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Bostock: Why I gave up my son
They had planned to be the adopted boy's forever family. What happened?
By Lane DeGregory, Times Staff Writer
Published November 4, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - On good nights - there were some - bedtime in the Bostock home began around 8:30, when Nancy called her three kids to put on their pajamas.
Her husband often traveled for business, so she was used to running the routine alone.
She'd let her older daughter, 13, watch TV while she snuggled with her younger daughter, who's 9.
Then came her 11-year-old son. He would cringe when Nancy tried to hug him, so she'd sit on the floor beside his bed. The boy would say, "Tell me my story."
"There was a woman who had a very special baby growing in her belly," the story starts. She picked out his name and gave him his handsome looks, his infectious smile. And she loved that baby and wanted him to grow up safe. When he was born, she couldn't take care of him. So she gave her baby to a social worker, who took him to a foster home. Then one day, when he was 4, his parents found him and brought him home.
"And that's how you came to live here with us," Nancy told her son. "We're your forever family."
Though he asked for his story almost every night, the boy seldom reacted to it. Nancy would kiss his forehead, smooth his Lion King sheets, lock his closet so he couldn't shred his clothes. She'd turn on the baby monitor. "Good night," she'd whisper. "Sweet dreams."
Then she'd make sure the kitchen knives were locked up and drag the sofa into the hall between her kids' rooms. She kept a sleepy vigil all night on that couch, trying to keep everyone safe from her son.
Two weeks ago, Nancy made the front page when she told a state senate committee she was giving up her adopted son.
He tried to kill her, she said.
To get him the help he needs, she said, she has to turn the sixth-grader back to the foster system.
"I'm his mom and I will love him forever," she told Florida's Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs. "I don't want my son to come out as some sort of villain. He was born into this. . . He's a hurt child."
How can a mom give up her own son? Especially a mom like Nancy?
A former social studies teacher, Nancy, 39, has served on the Pinellas County School Board since 1998. She works with Headstart, volunteers as a Guardian Ad Litem to protect foster children. She has better credentials, better knowledge of resources than most parents. "If I can't find the help he needs," she said, "who could?"
Her husband, Craig, 43, said he feels like a failure. They've exhausted every option. "There will always be people who think we could've done a better job," he said. "But I don't know how."
What happened in that home?
How could parents who set out to give a little boy a forever family decide he would be better off without them?
- - -
On Nancy and Craig's third date, at the University of Florida, he told her he had been adopted as an infant and, some day, he wanted to adopt.
Three years after they married, Nancy gave birth to a daughter. Three years later, they adopted a 3-day-old girl. They started searching for another child almost right away.
Gender and race didn't matter. Craig and Nancy are white, but they'd bought a two-story home in a racially diverse neighborhood so a child of another ethnicity would feel more like he fit in.
Nancy was drawn to dozens of little faces, but for two years, they couldn't make a match. Finally, on a Web page of foster kids, Craig found a 4-year-old African-American boy.
The boy's mother had done drugs and drank while pregnant, his caseworker told them. He was developmentally delayed, had ADHD and had been bounced through at least seven foster homes.
"We thought, 'He's only 4. We're a stable, loving family,' " Nancy said. " 'How bad could it be?' "
They visited him at his Polk County foster home, where he lived with a single mom and eight other foster boys. He was loud and wild, then quiet and withdrawn. They fell in love with his shy smile.
When they strapped their new son into his car seat to take him home, "He was like a feral animal," Nancy said. Clawing, kicking, shrieking.
In hindsight, Nancy said, he acted like he was being kidnapped.
- - -
In adoption classes, they'd been warned: The first year will be hard. They braced for temper tantrums and time outs. No one could have prepared them for the furor of their small son.
Right away, he called them Mom and Dad. And ugly and stupid. The worst words he knew.
Nancy had filled his new room with a train and farm set, a puppet who looked like him. She even found an African-American doll for the Fisher-Price dollhouse. But her new son turned every toy into a weapon.
