Unsustainable

Flat Tire - Unsustainable

A quick refresher in case you haven’t been following along – we suddenly became full-time carers with David – a 12 year old boy (fictional names used) in our care. About 4-5 months into the placement we had seen a lot of improvement in overall health (better eating, weight gain and growth for his age) and had committed to caring for David long-term. However life wasn’t easy and we were dealing with some pretty severe transference and anger issues in day to day life which were continuing to escalate. When I started writing here I committed to share my experiences both good and bad for the benefit of carers and potential carers alike, and this post definitely falls into the bad category. But in amongst the difficult situations we must learn lessons on how to handle them as best as possible and make the most out of them.

Around the time we committed as full-time carers with David we were already seeing a lot of anxieties and behaviours. Although we had no illusions that behaviours would get worse before they got better, we were hopeful that providing a stable placement would help to remove present anxieties about where he would be living after the current short-term placement arrangement. While these placement anxieties did actually quickly subside in the weeks following, unfortunately they gave way to transference and anger issues. Despite the anger issues being challenging they didn’t deter us too much initially, the first time he trashed his room was only a few days before we made the decision about long-term and only increased our resolve that he needed a stable placement to have hope at improving. We had already invested a lot in David and despite the issues we had a lot of support and hope that things would turn around it would just take time and persistence.

Unfortunately things continued to escalate and it got very difficult. Almost every night dissolved into serious anger outbursts where all our energy was spent on minimising any harm or damage, which led to exhaustion and a difficult day at school, to a difficult afternoon and the cycle would repeat. At night we would be documenting behaviours to later brainstorm with our care team on tweaking strategies to try and grasp at whatever improvement to the situation we could achieve to get things more manageable.

“Unfortunately things continued to escalate and it got very difficult … almost every night dissolved into serious anger outbursts where all our energy was spent on minimising any harm or damage”

However what was making things really difficult was the transference was escalating and it was becoming more the normal then the exception. He was projecting past female mother figures (for which he had major issues with) on to my wife. She received no respect, was the target of verbal and physical abuse and he would refuse to eat any food prepared by her. It quickly got to the point where it was unsafe for my wife to be at home alone with him, or to be alone in a car with him. Emotions aside, this made things logistically difficult (as we both work full-time). I needed to do the full morning routine by myself, and the easiest way to get through an evening was for my wife to lock herself in the bedroom until after bed time. Sometimes this helped, sometimes the transference and anger was just directed at me and it made no difference.

We had never been so emotionally drained and exhausted in our lives. We had great professional support and were surprising ourselves at how we managed to stay calm and work through the anger outbursts but it didn’t seem to help. However putting aside whatever we were going through it was breaking our hearts to see what David was going through. He was struggling to regulate, almost constantly heightened and fearful, and emotionally and physically exhausted much of the time. In between the challenging times we could sometimes have a meaningful conversation about things, we tried to make the most of opportunities. It would always come out that in his mind he knew he was safe here, but his brain would not let him feel safe and these are the thoughts he would struggle with (and lead to a lot of the transference).

“putting aside whatever we were going through it was breaking our hearts to see what David was going through … in his mind he knew he was safe here, but his brain would not let him feel safe”

We feared alternatives for David and how easily it would be to place such a challenging 12 year old boy if we could not continue to care for him (given nothing had come up in the months of looking when the arrangement was supposed to be an emergency placement). However things were becoming unsustainable. My wife was living like a prisoner in her own home. David was living in constant fear despite being in a safe environment. My wife was a constant trigger to him no matter what she did. And I was exhausted trying to ensure my wife was safe and take care of David’s day to day needs. We really wanted to continue trying to work through things but the reality was it just wasn’t sustainable and there was nothing we could do. I think when the psychiatrist in our care team was concerned for my wife’s safety and said the placement shouldn’t continue was the moment I finally faced up to facts that things couldn’t continue.

“My wife was living like a prisoner in her own home. David was living in constant fear despite being in a safe environment. My wife was a constant trigger to him no matter what she did. And I was exhausted trying to ensure my wife was safe and take care of David’s day to day needs. We really wanted to continue trying to work through things but the reality was it just wasn’t sustainable”

It was heartbreaking, despite everything we still loved him so damn much. I loved him as my own son. I felt so guilty – like we were giving up on him just like others before him. I searched for more we could be doing, but we were trying everything. I was hurting that my wife was feeling physically unsafe at home and struggling with that. In amongst all this the daily routine of relentless verbal abuse and violent outbursts continued. It was hard.

I think it took a couple of days but eventually I changed my thinking from ‘does this really have to happen and is there anything we can do to stop it’ to ‘okay this is unsustainable, what now?’. We were not willing to wash our hands of the situation quickly and easily but rather accepting the placement breakdown we wanted to everything in our power to make any transition as smooth as possible. We worked closely with our agency to settle on a timeframe to try to maximise the time to find a suitable placement. We continued to document behaviours for the care team as much as possible to help them with working with him in the future. We ensured all mandatory appointments were taken care of and medications were up to date to minimise any burden on the next placement. We worked closely with our agency on how a transition could take place in the best interest of David, from how to inform him to how to handle it. We were also very willing to maintain contact with David as appropriate working through the care team as despite the issues there was a lot of attachment.

“We were not willing to wash our hands of the situation quickly and easily but rather accepting the placement breakdown we wanted to everything in our power to make any transition as smooth as possible”

It was a tough and difficult time, but it was important to us to do everything in our power to minimise the impact on David and make the transition as smooth as possible. Read the follow-up post on transition planning and I’ll be writing another post soon to update on how the transition itself worked out.

 

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Image: iStockPhoto

Comments

  1. Your dedication to David is commendable. I understand how easily one could fail to assess the situation while busy trying making things better. Sometimes outside input can help you get a more accurate grasp of reality. The risk is that we isolate ourselves to spare others from our family troubles. It’s great that this help came from your care team, that’s why we need one. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • A Foster Dad says:

      What you say is very true, we were very thankful for an amazing care team and although I haven’t shared yet there were still positives through this that I don’t think could have happened without such an amazing care team that were very supportive of us. Thanks for your comments, it’s a difficult story to share but by getting these stories out there it might help to provide consolation to others who have faced similar situations and open up discussion and reflect on experiences to find ways where things can be done better.

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