Junk food + TV – abuse=I leave you alone

11 11 2010

When I started working at my current agency, I inherited a case from a worker who was running away and leaving a social worker shaped hole in our front door offered a position at an agency closer to her home. I worked with the family for about a year. The kids were living with their grandmother, because their mother’s dedication for crack made everyday parenting tasks, like bringing the kids to school, rather difficult to accomplish.

Grandma’s house wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly adequate. The kids were traumatized, but they were getting mental health services. So I filed the necessary paper work, and stepped out. As far as I concerned, this particular family’s case had been closed.

Through the magic of bureaucratic databases, I was proven wrong.

The case was still considered open, because CPS refused to step out. (Because they were involved initially, they get final say. Bastards.)

I can hear it now. “Surely, SocialJerk, if a child protective specialist refused to step out, there must have been some serious safety concerns! That grandmother must have been at least borderline unfit.”

Um, how dare you doubt me. Have I ever steered you wrong?

When we finally got a phone call through to the the supervisor’s supervisor’s  supervisor (the next stop was Obama. Michelle, not Barack) we were told that there were, indeed, outstanding issues that needed to be addressed.

For one thing, the oldest girl needed new glasses. She had broken her old ones, and they had not been replaced.

As far as I know, this child had not been wandering off into the middle of the street, or putting herself at risk by running into stationary objects. But this was considered serious enough to warrant involvement by CPS and a preventive social worker.

It didn’t end there. The younger boy needed more dental work.

I had seen this child weekly. His grandmother had given me notes, documenting many dental appointments. I believe I mentioned elsewhere that I am not, in fact, a dentist. The kids teeth looked fine to me, and the dentist said the same thing. But CPS wasn’t satisfied. Perhaps eight year old boys not having porcelain veneers constitutes neglect?

Here’s the thing–grandma knew how to get these kids the glasses and dental work they needed. The kids had Medicaid, the girl even had a voucher for new glasses. But the grandmother had a lot to take care of, and these two things weren’t terribly high on her list. Ideal? No. But what the hell was I supposed to do about it? I don’t even have a car. I suppose I could sit on the bus with the family for a trip to Lenscrafters, but that doesn’t seem like the best use of anybody’s time.

I’m a social worker. I’m not a babysitter. If this woman didn’t do these things under pressure from ACS and family court, she wasn’t going to do them because I kept up with my weekly home visits. (Honestly, I’m a pleasant houseguest, she really would not have minded.)

There’s also the fact that glasses and teeth are important, but neither of these things compromised the children’s safety. They were otherwise healthy, they went to school, they were happy to be living with their grandmother. They got therapy weekly. If a kid breaking their glasses and going without for a while was reason enough to warrant CPS intervention, I think they’d be even more overwhelmed (and less effective) than they are now.

We see things like this all the time. People raise their kids in ways that we wouldn’t. Does that mean we have the right to step in? It doesn’t fill my black heart with delight to watch a mother feed her three year old Doritos and Windex-blue “juice” for breakfast. I don’t agree with allowing your boyfriend of the week to meet your kids. Watching TV while doing homework makes my skin crawl.

But frankly, those things are none of my business. If something is compromising the kids’ safety, I intervene as appropriate. If some behavior, like not allowing your teenage girl to leave the house unaccompanied, is contributing to the problems that brought a family in for services, I’ll address it.

But it’s not my place to say, “Well, this is how I would raise my imaginary kids! Why aren’t you breastfeeding, ma’am? You owe me an explanation!”

No family is perfect. Including mine. (Mom: just kidding!) Including all families of all social workers. We all have our bad moments, the things we wish we didn’t say, and the things we let our kids get away with. If we had a CPS worker or a social worker observing that, we would probably expect a little lee-way and understanding.

If we wait for perfection, we are going to find those caseloads expanding even more, and length of service growing and growing.

Then again. What the hell do I know?

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6 responses

11 11 2010
nechakogal

Sigh, I am always astonished at the extremes found in different jurisdictions. My experience with CPS has been having trouble getting a file opened or kept open when there are serious concerns like neglect, addiction, and potential for spousal violence in the home. It was mind boggling to me the number of times I would find out that a file had been closed despite persistent reports of ongoing concerns. Often it was as though the CPS worker made decisions that defied common sense. I am not sure what the timeline is here, but I do find it curious that this caregiver has the resources available, but hasn’t taken care of things. What is the barrier to getting this done (if not just not enough time)? Perhaps if that is discovered the file will finally be closed.

12 11 2010
socialjerk

I’ve also had many experiences like the ones you’re describing. They’re so frustrating a upsetting. What’s especially perplexing is the complete lack of consistency. I have the case I wrote about above, and then I have a girl in the psych hospital who just revealed that she’s being abused by someone in her mother’s home. The CPS worker is intent on sending this child back home. It’s bizarre, and infuriating. The ones who really need the attention so often don’t get it.
I agree that it’s strange and a bit troubling that the grandmother hasn’t done these things. But it’s been a long time, and we’re at a point where “it is what it is.” Not perfect, but there’s been so much change and improvement, and the family is ready to move on.

12 11 2010
cb

It reminds me of something vaguely (very vaguely) similar I was working with yesterday where the other involved agency seemed to terrified of any kind of possible risk being left open, they were forgetting where to draw the lines between what we expect of others and would we would expect (and want) for ourselves…

12 11 2010
socialjerk

Exactly! There are time that I feel like, in order for me to step out, it’s expected that the kids be in enrichment programs, have at least two new counselors, and eat nothing but organic food prepared by magical elves. Once services are introduced, it can be hard to get back to the idea of “good enough parenting.”

12 11 2010
Allison

I see both sides…………on one hand, this can be a waste of resources for a family who really needs the help. On the other though…….a wise person once told me to be appreciative of the “easy cases” we have that do not require a lot of work/follow up.

I also have been in situations as well where sometimes the easiest of cases blow up…………so I guess you never know what you may walk into :).

12 11 2010
socialjerk

I try to avoid saying that a case is “easy” or “straight forward,” because whenever I have in the past, I then immediately find us all in a handbasket, well on our way 🙂
I do try to appreciate those easier situations, like when a case is winding down and goals have largely been achieved. This is just particularly frustrating because we went through the termination process, and now I have to step back in-even though nothing’s new!
Thanks for reading and commenting!

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