He hurled trucks at his sisters, tore up video games, punched the walls until they looked like Swiss cheese. The smallest things would set him off: Put on your shoes, brush your teeth.
He would say: I can take care of myself. I don't need you!
Therapists diagnosed him with Reactive Attachment Disorder, a condition some doctors don't acknowledge. The disorder is said to be caused when infants are shuttled from home to home, making it impossible for them to bond, trust or accept affection. These children often fail to develop a conscience. They can be friendly to strangers but lash out at those closest to them.
"He'd grown to depend on himself. So if you asked him to do something, he just wanted to fight," Craig said.
There were good times, family dinners, trips to Disney World. They took him to Busch Gardens, fishing and to church. They took him to social workers, psychologists and pediatricians. They tried all sorts of pills, punishments and rewards. They talked to their pastor. They called police.
"We just kept thinking if we're firm, loving and consistent," Nancy said, "eventually he'll come around and want to be part of this family."
I hate you. I don't want to live here, the boy screamed. For five years.
- - -
By age 9, the boy was taller than his mom. Nancy couldn't catch him when he ran. She dreaded even taking him to Publix; he always broke something or acted out. She wasn't embarrassed, she said. But she knew how things must seem. Here she was, a School Board member, and she couldn't control her own kid.
Her son had never had any real friends, she said. Soccer teams and scout troops didn't help him bond. At his own birthday party, he stood alone, watching the other kids splash in the pool.
To strangers, he often seemed polite and withdrawn. At school, in special education and mainstream classes, he behaved better. Until one day when Nancy was out of town and Craig got a call at Honeywell, where he works.
Their son had run out of class and was raging through the school office, tearing things off shelves, ignoring the counselor's pleas. "That's the first time I'd seen that cold look of defiance directed at someone other than me or Nancy," Craig said. "Things were different after that."
He started kicking the dog. He threw a brick at his sister's head. That summer, the family went to Hawaii. When Nancy took the kids to get ice cream, her son body-slammed his cousin. Back in the van, he reached from the back seat and pulled his mom's seatbelt across her neck. Tight.
"All of a sudden, everything got quiet and I couldn't see," Nancy said. "I don't know how I got the car pulled off the road."
In Florida, Nancy found Carlton Manor, a residential treatment program for boys with behavioral issues. The year-long program ran five days a week. She could bring him home on weekends.
She thought that was a good thing.
- - -
In October 2005, Nancy helped her son pack. He moved into a dormlike room with another boy. On weekends, his whole family was supposed to follow the program's strict rules.
If he challenged his parents' authority, they were to withhold all privileges. But how do you tell your daughters they can't go to the movies because their brother has been sitting on the time out sofa for eight hours, refusing to brush his teeth? "He would rather defy us," Nancy said, "than do anything else."
One weekend in June 2006, the 10-year-old tacked a suicide note to his door. Nancy caught him in the kitchen and wrestled a butcher knife from his hand. He started sneaking out at night. Craig had to put an alarm on their front door.
On the advice of another therapist, they disbanded almost all rules. If their son didn't want to brush his teeth, fine. He went days without showering, Nancy said. He started to smell.
He spent 16 months at Carlton Manor, much longer than his allotted year. In January, his therapist said he wasn't ready to come home. But he could no longer stay there.
There had to be another place, another program. Three times, Nancy met with workers from the Department of Children and Families. Her son was too badly behaved for one program, they told her; not psychotic enough for another. He had been Baker Acted three times. The Bostocks had maxed out their insurance and spent thousands on treatment. They couldn't afford $60,000 a year for a private facility.
If parents have money, they can afford private placement; if they're destitute, the government will help. But for the middle class, there are few options. Finally, Nancy found the Attachment Trauma Network. Online, Nancy found 200 other parents, mostly of adopted children, struggling with the same behavior.
