Sunday, May 3, 2009

Noble Intentions - Help or Harm?

Have you ever tried to help someone and then feel like you did them more harm then good? When children are removed from abusive homes does that guarantee a better life and better outcomes for them? According to the research I have been doing over the last week the answer is no. There is actually some research that shows that children who are taken from their marginally abusive home have higher rates of early pregnancy, lower education levels and higher incidents of mental illness then those who are left in their homes. My own experience in foster care tells me that sometimes even the harm that is done when the intention was noble can have good results.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to a very dear person in my life who had lived with me as a foster child. I had so wanted to help her and when she left it was a terrible leaving. My ex-husband did not want to risk allegations against himself by having her stay with us and when the decision was made, her case worker did not allow me to talk with her about what was happening or why. The DHHS worker picked her up from school and I never spoke with her agian until now, 14 years later. My noble intention when she came to live with us was to help her know that she was a bright, beautiful young woman with all the potential in the world. When she left I felt I failed her. When I would think of her, I would almost always feel a twinge of guilt and send a silent prayer wishing her well. Did I harm her? What lessons did she learn by my abandonment of her (that is what it fel like to me), that she would be abandoned, sent away if she wasn't perfect. Even though my intentions were good, I did not think through before she came to live with us how I could harm her if it didn't work out. It was not even a possibility in my mind.

I was happy to hear that her memories of being with me and of me were almost all good. She remembered Easter egg hunts and me helping her with her homework. She remembered things I told her including, "make good choices" and "you CAN do it". Where I thought because she left I failed, she felt grateful for the time we did have together. She was able to see past my flaws and inability to hold on and see my noble intention which was to love her and help her see her own possibility. The sytem was not kind to her and despite that she transcended (went above and beyond) what I could have dreamed for her. She is still a bright, beautiful and loveable young woman, now with a loving family of her own.

What are your noble intentions? Can you see your workers noble intentions? People do not get into CPS work or become therapists because they want to steal children or rip families apart. Most of us get into the field because of our own "Pscyhic Scar". I became a social worker because one of my deepest longings it to take away the heart pains that come from being alive and experiencing life. No one is immune to the whacks that life brings. However, we are all able if we are willing to learn how to skillfully deal with them.

I choose to look past the words and the actions and truly look into the noble intentions that drive those I love and those I work with. Can you?

~ Deb

Resources: Book Recommendation : Stress Free For Good by My Friend Fred - Dr. Fred Luskin

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Accountability - Internal or External?

Saturday afternoon and into the coming week I will be writing a book for the individuals and families who have an allegation of abuse. My goal, to have the first draft completed by the following Sunday. I have been thinking about this all week and I've told a number of people about my plans knowing that this will hold me accountable. I like being held accountable when I'm doing something I want to do. I don't like being held accountable to ways of being and tasks assigned to me by others.

Accountability to change is probably one of the most difficult issues parents with CPS involvement are ever going to face. Clients, I have worked with often complain about living in the fishbowl. It feels as if everything they do, say and even think is under scrutiny. Past mistakes are brought up and examined. No corrective actions taken are thought of as good enough. Who you talk to and who you don't talk to may be a topic of discussion at your next visit with the CPS worker. This may be true, even if it's family. Every choice you make during those days of an open case may be brought up, discussed, analyzed and rejected. It feels like it will never end. To top it all off, everything is looked at through the eyes of someone else who may have very different experiences then yours.

Did you know it is all a story? We tell our stories based on the data that we have collected through our education, experiences and conversations with others. Just imagine that you are the CPS worker who went to the home of Danielle, "the girl in the window" and you spoke to the mother, never saw the child and thought everything appeared okay, only to find out 3 years later that this now 7 year old feral child was found living in a roach infested home with thousands of bites on her in a dirty diaper only able to communicate through grunts. If you were the worker, her colleague or any CPS worker who heard about this story you just might find yourself being hypervigilant when new cases come in. How do you know that you won't be the one that overlooked a horrible case of abuse?

Being the paren on the other end is no piece of cake either. You may be struggling just to get by with few supports and already overwhelmed with life. Their questions may seem like insinuations and outright attacks. Your life experiences may be more then enough proof that no one is trustworthy even when they tell you we want to help you get everything you need to keep your child safe. You are thinking, "they may just be saying that to get into my home to gather more evidence. The reality is, they just may get more information that firms up their case.

It is almost always difficult to communicate effectively when operating under the influence of fear. When you are afraid, do your really want the person(s) you are most afraid of to be judging you and holding you accountable to some parenting guideline that you were never taught? When you, the CPS worker, is fearful of erring and missing vital clues can you not help but wonder how this literally "poor" family is going to be able to meet their childn's needs?

