If I hear someone ask about “that ACS bitch” one more time…

12 09 2011

It’s very difficult having ACS, or whatever child protective/social services are call in your area, involved in your life. They drive me crazy, and I just have to work with them. I can’t imagine them being a part of my family.

ACS involvement starts out as an investigation. Investigations are, by definition, invasive. The kids get interviewed away from their parents. ACS workers look at their bodies to check for marks. The fridge and cupboards are rifled through to ensure there’s enough food. Workers might show up late at night, for a surprise meeting.

It can start to feel like you have no privacy. Like your life isn’t your own.

As a social work agency, we approach our clients from a strengths-based perspective. Meaning we start with what’s working, and build on it. That’s the goal, anyway. Sometimes we start by chasing clients down the block, or getting yelled at from windows. But the goal is to work together.

ACS comes from a different perspective. It seems more of a checklist than a philosophy, actually. Are you doing this? Do you have this? No? OK. Do this and this and I’ll leave you alone. First let me see your children’s beds. You brought the kids to the doctor? All right, I’m going to call to make sure. What are you getting so cranky about?

Because they’re investigating and putting services in place, the focus is on deficits. What’s going wrong. The parent isn’t disciplining the child appropriately, the child isn’t going to school, there isn’t a reliable child care provider, the home is too chaotic and messy. If someone came into my apartment and pointed out that I was unfit to be an adult, based on the fact that the only groceries I currently have are Cheerios and ice pops, my bed isn’t made, and it’s 2011, take down the framed Nirvana poster, I wouldn’t take to it too kindly.

In fact, I’d lash out at the person in question, then begin to doubt myself. Especially if those things that were pointed out were things I was already ashamed of. (When it comes to my Nirvana poster, I, of course, feel no shame.) This is, not surprisingly, the reaction we see from a lot of clients.

One of my families was referred to preventive services through ACS, and continues to have ACS involvement due to an ongoing court case. It’s challenging, because the family hates ACS. Not “please don’t stay in my home any longer than strictly necessary” hate, but “get the fuck out of my house, bitch, before I let this pit bull out of her cage” hate.

I’m always trying to understand my families’ feelings about ACS. At one meeting, I realized how insightful this mother was, and she made it incredibly easy for me. I’m tempted to get her to write a book. You know, when she’s not trying to get ACS off her back, meet with me, attend parenting classes, move where her abusive ex can’t find her, find a job, and get her kids back in school.

At this particular meeting, the mother, we’ll call her Ms. S (for strength, and sass) showed some vulnerability to me, and her ACS worker. The ACS worker was insisting that the children needed to undergo psychiatric evaluations. (The official chant is: 2, 4, 6, 8, when in doubt, medicate!) Ms. S opened up about her difficulties in getting the children to do what she wanted. “I tell them to go, I wake them up, you tell me I’m not allowed to beat their asses, so what am I supposed to do if they refuse?”

Yes, that was Ms. S being vulnerable. She’s tough.

The ACS worker then started explaining her side, in what she felt was a reasonable manner. “I have to go back to court, Ms. S. And if this hasn’t been done, the judge is going to be asking me why. My supervisor’s going to be asking me why. If I say we just made the appointment and they didn’t go, that’s not going to be enough, it’s going to be on me.”

This is when things got interesting.

“Are you talking to me about your job? Your job. I don’t give a shit about who you have to to talk to, this is my life. Do you think I’m not worried about my kids acting crazy? I’m the one who has to deal with them. I don’t care what a judge says, these are my kids.”

It was probably the most honest outburst I’d heard. It led to the ACS worker wrapping up her end of the meeting, and leaving me and Ms. S to it.

We talked more and more about her feelings about ACS. And it became more and more apparent that there is a fundamental flaw in the way our parents are being approached.

