Terrible Two

Renee Polreis and her adopted son had a miserable life together--until someone put an end to it.

Trenberth herself was taught how to parent the child. Part of the therapy involved "holding," in which a child is held down forcibly while a therapist incites the child to rage. According to proponents of the therapy, making the child acknowledge his or her rage is key to the healing process.

It took Trenberth's daughter two years to turn her life around. But Trenberth says it was worth it. She says her daughter, now in high school, is a loving, nurturing young woman.

But not everyone is as pleased with the treatment--or the diagnoses.
"One of the problems," says Elise Katch, a clinical social worker in Denver, "is that a lot of people say they are attachment specialists when they really don't have a clear idea of what they're doing. Attachment disorder is a catch-all, like attention deficit disorder, in that kids who do not relate well socially or who act out have a tendency to be diagnosed as having this."

Katch says that what therapists may refer to as symptoms of attachment disorder can instead be a natural response to trauma. "When kids act 'crazy,' what they are doing may be a normal reaction to an abnormal situation," she says. "If a kid is traumatized and doesn't act out, then there's going to be problems down the road, because they're sitting on their feelings."

In addition, Katch says, holding therapy may be precisely what a child in that position can't tolerate. Imagine, she says, a child that has been abused by an adult. How will that child react to being held down? In some cases, Katch says, holding therapy is downright cruel.

Tracy Kimsey, however, doesn't agree.
Her daughters had been taken from their natural mother when the eldest was three years old and the youngest just eighteen months. For the next five years they'd lived in a foster home--and a good one, Kimsey says.

"My oldest daughter," she says, "was a big pleaser. Miss Manipulation. She'd do anything to make us happy. That was the 'honeymoon' period. And then she let loose and began being noncompliant, rude, hateful, mean and lazy. She was pushing everyone away. Her best friend. Even her sister."

There was no honeymoon with the younger girl, Kimsey says. "She didn't like us from day one. She was determined not to put up with us. She'd go into fits where she wouldn't talk. And she'd make herself throw up."

The Kimseys practiced holding therapy with the girls, and a Greeley psychologist helped connect them with a support group for other parents whose children had been diagnosed with attachment disorder. Among other things, those group members take turns providing respite care. "Any time, day or night, you can drop the kids off when you need a break," Kimsey says. "And believe me, you need it bad. It gets depressing and frustrating. You cannot parent these children like you can other children. You can't be lenient. You can't give an inch. You can't let your guard down. Ever."

Despite their misgivings, however, less than two years after adopting the girls, the Kimseys adopted an eight-year-old boy who'd also exhibited problems with bonding.

Renee Polreis wanted another child, too. Says Tracy Kimsey, "She thought she was going to get a regular kid."

Late 1994 and 1995 was a stressful time for Renee Polreis, neighbor Carol Trejo would later tell police. The Polreises had recently moved into a large house in a nice subdivision and had changed churches in the process. Renee had experienced several deaths in her extended family, Trejo said. On top of that, a family friend was awaiting a liver transplant. And the couple's attempt to adopt a second child was not going well.

Renee confided to another friend, Cindy Wilkinson, about her frustration with the adoption agency and the problems she and her husband were experiencing in arranging a placement. Wilkinson put her in touch with Kathy Edick, a Colorado-based caseworker for Rainbow House International Adoptions. Edick then referred Renee to agency director Donna Clauss.

Through her contacts abroad, Clauss found a two-year-old Russian boy who was available for adoption. Staffers at the orphanage where the boy lived sent a video to the Polreises. The tape showed a blue-eyed, blonde-haired toddler romping with other children on a playground.

Renee and her husband were ecstatic about the prospect of adopting the boy. "Renee was so excited, she could hardly stand it," says Sandy Bright.

But at least one woman in Renee's circle was surprised by Renee's decision to adopt a Russian baby.

Renee, who attends St. Paul's Congregational Church in Greeley, is a very religious person, Kathy Brown told police after David's death, adding that Renee didn't like Russians because they are "atheists." She said too that Renee had dreaded going to Russia to pick up the child because she didn't want to set foot in a country filled with non-believers.

But the Polreises decided they wanted to go full speed ahead with the adoption anyway. In July 1995 Renee and her husband flew to Moscow, where they stayed with a host family. It was a three-hour drive from Moscow to the town where the orphanage was located and where their new son waited.

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