- They insisted on adopting the girls in spite of recommendations by the foster parents and others against placing the girls in a home with three boys.
- Although they stated their concerns about attachment disorders in the girls, and therefore presumably wanted the girls to form emotional attachments to them, neither of the Harrises appears to have spent much time with the girls. According to their babysitter’s testimony, the girls attended the Harris-owned day care center 5 days a week and had a teenage babysitter for the rest of the afternoon after they came home.
- Rather than seeking help from a knowledgeable, licensed clinical psychologist or psychiatrist, the Harrises called in exorcists and used the treatments recommended by the erstwhile dog-trainer Nancy Thomas. They apparently believed that the girls could communicate with each other telepathically, against all scientific evidence.
- Given their intention of “rehoming” secretly, the Harrises could have had an assessment of the proposed home done privately, to make sure that their judgment of the appropriateness of the parents was correct; they did not, but relied entirely on their own judgment, beliefs, and personal relationships.
- They encouraged their sons to be afraid of the girls, as shown by Justin Harris’s report that the boys came to sleep with him, and thus communicated to the girls that there was something very wrong with them.
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Attachment and Trauma Network Defends the Harrises
When anybody gets caught harming children by applying attachment therapy and parenting as proposed by Nancy Thomas, you can bet the Internet wagons will be circled quickly. This was apparent after Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder were convicted in the “rebirthing” death of Candace Newmaker in 2001. The practitioners’ supporters got on line to claim that the 10-year-old had died on purpose in order to cause trouble for the hated adults.
Now, with the latest concerns about the actions of the Arkansas legislator and his wife toward their [briefly] adopted daughters, culminating in “rehoming” and the rape of one young girl, we are beginning to see the same kind of thing. I give you for example http://blog.attachmenttraumanetwork.org/representative-harris-rehoming-controversy/ . This post begins with the mistaken claim that instead of squashing a guinea pig, a three-year-old killed the family cat-- an animal that would take a lot more work to kill than a guinea pig, and would bite and scratch effectively if hurt. (Next week: a German shepherd puppy? That’s the animal that Nancy Thomas most often claims children have killed.)
This little “mistake”, of course, escalates the whole situation and fleshes out this effort to point to the girls as well as the bureaucracy, rather than the Harrises, as the true villains. Incidentally, the former foster parents of the girls denied any such disturbing behavior, but of course a typical explanation of attachment therapy advocates would be that this simply shows how cruel and cunning they were, and how they fooled the naïve foster parents, to have their true natures appear only when the adoptive parents were in range. The ATN blog thus calls the one girl “extremely troubled” in spite of evidence against this assessment. Interestingly, the blog post is unsigned, and the site only says that posts are written by a core of volunteers.
The ATN blog, having set the stage, now takes advantage of the story not to express sympathy with the little girls, but to pity the Harrises, and to propose administrative changes to prevent such problems. They state two problems that I too strongly agree need correction. One is the use of threats of abandonment charges when adoptive families feel overwhelmed and want to back out; I have certainly heard of such threats being used, and if they were used with the Harrises I consider that regrettable (especially as it has provided a nice red herring to distract from other issues.) The other problem is the requirement that parents relinquish parental rights in order to get state support for mental health care for their children. This is a fight that has been going on for some years and has been supported by the Bazelon Center among others. However, it is not at all clear to me what this has to do with the Harrises’ situation, unless there was some fear that relinquishment would be treated as abandonment and other children in the home would also be taken as a consequence. State laws differ on this point.
The ATN piece goes on to say that there should be uniform provision of Medicaid-paid services for children, including mental health services, and that these should “go with” the child who is placed in a different state. That’s all as may be. May the issue not actually be the wish that Medicaid would pay for the types of services the Harrises used-- attachment therapy methods of various kinds? Members of ATN, like its founder Nancy Spoolstra, are themselves proponents or practitioners of these methods. The methods are “alternative psychotherapies”, implausible, without an evidentiary foundation, and potentially harmful. Medicaid does not pay for such treatments unless practitioners bill dishonestly and give specious descriptions of their services. And Medicaid should not pay for mental health services that are not supported by strong evidence of effectiveness.
ATN has done its collective best to distract attention from the Harrises and to focus it on the claimed disturbed behavior of the girls, and the failure of the bureaucracy to support the Harrises. Let me bring back the focus to what the Harrises actually did to create the situation that led to a range of genuinely traumatic experiences for the little girls.
No one could reasonably contend that children from the background the girls had would be emotionally and behaviorally the easiest to care for. Neither can anyone deny that the bureaucracy surrounding adoption is often inconsistent, prejudiced, hostile to parents, and downright Kafkaesque. But those facts do not outweigh the reality that the Harrises insisted on having their own way, for their own reasons, and made a series of decisions contrary to what any well-educated mental health professional would have told them. They knew they were right because they knew they were right. The girls have paid and continue to pay the price for this, but that seems to be the least of the problems as far as the Harrises and the Attachment and Trauma Network are concerned.