New Here and a Worried Mom

Mary C.

New Member
I'll do my best to make this as brief as possible.

My son has been in Treatment Foster Care since July 2015. Initially it was due to trauma from an ex-boyfriend and now it's shifted into being about his behaviors. Since he was about 4 he has been exhibiting what I figured were normal behaviors for a child but as he's aged, they've gotten worse. He is consistently lying, stealing, being harmful to cats and he has no remorse about it, if you ask him why he did it he will flat out tell you he doesn't know, he's damaged property. Textbook CD, right? From what I'm reading any ways. He was diagnosed with ADHD/ODD in 2012, he is very behind in school, he doesn't connect the dots between his behaviors and consequences. I've tried every 'normal' consequence that a parent typically goes to and none of them have worked.

Since he is still in the custody of CPS, they want to toss him into Residential Treatment Care. This absolutely terrifies me. He was scheduled to come home to me in June but if he goes into Residential Treatment Center (RTC), who knows when I'll get my child back? I am beyond scared right now and so many things are going through my mind.

Will he hate me?
Will he think I've abandoned him?
What if doing this ultimately doesn't work and he ends up in jail after all?

I was all set to have him come home to me because that's all I want, my family back together. I'll get to see him, have phone calls and such so it's not too different from what I'm dealing with now but the thought of him being in a facility at 9 years old makes me cringe! I view it as a prison, not a place to help. I think it's going to be all punishment, no rewards. And it's not like I'm being given a choice. He's in their custody, not mine and if I tell them I don't want him to go, they'll probably terminate my parental rights because that's what CPS does.

Heaven knows what this will do to my child's mentality. And if he gets bullied I swear I'll lose my mind more than I already have. I feel absolutely helpless.

This wasn't brief, I'm sorry.


pigless in VA

Well-Known Member
Welcome, Mary. I understand your fears and concerns. I know there are other parents here who have sent their children to RTCs. I'm hoping that they can give you some insight into how they work, so that you won't feel as anxious for your son. I believe if you look at it more as a strict boarding school than as a prison then you will feel calmer.

Just for clarification, was it your ex-boyfriend who perpetrated the trauma on your child? When I first read your post, I read it as if your son had an ex-boyfriend. I'm so sorry this happened.

What has your son's behavior been like at the Treatment Foster Care? Is he still displaying behaviors which fit Conduct Disorder? Is it possible that a structured environment like an Residential Treatment Center (RTC) may help him to understand his choices better? I work with children who have difficulty connecting the dots between their behaviors and consequences. There is a team of us being consistent with the kids, taking turns handling them when they are unruly and bad tempered, and still it is a wearing job. It's important for the kids, though, to learn how their choices affect their own lives. At age 9, your son still has time to make that connection.


member since 1999
Hi Mary, and welcome.

I've been thinking about your post all day, trying to get my thoughts in order. Please take what you can use in my comments, and ignore the rest, ok? ;)

I'm going to first direct you to a list of (click on the bluish print) questions to ask an Residential Treatment Center (RTC). It's a pretty old post, but I think still relevant. Some of it may not necessarily apply in your case since CPS is involved, but on the other hand I think they're still good questions to be asking CPS. I think it's important in every conversation you have with CPS and Residential Treatment Center (RTC) that you emphasize that the goal is family reunification, period. With appropriate supports in place for you and him and a solid discharge plan when the day comes for him to return home.

I intentionally remembered today for the first time in a very long time the horrible day when we took our son to his first Residential Treatment Center (RTC). He was also 9. I was beyond devastated and heartbroken and sick with worry and fear and afraid he would never forgive us and and and ... you know. But it was our last best hope. We'd been through multiple different school placements, multiple hospitalizations (I think we were at 15 by the time he left), therapists and psychiatrists and medications and diagnoses and everything we could think of, everything *anyone* could think of. We were still left with a kid who was defiant and oppositional to everyone on a good day, and a threat to our physical safety on his bad days.

