Role Model Therapy

Today I’ve invited JENNY DEW to be my guest and post about a unique therapy for children with Reactive Attachment Disorder that she and her husband used for her two kids with RAD. Thank you, Jenny.

Explanation for Role Model Therapy

I had a few people ask me about how I talked my therapist into joining me for a 504 plan for my two children who were suffering from Reactive Attachment Disorder and other personality disorders. We were discussing whether a parent should try for an IEP or a 504 plan in the educational systems for children with Reactive Attachment Disorder. I mentioned how I managed to talk my children’s therapist into joining me for a school meeting and some of the parents on the Facebook advocacy group wanted to hear more.

This is my explanation of why and how I started to think outside of the box:

History of why and where it all began

My husband and I are not perfect people. It’s ridiculous to think how it all started. We were both forty and on the verge of divorce when my seventeen-year-old daughter came to us with an idea that raising more children would help us find a reason to stay together and help some children while we were working our problems out.

Silhouette of children

As insane as it sounds, we fell for the idea and started to search for our last two children. We found Joey (3-and-a-half-years-old) and his half-sister Katrina (2-and-a-half-years-old) from the Division of Child and Family Services in Utah. I have changed their names for reasons of privacy purposes. From the very beginning, the legal problems involved with gaining the rights to raise them became a very difficult process for our family.

We had a newly married son, a daughter in her senior year of high school and a thirteen-year-old son in middle school at the time our last two children came home to us. It was interesting trying to blend a new daughter-in-law and two small children into our family at that time. Joey and Katrina came home to us with some pretty severe behavior problems and we thought it was because of the many traumas they had been through before coming home to our family.

Kids and parents

Katrina never smiled and was oppositional about absolutely everything we tried to offer to her. Joey was suicidal and like the Tasmanian Devil cartoon. As the parental deprivation trial continued forward against the birth mother for the first three years after the children entered our home, it seemed impossible to move forward with our own lives until we could get our rights back to live the way we wanted to live without social workers continually coming to our home to disrupt the feelings of the two we were trying to adopt. We realized we had stepped into a mangled mess.

After the final adoptions took place and the children were legally ours, we realized that they needed a lot of therapy to repair the damages they had experienced in life. It took the final adoption process into our family to get them the needed therapies. The therapies were never ending and many of the therapists we visited had no idea of (or refused to recognize) Reactive Attachment Disorder.

I finally found a seminar where a lady, by the name of Nancy Thomas, shared information about Reactive Attachment Disorder. She explained exactly what was happening in my home. The behaviors of my two children were being explained perfectly to me.

I was exhausted from the behaviors of my two adorable kiddos and it was so nice to finally hear why they were reacting to the traumas they had experienced in life. I realized that their brains had been affected by that trauma.

I met my attachment therapist at that seminar. We worked for years together to help my daughter, but we didn’t see the simmering problems with my charismatic son at that time. My boy was a sex addict and became a predator toward the little ones in our neighborhood and our family by the time he was 12.

Both of my adopted children had such severe problems they both ended up living in residential treatment centers and proctor homes while we tried to figure things out. My son was placed in sexual offenders’ programs by the courts and nothing seemed to be helping my two kids.

After watching the different programs my two children with Reactive Attachment Disorders were placed in, I noticed some problems within those programs that would never be able to help my two kids. The first problem was rooming these kinds of kids with other kids? This was a huge mistake!

The second problem was trying to “talk” my two kids out of their brain problems. You don’t “talk” children out of brain disorders. The third (and worst problem) was that my kids had plenty of chances alone with the group home therapists to triangulate them against the parents.

After watching the many failures along the way as I was raising my two kids, I decided to try my own method of madness and I asked my daughter’s therapist, Max, if he would support me by watching over this therapy with me. I made and gave my plan to Max and we started to decide when to bring my two children back home to try this new method on them.


I decided it would be best to tell my two kids that we were asked to do a special project with a college team of people who would watch over the project. I told my kids that I would have to follow their instructions and report back to the team. My kids liked the idea that I was not in charge and would have to follow the directions of the team. This took, (what my kids thought was), the responsibility of raising them from my shoulders. I honestly think they thought it was a great plan to throw mom under the bus one more time.

Role Model Therapy

We paid Max to train a seventeen-year-old male role model for Joey (17) and a twenty-three-year-old female role model for Katrina (15). He had them read books about Reactive Attachment Disorder before the parents hired them for the job. We paid them an amount for reading the books and information to learn. Max also attended a 504 meeting at the schools with me, to help teach the teachers about our project. The teachers were excited to be involved in helping with the project. We did each therapy session individually for each child and started with Katrina first.

