Monday, September 8, 2014
More Mistakes About RAD: Time to Mow the Hay at Miracle Meadows
The Miracle Meadows School in Salem, West Virginia, has made the local news a good deal recently. The commitment of the school to an unconventional view of Reactive Attachment Disorder and its treatment-- a view that has been associated with child injury and even death—means that this situation should receive much broader attention from parents and child maltreatment experts.
On Aug. 19, 2014, Miracle Meadows had its school exemption status revoked (www.wboy.com/story/26349774/miracle-meadows-school-employees-to-face-additional-charges). The exemption in question is one that frees religious schools from many of the requirements for public and independent schools (Miracle Meadows is a Seventh Day Adventist School). One of the reasons for revocation was that a staff member apparently used a chokehold until a child lost consciousness. This event was followed by the arrest of a major figure in the school for child neglect and abuse (www.wvmetronews.com/2014/08/22/founder-of-miracle-meadows-school-arrested-on-charges-involving-child-neglect-and-abuse/). The school responded with denial and a press release stating plans for a lawsuit against the state agency (www.wdtv.com/content/files/Press%20Release%2082514.pdf).
What is the real story here?
I first came across Miracle Meadows in 2010 when I was asked to testify in a case involving an adopted Russian girl living in a southern state. “Marjorie”, as I’ll call her, had been adopted along with a sibling from a Russian orphanage. The adoptive parents had wanted only the sibling, but under pressure agreed to take “Marjorie” as well. However, on getting home, it appeared that they did not like “Marjorie” very much, whereas they were very pleased with the sibling. They put “Marjorie” into holding therapy with a pair of local licensed professional counselors who had been trained by the state some years previously to do this alternative therapy. Feeling no more pleased with “Marjorie” than they had before the treatment, the adoptive parents sent her several times for “respite care” with licensed foster parents. This did not do the trick either, so the adoptive parents decided they did not want her any more. The foster parents agreed that they would take her, and the counselors broke the news to “Marjorie”, who apparently did not even have a farewell meeting with the people who had brought her from Russia. How the legal steps that should have been part of this “re-homing” occurred seems to be unclear.
The foster parents were also committed to the alternative view of Reactive Attachment Disorder, as advocated by Nancy Thomas and Foster Cline, but not by any conventionally-trained practitioner using evidence-based methods. After some time with the foster parents, “Marjorie” ran away, but was found and brought back by a sheriff’s deputy. When she ran away a second time, the deputy made an excuse to come into the house, where he saw evidence of unusual treatment like an alarm on the bedroom door and little furniture in the room (I don’t know whether the deputy actually knew this, but these items would be congruent with Nancy Thomas’s advice.) An investigation followed, and in the midst of it, the foster parents sent “Marjorie” out of state to Miracle Meadows School.
Let’s have a look at this school and its history. In 2000, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources brought a suit against William and Gayle Clarke and Miracle Meadows School, asking that the Clarkes turn over medical an school records of students enrolled at Miracle Meadows, in connection with an ongoing investigation of allegations of abuse and neglect, and that students and staff be made available for interviews in connection with the investigation. The investigation had begun with two girls running away, complaining of sexual abuse, and later recanting after having been returned to the school, then stating that they were afraid to remain at the school. Further investigation led to statements by DHHR that one boy had been forced to spend the night in a 5 X 5 secured room with a space heater, and that another had been beaten with a board.
The circuit court denied the DHHR suit on the grounds that requiring the Clarkes to hand over records would violate their constitutional rights against self-incrimination. The appeals court affirmed this (www.courtswv.gov/supreme-court/docs/fall2000/27915.htm).
It appears, however, that the school administration in its own statements has incriminated itself, not necessarily of beating children with boards, but of its commitment to non-evidence-based, alternative beliefs about Reactive Attachment Disorder and methods of treating behavior problems in children and adolescents.
For example, the school web site lists the same notional symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder , like fascination with blood and gore and lack of eye contact “on parents’ terms”, as are stated by Nancy Thomas and other proponents of holding therapy (www.miraclemeadows.org/#!untitled/c1hax). This list of symptoms is in no way congruent with the criteria for diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder given in DSM-5 or any earlier DSM edition. The school application form provides a similar checklist (www.media.wix.com/ugd/b07d53_d482b005fd8ca609991e8c059aed0fad.pdf ).
The school has also presented a statement (www.media.wix.com/ugd/b07d53_599f36a47eb64f74ac6b09fbd4d6424a.pdf ) giving inaccurate material about RAD, claiming the usefulness of the alternative psychotherapy qEEG, and referencing training on RAD done in the state where “Marjorie” lived. The statement is signed by two licensed professional counselors who were certainly working outside their appropriate scope of practice if they claimed to be able to diagnose and treat this disorder . One of the signers had been involved in the case of “Marjorie”.
The school had posted a statement about Reactive Attachment Disorder by its division CARE, the Center for Attachment Resources and Enrichment (www.miraclemeadows.org/#!CARE-Releases-Statement-About-RAD/c4sd/F1882D98_74AA-4AE6-BEB9-E39ED2F32CB3 ), but although the link to this statement worked several days ago, it does not work for me today.
In addition, several Internet sites address the involvement of Miracle Meadows with alternative views of Reactive Attachment Disorder. www.gofundme.com/8xs8fg says Miracle Meadows specializes in RAD, but this parent apparently found the financial and other demands of the school excessive. www.3abn.com/Series/CLR/CLR000099A.html provides a transcript of radio program referring to the made-for-TV Nancy Thomas movie “Child of Rage”, which has done so much to spread misinformation about attachment disorders. Finally, of particular interest is www.archives.adventistreview.org/article/6088/archives/issue-2013-1506/alternative-adventist-education , which states that Miracle Meadows staff were undergoing “training in RAD” in 2013 but fails to give the identity or the qualifications of the trainers.
The application form for Miracle Meadows (www.media.wix.com/ugd/b07d53_d482b005fd8ca609991e8c059aed0fad.pdf ) asks parents to agree that they understand the “activities” associated with the school and to authorize these activities, stating that “I am aware of the risks involved in such activities”. Parents must also agree with other rules, for example that “… parents are never to discuss leaving MMS with their students without prior permission from MMS administration. Doing so is grounds for immediate dismissal of the student.” “…students are dismissed if parents do not pay tuition and/or are involved in unresolvable loss of trust with the school which impacts the students.” This highly authoritarian position is congruent with the authoritarian ideology of Cline and Thomas, as exemplified with Cline’s statement years ago that “all bonding is trauma bonding.”
Practitioners of dangerous alternative therapies are rarely or never accused of criminal activity until children are injured or killed. The law prohibits child neglect and abuse, but only in a few cases has it named specific treatments as forbidden. Some states have now passed laws against “conversion therapy” as a way to change sexual orientation, and it would be a real step forward if that legislation could be expanded to include other potentially harmful treatments that are abusive of children. New laws should focus particularly on residential treatment centers and boarding schools where children may essentially be prisoners, without protection of any kind against ill-advised or overtly sadistic staff members.
The Miracle Meadows lawsuit against West Virginia DHHR should be met with vigorous investigation of practices in the school, and would be an ideal foundation for legislation that would prohibit holding therapy and related methods. It’s very disturbing to me that as a society we fret about spanking with the open hand, while we have not yet come to terms with the existence of barbaric practices like those that seem to have prevailed at Miracle Meadows.