Food Abuse Part I: Starvation
Rally has been working on addressing the issue of food abuse after numerous cases of starvation in adoptive/foster placements came to light in Washington state (we now refer to this as the starvation state). Officials there became so alarmed they formed a working group to address it.
REFORM Talk would like to add some information and commentary about this serious and disturbing issue from the perspective of those who have had their ears to the ground in the adoption community for years. We don’t claim to have all of the answers, but do have some educated theories on the subject. We will discuss the issue of food abuse in two parts, the first addressing the most serious aspect, when children die from starvation. Parents in this piece refers to either foster or adoptive.In looking at this, we have to acknowledge that both the child and parents have normal desires. Children need for their needs to be met and adults want order and healthy functioning in their homes. Neither are unreasonable.
The major theme we have seen play out in food abuse cases is a forced-control/punishment parenting approach to dealing with normal family integration issues or real mental health issues. In order for the child to learn self-control and self-discipline, their basic needs need to be met as well as their past traumas dealt with. When traumatized children are placed with underprepared families who do not have this understanding, the result is a downward spiral of children not getting their needs met followed by the child’s natural reaction to that—exhibiting behaviors that are on a scale of anywhere from annoying to deceitful to destructive to dangerous. When a child does not automatically fold into the existing family culture the adults become frantic to establish order and control in the home.What we see happening in case after case are parents who have preconceived false notions about how and when a child will integrate into their family and home life. They lack skills and the ability to meet the child’s needs at the child’s level of trauma and fear. They lack resources and support to accomplish this as well, and the newly placed child also suffers as do all other children already in the home. The child who is afraid and traumatized is expected to settle in and quickly adapt to the new and foreign home life. They are expected to be happy that they now live with a family. This ludicrous expectation is regularly propagated by the adoption industry and foster community.
The child may react to their new environment in different ways, but most seek to maintain some control over their fears, uncertainty, new and unfamiliar dynamics, and environment. Sometimes in very chaotic, unregulated and, yes, violent ways. The parents in turn seek to end this behavior and establish compliance for house rules and established family dynamics. In the world of ‘therapeutic parenting’ this is called achieving compliance.
In these types of families, compliance is achieved by taking away things of value and restricting the child’s world in order to force obedience. Unfortunately, if a child has a fighting spirit (as many survivors do) this doesn’t work and the downward spiral begins. The parent takes away a privilege or something the child enjoys with the understanding that the child may have this back once they comply with the parent’s request or demand. When the child does not comply, they take something else away. When this doesn’t work, parents without a skill set to reevaluate their strategy begin to look for the most basic need a child has to be withheld for compliance. For all humans, this is food. And here is where situations become deadly. A child may comply temporarily out of sheer hunger and the parent learns that this works in the short term. But the parents expectations for total compliance and integration into their family life are far beyond what a traumatized child is capable of simply willing themselves to do. The parent has realized they’ve found a tool to control the child and that is to withhold a very basic necessity. The child acts out, so parents withhold more food. In extreme yet not uncommon cases, this proves deadly with children so traumatized they cannot will themselves to comply and parents so desperate for control they use the one thing that has worked in this dysfunctional dance. Sadly, children die as a result.
Washington state needs to look no further than their own screening process for potential parents, the preplacement education they provide, and post-placement monitoring and resources for the child and family. Placing traumatized children in poorly equipped families can be disastrous.
Up next, Food Abuse Part 2: When force feeding is used as punishment
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