Read this fictionalized account of events that occurred on a U.S. military installation. We started with the facts of a real criminal investigation and lawsuit, but what you read here goes beyond facts recorded in the criminal case by imagining details of individual’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. Although much of what you read here is fiction, the sequence of events and the tragic consequences are very real.
Learn more about the scenario that you read in Lesson 1. This time, look for the signs of abuse and neglect. When you are finished, share your answers with a coach, trainer, or administrator.
Braden and Bethany’s Story: Part 2
In the School-Age Program:
Max, a school-age staff member, tried to think what to do next about Braden. Braden completely disconnected from the people around him. He would get very angry and begin destroying things. This afternoon he saw Braden trying to pull the wings off a dying fly. And Bethany had a vendetta against most adults in the building. If you tried to give her a direction, she snapped back with comments like, “Shut up” or “Go away.” Sasha was the only staff member Bethany seemed to like, and she was off today. Max was exhausted. He looked over and saw Caleb, the siblings’ older foster-brother, twisting Braden’s arm behind his back. At first, he thought it was roughhousing but something didn’t seem right. Braden actually looked scared. He got closer and heard Caleb say, “If you lie again, dad is going to burn your mouth so bad you won’t talk for a week.”
Bethany only had one friend in the school-age program: a girl named Felicity who would often sit by Bethany when she was having a bad day or had gotten into an argument with another child. After a particularly bad night of “obedience tests” from her oldest foster brother Jonah, Bethany confided in her friend as they huddled together outside on a picnic table. Bethany told Felicity that she was so tired, and showed her the marks on her back from the whippings she got when she failed the “tests.” She didn't tell Felicity what the tests were, but Felicity could tell Bethany was scared.
That night Felicity told her mom what Bethany told her. Felicity’s mom called the Millers. She thought they should know what their son Jonah was doing. Melinda Miller thanked Felicity’s mom for calling and for caring about her family. She assured Felicity’s mom that they would take care of everything. She and Felicity’s mom talked for several more minutes about the challenges of raising pre-teens. Bethany wasn’t in school the next day or for several days after. She stopped talking to Felicity and avoided her at the school-age program. Several weeks later, Bethany made a similar confession about the “obedience tests” to Sasha (the school-age staff member). The obedience tests had become more sexual. Bethany was scared of Jonah and told Sasha she did not want to go home.
In the Community:
Neighbors always said the Millers were a great family. They were active in the community and attended all the neighborhood events with their five children. They had a reputation for being strict, though. A school friend of Caleb’s told his parents he was scared of Mr. Miller and didn’t want to get yelled and refused to play at the Miller house. He mentioned the rubber tubing that was placed in different areas around the house. He told his parents that the children got hit with the tubing for not cleaning up fast enough. It happened one time while he was there. His parents asked a few questions and made sure he wasn’t hit. Then they explained that some people use spankings to discipline their children. From that point on, they always made sure their son invited Caleb over to their house to play. They always looked for any signs that the children were mistreated, but never felt anyone was in danger.
- What signs of abuse or neglect did staff members and neighbors notice?
There are many signs that the children were being abused. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for all the people who care about a child to put the pieces together. Here are signs that people noticed:
At the school-age program: Max and Sasha both saw and heard evidence that the children were being mistreated. Because the children were 9 and 11 years old, most of the evidence came from things the children said to staff members or other children. Max witnessed a physical interaction between Caleb and Braden. Bethany admitted her experiences to Sasha.
In the Community: The neighbors heard verbal signs of abuse. Extended crying, screaming, or other distress is a likely sign that a child is in danger.
- What signs of abuse or neglect were present but unknown outside the family?
No one outside the family knew the extent of abuse the children were experiencing. No one knew that the older children were being forced to assault or discipline the younger ones. No one knew that food, water, and medical treatment were being withheld from Bethany and Braden.
- What events in the Miller's family life could cause stress? What should have triggered family supports?
- Two new foster children were introduced to the home.
- Bethany and Braden had multiple foster placements prior to the Millers. The instability in their lives might have caused them stress.
- Bethany and Braden might have used behavior that adults found challenging. Challenging behavior can increase stress in adults and make children more vulnerable to abuse and neglect.
- We do not know about the professional lives of Derrik and Melinda Miller. We know they are active-duty, so it is possible that they were experiencing job-related stress due to long or irregular hours, deployment, frequent moves, or other factors of military life.
- Think about the 5 protective factors. What supports might have helped the family around each factor?
Parental Resilience: What community or installation resources might have helped this families' stressors?Services from social workers or mental health professionals might have helped the family identify appropriate guidance and discipline strategies for their pre-teen children. Non-medical counseling or adoption support for military families (for example, by seeking support on the militaryonesource website) also could have helped them work through short-term stressors.
- Social Connections: As military service members stationed away from family and friends, what could have helped them build social connections?This family was involved in their community. It might have been helpful for the family to make connections with other families of foster children who were experiencing similar challenges.
- Concrete Support in Times of Need: What concrete supports did they need?Concrete supports for anger management and discipline practices are needed. They also might need concrete supports like babysitters or respite from the demands of parenting.
- Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development: How could the family have been prepared?The Miller family might need information about what to expect from adolescent children in terms of behavior and social development. Such information might have prepared them to support Bethany and Braden rather than punish. They also could have used information about how to support relationship-building between their biological children and foster children. They created a situation in which the biological children dominated and assaulted the foster children.
- Social and Emotional Competence of Children: Bethany and Braden’s behavior indicated they needed support around social and emotional competence. What might have helped them?Bethany and Braden might benefit from support around the emotional events they have experienced throughout their lifetimes. They need professional help to process the experiences they have had in foster homes since toddlerhood. They may be dealing with feelings of abandonment and insecurity. They also need support around building their own social connections. If they have moved around a lot, they may be hesitant to make new friends. They might assume that they will be moving to a new foster home soon, anyway. They need adults to help them learn to identify and express their emotions appropriately. They also could benefit from programs that help them interact appropriately with peers and adults.