your life as you pursue parenting through adoption.  The PRIDE training sessions would likely start in January, so the intervening months would be the perfect time for you to engage in this process.  I think your preference was to seek a professional therapist who is experienced in trauma therapy through the **** Clinic with a referral from Dr. ****.  The length of the process would likely be determined by yourself and the therapist.

I phoned the same day to clarify the reply, I now wish I had e-mailed instead to be able to have the responses in writing.

When I phoned there were a lot of things I wanted to address. I wanted to address the statement that said:

The counselors/psychologist/psychiatrist each recommended that you receive further counselling at the point of parenting.
To me, this feels like a willful misreading of the psychological assessments that I did provide them. In my experience no psychologist or psychiatrist will ever indicate that no future counselling is ever going to be necessary. All counselors will encourage any patient who is leaving counseling – even with the recommendation to leave by the psychiatrist / psychologist – to be open to future counseling, and cite some times where it may be worth considering counseling. Every assessment I have had has indicated I am a fully functioning adult with no signs of PTSD or difficulty coping.

The second and third paragraphs really made me angry and frustrated:

In order to be the best parent possible, be it biological or adopted, it is important to take the time and learn to recognize and understand the impact of past trauma in your own life… Parenting such a child can be very stressful and can take its toll on the best of parents.   For a parent who has experienced their own childhood and/or adult trauma, it can be particularly difficult.

I agree that if I had not received counselling and not dealt with my past trauma that I may be out of touch with how it might affect me, in which case, I would not be able to recognize or understand the impact of traumatic incidents on my life and this would make raising a child who has themselves experienced trauma particularly difficult.

That is however not the scenario we are dealing with. I have undergone counseling, on multiple occasions. In each case the counselor has found that I am meeting all of my success markers, that my behaviour and coping mechanisms are not being influenced by past trauma.

I deeply resent the implication here that a person who has had past traumas (and really, how many of us have not?), is out of touch with the impact of that trauma (if they are not currently in counseling), and will not be the ‘best parent’ possible because we are essentially damaged goods. We are broken people who cannot be fixed, trapped in time by our trauma never to recover without continuous outside help.

I kept my mouth shut, on the issues above. I’m still not sure if that was the right thing to do. Instead, I focused on our three questions.

Question 1: Could we do the counseling concurrently with the adoption process, or was the counselling a prerequisite to moving to the next step of the process (PRIDE training)?

The PRIDE training sessions would likely start in January, so the intervening months would be the perfect time for you to engage in this process.  I think your preference was to seek a professional therapist who is experienced in trauma therapy through the **** Clinic with a referral from Dr. ****.  The length of the process would likely be determined by yourself and the therapist.

Does this mean we are in the January session? That we have to complete the counseling before the January session? That I need to start the counselling session before the January session?

The first time we were told there was a PRIDE session we were told it was in September, when the worker arrived she told us that one was full but we might make the October session, then we had the problem with the financial forms and were told we could get into the November session, and when we re-filed those we were told November was full and we might make December. This is why simply being told there is a session in January does not fill me with hope that we will actually be in that session.

When I asked the worker if our file was being moved forward to the January session she told me she didn’t know. I asked if the file being moved forward was contingent on me being in progress in counselling or having completed counselling, she told me she wasn’t sure. I asked if there was anyone I could ask, she told me she didn’t know who I could ask. I asked her how we would know if we were in the January session she told me we would get an invitation. I asked who would send the invitation, she told me the admin person would send it, I asked if I could follow up with the admin person, she said I could, but the admin person would only get our file if it was moved forward and that would not know anything until then. I went around on this merry-go-round a few times with no satisfactory answers.

Question 2: Could we provide an psychological or psychiatric assessment by a psychologist or psychiatrist of their choosing, or of my doctor’s choosing, as opposed to long term counseling?

As I mentioned in our meeting, it is recommended that you seek counselling/therapy at this point in your life as you pursue parenting through adoption.  I think your preference was to seek a professional therapist who is experienced in trauma therapy through the **** Clinic with a referral from Dr. ****.  The length of the process would likely be determined by yourself and the therapist.

In this letter the adoption worker has removed the reference of six months to one year of recommended counseling which was her original recommendation. Unfortunately it has been replaced by a vague statement about determining the length of time with the therapist. That could have gone well, but it didn’t.

When I asked her about providing an assessment, either by a therapist of CAS’s preference or one that I source through my doctor she was strongly against this. Strongly. Against. It.

This is what I don’t understand, and where I really wish I had conducted the second conversation in writing instead of over the phone.

The meetings with this adoption worker have had an extremely patronising tone. For example, she asked a few standard questions about what our own childhood family lives were like. I said I had a happy childhood, with kind loving parents, that we weren’t rich – in fact we were poor – but that they did a great job giving us all that they could. She immediately probed into the “poor family” bit and each time would make this “tsk” noise and then lean in as she said “tsk, awww that must have been very hard” in the same tone one might use with a child who is frightened.

Her demeanor has been much the same with regards to this whole counseling and rape business. She seems to be convinced that she is doing this not to ensure that I am an adequate parent for the children in care but because she has my best interest at heart and she is saving me… perhaps from myself. She asks me to look at this as an opportunity to build a strong life long relationship with a caring therapist who can assist me with these very difficult traumas throughout my life.  When I have brought up that I do understand that people who have been abused are statistically more likely to be at risk of being abusers and I would understand CASs need to conduct an assessment to determine that I am not likely to become abusive to children she has acted shocked and told me: “That is not at all what I was thinking, I don’t want you to think that is why we are asking for counselling.”

The best sense I can make out of this is that they are not interested in me pursuing an assessment because they think I am somehow broken (despite the positive assessments I have provided) and they see an assessment as something temporary whereas if I were to choose to engage in counseling then I would be getting  longer-term, more in-depth help that they have determined I must be in need of.

Question 3: If we cannot provide the assessment what outcomes would I need to meet in counseling for it to be viewed as a success by CAS? What do they need to know about me and my trauma to feel confident that my past trauma is not going to be a negative influence on a child I am raising?

In order to be the best parent possible, be it biological or adopted, it is important to take the time and learn to recognize and understand the impact of past trauma in your own life.  Doing so will help you to be able to recognize and become more sensitive to times when your reactions are coming from a place other than the immediate child/parent experience… Preparation for this role, in your case through an examination of your past trauma in the context of your potential parenting role through biology or adoption is an important task at this time.

The first part of the counselling request is something I believe can be established by an assessment. But, as noted above, they are not interested in the assessment. Their assessment is that I am out of touch with my trauma and am unaware of how it is (not might be) impacting my life and I need to get in touch with that so that I know when I am (not might be), re-experiencing trauma that is a result of my past and not child/parent related.

On the phone the worker repeated that a good therapist would be able to help me discover how I will be as a parent, and what parenting will be like for me with respect to my trauma, and how I am likely to react to the actions and emotions of a traumatized child.

Maybe this is my own ignorance of therapy, but what sort of crystal balls do therapists have these days?

Is it really realistic for me to march into a therapists office and say:

“Hi, I’m a rape victim, please tell me how this one event that happened 17-years ago is going to make me a potentially unstable parent, then help me to trouble shoot that so that I don’t become that unstable parent, and along the way can you please predict the things that this hypothetical traumatized child of mine will to do trigger my own trauma and how I should prepare for that.”

I actually said that on the phone. Not my most diplomatic moment. But it was still met with the pitying tone that if I was simply under the care of a good therapist they would be able to help me with work on all of these issues.

Even more shocking to me was when I tried to get clarity on the desired outcomes from the adoption worker. She would routinely fall back on her not being able to decide that for me and assuring me that a good therapist could help me with that. She suggested that I give the therapist the carefully written  letter above and that this could be the guiding point for our discussions.

I bottom lined it that I don’t want to waste my time or money or CAS’s time by pursuing outcomes that CAS will not see as moving my file forward. After being pressed she finally came out and said that she hopes that I will take this opportunity to establish a lasting relationship with a therapist. She suggested that if I find a good therapist then they should be able to help me at this point in our adoption process, then again as we go through PRIDE (because apparently people find that difficult), and again  during placement and then I will have established a solid relationship with a professional that I can depend on throughout my life.

Life!

Incredulous I barely kept my voice out of the upper shrill registers as I asked…. “So now we’ve moved from an original recommendation of therapy for six months to a year with no outcome to a successful outcome being that I sign myself up for life long theraphy!?”

Very pleased with herself she said “wouldn’t that be wonderful!?”

I chocked out that I did not see opting for life long theraputic care as a positive outcome. She told me she was saddened that I didn’t see what a wonderful opportunity this was.

I am effectively trapped in time by this one incident in my life. CAS has been very careful not to require this counseling of me. I could opt not to take it. My concern is if I do not engage with the therapy that I will be seen as uncooperative and even more dangerously as someone who is not supportive of therapy. This second is even more dangerous because most of the children in CAS care will likely need theraputic supports, so they are highly unlikely to consider placement for a parent who they see as refusing needed therapy. Even more concerning is my uncertainty about how I am supposed to engage in the therapy. I feel that I can say with some confidence that I am not currently influenced by my past trauma, I am also not hiding from it. But, unless I show some signs of trauma they will see me as an uncooperative patient who is in denial about the impact of trauma on my life.

In an attempt to play nice, I have made an appointment with my doctor for a referral. I am not optimistic about the outcomes. My doctor is great at referrals and gives them freely, but I have called around to Toronto General, Women’s College and CAMH and all of their trauma counselling is completely full with long waiting lists. So even if I do get the referral, it is unlikely I will be seen in the next year, especially since I am not a crisis patient (and why should I be taking up a space a crisis patient needs anyways). I have also contacted Toronto Family Services to put myself on the waiting list for a psychologist. Even though CAS’s preference is for a psychiatrist.

My understanding is that a psychiatrist’s role is to assess, diagnose and prescribe. It is unlikely, I am told by friends who work in the field, that a psychiatrist is going to undertake any form of long-term talk counseling with me. To that end I hope that being pro-active and going to a psychologist will be helpful.

Here’s where it gets a bit more complicated. If I am referred to a psychiatrist it is covered by OHIP. Assuming I can get seen by a psychiatrist, and that I am also wrong and a psychiatrist will do counselling long term I suspect that OHIP will not let them keep me on a long-term counseling when I am not a forensic or crisis patient. After all, why should the tax payers be paying for therapy that is not required by CAS (only recommended) and that I, the patient, don’t think I need myself, and when I am not a threat to myself or others? If I go to a psychologist then I have to pay out of my own pocket, and therapy, especially long term therapy is expensive. I can’t help but wonder if CAS is having us run down our savings, or increase our monthly costs so that we yet again won’t meet the financial criteria.

In short things are a mess right now, we don’t know if our application is proceeding, we have little guidance on what outcomes we need to show from therapy to proceed, and we have no timelines. I feel like we are not the people that CAS wants to consider for adoption and they are simply finding hoops for us to jump through to discourage us from attempting to move forward in this process.
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Written by BeagleSmuggler

September 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I am speechless. This is so horrible. The whole friggin red tape aspect just baffles me. And the fact that they cannot give even one single straight answer is absurd. And they wonder why so many adopt from outside of the country! Not that that is not a long and tiresome drawn out process also…but damn. I am so sorry you are going through this hunny.

    Love and light,

    Lucky

    wtfhappenedtomyreallife

    September 15, 2011 at 7:30 pm

  2. I think you need to sit down with your worker and her supervisor and make your case, this is a little bit ridiculous and at the same time I hear then but as long as you are willing than I think things should move forward. You are right a psychiatrist will not see you nor is that what CAS should be asking you to see, the worker may not be clear on what she is suggesting and psychotherapist who does trauma would actually be your best bet.

    J.

    September 19, 2011 at 1:37 pm


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