TW: Suicide

In 2014, a Portland-area psychologist was suspended after one of her young clients attempted suicide. The psychologist misdiagnosed the child with Reactive Attachment Disorder and treated the child using unorthodox and questionable methods. The child was suffering from Depression but was not being treated for that, only for RAD.

This type of misdiagnosis and neglect of other symptoms is alarming and can put children at risk, as it did in this situation. Adopted children who have a history of childhood trauma, such as those from foster care or international orphanages, often need medical and emotional support to aid in their healing and development. New parents or foster parents may find it overwhelming to find the right doctors, schedule all the appointments, hear all the diagnoses, and keep up with any prescriptions. This is an important part of caring for adopted children or any children with behavioral or mental health needs, and it needs to be given due attention.

While it can be difficult to keep up with these things or to know the right course of action for your child, there are things you can do to ensure your children are getting the absolute best care and treatment for their needs.

1. Get Referrals from Trusted Sources

You can find lists of qualified therapists and psychiatrists in many places, and some agencies may even provide you with one. Ask your caseworker if they know of professionals with good reputations who specialize in child behavioral or mental health issues. Survey other parents and see where they take their children and what their experiences have been. Ask questions about the process, personnel, treatment, and the child’s reaction to the service provider.

Choosing a counselor or behavioral health professional blindly is intimidating, but going in with some prior knowledge about others’ experiences can help. You can avoid bad service providers or find quality individuals this way. We found our children’s therapist through a referral, and we have been incredibly impressed by the quality and depth of care our children have received. In turn, I am happy to refer others to this therapist.

2. Request Mental Health Evaluations

There are many tests and psychological evaluations that can be done to get a pulse for your child’s behavioral and mental health. Organizations like Children’s Research Triangle in Chicago specialize in evaluating and treating behavioral, developmental, and emotional needs. Here, children go through a full day of evaluations performed by specialists. These evaluations highlight concerns, and based on that, they make a treatment plan. Findings from the evaluations are released to parents to have on-hand, as well.

Extensive evaluations can be costly and time-consuming, but they can also shed light on previously unknown issues or provide a missing piece of the puzzle to your child’s behavioral health needs.

3. Get a Second Opinion

If you are concerned about the depth of care your child is receiving or the treatment plan they are on, get a second opinion. One of our children had a diagnosis that we did not feel was accurate. We sought out a second opinion and received a diagnosis that was more in line with the behavior we were seeing. An incorrect diagnosis can result in ineffective, or even dangerous, treatment.

4. Educate Yourself

Once we received our children’s diagnoses and prescriptions, I started researching them. Best treatment options, medication side effects, case studies, personal blogs of families dealing with the same issues; this information is available. This must be done with caution, especially if you are researching on the internet, but reliable sources and information can be found. There are research and help organizations for basically every diagnosis.

Many agencies and states offer training on specific mental or behavioral health issues, and these courses are taught by experienced professionals who can help explain possible treatments, medications, and other information.

5. Ask Questions

I am not a behavioral health professional, but I want to understand my children’s diagnoses as best I can, so I ask a lot of questions. What activities are they doing in counseling sessions? Would it help to do a family session? Why are we switching medications? What are the possible side effects? Are there other treatment options? What are some resources I can access that will give me more detail about this issue and treatment?

If I am unsatisfied with the answers to my questions or uncomfortable with an unorthodox treatment plan, I can say no to the treatment and get another opinion or ask more questions.

6. Keep Track of Your Child’s Progress

We keep a journal of behavior patterns when we want to track the effectiveness of certain treatment methods or new medications. This way, we can compare over time to see if there are any changes, good or bad, during the time of the treatment. No one knows your child like you do. Therapists and psychiatrists can only work with the information you give. Keep track of progress being made or the lack of progress. If no progress is being made or no change occurs from a new treatment plan after a sufficient amount of time, request a new plan.

Just as medical health issues should be treated as a high priority, so should behavioral and mental health concerns. Children with concerns in these areas need quality and comprehensive care in order to be their best, and we as parents must do all we can to get them that care.

Originally posted in Sept. 2014.

Read more from this author.

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Providing Structure for Your Foster Kids – If you are a first-time foster parent, you’ve probably already seen first-hand the need for trauma-informed foster parents. Learn about how to provide for children who have experienced trauma, how to build trust, and more.

Age: Just a Number When It Comes to Trauma – It doesn’t matter how old you are, everyone can experience trauma. Children in the foster system have often experienced traumatic situations that have lasting effects. Learn how to be a trauma-informed parent to foster children.