Child Protective Services, Department of Human Services, Department of Child Services and a variety of state and county departments and acronyms combine to form what most of us have been raised to believe is the one universal good in a world where, among the majority of good people, there are those who are not. Based on this belief, it is possible to view these systems as a force for good and a hero to those who have suffered. Yet, for most families, like my own, who encounter this system, help against the system is more necessary than the perceived help from these wolves in sheep’s clothing. I preface this by stating that my family’s case, due to the abuse of my grandson, necessitated some level of intervention. I further assert that, although we have come through successfully through the system, my account should not be misinterpreted as legal advice. The only true advice that I can give is to get a lawyer, should you find yourself in such a situation, and take nothing at face value. With this stated, I can provide you with the top 5 assumptions that were quickly debunked during our case or through researching other cases in hopes that you will not fall into the same traps that we did and may shorten the duration of your battle.
- You have to talk to the CPS investigator immediately. I get it. You are in what seems like a bad dream and this individual, who has been educated in child and family services, seems to be the only rational voice in the room. This is the calm before the storm and their job, at this point, is to make you comfortable enough to provide any information that may be distorted. You are in shock, angry, and perhaps scared. Your thoughts are anything but clear and your statements will appear irrational and jumbled. Take a breath. Recognize the graveness of this encounter. Seek immediate legal advice. Be polite and firm but do not give an immediate statement that could be taken out of context. It could take years to undo such damage.
- The system and courts are on the side of the mother. Perhaps because of my generation’s tendency to typically grant custody to the mother in cases of divorce, I viewed this system as one that would provide aid to the mother to secure the mother/child bond. THIS IS NOT TRUE!!! I say this again because it is critical to understand… THIS IS NOT TRUE!!! In as much as there is a natural tendency to state that a mother/child bond is unbreakable, there is also an opinion of the system and the courts that a mother should always protect their child even from dangers that they do not know exists. Failure to protect and failure to supervise are common terms used when a mother is unaware of the abusive or neglectful nature of the child’s father. Notably, this can also be applicable to fathers who are unaware of the same behaviors of the mother, but for the purpose of assuming that the court will side with the mother such a relationship is expressed. Therefore, if you find yourself in the position of shock when the abuse surfaces, do not assume that the workers are there to protect you and your child.
- Children are only removed if there is proof that the home is not safe nor can it be made safe with reasonable efforts. This was a big one for us and a difficult one to debunk to our friends and family who could not understand why my grandchildren were in foster care if we had done nothing wrong. I had always believed that, if a child was in foster care, it was because the family could not provide for them or chose drugs over their children. I had the worst opinion of these biological parents, felt sadness for the children, and praised the foster parents and social workers who had removed them from such an unsafe and unhealthy environment. So I could not be upset when people viewed us in the same light. I could not change what they had always known into what I now knew to be true. Children are removed at the first hint of fitting into a clause. It then falls to the parents to prove that the accusation, misunderstanding, or blatant misrepresentation of a conversation is untruthful. Once this occurs, the system then works to find something, anything, to hold the family in the system to fulfill requirements that are nearly impossible to meet despite all efforts and intentions of the parents. This seems unreal. One would believe that, after the accusations were disproven then the case would be over and the children returned. All I can say to this is, NOT WITHOUT A FIGHT!
- When children must be removed, the workers look for family members first to best meet the needs of the child. I grew up in a rural community where often, without the involvement of CPS, grandmothers raised their grandchildren until the parents were financially stable enough to do so or in the event that the parents were not willing or able to raise their child. It would seem natural that a system that is meant to protect children and support the family unit would opt for a similar situation. I found two key issues with this assumption. The first of these, as was in our case, was supported by the idea that a child’s perception of a person as a family member supersedes the biological family. In other words, if you have a former friend who your child once referred to as aunt so and so or a neighbor who everyone calls gramps, then the state can place them with these individuals as kinship care despite the availability of biological family or the present relationship with these “family” members. The second issue that I found through research is that the state maintains custody even in kinship care which means the family member, even biological, must prove their capabilities to the satisfaction of the state and beyond any expectations placed on nonbiological foster care. For this assumption, my advice is to be careful who you allow to be close to your children. Make clear boundaries between family and friends even if the friend feels like family at the time. Life happens and you would be surprised to know how quickly gramps or aunt so and so will fall in line behind the accusations due to these assumptions. ALWAYS have a family plan in place to handle such a situation should CPS come knocking.
- CPS wants to return your children home. From the moment your children are removed, know that the state has already made up its mind that you are not fit nor will you ever be fit for your child. I had always believed that the state could not interfere with something so natural unless the safety of the child was truly at risk and then, the family or the church community would step in to help. Instead, I quickly learned that just as owning a gun or having a driver’s license, parenting a child is a right that can quickly be taken away based on the decisions of a system supported by our elected officials. Systems that are supported in politics are supported financially. Should the system not be deemed effective or necessary, then the financial support is placed elsewhere. If your children are returned home, that means that the state did not meet its burden of evidence or that your condition was fixable despite their initial claims. What system do you know that wants to be proven wrong or unnecessary at the risk of losing their funding and being reduced or minimized? The only way the system wins is if you lose!
Granted, these are five very basic beliefs that most people who have never encountered, or are encountering for the first time, the system of child protective services. Fortunately, by learning the truths, we were able to move forward and have our case dismissed after nearly a year of disproving their allegations. Just as I did, you can find this information through a number of sources or personal experiences. However, most of these sources that I found fall under the category of “what I wish I would have known,” whereas I am telling you “what I am glad I learned.” For as discouraging and frightening as this system is, knowledge is the key. Knowledge is your power against your immediate situation and informing others is the power that we have against the system as a whole. Children must be protected but a society who believes that this is being achieved is a society that is blinded by these assumptions.
Continue to find the truth so that your truth may be revealed,