Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In which I bitch

There was a case here in San Antonio a short time ago where a woman stabbed her small sons to death. Child Protective Services had just finished an investigation with her, and found nothing to worry about. When something like this goes down, it's always asked how these people fall through the cracks. How does CPS not see the warning signs?

Well, they're overworked. A large part of the overwork is because parents who've split up use CPS as a bludgeon in any sort of personal dispute.

How do I know this? I've been on the receiving end of it myself.

I have always been fairly open on this blog, but believe me there's been plenty of stuff that was left off. I'm not going to air all of my dirty laundry, but I am going to tell a little story about the most recent time I wound up on the receiving end of a DFPS investigation.

Remember this post? I went to Orange to see Erik on his birthday, 5 November. I left Wednesday morning and got back very, very late Thursday night (as in, it was actually Friday morning). At the time, the girls were going on visitation to their dad's Wednesdays and coming home Thursdays.

--And here I need to stop and present an explanation. We made the switch to what were then his days off (before he got fired from that job for apparently going to threaten his girlfriend while on the clock, but that's another story) after Rob's father took him aside and relayed what his mother's psychiatrist had said: she is really not to be trusted alone with my children. I had known for some time that she was mistreating them--pulling their hair, calling them names, slapping them, forcing them to suck pacifiers, forcing them to wear diapers--but I had no physical proof, so I couldn't file a complaint. So switching the days they were with him to days that would ensure they still had contact with their dad but he was there to stand between them and his mom was something I jumped on. This is going to be very important in a minute.--

I live with my mother; I think I have mentioned that. She agreed to babysit from the time the girls got home to the time I got home. This is complaint with the custody portion of the divorce decree.

It seems that my middle daughter let slip where I had gone. And my ex-husband (who, you will recall, left me for another woman) flipped his shit.

He called me Friday when the girls and I got home from school. I handled it just like you're supposed to handle these things--I informed him that I would not discuss my private life with him; only the children, and the second he decided to discuss Erik I would hang up on him. He did. I did. When he called back, I answered long enough to tell him I would henceforth discuss only the children with him, and that only through e-mail.

He immediately called my mother and I each about a dozen times. He made one more call--to the child abuse hotline. He accused my mother and I of physical neglect of the children.

So I met with the social worker--who was a very nice lady, by the way. She detailed the accusations against me. I don't recall all of them, but among the more bemusing were "there are dirty dishes in the sink" and "there are two cats who use a litter box which is under the sink in the bathroom." (As I told the SW, I'm really not certain of a more appropriate place for the litter box.) She was obviously flummoxed as to the complaint--until I described to her the circumstances surrounding it. The date on the complaint? November 6th.

I am only now speaking of this because just today my mother and I got the letters officially clearing us of all the accusations against us. Each and every one of them has been Ruled Out. To quote from the letter: "A finding of 'Ruled Out' means that, based on the available information, i twas reasonable to conclude that the alleged abuse or neglect did not occur." (Emphasis theirs.)

This isn't the first time I've had to deal with this crap from him. Whenever he gets angry with me, he reports me to Child Protective Services. I am 100% positive he's not the only one to try this. (Hell, when we lived in Norfolk an upstairs neighbor called CPS on us there after we complained to management about their constant noisemaking. Her complaint was that she heard a baby crying. Which, you know, is completely unusual. Babies never cry.) I've heard very similar stories from other people.

Here's the thing. I do not have the right to the name of my accuser. I am certain that this originated with my ex-husband, but for all I know he got his mother to call in and make the actual complaint ('twould not be the first time). These reports are all officially anonymous. And I understand that. They don't want people to be afraid of repercussions for filing a report.

However, there need to be repercussions. It is a crime to file a false police report. It should likewise be a crime to file a report of child abuse that is clearly made for the sole purpose of harassing another person. I understand that this is a very, very fine line to be walked. It is difficult even now to get people to report legitimate suspicions of abuse.

But the truth is, actual abused children are falling through the cracks because of shit like this. Caseworkers have to investigate every single report that comes their way, for obvious reasons. If it was made very, very clear that there would be negative consequences for filing frivolous reports, maybe--just maybe--fewer of them would be filed and social workers would have more time to concentrate on cases with actual merit.

And maybe a few more kids wouldn't die.


Dave said...

You have a situation where CPS was able to do their job in an efficient manner. Another local blogger; not so much.

A sad situation.

Sabra said...

Dave, that is indeed a *shitty* situation.

This investigation was concluded efficiently. I've chosen not to air the details of the previous one, which sucked up several months of my time and did indeed involve threats of having my children taken from me--even as I was being told there was really nothing to the accusations, and was going along with the safety plan. That one involved us being displaced from our house for about two weeks and a whole bunch of other horse-pucky.

CPS routinely targets people without access to lawyers and works hard to make sure parents don't know their rights. And should you know your rights and take a stand, you will be threatened and harassed even further.

My cousin Becky recently had another run-in with them. She was illegally forced to put her children in public school (they are home-schooled, and caseworkers are not allowed to force parents to change this) and bring their vaccinations up-to-date, even though she has the exemption forms from the state (they tried this with me as well, but I successfully dragged my heels).

The whole system is in desperate need of an overhaul.

Strings said...

I hear about abuses and failures of the system all the time. Unfortunately, there's not much to be done...

Well, there is. As you mentioned, liability for false accusations would be a good start. So would liability on case workers who abuse their authority (something we see quite often).

The sad part is, there ARE good case workers out there. They get burned out though, and can't make up for the number of dirtbags in the position for the power trip...

Anonymous said...

The problem is, the good case workers have shitty supervisors. That's where our complain lies. Our caseworker is dragging his feet, but I think because he wants to clear us, although I can never be sure of his intentions. His supervisor, though - pure bitch. The good news for us is that we can afford a lawyer, and he knows the DA pretty well.