Thursday, November 29, 2007

Nobody Wins

I'll preface this post with the statement that while OF COURSE any allegation of child neglect or abuse must be investigated, it is obviously too much to ask that such investigations be done with even an iota of common sense, much less responsibility to the legal rights of the children involved, not to mention anyone else.

I had an experience the other day I hope NEVER to repeat. I suppose it could be considered "enlightening" if that word can even be used when talking about the mindless, heartless monster that is "social services" (to be fair, I should say "social services in my state" since maybe its better elsewhere? Right next to that bridge for sale....). I have a friend, I've known her for years. She's a smart woman, loves her kids and has had a really hard time for awhile now. She's not perfect (I've yet to meet that person) but she's sure as heck not stupid or lazy or criminal....she's just a mom struggling to keep a roof over her kids' heads and food on the table.

So one day, CPS shows up at her door, demanding to be allowed into her house. A complaint has been filed. The nature of the complaint pretty much proves that it has to be a malicious in nature. Sadly, my friend knows that there are several people who could and would do such a thing. So, she does what she is legally entitled to do -- she refused to allow the CPS agent into her house and instead required them to follow the formalities. Perhaps this particular agent had never before dealt with an educated parent, willing to advocate for herself and her kids....because she sure acted like someone had just pissed on her would be amusing if it hadn't ended up causing a lot of distress to my friend and her kids and costing ME, the taxpayer, a bunch of money that could be better spent, oh, finding kids that are actually being abused? Or perhaps, if that's too much to ask, funding schools, since my state is pretty much bankrupt at this point, with no relief in sight and the schools are taking the brunt of the budget cuts.

So this whole farce drags out....and earlier this week, I found myself sitting in the lobby of the local Welfare office (oh, there's some nice sounding name they call it now -- I can't for the life of me remember what it is -- Family Assistance something? Health and Human Services? Bend Over and Smile? I was the welfare office.) I got there early so I had a chance to sit and watch. I'm not sure I've ever before been in a place that so sucked any life, any dignity, any hope out of a person. People coming in, with varying degrees of frustration or futility in their eyes. People who I would bet are just trying to make ends meet. Yeah, I'm sure some of them are there because they made stupid decisions but as is said, there but by the grace of God go I.....fluorescent lights, humming just below hearing, cheap plastic chairs that look like they came from a bus station 15 years ago (you know the kind, they sorta but not really are formed to fit your butt -- which means they really don't fit anything), broken toys over in a corner for the kids to play with, clerks who are more robot than anything, unless you don't stand in the right line or fill out the right form or sign the right sheet....anyway, there I sit, waiting to wait with my friend while CPS interviews her kids, which supposedly will be the end of this unless they find something (which they won't). Again, my friend knows her legal rights (and more importantly, her children's legal rights) and so she has a lawyer present, to sit in on the interviews. Oh my goodness, if the agent's hydrant got pissed on before, this was chest thumping I'd expect from chimpanzees, not government employees.

I think it took almost an HOUR for CPS to figure out that they weren't going to find a copy of the law stating that they didn't have to allow the lawyer to be present (since it didn't exist) but they did get to say "the prosecutor" a lot (which is amusing in a sick way -- if they actually DO get the prosecutor involved, then the presence of a lawyer is more than guarenteed!). They did try to get the lawyer excluded on the grounds that they are allowed to interview a child without the suspected abuser present. I realize that lawyers are generally unpopular but this was not at all fair to the very nice woman who was representing the children as I must say I didn't see anything about her interactions with the children I'd consider abusive.

Finally someone figured out that if they weren't willing to just say "oops we were wrong, we're so sorry for wasting your time, have a nice day" then they needed to come up with an alternative. (In the meantime I'm getting creative in the "visitation room" with its own collection of broken toys, keeping a bunch of kids occupied as best I can -- imagine what it would have been like if they'd actually refused to let me in, the way they first wanted!) So, it turns out if they do a different sort of interview THEN the lawyer can be present (in the process of this compromise they got to say prosecutor a few more times) that's what they did. Including trying to interview the barely verbal baby who's in that special separation anxiety stage....I'm sure there was some box on some form that had to get checked off and heck, the kid got a piece of gum (bribery) out of the deal.

So finally, oh, about 2 hours later, we all traipse out to a chorus of "thank-you-so-much-we'll-be-in-touch-have-a-nice-day (if they just could have said that, oh, about 2 hours earlier it might have been a nice day) and run the gauntlet of the hopeless to get the heck out of there.

So now I get why hospitals like to threaten difficult parents with CPS -- they've sprung from the loins of the same cursed mother! And I suppose, ACOG's members would be their multi-headed evil triplet. I know the answer to this institutionalized paternalistic bullying with its implicit misogyny IS knowing one's rights and standing firm (at least the immediate short-term answer, I'm at a complete loss as to the long term solution). I can also now very clearly see the conflict -- you know you need to do what's right but in doing that, your kids have to suffer to some degree or another -- be it something as (hopefully) slight as spending the morning in a decidely unpleasant place with decidedly unpleasant people who want to separate you from your parent (though I'm sure it didn't seem slight to the younger kids) to something as horrifying as the fear that your children could end up in foster care while the whole thing is "sorted out" -- the temptation to just do what they want and get it over would be overwhelming. Principles only get you so far.

And you know, I'd say that the people (mostly women) who work for the system are ultimately victims too -- because I believe that the majority of these people go into the job really wanting to make a difference, really wanting to save abused children, or help struggling families....and somehow they too get the passion, the fire, the life sucked out of them. So what is it? Is it Western culture? Human nature? What is it that makes it impossible to know when to sit still, when to reach out to assist and when to rescue? Sounds an awful lot like obstetrics, doesn't it? Humans just don't do institutional compassion very well, do we....

No comments: