Our daughter Stephanie* spent the first 9 years of her life in foster care. Well, that’s not completely true; she bounced between her birth family and foster care, the first four years, before becoming a Crown Ward at age 4. Crown Ward status didn’t mean the bouncing stopped; she never lived in one home for longer than 18 months. Stephanie moved in with my husband Keith and I at 9.5 years of age, and we are approaching celebrating 3 years as a family. As a direct result of her time in Ontario’s foster care system, she suffers from a multitude of mental health issues. She struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Anxiety, Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), executive functioning issues, extreme speech delay, learning disabilities and emotional regulation challenges. She spent most of her early life trying to survive. Day to day activities like school, social interactions, or even driving down the street, were potentially triggering for her. We have been on wait lists for years, and it took us 8 visits to the ER for them to recognize that she was trying to hurt herself and admither into a short stay program.
The most heartbreaking part (even more than seeing my 12 year old being physically restrained by a police officer in our home) is when she crawls into my lap crying that she wants help, she doesn't understand these big emotions and yearns for our help. We continue to try and try, but there is only so much we can do.
Families need supports after adoption placement. It is incredibly difficult to find practitioners who are trained or experienced with the unique challenges children who have been adopted face. And when you do find them, it’s typically months, with long waiting lists, followed by a huge financial commitment. In addition, children in care are also at a disadvantage in that they cannot always get to early intervention services on a reliable and consistent basis, so when they are adopted they are forced to play catch up. For example, since joining our family, Stephanie has attended weekly speech therapy in order for her to reach the goals that most kids half her age have already passed. There was no one available to drive her 1 hour each way to the closest speech therapist so she went months without. Now consider that we face the same scenario with dental services and subsequent orthodontic issues, occupational therapy, psychological services, and even literacy support. No one read to her as it wasn’t their job. My husband and I have taken significant time away from our respective jobs in order to get her to specialist appointments. Neither of us can afford to take a leave of absence because it’s those jobs that allow us to pay for those specialist. We don’t take family vacations because that money funds therapy.
Please support our children and our families. If our kids can get the mental health supports they need while they are children, they will be less dependent on support systems as adults, and more likely to become happy, successful, contributing members of society. It is time to fund additional research and then do something with the results! Early interventions are key in preventing additional diagnoses. Labels do not matter to my daughter (diagnoses or letters attached to her profile), our daughter wants to get better. Why can't we help with that? Timely and qualified help will improve the quality of her life, the lives of everyone she touches, and the lives of Ontarians who have similar struggles. #Support4EveryFamily will help our children be all they can be now and in the future.