I just called to say I’m a jerk (not the good kind)

10 10 2011

Not long ago, I got a call informing me that a family I am currently working with had a case called in. The single mother was accused of leaving her two youngest children, ages three and seven, home alone over night, and of using and selling drugs. I was rather surprised by this. This mother, who has her flaws, if anything erred on the side of having her kids with her too much. She had also been required to take drug tests more than once in the past, which always came up negative.

I asked if the person calling had any idea who had made these allegations. She responded, “a concerned citizen” as if it should be obvious.

Ah yes, a concerned citizen. The living embodiment of, “it takes a village.” Someone willing to put themselves on the line, get over those feelings of minding one’s own business, because the health and safety of a child is more important.

Is it bad that my first thought was, “Oh, you mean vindictive asshole?”

Two years ago, that never would have crossed my mind. I knew people used this excuse when being accused of child abuse or neglect. I had heard it when I worked in a youth center, as child protective workers would occasionally come by the speak with the children.

“Oh, I know they’re coming to talk to my child, it’s fine. My man’s ex-girlfriend called that lie in, because she doesn’t like that I have a healthy relationship.”

Really? She doesn’t like that? Strange. It was usually something along those lines.

“My mother-in-law did it, she doesn’t think I’m good enough for her son.”
“My neighbor was pissed at me because our kids got into a fight, so she made the call to get back at me.”
“I’m pretty sure it was my sister, or my cousin, they’ve always been jealous.”

Ever notice that the people who most readily accuse others of being jealous are the people you’d be least likely to actually be jealous of? What, she envies that badass Tweety bird tattoo of yours? Can’t she get her own?

I couldn’t really believe that someone would actually do that. However mad you might get at an adult, would you ever drag an innocent child into it? Would you accuse an adult of something horrible, that could stay with them the rest of their lives? All because you can’t get over a (no doubt, big time winner) guy?

But I know now for a fact that it happens.

I was all set to close a case that had ended with two children going to live with their grandmother. The mother was mentally ill and abusing drugs, but the grandma was quite stable. The kids went from missing half the school year to getting perfect attendance awards. They were traumatized from what they’d been through with their mother, but they were in counseling and thriving.

So I was shocked when I found out that a case had been called in.

I was even more shocked when I found out what the allegations were. The first was educational neglect–the children not going to school. This was very easily checked with a simple call to the schools. Those kids were in school all the time. They showed up on weekends. That was just patently ridiculous.

The second was that the children were inadequately supervised. Now, while their mother was extremely unreliable, apparently this was not a hereditary condition. These children were surrounded by aunts and uncles, god parents, and cousins. If anything they were overly supervised. There was never a moment when there was fewer than three adults in that home.

The third is what really proved to me that this was called in by someone with a bone to pick with this family. It was alleged that there was no food in the home. This family has more food in their home on a regular basis than my three roommates and I have ever had. (To be fair, I currently only have couscous and ice pops in the kitchen, but still.) The grandmother was cooking during every home visit I made. At times, she bought too many groceries, and sent me back to the office with non-perishables for our (small, pathetic) food pantry.

I asked the grandmother what was up, and she told me. Her son’s ex-girlfriend got angry at the family and called the child abuse hotline. They knew this for sure, because after she did it, she called the family to apologize.

Well, I guess the apology counts for something. Oh no wait, I’m being told that it doesn’t. At all.

It’s pretty gross (sorry, but there’s no better word) that this even needs to be considered by someone investigating a claim of child abuse or neglect. Because they don’t have enough actual cases to investigate. And because we need this extra level of confusion in those investigations. Not just interviewing a confused child and angry, frightened parents, and trying to determine if bruises are something to worry about or just the result of normal childhood running into walls (when will I grow out of that, by the way?) but a child protective worker also has to consider if this came from some jackass who does not at all have the best interests of the child in mind.

As a child, I was told not to go anywhere near the police and fire call boxes, because they would respond and be taking time away from someone who might really be in trouble. Also, if they responded to too many fake calls, they might not take them so seriously when people really needed help.

For anyone too young to remember those things that existed pre cell phone, I hate you.

I don’t know if the problem is that this lesson isn’t shared anymore, or if people don’t have much respect for child welfare, or if ACS and similar agencies are just such a part of life in certain areas that it doesn’t seem like a big deal. I suspect it’s a combination of the three. But it’s an unbelievable part of the job, that it’s important to be aware of.

Because apparently, people really are pretty terrible sometimes.