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.

The Ciambrones' landlord testified that he'd seen Lucas slam his head on a metal frame door and a concrete floor, that he once saw the boy run head-first into an oak tree, and that on one occasion he saw the boy reach up, grab his ears and start pulling. (Autopsy results showed that the boy's ears had been nearly torn from his head.)

After Ciambrone was convicted in Lucas's death, an old friend of his contacted Cline and asked for help. Cline reviewed the case and in May wrote a 25-page affidavit in support of a motion for retrial.

"It is clear that what happened to Lucas Ciambrone is not acceptable," Cline wrote, "but it is understandable. Joe Ciambrone may not be completely guiltless, but he is not completely guilty. This is not the case of a bad man committing a crime, but of a good and compassionate man losing his compassion in a horror akin to that experienced by Patty Hearst. He lived in a situation with the same psychic pressures as those experienced in a concentration camp or cult."

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.

Lucas's death, Cline continued, was "certainly not a crime of criminal intent which is the basis for 'murder in commission of a felony.' Indeed, all the evidence points to just the opposite. The parents' intent was to get help for their impossible child while protecting the family."

Yet the Ciambrones did not relinquish Lucas, because they'd been told that if they wanted his sibling -- who was far less disturbed -- they'd have to adopt Lucas, too, Cline says. So they were afraid that if they gave up Lucas, they would lose the other boy as well.

The parents grew physically and emotionally exhausted and became adjusted to "an increasingly abnormal situation," Cline wrote.

"No juror, unless he or she actually had ever lived with a seriously disturbed child, can fully appreciate the agony, pain, hopelessness and rage that such an existence engenders," he said in his affidavit. "Although it may appear callused and politically incorrect to say it, life for foster or adoptive parents living with such a child is akin to living life with an out-of-control Doberman. However, it is abusive to cage it; it can't be put on a leash, it can't be given away...What's worse, the adoptive or foster parents who are in no way responsible for the genesis of the child's behavior, which is based on infantile abuse and neglect, are inevitably blamed for the child's behavior."

Perhaps, Cline says, some RAD children "are honest-to-God unreachable" and shouldn't be placed with families.

But since group homes are scarce and exceedingly expensive, these days social workers are pushed to adopt out damaged children, he says. "When they talk about permanency placement, they're not talking about possible placement in a group home," Cline explains. "They're talking about adoption."

And if that adoption doesn't work, "it's beyond the means of most adoptive parents to get any kind of placement for their child in most cases," Cline continues. "And it's my understanding that it's nigh near impossible to relinquish them. Perhaps you tell social services you want to relinquish your child. They will say, 'Let us find you a therapist instead.' They don't know where to put the child, social services doesn't want to pay for that, and foster care is hard to come by."

"I routinely see families brought to the absolute bottom of existence, and their kids bring out their most primitive emotions and behavior," says psychologist Keck. "That's one of the most horrifying things for adoptive families. They want to help a kid, and they end up finding themselves completely overwhelmed with anger because the kids go on and on and on."

After Berta Evers died, the state took Sandy and Dennis Evers to court to determine if they should be forced to give up Berta's brothers. The couple won that battle. But they lost another.

At the time of Berta's death, they were planning to adopt two other girls, sisters age one and four. Two months before the adoption was to be finalized, the girls were taken away from them and placed with a foster family.

"One of them is dead already," Sandy says of the girls. "She died from a hit to the head. They said it was accidental, but she had another bruise on her head that was a week old and bruises inside of her thighs.

"And they still have the other baby."

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