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.

"One family, they mortgaged their home to send their sons," Federici continues. "They were there three weeks. A week after they got back, their sons torched the house. They'd spent every penny."

Parents, Federici says, are "desperate and looking for magical solutions." Sometimes they find what they're looking for on the Internet. Unfortunately, he adds, some of those Web sites and chat groups are peopled with "pseudo experts...and desperate parents who claim to be experts."

Members of the Attachment Disorder Support Group, a parent group with its own Web site, acknowledge concerns that the growth in attachment-oriented services may lead to misdiagnosis and extreme forms of treatment. They advise parents to choose a therapist with broad, extensive training, one who uses a variety of treatments, "beginning with the least intrusive." They also provide a list of attachment therapists in 35 states and Canada, as well as a direct link to the Attachment Center at Evergreen.

Psychiatrist Foster Cline has become an advocate for 
parents of children with attachment disorder.
Psychiatrist Foster Cline has become an advocate for parents of children with attachment disorder.

But there's a shortage of therapists who have been professionally trained to treat attachment disorders, says Gray. So in their struggle to find ways to deal with their children, some parents have been driven to seek unorthodox therapies and therapists in the hope that something will help. "Some of these fringe therapists can have cultlike followings," he says. "That feeds into parents' desperation. You have a child causing widespread havoc, and maybe you've heard of one fringe therapist who's maybe had success with a certain child, and maybe the parent has tried everything else, and they gravitate to the fringe.

"A lot of it is born out of parents' desperation. There's not too much worse that can happen in a family than having an untreated RAD child in the home."

But the death of ten-year-old Candace Newmaker in April this year went way beyond the "fringe."

At age six, Candace had been adopted by a North Carolina woman, Jeane Newmaker. Four years later, Candace still wouldn't allow Newmaker to hold her.

Newmaker had tried traditional therapy for her daughter, but it hadn't seemed to work. After listening to a speaker at a conference on attachment disorder, Newmaker decided to take her daughter to Evergreen. She went to see Connell Watkins, Cline's old associate, and paid $7,000 for a two-week therapeutic "intensive."

Candace was in her fifth day of therapy when she was made to undergo "rebirthing therapy." She was wrapped in blankets and surrounded by pillows. As she lay swaddled there, several adults pushed on the pillows, simulating a mother's contractions.

Candace was supposed to wiggle out of the covers and be "reborn" to her adopted mother. Instead, she complained that she couldn't breathe. She said she was going to throw up. She said she was dying. The therapists, inured to complaints, were unmoved by her pleas. When they finally opened the blanket, thirty minutes after Candace last spoke, she wasn't breathing. She had choked on her own vomit.

Candace was rushed to Children's Hospital, where she died the following day. Watkins and three of her associates at Watkins & Associates have been charged with reckless child abuse resulting in death; Newmaker has been charged with a lesser count of child abuse.

After Candace's death, but before those charges were filed, Cline referred to Watkins as "courageous," praising her because she was "willing to try non-traditional treatments."

Now, however, he says he must remain silent.

Federici has no such qualms. He says he might even work with the prosecution on the Watkins case.

"It's safe to say what those people were doing wasn't any recognized form of psychotherapy," he says. "It was total garbage. What they practiced absolutely was unrelated to any psychological theory or proven treatment modality. It was grossly unprofessional. And anybody who supports that type of therapy is completely out to lunch themselves."

Although Watkins does have her supporters, including RAD kids and their parents, other therapists, particularly those in Evergreen, quickly distanced themselves from her clinic and her techniques.

At the Attachment Center at Evergreen, where Watkins once served as executive director, representatives make a point of explaining that they do not use rebirthing therapy or "any other therapy that puts children at risk of harm," says Paula Pickle, a licensed clinical social worker who's the current executive director.

"The problem I've had with [Watkins] is that [for her], the ends justify the means," Attachment Center clinical director Forrest Lein told a North Carolina reporter.

The Attachment Center at Evergreen continues to host annual attachment and bonding conferences featuring speakers from across the country and Canada. The next conference, slated for July 29, is titled, "Adoption Issues and Attachment Disordered Kids." Topics to be discussed include pre-psychotic conditions in youth, neurological evaluations on foster/ adoptive children, and how attachment disorder impacts families.

Federici won't be there. He also says he plans to boycott the 12th International Conference on Attachment and Bonding, set for October in Minneapolis, because "most of the keynote speakers are from Evergreen."

Although the deaths of both Candace Newmaker and Berta Evers received a lot of attention, the coverage hasn't come close to matching that given the death of David Polreis.

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