Ginnie Graham: Raising mentally ill child a struggle
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Saturday, February 09, 2013
2/09/13 at 4:12 AM
Read more: See the blog by Shelley Cadamy
Original Print Headline: Raising mentally ill child a struggle
The Tulsa police officer arrived as Shelley Cadamy Munoz pushed with all her might against an attic door, the only barrier against her daughter's rage.
"She hurled her tiny little 10-year-old body like a weapon against the years of abuse and neglect that she suffered and can't escape, though she's been safe, loved and cared for almost four years," Munoz wrote in a blog.
That posting about her mentally ill daughter exploded on social media and became the 20th most popular blog in the English language on Wordpress last week.
"I wrote it as something to do because I have no control over what is happening," she said.
After years of ignored requests by mental-health professionals, lawmakers are pledging support to beef up programs and services to help struggling children and adults.
This forgotten slice of health care has become a focus after tragedies such as mass killings and public suicides.
"The mental health system is absurdly lacking. It's not just Oklahoma but the whole country," Munoz said.
Families dealing with the mood disorders, addictions and mental-health illnesses of their loved ones tend to suffer in silence.
"For a lot of parents, they don't feel comfortable putting it all out there like I do," she said. "They write to me and say, 'Thank you. This is our family.' For kids like mine, no one is writing their legislators for them. There is no St. Jude or Make-a-Wish for them."
The beginning: As a single, professional 37-year-old living in Oklahoma City, Munoz became a foster mother and adopted three siblings who had been subjected to physical and emotional abuse.
Immediately, she had to call for help controlling the middle child, who had been forced to compete with her older sister for food, attention and more.
"The same day I became a mother was the day I had to give her up because she was so violent. She had three violent rages that day," she said. "They had to develop behaviors in order to survive. My kids are survivors."
At that time, the 6-year-old entered therapeutic foster care. Munoz sought training and education to become a therapeutic home so she could reunite the siblings.
"Kids need their brothers and sisters. I had a home, am emotionally stable for them, and it was never a question of whether I wanted them all together."
She married two years ago, and the family moved to Tulsa, where she now works as the executive director of Workforce Tulsa.
Her daughter has been on a waiting list since July 2011 for one of four beds at a local residential facility for an intensive treatment for reactive-attachment disorder, or RAD.
It involves family therapy and could last from six months to two years.
In the meantime, the family hobbles through day-to-day with occasional police intervention.
After the last violent episode in mid-January, her daughter has been in a facility waiting for one of those RAD beds. She turned 11 last week.
Usually, patients are released after 30 to 90 days, depending on what insurance will cover.
"We've created a revolving door that doesn't get to the root of the problems. It's a Band-Aid approach."
Munoz describes mental illness as a brick wall.
"It was the first time I hit a wall I could not scale," she said. "No amount of determination, hard work, advanced degrees or brain power could get you past it."
Economic impact: Munoz works in economic development, which is how she views solutions.
She says the biological mother was part of a cycle of uneducated and poor families, which led to substance abuse and domestic violence.
"From an economic standpoint, it would have made more sense to get her mental-health services and job skills as a teenager," she said. "Instead, she became a teen mom and horribly abused and neglected her three children."
Because Munoz adopted her children from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, they qualify for the state's Medicaid health-care program, SoonerCare.
"I would have lost my house by now if I had to pay for all of this," she said.
Families with private insurance face much tighter restrictions and higher deductibles on these services, and some specialists only accept Medicaid patients, she said.
Optimism: The future for the Munoz clan is not grim.
Her 13-year-old daughter is responding well to therapy, and her 7-year-old son is not exhibiting symptoms. They are doing well in school.
"The best part of my day is when my son calls me at work to say he's home and asks about my day. It almost makes me cry. I feel like a traditional mom with them."
With her 11-year-old, she is optimistic, calling her a smart and "super sweet kiddo."
"With her I feel like super mom. When she gets into the RAD program and receives its benefits, I think she could very well be as successful as I have been. I think all my kids can have that."
But getting treatment is crucial.
"She needs this now," Munoz said. "If she doesn't get it, in a few years she will be headed down a criminal path."