Focus on the Family

The McAdams want their children back, but can former heroin addicts succeed as parents?

On August 15, 2004, Tiffany took Martin to Children's Hospital to be treated for a rash similar to hers. Hospital staff didn't see a rash on the boy, and Tiffany left the hospital before doctors could look him over. The incident was reported to social services, and a policeman came by the house the next day for a welfare check. Tiffany told the officer that her brother, a physics professor in Virginia, was letting her and Martin stay with him while she got well. Tiffany says he told her that was a good idea and even warned her not to get involved with social services. The subsequent police report indicated that everything at the house was fine.

Two days later, on August 18, 2004, Tiffany was driving with her son in the car. Rain was pouring in through the driver's side window, which was broken, and she could barely see. When she made out the lights of a police car, she started to follow them. The officer, who later reported that the car was being driven erratically, stopped the vehicle. According to DDHS, Tiffany told the officer that her home was not safe because it was raining, that she needed to speak to the British Embassy, and that her mother had come from North Carolina to poison her and her son. Later she would say that the CIA had been using biological warfare on her and putting vials in her plants. "It's raining; this means the ice age is coming," Martin told police.

All Tiffany remembers is telling the officer that she couldn't see because of the rain and that she was afraid to go home because there was a man in her house she couldn't trust. "[The officer] took me to the house and checked it out, and we decided I should go to the hospital because of my skin and because I was having some mental problems," she says. The officer searched the home for drugs and paraphernalia but found nothing. McDonald's fries were the only food in the fridge.

David and Tiffany McAdam spend some quality time 
with their sons, Martin (foreground) and David Jr.
Mark Manger
David and Tiffany McAdam spend some quality time with their sons, Martin (foreground) and David Jr.
Department of Human Services administrator Jude 
Liguori works with families in crisis.
Mark Manger
Department of Human Services administrator Jude Liguori works with families in crisis.

Jude Liguori sees such a moment of crisis as an opportunity for social services to intervene and help a family get back on track. "We all know this could be our life, that something could go wrong and we could be in this situation," says the DDHS administrator.

On August 23, 2004, David attended a Team Decision Making meeting with his parents and Tiffany's mother and brother. David's parents volunteered to take in Martin until Tiffany was healthy and off drugs. They believed that Tiffany had been a good mother and would be again. Tiffany, however, couldn't be at the meeting, because she had been committed to Porter Adventist Hospital's psychiatric unit.

At the hospital, Tiffany's doctor requested a court order to involuntarily medicate her with five anti-psychotic drugs, four mood stabilizers and a nervous-system depressant. Though doctors would determine that her delusions were meth-induced, when she checked out of Porter in September 2004, she was still on psychiatric medications. She didn't have electricity or heat when she got home, nor could she afford her prescriptions. "I spent a month in a mental institution, and I come out and I have less help than I've ever had in my life. I was a mess," Tiffany says. "I had no child. I didn't want to live for a minute there."

Instead, she "self-medicated" with meth. For the next month and a half, she tested positive for methamphetamines so often that social services suspended her visits with Martin. She says she finally quit using in November, when she learned that she was pregnant again. Tiffany decided she was ready to do whatever social services asked of her to get her son back -- and to be ready for her unborn child.

To do that, she and David would have to comply with their court-approved treatment plans by maintaining a steady income and stable housing, not engaging in criminal activity, and participating in drug treatment that included two random urine tests each week. David, still in a halfway house, wasn't free to attend regular treatment and couldn't provide housing, but he complied with what he could. Tiffany's treatment, through Denver Health, included a weekly one-hour session with a counselor to address her mental state, as well as a one-hour class of her choosing. Sometimes she attended a class for pregnant moms on methadone, which consisted of "women bitching and snitching on each other," and sometimes she went to a leisure-skills class, where she made bracelets. She didn't think either was helping her deal with the issues that led to her drug use or teaching her skills to avoid relapse. Nachshon Zohari, her counselor at Denver Health, says he didn't recommend Tiffany for group therapy at the time because he felt she wasn't emotionally ready for it.

At the same time, Tiffany was terrified of her DDHS caseworker, who was supposed to be helping her work toward reunification. "He always talked down to me," she says. "He treated me like crap." She says he told her things such as, "Well, you're a drug addict; you don't deserve to be a parent." David says the caseworker told him that there was no way he would get his son back if he stayed with his wife.

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