What do you do then? Begin by being open to learning and growing. For a few moments whether you are the parent or the CPS worker, suspend your judgment and look for the underlying intention, often the noble intention of what the other person is saying and doing. When the parent who has been doing so well is seen with her brother at the liquor store, you have the opportunity to investigate and ask why? Don't assume they were getting drunk for the weekend, perhaps this is a young woman who was taught if family needs you, you help and you don't put yourself first. It doesn't mean she was drinking too. The noble intention is to take care of family members. If you are the parent and your CPS worker tells you your children are having a hard time after the visits, don't assume she is saying AND YOU are the cause of their hard time. Ask about your child and what they may think is happening? Ask if the child could possibly be missing you and acting out thinking they will be sent away (away being back home). The noble intention here might be we are concerned and we want you to know so you can help. Then find common ground to work from recognizing that the underlying intent is good but that sometimes we have belief systems or ways of communicating that don't come across as good as we intend.

~ Deb

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Fighting In Front Of The Kids - What's the Harm?

This was a strange week. I assisted two parents in making reports to Child Protective Services. This was out of the norm, even for me as a mandated reporter. I might make a half a dozen reports a year. I almost always have the parent report with my assitance when possible and rarely do I report without their knowledge. The only time I would report without a parent's knowledge is if it would cause additional harm to the child. When working with families, I encourage parents to acknowledge what has happened, develop a safety plan and self-report whenever possible.

The theme is a common one, fighting in front of the kids does it really do harm? You might think so if you were to hear the 12 year old state, "place me anywhere but home." We assessed for suicidal ideation based on the writing on some school papers stating "death" and "what's the use, my parents don't care about me." The drawings of coffins on the arms might also be a clue. She acted out a couple of suicidal gestures with a big grin on her face as she talked about the fighting that was going on in the home. "It happens all the time" she states as she indicates how she is mad at both of her parents. "It is easier to let mom know how mad she is because mom won't do anything and Dad will get mad and Dad is scarier then mom."

Which parent is to blame? Who is in the wrong? Is it the parent who screams out how stupid you are or the one who yells, "your children need you". Is this a failure to protect case? What would keep a parent from leaving a situation that is aggressive, demeaning and upsetting? Perhaps it is the lack of driver's license, no car or no money to go somewhere else? Perhaps there is no support or maybe it is the excuses, "he didn't mean it" or "she loves me" or "I promised my children I would never divorce." Does it really matter who or why?

Maybe the most important thing is to make it stop. To just do whatever it takes to not carry on in front of the children. Dr. Phil McGraw tells the story that he and his father used to get into loud debates and arguments and one day he realized that he didn't want to do that anymore so he made a life law to just stop. As he tells it, just as he doesn't have to make a decision on a daily basis about whether he hurts small animals or babies, he no longer has to make a decision about whether he is going to yell at his dad or not. It just is not going to happen. This would be a good life law for parents to adopt. This does not mean that you don't have disagreements what it means is you leave out the loudness, the aggression, the violence and the contemptuous name calling. It means that you now have an opportunity to teach your children how to be in relationships in a healthy way. The fighting does not have to be violent in order to negatively impact your children.

It may be a good time for you to do a self assessment.

What am I teaching my children if I leave? What am I teaching my children if I stay treating their mother/father like this? What am I really teaching them about relationships? What do I want to teach them? Do I really want them to grow up and stay in a relationship that belittles, disempowers or breaks their spirit? Do I want to teach them that all behaviors are acceptable if you love someone? Do I want to teach them love is painful and suffering is not optional?

So stop. I know you would if you could. If you can't then please ask for help. There are so many resources out there. Google the topics - anger management, mood management or emotional detachment, look for a counselor, take personal responsiblity for what you are doing. There are so many ways to get help, to find some peace. Haven't you been angry, hostile and disappointed long enough? When you stop like who you are and how you are behaving it is time for action.

~ Deb


Saturday, March 21, 2009

What do I do first?

So, you have an allegation of abuse or neglect. What do you do first? Do you keep it quiet and hope that it goes away? Do you open your doors invite the Child Protective Worker in and hope that they will see that there is nothing to worry about? Do you tell them to leave and come back with a subpoena?

There is no "absolute" right or wrong answer. Here are some self assessment questions to consider.

1. What is the allegation? It is much harder to substantiate or prove neglect or emotional abuse then physical or sexual abuse. Risk of harm can be reduced immediately by addressing the concern that is being brought to your attention. For example: a new friend may be substantiated as a sexual offender and you didn't know it. Acknowledging this new information and agreeing to not allow any contact will impact any decisions CPS makes.

In determining the action to be taken, CPS typically evaluates the allegation for severity, chronicity, long term, and short term impact. Whereas a finding - or even simply an allegation - of sexual abuse could result in immediate removal; not having appropriate clothing could result in an ongoing investigation, corrective action, and case closure.

