> No More Secrets And Lies: Forest Ridge — July 2008

Monday, October 1, 2012

Forest Ridge — July 2008

Forest Ridge Youth Services, in Estherville, Iowa was one of best group homes Mary was placed in and I always wondered why she hadn't been placed there sooner. It was an attractive place where the kids lived in little cottages on a lake a few miles outside of the town. From there they would be bused to their school which was closer to town. And even though Mary was now in Iowa, she was much closer to home than when she was at North Homes in Grand Rapids, Minnesota; and because of this, I was able to visit her more often.

Every other week I would drive to down to Forest Ridge to visit Mary. On these days, instead of eating her lunch at the school, she would wait to eat with me when I arrived. She got to choose what she wanted from the few food choices the small town of Estherville had to offer — Chinese, Mexican, or pizza. I would pick our meals up on my way through town and then continue on to her school where she and I would sit across a small table from each other and eat our meals and talk. She loved this. We loved this.

Mary was often on a one-to-one (where a staff member had to stay close to her at all times) while at Forest Ridge, but the staff knew me well and I would become her "one-to-one staff person" while I was visiting her. I was determined to get to know the staff at each of Mary's group homes at this point, and at Forest Ridge, I would often visit with the staff after each visit with Mary. One of her counselors, Lori, was especially good. She truly cared about Mary and liked her, and Mary liked her as well. I had long talks with Lori about Mary's behavior and the long journey she had been on to get to where she was. Lori was as concerned as I was about what was happening to Mary.

During my lunches with Mary, I tried to figure out what was going on with her. And even though she didn't talk much, or didn't know how to talk about what might be causing her behavior (possibly due to my inability to ask her the right questions), I kept trying to get her to at least tell me what was going through her mind when she acted out. One thing she said was that when she acted out she felt separated from herself in an odd way and didn't realize what she had done until after she had done it. I wasn't sure what to make of this and asked the group home staff about it. I also asked her social worker and she said that Mary might have been experiencing something called dissociation — a defense mechanism caused by extreme anxiety-provoking situations. Months later I would learn that children with nonverbal learning disorder who are moved often are especially susceptible to the anxiety that frequent moving can cause.

The following pages are from the book, Nonverbal Learning Disabilities at Home: A Parent's Guide by Pamela B. Tanguay, and explain how troubling constant change can be for an NLD child and what parents can do to help manage this change:

The other thing Mary told me during our visits was that she was having nightmares that frightened her so much she was sometimes afraid to go to sleep at night. This frightened me as well, and one night I called her cabin to talk to the night staff about this. They were friendly and wanted to talk about Mary and said they enjoyed hanging out with her. This was true with all of her placements. In many ways she's more mature than other kids her age and is often able to talk to adults better than she is to peers. She's always interacted at an intelligent, adult level.

The night staff told me that sometimes when she couldn't sleep, they would let her stay up and talk until she was relaxed enough to go back to sleep. They enjoyed her company — especially her sense of humor, and I know this is true about Mary. She's a very cheerful and likable girl with a great sense of humor, and most of the staff at the group homes enjoyed being around her and joking with her — something they couldn't always do with other kids.

They also told me that Mary had many restless nights and would sometimes wake up crying and yelling out words like "ouch" or other things like this. At other times, they would hear her screaming, and when they went to check on her she would be sitting up in bed perspiring and afraid to go back to sleep. Both the night staff and the day staff told me that her behavior sometimes resembled that of a child who appeared to have been sexually abused. I told them that this was likely since she had been sexually assaulted before she was placed and she hadn't received any therapy for this.

The nightmares she was having truly concerned me, and I wasn't sure if it was worth telling her workers about these or not. By now I knew they didn't want to hear anything I had to say about Mary, and I was afraid if I told them anymore, they might make things even worse for her. At the time, I didn't realize that the angrier they became with me, the worse they treated Mary, but I suspected it. And yet I knew I had to say something about the nightmares and the screaming and the other things the night staff in her cabin had observed and told me about and so I did. And as usual, only Mary's lawyer was concerned.

Mary's lawyer was always extremely careful to separate Mary's concerns from mine. But in most cases, what I thought was best for Mary and what Mary wanted were the same: getting therapy, getting tested, getting placed into the right group home, staying close to her home, and having a plan to reunite her with her family.

But even at Forest Ridge Mary was having the same problems she had had in previous placements, and I was afraid she was going to get kicked out of this place as well and so was she. She had virtually been through every group home in Minnesota, and had now moved on to Iowa. I had no idea where she would go next. 

It was looking more and more like her social workers saw my involvement as an invasion on their turf or as me trying to do their job for them. I addressed this issue with them more than once and they always said it wasn't the case. But I think it was. It not only looked like this to me but to others on the team as well — others who couldn't voice these concerns. I knew her workers were trying to limit my involvement with Mary, and it was starting to look as if it were more important to exclude me than to help her. I also knew that if any of this were true, I had an even bigger problem on my hands.


Anonymous said...

what were her visiting hours while she was there?

John Brosnan said...

I used to visit her at her school every other week around noon, and sometimes I would stay until school was out and then go back to the cottages and hang out with her there. The staff was very flexible about visiting times from what I remember.