Suffer the Children

Three kids with attachment disorder have died in Colorado -- but according to Foster Cline, their parents and therapists are the ones most in need of help.

A representative of the district attorney's office, who says the case haunts her still, says the Everses "selectively abused" Berta. Their supporters simply don't understand the truth, she adds.

The judge ultimately sentenced Dennis and Sandy to jail time -- 180 days for Dennis, 90 for Sandy, and staggered them so that one parent could remain at home with the children at all times -- as well as six years' probation.

Although the Everses have now served their time, they still plan to appeal their convictions.

The extended Evers family, including birth and 
adopted children. The late Berta is seated on Dennis's 
lap (right).
The extended Evers family, including birth and adopted children. The late Berta is seated on Dennis's lap (right).
The extended Evers family, including birth and 
adopted children. The late Berta is seated on Dennis's 
lap (right).
The extended Evers family, including birth and adopted children. The late Berta is seated on Dennis's lap (right).

For Dennis, the appeal is a matter of honor. The trial was handled as if they had been raising a "normal kid," Dennis says. The legal system "distorted and twisted" the way he and his wife dealt with Berta because officials were ignorant about attachment disorder and how to manage children who have it.

"Unless you've raised an attachment-disordered child, you can't understand it," Dennis says. "It's that simple. We have tried to salvage what other people have damaged. And to have them try to destroy your family over it, it's a nightmare."

While in jail, Dennis Evers read a copy of one of Foster Cline's books on attachment disorder. Since his release, he's teamed up with Cline to provide information and resources to parents of RAD kids who find themselves in legal trouble.

"Had I met Cline before [the trial], I probably wouldn't have gone to jail," Dennis says. "If somebody gets in trouble, we want to make sure that people know the facts and that these kids exist."


Foster Cline became an expert in attachment disorder "by default," he says.

In 1971, Cline founded Evergreen Consultants in Human Behavior, where he worked as a psychiatric consultant and treated severely disturbed children. Many of these children had been abused or neglected in infancy and subsequently had extreme difficulty bonding with others. They had myriad symptoms in common, including learning and speech disorders, a lack of conscience, destructiveness, defiance and anger.

According to Cline, the children learned as babies that they could not count on anyone else to see to their needs. They grew into controlling, oppositional creatures. And because they had been neglected and/or abused, many were taken from their biological parents and placed in foster care or put up for adoption. The child's inability to accept love and direction then manifested itself in the new family setting.

Today there is general agreement across the phalanx of medical fields as to what causes the disorder. Behavioral research has shown that a lack of nurturing, the absence of appropriate stimulation and disregard for a child's basic emotional needs lead to abnormal development in terms of intelligence, motor coordination, behavior and language. Physiological studies indicate that early stimulation guides the processes in which a baby's brain develops.

For some of these children, the abnormal brain development has been further hampered by prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol.

Cline's breakthrough as an attachment therapist came after the Evergreen center invited Robert Zaslow, a California psychologist, to discuss his success in treating autistic children. Zaslow brought with him movies that showed the changes the children exhibited in their ability to relate to caretakers.

"I saw before my eyes massive changes taking place," Cline says. "They were obvious, tremendous changes. It was most remarkable."

But Cline says he was "horrified" at the way Zaslow achieved those results.

Using something he dubbed "Z therapy," Zaslow was controlling and confrontational with the children. He restrained them and provoked them to rage.

"I said, 'I know what you're doing to these kids -- you're brainwashing them,'" Cline recalls. "And he looked at me and he put his arm around me and he said, 'Foster, these kids' brains need to be washed.' And it's true that their thinking was massively cleaner when he was finished."

Cline wrestled with the idea of using Z therapy, he says, considering whether the end justified the means. He concluded that in some cases, it did. And so he began using on his more difficult patients a modified version of Z therapy, which he called "holding" or "rage-reduction" therapy.

"After Zaslow came, a number of us [at the center] were successful with very difficult kids," Cline says. "The therapy itself was not enjoyable. But you get into these self-selective things. The more successful you are with difficult kids, the more are piled up on you."

Although he would have preferred to focus on family therapy, Cline says he was inundated by parents seeking help for their RAD children. And then therapists from around the country began coming to Evergreen to train. At least two states -- Virginia and North Carolina -- sent social workers to learn more about attachment disorder.

Cline began lecturing around the country, teaching his methods to other therapists. Eventually, the people he taught began to teach others. And Evergreen became the center -- some say a lightning rod -- for attachment issues.

"Doing attachment therapy has some massive disadvantages," Cline says. "As a therapist, you're almost bound to be misunderstood, and your professional peers look askance at you. It's not an easy type of therapy. The only reason to do it is because things work out so well in very many cases."

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