Experience of local foster parents leads to release of independent film 'The Boarder'

August 18, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Andy Scott Harris as Carl and Leslie Stevens as Annika star in The Boarder, which focuses on reactive attachment disorder, a relationship-forming disorder. The film will premiere Saturday, Aug. 25, at Leitersburg Cinemas.
Submitted photo

In the turbulent lives of hundreds of thousands of children, normal is a foreign word.

There is nothing normal about being abused, neglected or abandoned.

There is nothing normal about living with adults who are consumed by drugs and alcohol, sporadically employed and unable to handle the simplest of parental responsibilities.

And there is nothing normal about being shuffled from one foster home to another — sometimes several in just one year.

So, it comes as no surprise that these children often will bear emotional scars for a lifetime.

They have spent much of their childhood frightened, traumatized, angry and hurt.

And they react by being distrustful, destructive and unable to build meaningful relationships.

It's not easy being a foster/adoptive parent to such a child.

It might be one of the world's most difficult jobs — taking someone into your home who is struggling with a wide range of unsettling emotions.

Dan and Tina Hall know firsthand the challenges of raising children who suffer from severe post-traumatic stress and attachment issues.

It is their experience that has led to the release of the independent movie, "The Boarder." Before it hits theaters nationwide, the movie will make its premiere in Hagerstown at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25, at Leitersburg Cinemas, north of Hagers-town. The movie premiere is sponsored by the Hagers-town-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

For the love of a child

Over the years, as foster care and adoptive parents, the Halls have had several children enter their lives who were unable to adjust to a safe emotional environment.

"Sometimes, chaos is all these children know and their brains have a very hard time functioning when the chaos is gone," Dan Hall said.

In some instances, the children have reactive attachment disorder (RAD) — a condition that develops when infants and young children fail to establish healthy bonds with parents and caregivers.

Their basic physical and emotional needs were never met; so, during those early years, they begin to display abnormal behavior.

Then, there are the children who are dealing with medium to severe trauma. When the hurt is not repaired, Hall said these individuals can become increasingly unstable and have the potential of becoming dangerous to society.

When the Halls started down the path of being foster care parents, they were unfamiliar with these illnesses and their frightening effects. They just knew that the symptoms of some of the children, including an adopted daughter, weren't normal.

In their long journey in search of answers, they met Jane Ryan, a researcher, therapist and adoptive mother, who heads the Jane E. Ryan Institute of Family Health in central Nebraska.

She was familiar with the experiences the Halls had shared. She knew about children who threatened the families they were living with. She knew how manipulative and cunning they could be and how they didn't want to be loved.

She understood, not just as a therapist, but as an adoptive mother who had a son and daughter who were diagnosed with RAD.

Because of the personal challenges she faced, Ryan began a mission of helping other parents and children, whose lives have been traumatized by the disorder.

She created a therapeutic institute with the purpose of educating professionals and families about attachment problems.

Ryan wrote an award-winning book, "Broken Spirits Lost Souls," which offers a view of the effects of attachment and bonding interruptions.

And she wrote a novel and screenplay that addresses the long-term effects of childhood trauma.

That screenplay has become a movie, "The Boarder," an independent film that Ryan hopes will bring more awareness to the many layers of RAD.

'The Boarder'

The Aug. 25 screening  of "The Boarder" will be followed by a question-and-answer session with Ryan, director Jolene Adams, actor Andy Scott Harris and Dan and Tina Hall.

Ryan's connection to Hagerstown began last fall, When the Halls invited specialists from the Ryan Institute to present an educational and therapeutic conference on attachment disorders at Hagerstown Community College.

"At that time, 'The Boarder' was not completed," Ryan said. "However, we learned that Maryland leads the nation in innovative programs that support and provide care for troubled children and families. Plus, the response to our work was so positive and exciting that we decided Hagers-town would be a wonderful place to premiere the movie."

Ryan said the project "actually began 40 years ago, when I adopted my first child who had RAD — which was not diagnosed for 12 long, painful years."

She finished the screenplay in 2003 but it took until the fall of 2010 to educate herself about how to make a movie and take the necessary steps to begin filming.

"We've been working on getting the movie completed since we finished filming in November of 2010," Ryan shared.

Most of the filming took place in Ravenna, Neb. — "a little central midwestern town with a population of 1,341," she noted. "We also had one day of shooting in a Grand Island, Neb., hospital and the final shoot of two days took place in Los Angeles."

The movie stars Andy Scott Harris, Dee Wallace, Leslie Stevens and Carlton Wilborn.

According to Ryan, "The Boarder" is based on true experiences of real families.

"Interestingly enough, many of the families had similar experiences no matter where they lived or the origins of the children they were trying to love and help heal. That fact made writing 'The Boarder' much easier than anticipated," she said.

The movie tells the story of a family who adopts an 11-year-old boy named Carl, who suffers from reactive attachment disorder.

"Sadly, the experiences of children and their families are almost commonplace and so similar that they point out some of the usual deficiencies of foster and adoption care systems," she added. "Although some folks think the movie is meant to blame, it is not.  It is only by recognizing the problems and wanting to remedy them that appropriate help and hope can prevail."

As far as Ryan knows, there is no other movie like 'The Boarder."

However, when asked to explain the movie, Ryan said she sometimes refers to it as "The Bad Seed," a movie made in the 1950s about a homicidal girl.

Ryan said the movie "presents a wonderfully touching story that appeals to teens, as well as adults of all ages, men and women alike and people from all races. It speaks to the universality of the human story of 'The Boarder' and is a problem that is found in every country on every continent. It offers hope and solutions that can be applied worldwide."

What message does Ryan hope the movie will convey to the public?

"In a nut shell," she said, "'The Boarder' is first of all, meant to entertain by presenting a great story. And it is especially valuable for those interested in children. In their own childhood experiences and in children's issues. But the movie also is meant to raise awareness of the long-term effects of early childhood trauma on children around the world. Prevention is possible, but only with adequate education. There are many similarities among families dealing with disturbed and disturbing children and this movie is meant to represent such families in a realistic manner so as to offer hope to those who live unsupported in the dark and in distress."

Dan Hall, who is a member of the Washington County League of Foster and Adoptive Families and part of "The Boarder" movie team, said, "for years, Tina and I sadly discovered that our community has a significant lack of educational opportunities and therapeutic resources available to identify and help our thousands of traumatized children and adults."

More than 130 people attended last year's conference at HCC, he said, and it was so well received that "many therapists who attended have stated they would like more in-depth training."

According to Dan Hall, WCLFAF currently is seeking funding to help pioneer specialized attachment training for area therapists, as well as diagnostic services.

"If funds for educational programs and therapeutic resources for our special needs children are unavailable, children and families in our community will continue to suffer countless frightening effects, including emotional and/or physical neglect, abuse and traumas in their wake," he said.

If you go ...

WHAT: The premiere of "The Boarder"

WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25

WHERE: Leitersburg Cinemas, 20145 Leitersburg Pike, Hagerstown

COST: $15 online at www.leiters or $20 at the door

MORE: To watch the trailer, visit

Proceeds from the movie will be donated to the Washington County League of Foster and Adoptive Families to bring more therapeutic and diagnostic services to traumatized children and their families.

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