The CPS Volley

I wrote about my not-happy experience with child protective services, here was an e-mail I got from a lady we'll call Jane Smith. A few typos fixed, otherwise intact.

Email 1, Jane Smith to me
Karen,
 
I have been an avid reader of your blog for quite some time now as I am considering a career in OT.
 
I was really dismayed at how you brushed off the efforts of child protective services. I do not doubt that you are an intelligent person book-wise but you often make comments in your blog that make you sound sheltered and judgmental. This is not the first time I have noticed it. You have posted other comments in your blog that I felt were a bit offensive.
 
While I am the first one to agree that CPS is very, VERY flawed, many people don't understand its function and its limitations.
 
Some things to consider:
 
-Under federal law caseworkers cannot reveal the reporter. However, many parents guess who it is based on the allegations. The caseworker has to go over every single allegation/concern made in the report with the parent so if they are based on incidents that occurred in your clinic then Mom likely guessed who it was.
 
-When you say you may as well have not reported it, what do you mean by that? Just because the caseworker did not take custody of the children and put them in foster care does not mean that nothing was done. The family may have been referred to social service agencies or counseling. The caseworker does not have to tell the reporter what happened in the case. It also may have been an issue of parent skills education and the parent was ordered to parenting classes which happens often.
 
-CPS does not have the broad powers that many believe. If there is no concrete evidence then often the worker will have to close the case.
 
-Not everything that you think is abuse is in fact “abuse”. Some kids have dirty clothes because they are poor. That is not abuse. Some parents hit their kids, some use objects. Unless the kid is being hiut so hard as to leave marks/bruises that is not abuse either. While you or I may not choose to discipline our kids that way the state holds that a parent has a right to discipline their child within reasonable confines. Some may not fit your idea of a perfect parent but we cannot always label it abuse
 
I was a caseworker for 5 years with CPS and it is frustrating to hear you brush off mine and others efforts. It is hard to appreciate the difficulty of the job unless you have done it.
 
Jane

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Email 2, Me to Jane Smith

Paraphrased: sorry I offended you, understand CPS workers have very hard job, don't mean to sound sheltered and judgmental but it's somewhat natural to be that way at first AND, unless I'm told otherwise, I don't realize I'm sheltered/judgmental, so thanks for your insights, other sincere stuff. :). I really did appreciate her explaining some of those issues, like that of allegations having to be reviewed, so if specific allegations are made, it's obvious who reported.

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Email 3, Jane Smith to Me

Hi Karen
 
Thank you for responding to me! I first want to point out that after venting in my email,  I think that I may have come across as rude and judgmental myself. Just so you know I had no intention of offending you.
 
You wrote in your email, “It's not like I read my own reading and think “Oh good, I sound sheltered and judgmental, that's exactly what I wanted to do” – I chuckled at that. I definitely did not believe that was your intention. We all have our own biases and beliefs that we grew up with. You are obviously doing a lot of good in your position as an OT …it is a position that requires a caring dedicated person and I didn't mean to imply otherwise.
 
If I think back to when I started at CPS, at 22 years old, I probably was a lot like you. I had not been exposed to many of the neglects and poverty that exists in families. After 5 years I ended up leaving for many of the reasons that you touched on. Workers are overloaded, stressed and more often than not caught in a bind at not being able to do anything. Like I said caseworkers are very limited in what they can “force” a parent to do. A lot of it is putting fear in them, like you stated. Keep them on their toes. I won't argue there, my only problem is when people, as they often do, try to make it seem that caseworkers are just negligent and uncaring in their jobs. Some definitely are but most are trying very hard.
 
I would agree with you that it is a flawed system and it seems that no one knows how to fix it. It is more a reactive agency than a proactive one. I don't have answers…how do you reform such a system?
 
I just tend to look at CPS cases very objectively from working them so long. Main questions: are the children safe for the immediate time being at home? Are they at risk of future physical abuse (unreasonable physical punishment) or neglect (no food, warm clothes). If no, then you just have to suck it up. You cannot force a parent into the mold that you want. I've seen so many families that I just wished I could shake them and make them see things differently (i.e. help their kids with homework, ask them about their day, don't curse around them, keep their house clean and the list goes on and on)
 
Some of the points that you made are very valid and I probably should have addressed those in my first email as well.
 
You have my permission to post this and the previous email.
 
Take care

Jane Smith

 

Aug 21, 2008 | Category: Occupational Therapy | Comments: none

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