You can find how your State defines abuse and neglect through the ChildWelfare.Gov website:

2. Is there any substance to the allegation? Are you being accused of beating your child and the "proof" is a birth mark on your child's back? One individual's three year old daughter, let herself out into the yard, while her mom was sleeping. If mom was drinking the night before and was hung over and slept in then there could be a totally different outcome then if mom was in the bathroom and she came out and realized she was gone and went searching for her within a few minutes.

3. Do you have a support system? Are there people around you, who can step in and help you with the children? Someone, who the department would see as safe and responsible, to take the children if CPS finds that there is an immediate risk of harm? Child Protective Service workers are less likely to step in for immediate removal if you have someone who can guarantee that your children will be safe and protected while they do their investigation. CPS can require removal if the risk of harm is immediate.

4. Do you have support services? Do you have medical providers, therapists, social service agency involvement who can vouch for your ability to keep your children safe? Can you make or have you made a safety plan with your support service providers?

5. Is this the first allegation? Repeated visits from CPS increases the probability that a case will be built that will substantiate abuse. Working a plan with a CPS worker and acknowledging any previous history or relapses and taking corrective action increases the chances of a positive outcome.

6. Are you ready to do whatever it takes to ensure your child's needs are met and that your child is safe? Sometimes, the abuser is a partner or family member. If that is the case, are you willing to make the report, get the protection order and do whatever it takes to ensure your child's safety?

There are no easy answers and no absolutes. The common goal of Child Protective Services and you, if you are like most parents and not the parent who has no regards for your child's safety, is that your child(ren) will be safe, loved and nurtured. Sometimes, life happens and things get in the way. You lose your job, helping someone else puts you in harms way, your child gets bruised. More often then not being honest, taking responsibility and doing everything in your power to keep your child safe will result in a positive outcome both with CPS and with your child's well being.

What do you do first? Make sure your child is safe - physically and emotionally. Make a safety plan with or without your CPS investigator.

Resources that might help:
1. An attorney
3. Your state website - Department of Health & Human Services - many states have handbooks for parents, the DHHS policies and links to resources such as the Ombudsman.

~ Deb

I welcome your comments, stories and feedback.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

~ So Many Stories - So Many Sides

There are so many sides and so many different experiences when it comes to Child Abuse and Neglect. As I'm putting my focus on helping the bio-families, I find that there are many broken hearts and affected people on all sides of the issue.

Just today, I spoke with a woman who is trying to adopt the brother of her adopted child. Her complaint is that the DHHS is putting barriers to allowing a child who's parental rights have already been terminated into an adoptive home. Later, I read a story about a pediatrician, who as mandated reported a child who had an unusual bruise and as a result his practice suffered and parents chose not to continue to see him. I ended my day with an IM conversation with my new blogger friend, Julie, who had an allegation and she mentioned though her child knows nothing of the details, her behavior makes it clear she knows something is amiss. There was a TV news story tell about a man and woman, in Indiana, who were abusing children between the ages of 2 month to 3 year olds, who had been left in their care.

All together the problems seem overwhelming and without answers. One at a time though a difference can be made. Tomorrow, I will send out an e-mail to the adoptive mother and I will continue to work on my book project. Tonight, I'll go to sleep with a deep sense of appreciation for what is good in this world!

~ Deb

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Where is the Help for Biological Parents?

~ About three years ago, I was laying in the tub enjoying a "nice hot bath" when thought appeared. "I have never seen a book for biological parents who have an allegation of abuse or CPS involvement." I could recall names and titles of books for foster parents, adoptive parents, social workers, CPS workers and not a single book title came to mind for biological parents. I immediately jumped from my once was relaxing bath, wrapped myself in a towel and went straight to the laptop. I googled, dogpiled and searched the bookstores for something that explained to parents what to do if CPS came knocking. Couldn't find any one resource that really explained the system and how to maneuver through it. I searched the Child Welfare League and couldn't find anything there either.

I truly felt I had inspired thought that night. I quickly made an outline of what a parent might need to know. Then I went to bed. I thought about it frequently for a month or so, even went so far as to get a book on how to write a book proposal. I even completed the steps of that book proposal until it came to writing the first chapter and then............

Now it's a few years later and I find myself thinking about this again and this time I feel ready to write, to follow through, to do SOMETHING to make a difference. When I did my search this time I found that there is more information, more people writing individually about their stories and this wonderous thing called Google Alerts that helps me find what people are saying about the topic.

It doesn't sound like much has changed in the last couple of years, people are still "fighting CPS", the system is still being reported as "broken" and there are still real stories of child abuse horror and real stories of "I can't get my kids back."

I know I don't have all the answers and I also know that I have a good idea of when and why it goes wrong for people when they are in the system and so here I am, writing my first blog and feeling the excitement of being inspired.

I welcome any questions, thoughts or comments....and invite you to learn and grow with me as we explore this topic.

Wishing you Peace,

~ Deb

I have Shalom over my life; nothing missing, nothing broken, no unfinished business!