``We had professionals say, `Sign the kid back over [to state authority].' But we couldn't. We love him; he is in our hearts,'' Kathy Minnucci said.
``He had lived in 12 foster homes or shelters before the age of 3, and we didn't want him to go through that anymore. . . . We felt alone and frustrated trying to find help.''
That changed, she said, when the couple found Christina Corp, ``who has been like a guardian angel to us.''
Corp is coordinator of the Delaware County Parents Involved Network (PIN), a self-help advocacy organization for parents of children who suffer from a variety - and often a combination - of emotional, behavioral and mental disorders.
The Delaware County group held its first meeting when eight parents gathered in October 1987 at Corp's Havertown home. It has grown to about 1,500 members.
Corp said she became interested in PIN when she was seeking help for a family member.
``These children are like purple rice. They don't fit anywhere on the shelf. I found help, but I needed support for myself,'' Corp said.
``PIN is an umbrella voice. We network with other support groups, and we work for parents by giving them support and helping them find information, so they can make the best choice for their child.''
There are PIN groups in almost every Pennsylvania county, including Philadelphia, Montgomery and Bucks. In Delaware County, an added service since late 1997 has been the Family Satisfaction Team.
The team serves as a go-between for families and service providers. Corp said it has given families a way to express to the county their views of agency services.
In addition, the Delaware County chapter will send an advocate to a special-education conference at the parents' request, she said. PIN will also provide family transportation for visits to an institutionalized child.
The organization's most important tasks, she said, are to assure families dealing with mental-health issues that they are not alone and to help those struggling with misplaced blame for children's problems.
``People will say, `There must be something wrong with your family life,' or, `You need to take a parenting class,' or, `Give me one weekend, or a week, and I'll straighten your child out,' when a child has a biological mental illness,'' Corp said.
Kathy and Vincent Minnucci said they heard those and other, more destructive, comments while trying to find help for Chris, now 8.
Chris is a brilliant student, Kathy Minnucci said, but his disruptive behavior had school special-education officials calling them daily with complaints.
By talking with PIN members, she said, she learned about Chris' rights to specialized treatment and found a school designed for his needs.
Anita Anderson of Wallingford said that when her adopted daughter was diagnosed with depression at age 12, members of PIN's adoptive parents' subcommittee offered a friendly voice.
``You hear from other parents who are in the same situations, and you are reassured that nothing you have done has caused this,'' Anderson said.
After years of dealing with medical personnel, schools and government agencies on their own, David and Grace Stanley of Aston said that about a year ago, they discovered PIN.
They are parents of 13 children, including five adopted and three foster children, some of whom have mental and/or physical disabilities.
The Stanleys said information from PIN helped one of their children with multiple disabilities receive the private-school placement the child needs to be successful academically.
In the Minnucci household, Kathy Minnucci said, every day is a challenge with Chris and his 5-year-old half-brother, Gabe, who is mildly retarded and has other mental impairments. Thus, she said, having PIN members to lean on is a blessing.
``I see beautiful little souls,'' Kathy Minnucci said of her two sons.
``To meet someone else who feels the same way, parents with the same issues and needs, takes away the feeling of being so alone.''