Dead Wrong About Frank

Frank was an angry, violent 9-year-old on his way to becoming a sociopath. Jim Holland saw something else.

Lee admits that Niles has had its share of abuse-hotline investigations but says there have been no more than at any other residential center. "The perfect environment for a child to grow up in is a home, so there is no way to make residential perfect -- it's impossible," he says. "In the absence of that, all we can do is try to deliver the best service possible for that child, and that is what we do with the limited resources we have. Residential treatment serves clients en masse. That is the system in place."

Despite the environment, says Foreman, some children managed to settle in and find a sense of home. Frank wasn't one of them. "He was very angry and extremely needy," she says. "He just wanted someone to pay attention to him and say anything the least bit positive."

Even harder to watch was Frank's unwavering devotion to his former foster family, who had clearly distanced themselves from him. "It had been two years and still, what he really wanted was to be back with [Michael and Lisa]," says Foreman. "I was very disappointed and frustrated with them because they made very little contact. Frank would send letters, and they wouldn't answer. They would promise they were going to drive down and didn't do it. He would ask about them every time we met, and he would almost always cry. They did nothing but damage him, from my point of view."

Jim Holland says Frank had "the look of someone who is really trying to keep moving and stay busy to keep from feeling."
Jennifer Silverberg
Jim Holland says Frank had "the look of someone who is really trying to keep moving and stay busy to keep from feeling."

Even as Frank tried to work through his feelings of abandonment and grief, his anger proved his greatest obstacle. Sometimes, simply being told to do something was enough to trigger an explosion. But often it was other kids who set him off. "The kids there would bite me and stuff," he says. "That's when I would get into fights."

Nevertheless, Foreman saw something in Frank she didn't see in many of the other children -- genuine kindness. "He would show me something he was really proud of, and when I commented about it, he would say, 'If you like it, you can have it,'" she recalls, adding that he wanted to send toys and Pokémon cards to his brother.

The image didn't match the one Edgewood had painted, either. "I spoke to someone on the phone about him, and they mentioned he was a lost cause and that there was no way he would ever be able to live in a foster home," Foreman says. "I remember thinking maybe that person was burned out. Frank definitely had a hard time being consistent, but I believed all he needed was an adult who cared for him and who was not going to leave. I never felt he was hopeless; I just felt his situation was. It was really sad because he was there and I didn't see anyone jumping at the chance to adopt him out."

Then, out of the blue, Foreman got a call from a social worker who once worked at Edgewood. His name was Jim Holland. He was looking for Frank.

It took Jim three months and every string he could pull at DFS to track Frank down and get permission to contact him. On Feb. 16, 2000, he called the Niles Home for Children and talked to Foreman, explaining that he wanted to be a resource for Frank and a consistent part of his life. Foreman updated Jim on Frank's progress and suggested a letter as a good way to break the ice.

Jim didn't tell Foreman, but the word "adoption" had already planted itself in his mind. Although Jim is gay, he has always wanted to be a parent and knew that someday he would adopt a child. His work with the adoption agency made him realize he was far more prepared than he thought. Susan Peach was supportive of his idea, but some DFS workers were not, telling him Frank was too "disturbed" and "broken."

Within hours of speaking to Foreman on the phone, Jim sat down and wrote a letter to Frank. "I talked to Leslie today and am delighted to hear that you continue to work on making your life a good and happy one. I'm proud of you and know that you must be proud of yourself," he wrote. He mentioned he had left Edgewood and now worked with people who wanted to become parents. "I rode my motorcycle to Colorado again last summer and thought of you when I saw a lot of cool rocks.... I'd like to keep up with you, wherever you are, by writing and calling. Let Leslie know how you feel about this idea and she'll be able to help us stay in touch if you'd like. Keep working hard and keep taking care of yourself!"

A week later, he called Niles again, and, for the first time in 14 months, talked to Frank. "He sounded lost, little and unanchored," Jim says. The conversation didn't exactly flow. "Are you OK?" Jim asked. "Yes," Frank said. They talked briefly about the roller coasters at Worlds of Fun. "Would it be OK if I sent you another note every week or so?" Jim asked. "It doesn't matter," Frank said before hanging up.

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