Ms. S told me about the supports in her life, particularly her sister and her cousin. They were always the people she could turn to in times of crisis, and when she was feeling overwhelmed. The kids got along well with these women. But when the case got called in, the kids were no longer allowed to pop over to their relative’s home to crash for the night, when things got too hectic at home. The relatives needed to be interviewed by ACS, to make sure they were appropriate.

“I’m not allowed to be their parent. This lady met my kids two months ago, she decides what’s best for them? I can’t say you can go sleep at your aunt’s house? And then she’s coming into my house, looking at my fridge. When I tell her, yeah, I am low on food, she tells me to go to a food pantry. Like I need someone coming in to tell me that.”

They way Ms. S was being approached put her on the defensive, because it undermined her as a parent. It told her that she wasn’t good enough. It didn’t make her think, OK, I’ve made some mistakes, and bad choices, but I’m a good mother, with smart, healthy kids. I’ve done something right. I’m not clueless.

If the goal is to preserve families, and foster independence, this is not the way to do it. This is the way to keep people moving from services to services–ACS case closed, preventive case opened; preventive case closed, mental health treatment opened. This doesn’t inspire our parents to utilize what they know, what they can do, to call in their existing resources and supports to meet their needs and improve the lives of their children. It creates dependent parents who question their every choice, feel that they have no say in their family’s life, and believe that they need outsiders to control their children.

Keeping us in business is not the goal.

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13 responses

12 09 2011
StevieRay

There is a reason for all the intrusiveness. The parent(s) screwed-up badly enough to be noticed by others. Kids are innocent, and should be protected.

12 09 2011
socialjerk

I fully agree with your last statement; it’s a huge part of why I do the work I do. I think prior to working in this field, I also would have agreed with the first two. However, my experience has made me see that things are actually much more complicated than simply “the parent screwing up.” For one thing, child protective services are ingrained in low income families. Once they are a part of a family’s life, it’s very difficult to get rid of them. Also, people in areas where CPS is such a part of life use CPS. I wouldn’t have believed it before, but I’ve seen firsthand people calling in blatantly false allegations because they are angry with a neighbor or an ex. It’s a terrible thing to do, but it happens. There are also people who get cases called in because they are victims of domestic violence, or due to issues of poverty. While they need help, and need to improve their situation for their children, I don’t think “screwed up” is the appropriate way to approach them.

We need to recognize what children’s services are doing. Usually, they are not removing children. When children are removed, it’s often very short term, until the imminent risk is dealt with. The goal is keeping children in the home, and having the family be independent, with minimal services. What we are currently doing isn’t working. As I said, I feel that the approach of, “you’re doing this wrong, we’re going to fix you” is part of the reason for that.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

12 09 2011
LK

I appreciate what you say here. You make a great point. As a former CPS victim turned fighter against them, I can totally relate to this mother’s feelings.

ACS, CPS whatever you want to call them come in on their holier than thou power trip, and half of them don’t have a clue about parenting difficult children or lack the life experience as they’re young newly-grads who grew up in the perfect families in the little pink houses with the two car garages and the white picket fence. Many of them have never experienced the struggles of being in a home that was short on finances and easily misdiagnose poverty as neglect. Lots of them get out as soon as they come to terms with what they have gotten themselves into. So the turnover rate rivals McDonalds.

People who have tasted freedom are not designed to live under a microscope. Parents are getting fed up with the fraud, lack of due process, loss of freedom, and the threats of loss of their children if they don’t comply with the unnecessary or unrealistic hoop jumping demands of the workers. Parenting classes are an utterly useless waste of time, what works for one doesn’t work for all, I’ve seen people loose their jobs because of the appointments that these workers impose on them, then the workers use that against them in court.

You can’t trust anybody. You can’t trust your counselors because ACS will get that info, you can’t trust your kids teachers because they’ll tell ACS everything, you can’t trust your doctors because they’ll be charged with failure to report, so now they practically report everything just to cover their asses. Parents are beginning to fear seeking medical attention for their kids because everything gets reported. And every time you have to deal with any of these people they are looking at you with suspicion. They wipe out your personal integrity as you have no right to it. You’re interrogated about every little thing.