Contract: The children and mom signed a contract including what would be involved with this new study. Mom’s contract included being the instructor for the 5:00 AM exercise program each morning. Their contracts included exercising with mom as the leader, making and following their own morning routines, checking their backpacks by themselves before leaving for school and leaving on time with the ‘Role Model’ who was assigned to take them to school and bring them home again.

Routine charts: The kids made morning routine charts to follow. They also made a night time routine chart to follow before going to bed, such as; brush teeth, take shower, do homework… Mom would print off the kids schedules and the kids would check off their schedules and give them back to mom for the (pretend) “study team”.

Role model job: The role models were chosen for their remarkable qualities. Joey’s role model was the high school quarter back (because Joey loved playing football and the coach at the high school allowed Joey to be on the team). The QB was also a straight A student and a good member of Joey’s church.

Katrina’s role model was a twenty-three-year-old girl who had substituted at the high school and knew many of the students there. She was also a neighbor who was looking for a part time job so we paid her minimum wage to help us. Both role models understood the reasons Joey and Katrina could not be left on their own during the schooling hours. Katrina’s role model was introduced to the other students as a college student doing a study for her college and Katrina was helping her with the study.

Joey’s role model just acted like his friend who walked him to his classes, drove him to and from school and football each day, and ate lunch with Joey and the other members of the football team. Joey’s teachers were informed of his deviant behaviors and they weren’t supposed to let him leave their classrooms without contacting the school counselor first.

The hopes for the role model’s positions were to teach through example while Joey and Katrina walked around with them. We did not ask Joey’s role model to keep notes each day or to give Joey any instructions. We did ask Katrina’s role model to use her laptop and record Katrina’s actions throughout the day. If Katrina acted out in problem behaviors, her role model would record it and calmly ask her to think if there might have been a better way to handle those problem situations.

Katrina was not informed about the role model recording her behaviors. The role model was never supposed to try talking Katrina through the situations or give her ideas of how to handle those situations. Max (the family therapist) and the parents would do those teaching moments later, without telling Katrina about the role model’s notes.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on

Exercise program: We felt it was important for the mother to be the instructor for the exercise program each morning. It was about a 20-minute routine with a warm-up segment, a quick paced run-in-place segment and some funny routines in the middle with a warm-down segment at the end. We felt it was important to use the mom in a way the child had to follow her exact directions, in order to incorporate the mom/child interaction that had not been established in the children’s brains in their first three years of life.

The kids were told that mom had to follow the study team’s exact directions, and that if Joey and Katrina could do the exercises exactly like the mom, then they would not have to do the exercise routine with her anymore. The one mistake to this directive is that Joey caught on immediately and did the routine exact within the first week. Katrina, on the other hand, enjoyed watching her mom get exhausted as she planned to fail the exercise routine toward the end every time, but finally toward the end of the study Katrina followed along just to show mom how she had out-smarted her.

Equestrian therapy: We found a friend of ours who wished to train her horse to do equestrian therapy for us. Nancy Thomas had a daughter who had created a therapy involving the use of the horses to teach children how to trust. We bought the video guide from her and our friend went to work on training her horse for this particular therapy. The equestrian therapy became part of our role model therapy because the parents were used as role models to help with the horses as our children attended the different lessons involved. There were about nine lessons in all.

Graduations from high school: Both Joey and Katrina had been taking courses at their residential facilities. Neither child realized that they had been earning credits toward graduating. Both Joey and Katrina self-sabotaged every aspect of reward system in life we could think of, so it was evident that they would both fail at graduating from high school without some sort of a plan in place.

As graduation approached for both of these kids, and the teachers started discussing graduation plans at the school, both kids decided they were going to drop out of school or try failing their last few classes to avoid the stigma of becoming part of a society expectation. Joey started sluffing his classes and we were called to the school to decide what to do.

The counselor was surprised when we produced the records showing our children already had enough credits to graduate and so we withdrew them from the school so the teachers and counselors did not have to witness their scheme to ruin the graduation excitement for the other students. The graduation process was not fun for the parents or the kids but we got through it.

We did the role model therapy on each child for a six-month period of time. We didn’t have the monies to continue forward. We feel it helped us get our kids to the graduation goals we had for them and we also helped them attain a driver’s license.

By the time the two children reached the age of eighteen it was important to allow them to leave home for their own adventures in life. Joey went into a life of drug and sexual addictions. He has not stayed near our family. Katrina continues to come home for family occasions and enjoys being a member of our family. She still has some major issues and personality disorders, but she works hard at her construction job, pays for her own car and insurance and lives in her own apartment.

Jenny and Larry Dew helped to start a non-profit organization called CARES Meadow. (Children at Risk Emotionally Safe Meadow) There is an amazing Executive Board carrying the dream forward.

For more information, you can message her on Facebook: Jenny Youngberg Dew

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