"It was such a backward relief, just to know we weren't the only ones," Nancy said. She searched for an expert on the subject, but couldn't find one. Time was running out.
In March, just before her son was to be discharged, Nancy had him in the car with her older daughter. Behind her, she heard a voice she didn't recognize saying, "I'm going to kill Mom."
Her daughter replied: You don't even have any weapons.
Oh yes I do, the boy said. I've got pencils, and they're really sharp, and some other stuff too.
When Nancy searched her son's room, she found a pack of pencils and a power cord stashed in a hole he'd kicked below the window. "In some ways, I looked at his little plan to kill me with something bordering on admiration," Nancy said. "I mean, that took a lot of planning and organization, which is something he doesn't normally show us."
She started sliding the sofa into the hall at night, to keep an eye on his door.
- - -
If the Bostocks had fostered the boy instead of adopting him - if he had stayed in the system - he would qualify for help. Finally, his therapist suggested: Maybe you should send him back.
Nancy was shocked. She had never thought of giving up her son. What kind of mother would?
"It was the opposite of everything I thought was right," she said.
Some kids, the therapist said, actually do better without someone loving them - or at least, without someone who expects to be loved back.
On March 17, Nancy asked the DCF committee for help one last time. She says they told her: Take him home. After he hurts you, we can help.
Nancy could have tried to have him declared mentally ill, so he could be sent to an institution. She could have charged him with abuse, had cops cart him off to a juvenile detention facility.
Instead, she called the child abuse hotline - on herself. "I can no longer keep my son safe," she said. He was leaping out of the car, sprawling in the street, perching on the balcony.
The system is set up to protect kids from parents, not parents from kids. For the state to take a child, the parents have to be charged with neglect, abuse or abandonment. Craig and Nancy consented to abandonment. A judge agreed to let them visit their son.
When officers came to take him, Nancy expected the boy to rage or - maybe - cry and beg to stay. He bolted. "He didn't want to go with them," Nancy said. "But he didn't want to stay."
Craig chased him and brought him back. The boy picked up his bags, turned to the people who had been his parents for seven years and asked, "Why can't I take the PlayStation?"
- - -
On good days - there are more now - Sundays in the Bostock home include a trip to see their son at his new foster home.
He's been back in state custody for eight months. The last time he was home was August, for his little sister's birthday. Holes still pock the walls; his Lion King sheets are still on his bed.
Next year, the Bostocks will have to decide whether to terminate their parental rights. They don't want to. They're still hoping someday their son can come home.
"It feels better, now, when we're with him," Nancy said. "With him out of the house, we don't have the constant battles."
Last Sunday, Nancy took her son to Sonny's Bar-B-Que. They talked for two hours.
When it was time to drop him off, she reached to hug her little boy. He stiffened as usual. "It's all right," she said. "You don't have to."
She stepped aside, to give him space. To her surprise, he sidled next to her. He tipped his head, just slightly, until it touched her shoulder.
Lane DeGregory can be reached at (727) 893-8825 or
About the story: This story was reported through interviews with the Bostocks, who did not want their children's names included. Their son was not available for an interview.
- - -
Trying to help
Less than 1 percent of infant adoptions are terminated, experts say. Eighty percent of adoptions of older children with special needs are successful.
To help foster children with attachment issues - and their families - Nancy Bostock suggests these reforms to the foster care system:
- Infants and toddlers in foster care should be moved into permanent, stable homes as soon as possible.
- Foster care workers should be trained in attachment issues.
- Potential parents should be told about attachment issues their child might face.
- After adoption, parents should have access to respite care, out-of-home care and mental health services for their children. The state should continue to fund those services, as it does for foster children.
- If an adoption has to be terminated, parents should not be charged with abandonment and should be allowed to maintain contact with the child. Parents should not have to pay child support for a child sent back to the state.
To contact Nancy Bostock or be included in a group of parents facing similar issues, e-mail her at