Do you remember all the different instructions you were given in the hospital when your first baby was born? Did you get all the same or different and new instructions from all of your friends, family, strangers…or those parenting books?!! Did it overwhelm you while you tried to follow all the rules and do everything right…or did you ignore it all and just do what you thought was right? Did you ever imagine that you would do one wrong thing and then get a knock on the door and a stranger would begin asking you all types of questions, possibly accusing you of abusing or neglecting your child…?
Child Protective Services was a mystery to me as I was growing up and I just didn’t know what it was about. I had a friend in grade school whose father spanked her with a belt one time and left an impression of a horse (from the buckle) and she said she was going to call “someone”. I had no idea what that meant and I didn’t really ask questions because I figured she probably did something bad and just got a spanking. I tried my hardest not to be bad so I wasn’t worried.
Once I began working with families who had abused or neglected their children – and really learned what CPS is about – a whole new (and disturbing) world opened up to me. Going to the grocery store and seeing young children with no shoes on, dirty, running around the store, with no responsible adult in site, suddenly became “neglectful” to me. A father grabbing his child by the arm and leading them to the bathroom for a “whoopin'” had the potential of being abusive. My parents drinking and partying all day in a town 3 hours from home, then loading my two sister and me in the car to drive home, was no longer “normal” but dangerous and cause for CPS to take custody of us!!
When I began my career in Child Protective Services, I was not really young (as in fresh from college young), but I was younger than most of my clients. I had no children and the closest I had been to small children was my younger sister (7 years difference) and my niece and nephew who always lived 2-3 hours away.
I didn’t find it difficult to tell parents what I thought they could do differently to care for their children and I would often give loads of advice. They would sometimes look at me strange, but I have a fairly nice demeanor so I didn’t have much outright defiance (to my face, anyway). Some of the parents actually thanked me and said they found what I had to say helpful.
After having worked with parents involved with CPS for almost 4 years, I had my son…and boy did my perspective change EVEN MORE!! Everything around us was a danger, every move was a careful eggshell to walk on so that CPS would not be called!! I had the most irrational fears…and honestly, I still have them.
When my boy was two months old, Hubby was watching hockey on TV. I had the boy laying on the bed in front of me (I think maybe he had just had a bath or something). Well, the Redwings scored – Hubby yelled and flung his arms up – and the cat (who had been peacefully sleeping on the bed in front of him) flew across the bed – and the boy started screaming. The cat had actually scratched our boy’s face and there was a huge gash on his cheek (he still has the scar!!) and I was terrified.
I was not terrified of the scratch or the blood. I cleaned that up very quick, put antibiotic sauve on it, and bandaged it up. The boy was back asleep in five minutes… I was worried that CPS would be at my door following the boy’s next day at daycare.
When our boy was 4-5 months old, his daycare teacher asked me about his left thumb that was always turned in. It looked like he was just holding it in his palm, but we had always noticed that it didn’t really seem to come out. On this particular day, the teacher had tried several times to pull it out and he resisted and probably whimpered a few times so she thought it was hurt. We told her that it had been that way since birth, but he was about to have a doctor’s appointment so we would ask. The pediatrician said that it might be a soothing thing to him and she moved it all around… no problem!! Look at his thumb in this pic…you’ll see what I mean…
Almost a year later, when our boy was not walking at 18 months, we had a physical therapist come evaluate him and discovered that something was actually wrong with his thumb. It turns out that he was missing a ligament in the top of his thumb that pulls the thumb out of the hand. The boy had adapted and used his other fingers or pulled his thumb down rather than out to pick up balls and toys, but there was a fairly simple fix (well, surgery) and we should have done that when he was much, much younger.
We had the surgery – the doctor pulled a ligament from his ring finger and re-routed it – and started therapy for his movement and his walking. His left thumb was protruding in a weird angle from the time of compensating and it turns out that his left side, in general, was weak. Apparently, when he sat on the floor he always sat with his left leg to the side (rather than equal like criss-cross) and that made his left leg stiff and difficult to teach him how to walk.
The occupational therapist and physical therapist were sure to point out, on more than one occasion, that the process of getting him to where he should be would have been much simpler if we had done this at a younger age (he was TWO!!).
Through this entire process, I was terrified to miss a meeting or not follow exact instructions. I was afraid, not because I didn’t want to look bad, but because I didn’t want to be labeled as neglectful – and I didn’t want my boy to suffer because I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the directions his legs were when he was sitting!!
As a Mom, I always want to do what is best for my child, of course. I want him to be happy and healthy and safe. On the other hand, I want to feel a freedom from the fear that if I were to do something wrong, I could get a knock on the door from CPS asking why I had done the things I had done.
Do you think about Child Protective Services when you are looking at safety for your children? Do you fear that one wrong move can have them knocking on your door? What would you do if someone did accuse you, whether true or untrue?!!