You may never have heard of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) before, but it’s nothing less than a crisis within the adoptive and fostering communities. RAD is a little known, mental health disorder that can develop when a child experiences early childhood trauma like abuse and neglect. That’s why, even though it’s rare in the general public, it’s far more common among people who have spent time in the foster care system or who have been adopted.
Children with RAD do not know how to form healthy attachments with adults and may deliberately push others away. RAD, like autism, is a spectrum disorder. Children on the more severe end of the spectrum may be physically aggressive and have violent outbursts, weaponize their bodily fluids, and fly into rages.
Unfortunately, there are no quick and easy fixes for RAD and hen caregivers reach out for help they quickly discover that “the system” has no solutions. USAToday’s ground breaking 2022 study on Broken Adoptions found this is one of the underlying causes of thousands of disrupted adoptions every year. Left untreated, RAD goes on to have serious lifelong impacts including higher rates of mental illness, incarceration, and homelessness.
“Kids with a history of complex trauma only know how to love from their hurts, not their hearts. This is why love alone is not enough to heal our children.”
— Keri Williams
The child with RAD is not the only victim of the disorder. The suffering of siblings in the home is far too often overlooked. Moms become the victims of Child-on-Parent Violence (CPV) and may develop PTSD. Marriages don’t survive.
Too often, when we talk about complex mental health issues we focus on the need to expand access. What we’re not talking about is what treatments are available once we have that access. There are very few, if any, evidenced based treatments for RAD.
RAD is too big for parents alone to handle. Yet, foster and adoptive parents are not being proactively trained and prepared for trauma parenting. They aren’t being supported by their communities, by the child welfare system, mental health system, schools, and even by family and friends. To keep families together, this has to change.