My doctor kindly called in a prescription for some pain medication yesterday, so last night I took it the moment I got home. I had about 2 hours with no pain–yay!–before the headache started back up again. I also began to itch everywhere. I forgot that ultracet makes me itch. Not fun.
Anyway, as I lay in bed, unable to sleep and scratching every few seconds or so, my mind began going back to my sojourn with CPS. It’s been almost a year since I left that job, and I still have nightmares about it. It haunts me whether I’m awake or asleep, and last night it was haunting me with a vengeance. I thought about all the different people I met and interviewed, the children I tried to help, those I was powerless to help, and those who didn’t need my help.
It’s such an ugly thing. There are divorce attorneys here–and, I’m sure, throughout the country–who as a matter of course in a divorce suggest their client call CPS on the other parent. Most of the time, at least in the ones I investigated, there were no issues whatsoever regarding the safety of the children. It became natural for me to see the identity of the reporter, and realize immediately that it was a divorce case. But I had to take those just as seriously as I did the other cases, because I never knew what I was going to find once I started investigating. One case the mother called in a report on the father, and I learned that it was actually the mother who was harming the child. Another time a mother called in a report on the father, and I was able to rule it out; however, in the meantime the mother had taken possession of the child and relapsed from sobriety. The father then called in a report on her, and took possession of the child before I had much opportunity to investigate. That poor child was being dragged back and forth from parent to parent, hearing each parent talk about what a horrible person the other parent was, and had no stability or safety.
When I was there, the policy was that if a worker had investigated a case on a certain family, and another report came in on that same family, the case was automatically assigned to the same worker. I suppose in theory it makes a certain amount of sense; the caseworker is already familiar with the family and the situation, has built a certain amount of rapport, and it would seem to make the investigation easier. However, when a client is outright hostile to a caseworker, it would seem to make more sense to try a different caseworker. I had one case where a beautiful young woman was allegedly using drugs and neglecting her infant. She would never go take a drug test, thus having it viewed by CPS as a positive drug test. But because she was living with her mother and stepfather, who were looking for her child, I couldn’t do anything. Even though her mother didn’t want her living there, and didn’t want to take care of her child, I was powerless to take any action. Later on, she moved out into her own apartment, and a report was immediately called in on her. And I got it again. This time she was much more hostile, much less cooperative. We ended up having to do a removal and called the police on her. I was worried about going to court the next day, because the removal was a little iffy legally, even though it was a good one as afar as the child’s safety was concerned. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. She showed up at court totally strung out, and the judge allowed the removal.
I’ve seen parents work harder at getting other people to provide for their families than they would have needed to work in providing for themselves. I recall one man proudly telling me that he had spent 4 hours calling around until he found a charity who would pay for his daughter’s prescriptions. His daughter was under the age of 13 and had been admitted to an inpatient psychiatric hospital for suicide threats and hallucinations. Their case history was three inches thick. They had received all kinds of assistance and intensive family preservation. That child needed desperately to get out of that house. But guess what–legal wouldn’t touch it. Family preservation wouldn’t take it. It came down to the fact that I couldn’t leave that child there, but I couldn’t remove her; I couldn’t leave their family without assistance, but couldn’t get assistance. If that child lives to the age of 18 without either killing herself or her father, I will be astounded. And if she does live to grow up, I shudder to think of what she will do to her own children.
And then there is the other end of the spectrum. There are the parents who are working their tails off, doing everything possible to provide for their children, but don’t have the skills or the support they need. They just need a little extra help. Too bad they fall outside the cutoff financial levels to receive any assistance from any of the charities I know about. And family preservation won’t take their case, because there are no problems about child safety. And I can’t get childcare assistance for the mother because she should be able to get help through the Victims Fund–her ex-husband, the father of the children, raped her in the sight of their oldest child, and is now in prison. But she can’t get help through the Victim’s Fund without letting him know where she lives, and she refuses to do that. I don’t blame her. I had to rule out the allegations of abuse and neglect, and turn and walk away, leaving that family without any kind of a safety net.
I can see the faces of all these children. I see the faces of their parents, the parents who care and the parents who hurt. I remember children lying to protect their parents and parents lying out of fear. I remember the woman who swore to me that she had never used drugs in her life, of course she’d take a drug test, and it came back the dirtiest test I’d ever seen. And I had believed her. I remember the faces of the parents who used their children as weapons in divorce battles. I remember the face of the little girl who asked me if she was going to jail because she made up a story about her father. I told her that she wasn’t in trouble at all, and later found out that her mother was abusing her, not her father. I remember the little girl who cried when she told me that her mother didn’t love her and was going to send her away to another state to live with her father. She I was able to comfort, and the last time I saw her, after I had a long visit with her mother, she was confident and secure in her mother’s love. I remember the boy who didn’t believe that I truly liked Harry Potter until he asked me a series of questions about the books.
I don’t think I’ll ever be truly free of that job. It changed me, in ways that I don’t like. I feel like there’s a deep wound inside of me, something that the skin has grown over so well that you can scarcely see a scar, but inside it’s festering with poison and rot.
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