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24 Feb 2003

Stealing child
I have a 13 year old step daughter who lives with her mother and comes to us every 2nd weekend and all schoolholidays. This child steals continuously and we just don't know what to do with her anymore. We first noticed it when I moved in with her father 4 years ago - she would take my jewellery and just wear it, then when I would notice she had something of mine on, I would ask her what she was doing with it and she would swear on her life that her mom had given it to her. It caused major trouble between my then boyfriend who is now my husband, and I as he just always thought I was being nasty to her. Until she took a signet ring which had been given to me by my parents on my 4th birthday and it had my name on it. Then he realised that I had been telling the truth all along. Then my camera went and various other items as well.
About a year and a half ago, she went into a chemist and used my husband's secretary's account to buy all sorts of stuff - she told them she was this woman's daughter (Please understand that at this stage she was only 11). After the 2nd time she came in, the pharmacist got suspicious and contacted the secretary about it. We then found out that this child had stolen R300 from her father's wallet that morning while he was getting ready for work.
Since then she has continuously stolen money from her father, her grandmother, myself, anyone. Despite us hiding every bit of cash away when we know she will be there, she still manages to find it and helps herself to whatever she feels like. She is extremely adept at this as my husband and I watch her all the time when she's there, but she still gets it right. She has been given hidings for this, he has sat her down and talked through the situation with her, he has tried to explain to her what will happen if she should get caught stealing in a shop, he even went as far as taking her to a girl's reformatory and the headmaster sat with her and very graphically explained what went on in those places and made it very clear to her that if she was caught stealing she could be sent to one of these places. None of this had any impact on her at all.
She is now seeing a phychiatrist who has told us that this child feels absolutely no guilt at all for her actions and she doesn't feel that what she is doing is wrong.
We are at the end of our tether with her. What do you suggest? Is she likely to outgrow this? She seems to be getting worse all the time, not better. Please help.
Answer 338 views

01 Jan 0001

Dear dc,
I really doubt whether she will grow out of this --- this sounds like an Antisocial Personality disorder, in which a person really doesn't seem to feel that the usual rules of social conduct, let alone laws, apply to them. They can feel entitled to anything they want, whether or not it actually belongs to someone else. When the psychiatrist says she feel no guilt at all, this is typical. And it sounds as if she exploited the situation of the divorce, and the sensitivity of all the adults involved, for her own benefit.
Because the person themselves, in this case the child, hardly feels that there is a problem, and may seem the person least affected by her behaviour, they often have little or no interest in sincerely cooperating in treatment that might have some hope of improving the problem. Boys Town has had some real success with some boys like this ; some kids do actually reform in a reformatory --- though for too many, it becomes just a sort of University of Crime, in which hey learn to be more skilled in their criminal behaviour.
I'm puzzled that your description of the problem mentions everyone as having been affected by it, but says nothing about the mother --- either whether she also is a victim of the stealing, or what she feels about the situation.
It sounds as if the faher eneds to sit down and have a frank discussion with the psychiatrist, who has had the advantage of assessing the girl in some detail, and explore what options there are or trying to get things right, or, at least, righter.
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