Then there’s all the lies, misinterpretation, falsification of documents (and shredding of documents and requests for administrative hearings by ACS in NYC), perjury in court, broken promises, lack of respect, lack of due process.

Should I go on?

12 09 2011
socialjerk

I’m sorry for what you’ve dealt with with improperly trained workers. I have seen the damage that this can do. At the same time, I will say that I’ve met some dedicated, caring ACS workers, who I think were in it for the right reasons.

You bring up a lot of great points. I think lack of training and education are the crux of the problem. I have seen a lot of workers with a very poor understanding of child development, family systems, and the impact of poverty. Giving people a laundry list of tasks to complete, that they then must check off one by one, is not effective. We can see this, and it needs to be changed. In my experience, having services be more centralized, and minimizing the number of workers involved, rather than sending someone off to six different classes and appointments, can help. Also, the parents and children need to be involved in developing goals and determining what their families need.

12 09 2011
Phil

Love the idea of strength based work and other positive approaches, would that I had more time with clients to try and utilise these more. There was a video made of an interview with a social work manager and the mother of Baby Peter. The manager was utilising a strengths based approach and the mother was giving all the right positive answers, several months later baby Peter was dead. Unfortunately invasive detective techniques are essential when dealing with individuals who deliberately harm and/or abuse children and then seek to hide it. Sad but true 😦

12 09 2011
socialjerk

A strengths based approach does not have to take an excessive amount of time. It is simply a different way of viewing and approaching the family. Almost all of the parents I work with (cases where the children either have not been removed, or have been removed and returned to the home) are not monsters seeking to hurt their child. They are ill-equipped, and dealing with problems of their own. A supportive approach of acknowledging that this is a difficult time for the family, and that some of the questions that must be asked are personal and may seem invasive, would go a long way in getting the parents on board. I see a lot of ACS workers who roll their eyes, and tell the parents to just do as they say. This is over the course of months or even years. This is not helping someone to effectively parent.

I am familiar with the Baby Peter case, though not with that particular video. From my understanding, he had previously been removed and there was plenty of physical evidence of ongoing abuse.

Most families are not called in for the type of abuse that was going on in the Baby Peter case. The vast majority are instances of neglect. One of the most common is “educational neglect,” which happens often with teenagers who are refusing to attend school.

What I’m talking about is ongoing work that ACS does with a family, not just an initial investigation to ensure the child’s safety. This is a process of referring for services to help the family to be independent that takes a longer period of time.

Of course we must be vigilant in observing the child’s environment, and looking for physical and behavioral signs of abuse, especially with infants who cannot speak for themselves. But if we treat every family like they’re not worthy and are deserving of an attack, it just pits us against one another, instead of helping us to work together for the best interests of the child.

Thanks for reading.

12 09 2011
btrflygl

I don’t work with kids as you know, but always love to read about the work that you do, and the systems you are involved in.

If anything I am always learning something by reading your posts.

13 09 2011
socialjerk

Thank you! That’s such a nice comment

12 09 2011
Crystal Glover

I am glad I came back to this and read the comments. Now that I have all my basic courses over with and am admitted into the social work program, I am starting to delve into my practice courses. We have started right off the bat with emphasising the strengths base perspective and empowerment. I realize the extreme importance of this and how the Freudian view of “your broke, lets fix it” is a horrible way to approach clients. I am an older student (30 yrs to be exact) and am married w/2 girls. I grew up in poverty, so I don’t go into the field naively. I worry as I make my decision as to whether or not to go into CPS. What could I do to help children and what will it do emotionally to me (and my family). Day in and day out I see on the news horrible instances of child abuse but I also am well aware of the innumerable bogus charges. It cannot be easy to have a job that you go into (me, anyway) with pure heart and love for children, just to be hated by the ones you want to help before you even meet them. Ahhhh! Decisions!

