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She Needs a Forensics Exam

This post is part 4 in a story about an experience we had with our daughter and what she experienced in a  residential treatment center. To catch up, feel free to read part 1, part 2, and part 3.

I didn’t plan to make it all the way back to our hometown from the residential treatment center in one day. My initial goal was to just make it across state lines.

A this point though, Sunshine and I were about two hours from our final destination, at a rest stop. It was about 11:30 PM. 

She was wide awake and determined to arrive at our hotel.

We were listening to the Frozen 2 soundtrack yet again. Sunshine was singing happily.  

So I continued to drive.

We had already been traveling for ten hours.

She Needs a Forensics Exam

I asked my husband to meet us at the hotel we had planned to check into. Checking in would be a tad tricky with Sunshine. Boy was I thankful he was there.

You Can Not Stay Here

We hadn’t booked the room ahead of time because we didn’t know if I would make the trip back in one night.

When we arrived at the hotel, we were told, that because we lived within 50 miles, we could not stay there.

Apparently, a new regulation was in place in the county, thanks to college students renting rooms, partying, and destroying property.

At 1:30 AM, we were exhausted with no place to go.

Sunshine was struggling.

Calls were made to several other hotels in the area. The policy was the same.

Finally, we received a tender mercy. One local hotel, due to our circumstances, was willing to make an exception to the regulations and let us stay.

At about 2:30 AM, we were finally checked in and slipping into our beds.

I Can Not Fill the Prescriptions

The next morning, I immediately called our pediatrician’s office and asked for an appointment. I wanted all of the bruising I was seeing documented on our end.

I needed to know that Sunshine was okay.

Plus, I needed to make sure we had prescriptions for the next day. 

The residential treatment center had only sent enough of Sunshine's medications for one day. The scripts that were sent were not valid in our state. New ones had to be written.

There was no chance of getting prescriptions without an appointment. Sunshine had been gone eight months.

The pediatrician was out of town, but the nurse practitioner was able to see her first thing.

With very little sleep, we headed to the appointment.

The nurse practitioner did not feel comfortable writing the scripts for Sunshine’s medications and deferred the responsibility to Sunshine’s psychiatrist. 

I tried not to cry.

We still hadn't been able to get a hold of Sunshine’s psychiatrist.

If Sunshine didn't have her meds, she would end up being hospitalized in the pediatric psychiatric ward again.  

Worse, there were reasons she would end up in the psychiatric ward again, which meant everyone around her would be in danger.

She Needs a Forensics Exam

Next came Sunshine’s physical exam.

The nurse practitioner could not believe what she saw.

Remaining as calm as possible, she documented everything and then asked if I would take Sunshine to an ER at a hospital about an hour away for a forensics exam. Our local hospital was not equipped to do things like this, especially when it came to children.

Sunshine needed a forensics exam.

The nurse practitioner was concerned about internal damage and other things that may be going on.

All I kept thinking was,

“When will this nightmare end?”

I called my husband and asked that he continue to call Sunshine’s psychiatrist’s office about the meds. 

Meanwhile, Sunshine and I grabbed a bite to eat and then headed to the recommended ER… in the middle of COVID-19.

We Need a Room Now!

Our 12-passenger van, Big Red, would not fit in the parking garages near the hospital, so we had to park a few blocks away on the street. It was only 2 PM in the afternoon, so I thought nothing of it.

This ER did not have a waiting room. Instead we were expected to sit in the hall and wait.

Sunshine HATES waiting.

Sunshine HATES hospitals.

The only two chairs available in the packed hallway, were next to a police officer sitting with a young man, whom I knew immediately was there for mental health reasons. They had been waiting two hours, and still no room was available.

The presence of the police officer helped Sunshine remain calm. But when he left, she did not do well.

I had to grab a nurse and explain that if someone didn’t want to do a mandatory psychiatric inpatient request, that Sunshine needed to be seen right away.

In my head I kept thinking,

“Well, if she’s going to be admitted to a psychiatric ward, it might as well be tonight.” 

I cringed at the thought that we may not even make it 24 hours before she became too unsafe to care for.

Thankfully, the nurse listened and knew I was serious as she observed Sunshine’s state and quickly gave us a room.

How Can I Help?

I’m not usually a fan of ER doctors, but the one we were blessed with that day, I will forever be grateful for.

I shared Sunshine’s story.

I shared the documentation.

I explained why where were there.

Her first question was,

“How can I help?”

First, I explained our medication predicament.

Within minutes she had a nurse there helping her sort through all of the scripts from the RTC. She immediately phoned them into our pharmacy.

Next, she called in a pediatric life specialist to help with Sunshine. 

The LAST thing she wanted was for Sunshine to end up needing to be admitted to a psychiatric ward after all she’d just been through.

Lastly, she paged the forensics nurse to come do the exam.

