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?