13 09 2011
socialjerk

I’m glad you came back as well. A friend of mine just recently started working for ACS, in the training department. She asked me what I thought about it, and I told her, honestly, that I thought it would be difficult. It’s a large, underfunded bureauracy, with a lot of burnt out workers. But, if there is one thing they need, it is absolutely good trainers. Which I believe my friend will be.
You have been learning to practice from a social work perspective, which I, of course, think is very important and beneficial to our families. CPS workers in NYC are not social workers. They don’t come from this perspective. While I don’t think they necessarily all need to have Master’s degrees, I do think some training and grounding in this perspective would go a long way.
It’s definitely a difficult job, but I hope you continue to consider it–you sound like the kind of person we need!

13 09 2011
Crystal Glover

Thank You!! I think I’m going to go for it. The deadline to get in the recommendations, background checks, etc. is in 2 weeks and I know my passion has always been for child protection, so wish me luck:)

BTW I really enjoy reading your blogs… and tweets.

31 08 2012
Angela

I HATE ACS CPS SOCIAL WORKERS…. trust no one that works for Preventive Service Agency bullsh*t….ITS ALL A TRAP…I have an ACS Preventive service Case from my child protective case that ended in dec 2010 and its now going on sept 2012…IM SO TIRED OF THAT WOMAN comin to my house to try n trap me back into the system futher that I already am…talking about psychiatric evaluation therapy and counseling for a relationship that I had in Las vegas Nv in 2009 that I left in July of 2009 reopening cases and Shi* tired TIRED TIRED…..OF BULLSH*T…..PREVENTIVE SERVICE WORKERS HELP MY *SS…. STALK YES HARRASS YES BOTHER YES TRY TO MAKE A CASE YES THATS WHAT THEY REALLY DO….My case started because I drove from Las Vegas Nv to New York fleeing domestic violence and to get emergency surgery for my failing kidney……I live in a house I rent for 1650.00 in queens and I take care of my children very well as well as myself…My chidren keep a b average and take part in softball swimming track n field Fine Art classes and Dance classes and go to plenty of family outing regularly…so WHY WONT SHE CLOSE MY CASE…because she says I need Psychiatric evauluations therapy sessions and counseling sessions to prove that I and my shildren are mentally stable since I fled from domestic violence that I lived in for three years…EXCUSE ME BUT that was 3THREE YEARS AGO I Got those things in Nevada before I left as well as the Crime Victims Compensation for Domestic violence victims which is counseling therapy and medical treatment from the STATE OF NEVADA BEFORE I LEFT HELL I lived in a Womens center for women of abuse and took all kinds of parenting classes and counseling sessions there too….so NO I Dont Need another round of the same thing all over again….THE SH*T DIDNT HAPPEN HERE….SO WTF IS Her problem….I FEEL LIKE IM TRAPPED IN THIS SH*T NOW Shes trying to open a medical case on me or a mental illness case on me for being a survivor…BULLSH*T…..Cause once she opens that case she gone have the doctors lying on me n the kids to hold onto the case longer…..just more BULLSH*T AFTER More so tired she just tryinh to hold onto me n the kids to have an extra caseload and pay….what am I suppose to do now and How can I end this never ending revolving caseload of ACS PROTECTIVE SERVICES/PREVENTIVE SERVICES/MENTAL CASE SERVICES/UNFIT-MOTHER WHEN Im just a Single Disabled Mother of Five trying to have piece of my this crap is stressing me out…..H…E…L…P…P…L…E..A..S..E….FORGIVE ALL THE LANGUAGE IM KINDA TIRED/PISSED/FELLING TAKING ADVANTAGE OF/A GOOD MOTHER /DISABLED/SINGE PARENT/NEW IN NEW YORK JUST TRYIN TO LIVE,,,

27 06 2013
Wayne james

Great blog. This is insane. They are training people to destroy families and are actually doing it, and we are dumb enough to fall into their trap!

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