Life for a Child in Residential Treatment Center

Our oldest daughter is in her 3rd residential treatment center.  The first two could not help her.  She’s finally making progress at the one she’s in now.  Unfortunately it’s on the other side of the country but her needs must come first.  She must be in residential treatment because she is not safe to herself or others (those close to us know details and how this is the only option but I won’t go into details here).  So many people have asked us about this.  The most common question is, “does she miss you?” The answer is yes and no.  She misses us but she is NOT attached to us.  She has Reactive Attachment Disorder- so severe because she developed NO attachments in her first two years of life in the orphanage.  

What is life like in an RTC?

They are all different as there are many and they treat different populations and disabilities.  The one our oldest daughter is in is more like a very nice boarding school.  They specialize in treating children with traumatic backgrounds (like an orphanage).  For those of you who are local, think private schools like Baylor or McCallie.  Except much more expensive.  There are about 20 residents.  The building they live in is a castle.  She has a roommate and they have bunk beds.  The walls in her room are painted pink and she has a toy chest.  She has photos of her family on the wall.  Downstairs they have a family style dining table where they have “family style” meals.  They have a fireplace and all of the children have photos on the mantle.  They have a swimming pool, basketball goal, soccer field, a yurt, bikes, skates, playgrounds, sleds, outdoor covered gym, six horses with an indoor riding arena, two llamas, etc.  It’s in a beautiful place on a mountain and across the street from a river.  There are some very cool covered bridges nearby.  It’s in the country where they have fresh air and plenty of space to play.  They have a separate school building and she has a teacher with the educational and specialized training she needs to help children from traumatic backgrounds.  The student teacher ratio is very low.  She’s made more academic progress this year than all other years combined.  She has a psychiatrist in addition to her neuropsychologist (on our side of the country).  There are multiple therapists as well.  We really like her therapist (an alumna of Cornell and Northwestern), who sees her almost daily but one-on-one weekly or as needed.  Her therapist is with her when we Skype.  This RTC is nothing like the other two she was in.  She has a one-on-one staff member who takes her into the community for lunch and other activities.  They go on field trips based on how they are doing.  She loved the camping trip!

As I said, she’s on the other side of the country.  We visit quarterly and stay on campus while we’re there.  We Skype weekly.  We have scheduled phone calls three times each week but we can call anytime.  We email letters and photos.  We mail her packages.  We are also in constant communication with her therapist by phone, email, skype, and text.  We have a full team meeting monthly to discuss her progress and needs.  This is also unlike the previous RTCs.  

We miss her more than anyone can imagine.  There are multiple photos of her in almost every room in our home.  As parents, we know she’s in the best place but we also worry.  We wish we could meet her needs in our home but every facility so far (except this one) has said she’s currently too acute for their facility- obviously going home and into the community is not an option right now.

A distant relative asked if we’d had her declared incompetent.  She’s a 10 year old child- not an adult.  We’re seeking help for her just as any parent seeks help for their child whether they have cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, diabetes, or even cancer.  There’s just more stigma attached to mental health.  There shouldn’t be!  The same relative said we’ve put her in an “institution.”  An “institution” is a noun with two definitions:

  1. a society or organization founded for a religious, educational, social, or similar purpose. “a certificate from a professional institution” synonyms: establishment, organization, institute, foundation, center
  2. an established law, practice, or custom. “the institution of marriage”synonyms: practice, custom, convention, tradition, habit; phenomenon, fact; system, policy; idea, notion, concept, principle “institution of marriage”

So yes, it is an institution but there’s to be no negative connotation associated with it.  I hold degrees from both the University of Alabama and Freed-Hardeman University.  They are also types of institutions.  This particular relative may be thinking of an asylum from another time period?  Maybe?  Obviously, our daughter is not in a insane asylum.

Our daughter loves horses, playing basketball (or any sport), singing (she has a beautiful voice), drawing, learning, being outside, and playing.  Her favorite colors (right now) are black, green, and yellow.  She loves to eat pickles.  She’s a fan of the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Oregon Ducks.  She loves to go to water parks.  She likes camping.  She loves for me to curl her hair, paint her nails, and put makeup on her (just a little blush and lipgloss).  Our daughter is a person.  She’s special, she’s sweet, and she’s deserving of the very best.

We’re a family.  We’re a Mom (37) and a Dad (41) to three beautiful girls (10, 5 and 1), each special and unique.  I’m the stepmom to twin boys (17).  My husband works full time as an Engineer and I retired early from my career at TVA as a Project Manager to advocate for our oldest daughter full time and care for our youngest daughters.  We’re Christians.  We love to do activities with our children.  We enjoy reading and traveling.  We like snuggling on the couch watching 7th Heaven together as a family (when our youngest let’s us take a break from Sesame Street!).  We celebrated our 10th anniversary a couple of months ago.  We’re just a family learning as we go, trying to do what is best for our children, and sometimes taking it a day at a time.  We aren’t that different from you.  We simply have a child needing specialized treatment right now.

Amanda Alexander, M.B.A.

Founder and Special Needs Advocate

Adoptive Parents Persevering (APPS)


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