I don't believe the decision to place a child in Residential Treatment Center (RTC) is ever made lightly - whether it be parents or CPS or the state making that decision. It is a choice of, in many ways, last resort. It's wicked expensive, extremely disruptive to the family, and I don't believe anyone involved in the care of a child would make that choice because it's "easy" or anything other than in the best interest of the child. Which I know is of absolutely no comfort to you right now. I'm really so very sorry.

Will he hate you? Maybe. Will he feel abandoned? Maybe. Could he still end up in jail? Maybe. On the other hand, you've already dealt with some pretty significant behaviors. You've got a kid who is not functioning well in school (and if I had to place a bet, I'd guess he's probably a pretty bright kid - there's something about school and authority and our challenging kids that simply do not mix). How many options do you have left for him at home, in terms of treatment, schooling, and in terms of support for you? I'm a little concerned that a therapeutic foster family has not been able to adequately address his needs. He may very well be a kid that needs the extreme structure of an Residential Treatment Center (RTC).

There are no guarantees. In anything, but especially not when it comes to challenging kids and mental health/illness and RTCs.

My son was in 3 RTCs over the course of 7 years (he spent a total of 6 weeks living with us between the age of 9 and 18 - he could maintain about 3 weeks before completely flipping out dangerously and having to be readmitted to hospital/new Residential Treatment Center (RTC)), followed by 2 years in a transitional living program (TLP) that was supposed to prepare him to function independently. Two of the RTCs were excellent - truly treatment centers. One was a snake pit that was shut down by the state shortly after I pulled my kid out. The TLP was worthless, but in hindsight, I think that was more due to the fact that my kid wanted to do what he wanted to do and if he didn't want to do it, forget it.

Was he cured? Nope. Did he get any benefit from Residential Treatment Center (RTC)? Yes, I think so. Residential Treatment Center (RTC) isn't home. The good ones do a decent job of nurturing as well as treating our kids, but it will never be home and they will never do things the way you would do them.

Long story short, my kid aged out and lived on the streets of Chicago for 2 years. We had minimal contact with him during that time (his choice). And then he started coming back home more often. Decided that being cold and hungry and high was kind of a miserable way to live. Slowly got his act together. He's 25 now, drug-free, an EMT, and an absolute delight. We talk about his childhood and the choices we had to make - he doesn't hate us, understands that we were left with no choice, and ... we have a very close relationship. I certainly never expected us to be in such a good place, but we are.

I truly understand your fear and feeling of helplessness. What I think you need to remember right now is that, in spite of your broken heart, you are still his very best advocate. You have some extra obstacles because of the involvement of CPS, but still.... you are the *best* person to keep what is best for *him* at the forefront. Keep in contact with the Residential Treatment Center (RTC) - our experience is that the families who were involved, who visited/called/participated in family therapy, they were the ones who had the least problems.

I think it's also important to emphasize to your son that his length of stay is entirely in his hands (assuming CPS is on board with that). Follow rules, participate in therapy, work the program.... that's what they're looking for.

I think it's ok for him to know you're sad that he's not home (my gosh, I cried oceans with every Residential Treatment Center (RTC) admission and probably most of his hospitalizations) - our kids can have a hard time seeing that their choices affect others, and I don't think 9 is too soon for him to understand that he has control over this situation and that it affects you too.

I think I covered everything that crossed my mind today. I hope I don't come across as stern or grumpy or know-it-all because, more than anything, I remembered today how awful it was to have to leave my kid at an Residential Treatment Center (RTC), and my heart aches for you. We do the very best we can do. You are doing the best you can for your son. I am so very very sorry.

Gentle hugs.


Well-Known Member
if I tell them I don't want him to go, they'll probably terminate my parental rights because that's what CPS does.
They cannot easily terminate parental rights, Mary.

I believe CPS would not choose to pay the money for a Residential Treatment Center (RTC) unless they felt such was indicated. I agree with SISH. I think a Residential Treatment Center (RTC) is the right place if it is what is what your son needs now. If he cannot be contained or reached in a therapeutic foster home, and the lower levels of care have been tried without positive effect, it may make sense.

I think what is hard for you right now, is that you may be feeling guilt. Because of his mistreatment at the hands of your ex, and because he has problems that he seems unable to overcome.

