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