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3.1 MALADJUSTED CHILDREN

Children who are having trouble adjusting to their worlds have specific problems and issues. These aren’t the same from child to child. Even so, children do let adults know things aren’t going well. Their troubles show in their behavior and in how they deal with various people and situations. Observing the signs and understanding their causes are the keys to providing the children the support and help they need to move past their problems and get on with their lives.

The signs of maladjustment included in the next few sections are "culturally neutral." This means they are important regardless of the child's racial, ethnic, religious, economic, or geographic background or heritage. Having made that point, though, the appropriateness of specific behavior and acceptable emotional expression do vary from place to place and from culture to culture. For this reason, you need to be particularly sensitive when interpreting the behavior and emotional expressions of any child.

Although seeing any of the signs is reason for concern, you need to combine your concern with your judgement about its significance, given the child's life experiences and cultural heritage. Just be sure you aren't making too much, or too little, of what you are observing. It will help here to talk with others who know the child personally or professionally so you can incorporate their thinking into your perspective.

Both maltreated children and children who haven't been maltreated have problems and personal issues that "come out" through signs of maladjustment. Seeing a sign of maladjustment in a child doesn't tell you what specifically caused the problem or what is bothering the child right now. What's more, the signs of maladjustment in maltreated children aren’t significantly different than those seen in children who haven't been maltreated, although the signs seen may be more frequent and more severe.

Your challenge is to understand what is causing or contributing to the difficulties of a child today. Just keep in mind children in care can have problems and issues that aren't related to the maltreatment they have experienced. They certainly may have those types of difficulties but also can have the same troubles other children have.

Signs of extreme behavior disorders such as intense defiance, intentionally injuring other people, drug or alcohol abuse, criminal activities, or willful destruction of property haven’t been included. These obviously require professional intervention. Also, they require individually designed behavior management plans. If a child in care exhibits these types of extreme behavior problems, a qualified expert needs to work with the child and with his caretakers to develop the behavior management plan. Also, the child should be assessed by a child psychologist. The child very likely has learning and developmental disorders causing the behavior problems or making them worse.

Signs of severe emotional disturbance haven't been included either. These include signs such as hearing voices, extreme mood swings, suicide attempts, obsession with fire, extreme fears, intentional starvation or very excessive eating, serious withdrawal from people and activities, and very strange thoughts and ideas outside of what is real or probable. If a child in care is having these types of problems, he should be seen by a psychiatrist and a highly qualified therapist. Also, the psychiatrist and therapist should work with caretakers to help them help the child.

A child who has none of the signs in the next three sections likely doesn’t have any serious adjustment problems. This is especially true if you combine the signs with the areas of normal adjustment considered earlier. Children who have very serious adjustment difficulties also have the more typical problems that are included. In fact, they likely exhibited some of these signs prior to developing more serious problems.

The progressive nature of behavior and adjustment problems is, in part, why these signs must be taken very seriously. If they aren't taken seriously today, they will get worse. More serious signs will develop as the child gets older. For this reason, The best help a child can get is the help he is getting today.

From your point of view:

Write your thoughts after each question.

•           What provisions should the agency make for mental health and other services for children in care?

•           What provisions should the agency make for mental health and other experts to be available to caretakers to discuss children in care and to make behavior, emotional, and interpersonal management plans for the children?

•           What provisions should the agency make to respond to mental health and behavior related emergencies that may happen in your home?

With any areas of adjustment for children, if you observe anything that concerns you or causes you to wonder, take your reaction seriously. If you are concerned, it's important, whether the particular sign is included here or not. Just remember there aren't any silly questions or unwarranted concerns. The only bad outcome here would be your not discussing your concerns with the child and with the professionals who are available to work with you.

From your point of view:

In each of the next three sections, fourteen signs of maladjustment are listed (forty-two signs in all). Think about a child currently in care at your home. Look at the forty-two signs and simply put a check mark beside any sign you have recently seen.

With the specific child and the signs you have seen in mind, write your responses after each question.

•           What are the most important steps you can take at home to help the child with the problems that have been identified?

•           What outside resources might be useful to help the child with the problems that have been identified?

•           How can the staff at your agency specifically help with these types of problems?

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Please send comments or questions to Gary A. Crow, Ph.D. GAC@GaryCrow.net