I have not met a mother on this board who does not deal with overwhelming guilt. All of us do. We blame ourselves for the suffering of our children and we feel, irrationally, that this self-attack, and our suffering, will somehow help them. We take the bullet for them, so that they can get better.

Let me tell you, Mary, it does not work.

There is no perfect mother, perfect parent. We do the best we can. We do the best we know at the time. When we know better, we do better. Just like you.

Right now is the time to be a realist and to quite probably accept that the Residential Treatment Center (RTC) might be the best place for him. The place where he is most likely to get the interventions that could help him down the line.

I am so sorry this is so hard. It has been hard for so many of us. I hope you stay and keep posting. It really helps. Take care. Forgive yourself, Mary:
We do the very best we can do.


member since 1999
Hi again Mary - knew I would forget something....

Your concern that Residential Treatment Center (RTC) will be like a prison, with punishment being the main motivator rather than rewards.... That was not our experience.

The #1 priority is always going to be safety - for your son, for the other kids, and for staff.

There will be a therapeutic treatment plan, with goals and strategies to help your son achieve those goals. There will be an IEP in school. School may be on site at the Residential Treatment Center (RTC), or may be in the community. We've seen both.

Every program my son was in, here at home or in RTCs, was very focused on positive reinforcement. Yes, there are consequences for breaking rules or misbehavior, but... you're talking about a facility for kids with issues so there seemed to me to be a bit more leeway in terms of ... I don't want to say tolerance for misbehavior, but certainly an understanding that the kids weren't just being "naughty". I hope that makes sense. You also have the added benefit in an Residential Treatment Center (RTC) of staff who have training on how to manage behaviors and who have the luxury of going home and getting a break, rather than being in the line of fire 24/7 like us parents are.

My kid seemed to not get the connection between action and consequence, but it turned out he just really didn't care. A negative reinforcement (loss of privilege) was just as rewarding to him as a reward, but the negative reinforcement had the added bonus of he got to do what he wanted to do in the first place. Losing a privilege wasn't much of a deterrent to him, so we really had to get creative with Residential Treatment Center (RTC) staff.

In addition to the facilities my son was in, I probably toured another half dozen. Some were very institutional - cinder block, dorm rooms, common area. Some were more homey, with cottages on the grounds of the Residential Treatment Center (RTC) for the kids to live in and then main buildings for school or meals. Some were spotless. Some were less so. Some had staff actively engaged with the kids during my visit, others had staff sitting off to the side. It varies. I think the most consistent quality I saw in every Residential Treatment Center (RTC) was supervision, 24/7. I would caution you against leaping to a judgement about an Residential Treatment Center (RTC) based on appearance only. Again, it's not home and it's simply just not going to feel like one, not ever. The really important part is the folks who work in the Residential Treatment Center (RTC). My son occasionally visits his first Residential Treatment Center (RTC), and there are still some of the same staff there. Those folks took a lot of abuse from my kid, a whole lot. The person he has become today has a whole lot to do with their hard work 15 years ago.

I also wanted to say that it was our experience when my son was 9 that he was *not* housed with or schooled with teens. That was a huge concern of mine at the time. I figured we had enough problems going on - we didn't need him learning new behaviors from older peers. I think that's a pretty well recognized issue in RTCs.

He was generally in an age appropriate group of peers, though in his final (and best) Residential Treatment Center (RTC) they actually did move him to a unit that was geared more towards kiddos with developmental disabilities. I supported that move because while he's incredibly bright, his behaviors were so extreme and his level of functioning was so low that he needed at least the same level of intervention/supervision as the kids with developmental disabilities, if not more.

The goal of Residential Treatment Center (RTC) is to get the kid to a point where he can function safely in his home community. That means working on the behaviors, teaching coping strategies, lots of structure initially with gradual relaxation as he makes progress. Yes, there has to be a consequence for negative behavior, but that really was not the primary focus of the programs.

Copa really hit the nail on the head with her comments about guilt. I think they must secretly hand new moms a sack of guilt with every newborn, challenging or not. ;) You did *not* cause this. You are *not* a bad parent. This is *not* your fault. It is what it is - and this could turn out to be an excellent opportunity for your son.

Hope you're hanging in there, hon.
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