There’s only one pediatric forensics nurse on duty at a time. Shift changes are at 7 PM. It just so happened that the forensics nurse who was on call when we arrived, received another case, just before Sunshine’s and could not make it to Sunshine before the end of the shift.

So we waited… and waited… and waited…

We spent several hours waiting for the next one to come on duty. The ER doctor and nurses apologized profusely.

I do not know what we would have done without that pediatric child life specialist that afternoon and evening. 

It was the biggest tender mercy we had received yet.

The Interview

Finally, at about 8 PM, a forensics nurse arrived. She was so warm and kind. 

The child life specialist remained in the room to help with the first part of the process, which was an extensive interview with me, the parent.

Again, I shared the story. 

I showed the documents. 

I exchanged contact information for the sheriff’s department and CPS in the state Sunshine was in where all of this happened. 

And, I answered every single question she asked.

The Exam

At about 10 PM, the forensics exam finally got started. 

I was asked to stay present and assist in helping Sunshine be cooperative when necessary. The pediatric life specialist remained in the room as well.

I can’t begin to describe how it felt as a parent to watch a forensics nurse examine my child

Sunshine had bruises ALL over her body.

Every bruise was measured.

Every bruise was compared to a color-coding chart as to how dark it was.

Every bruise was photographed multiple times at different angles.

Sunshine was interviewed about every bruise and mark on her body.

She’d give names and explanations.

My job was to stay calm, help soothe her, and remain strong. 

If I showed distress, Sunshine would become distressed.

I thought we were going to the ER to only document bruises.

I thought that would be it.

But it was during the forensics exam that Sunshine disclosed that not only had she been hurt by staff and peers, she had also been sexually assaulted by an older female peer multiple times, with the bruising to show for it.

The exam went a step further.

Once again, my job was to help Sunshine stay calm, help soothe her, and remain strong. 

If I showed distress, Sunshine would become distressed. 

This was much harder during this next step of the exam.

The situation felt like one out of the movies, but it wasn’t.

It was real.

It was happening.

This was our life right now.

The last and final step of the exam was a blood draw.

The purpose of the blood draw was to prove that there was no other reason for those bruises to be there.   

Sunshine was finally discharged after midnight.

The Drive Back to the Hotel

A police officer drove us to our vehicle since the streets weren’t guaranteed to be safe at night.

My husband remained on the phone with me the entire drive home to make sure I drove and arrived to the hotel safely.

I’d had so little sleep the last few days.

The secondary trauma I had just experienced was really rattling me.

Sunshine was still awake and it was my job to stay completely calm and okay, so that she would do the same, no matter how I was feeling.

The Aftermath

We arrived at the hotel after 1 AM.

Sunshine had only had hospital food all afternoon and evening, so she decided she needed to eat her dinner before bed.

Finally, at about 2 AM our heads hit the pillows.

I silently cried myself to sleep, once I knew Sunshine was dreaming.

The forensics nurse had said she’d call with the blood results when they came back and after she’d spoken with the sheriff and CPS in the state where Sunshine had been abused.

Blood results came back normal.  

I was told to contact the sheriff’s office. I did. 

The sheriff told me to file another CPS report. I did.

Sunshine's bruises took over a month to fully heal.  

Three Months Later

It’s been about three months since all of this occurred.

We were told the CPS investigation (not initiated by us) about the bruises, would stay open for six weeks.

We were told Sunshine’s severe behaviors were the reason such excessive force was used by staff at the RTC.

I didn’t and still don’t understand this. 

Sunshine never had bruises as a result of behavioral interventions in our home.

We were told peers are peers and are too young to charge.

Again, it was reported that Sunshine’s behaviors were severe, and that's why there were bruises from peers.

All of the children in residential treatment centers are there to receive help and healing for severe behaviors.

But, where was staff? 

Why wasn't Sunshine being protected?

The CPS investigation about the sexual abuse went nowhere.

No one came to interview Sunshine, after I filed the report, as I'd been told to do.

No one contacted me, after I filed the report.

We were told that because the sexual abuser was under thirteen, state law stated no charges would be made.

The forensics nurse was basically told the same things.

We do NOT understand why we weren't contacted and interviewed, as nothing like this should ever take place in a residential facility.

We DO understand not charging children under thirteen years old, nor would we press charges. 

Children who sexually assault other children, in most cases, are only doing to others what has been done to them.

These children need time to work through their own trauma and learn what's okay and what's not.

But again I ask, where was the supervision? 

Where was staff? 

How could something like this happen multiple times?

The nightmare never ends.

For those who would like to continue to follow our journey with Sunshine, be sure to sign up for our FREE newsletter. We share regular updates about her treatment, progress, etc.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy the resources below. They are bits and pieces of Sunshine's story starting from earliest to most recent events.

Our Pediatric Mental Health Crisis Goodbye Sunshine Fleeing for Safety Hotel Living: Making the Most Out of Small Spaces   What Is Reactive Attachment DisorderMorning and Bedtime Routine Visuals and Supports

She Needs a Forensics Exam

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