Blogs by Deborah K. Frontiera
3/26/2012 4:23:22 PM
The purpose of this blog is to provide updates on some of the cases I reported in my book (Fighting CPS: Guilty Until Proven Innocent of Child Protective Services Charges ISBN 9-780-9800061-6-2) that had not been resolved when the book went to press, and to report other cases where CPS is not working up to par. I’d also like to hear about cases in which Child Protective Services did the right thing so those cases can serve as examples of what should be done. Occasionally, I will report helpful tips and web sites with advice on fighting CPS.
To comment on this blog, or to tell your story, email Deborah Frontiera at frontiera.fightingcps.deborah.gmail.com
This blog will post new material every other week, instead of every week. Look for the next post Apr. 9, 2012.
Another Story from “The Trenches”
Several years back, Ms. M32 worked for “prevention” services of Child Protective Services in Harris Co. (Houston) Texas. Her job was focused on helping families so CPS intervention did not become necessary. She told me that while many families were helped by the work she did, other families still ended up having their children removed from their homes and placed in foster care.
Most cases involved families who were hauled into county Justice of the Peace courts for “tickets” because their children were truant—frequently absent—from school. Intervention of this type was a “last ditch effort” to get families the help they needed. She worked with school-age children—pre-k through high school—although such families might also have toddlers and infants. Truancy can be a big indicator that there are other problems for a family. When a family can’t follow minimal routines—get kids up, put clothes on and send to school—something major may be wrong, especially when it involves younger kids. Perhaps there is a problem with transportation, or a single parent leaves a ten or eleven-year-old “babysitting” a pre-school child because they can’t afford child care, or the younger child is sick and the parent’s employer is not “friendly” about allowing a worker to stay home with an ill child. Cases like this can be solved with various available programs. Other families might need counseling, psychotherapy, etc. but can’t afford it. Ms. M32 stated that there was no safety net at that time (still isn’t) for mental health help in Harris County. A parent who is mentally ill may not be able to get help until he or she hurts someone.
While Ms. M32 worked with CPS, she saw that most case workers had little experience. Many were idealistic “Twenty-somethings” who had just graduated from college and had no real idea what it would be like to enter homes anything but typical. She said they were often traumatized by their first few cases, and the ways they dealt with that trauma were not helpful or healthy. Like “Lambs to the Slaughter”, they didn’t know what they were in for. The first time they encountered a dead baby, they were shattered and didn’t know enough to say they were shattered, or didn’t even know they were shattered. “The turn-over rate was incredible,” she said. “That was about ten years ago. About five years ago there was an agency-wide program that tried to address many personnel problems, including turnover.” Our case was five years ago. Apparently that program had not gone into effect, or had not had time to become effective, since we had over ten caseworkers in our thirteen-month nightmare.
She stated that many did as much as they could when they could, and any real “talent” tended to be promoted up and out of field work. In the beginning, such young case workers only knew what had been taught and had no incentive not to think past “standard questions”.
In Justice of the Peace courts, the average case load can be huge. The judge might have 400 cases on the docket for a single day. Face to face meetings, which would be the ideal, are simply not possible. How is a social worker going to meet with 400 truancy-ticked parents in one day? It was the standard of judges to recommend parenting workshops, etc. for these offenses. But anybody can set up a workshop and call it “anger management” or “parenting skills” and be listed with that judge. While it might be better than nothing, the quality is greatly diminished if the people running the workshop are not properly licensed.
Ms. M32 said that some families she worked with were better off, but way too many fell through the cracks. Mentally ill people dealing such a system were essentially banging their heads against a brick wall. A child presenting symptoms of depression would be sent back to same chaotic home. “Grandparents and even great-grandparents are raising kids. It’s a broken system trying to fix a broken system,” she told me.
I asked what she thought it might take to “fix” the system. “If we made sure families had what they needed, a lot of CPS’s business would go away. Kids need to have safe place to be when parents are at work, and it needs to be affordable. There needs to be less fear for parents to come forward and ask for help. They often feel like they will be called a bad parent and their children taken away. County prevention services did a lot of good. Lots of kids in JP courts never went on to juvenile. But families in crisis need a relationship with someone who can help them. The roll of churches and community agencies to provide services must be increased. States could provide better funding to smaller agencies that would know people better and be able to give effective help. Sometimes all that’s needed is a few sessions of family counseling. Parents need the tools to say ‘I’m angry’ without putting a fist through a wall.” Of course, such programs are often low priorities of counties, states, and the nation, concerned with “tight budgets” who don’t stop to think that “prevention” is much less expensive than “cure.” Tax dollars would be better spent—and fewer of those dollars—on preventative programs than on foster care, court costs, hospitalization of injured children. . .
She continued, “Sometimes you might be dealing with a third generation of crack addiction—two hours won’t do it! People raised in dysfunctional families are now parents and don’t have the tools to be parents. Being selfless and patient doesn’t happen naturally—it must be practiced and learned. Another part of the solution is for everyone to do the little they can. Everybody needs to make up their minds that it’s their job to make sure kids have what they need. Try to help provide for your neighbor what they need. There’s more of us than of them.”
I asked what led to her decision to quit working for CPS. She said the last straw had come in a case with family from mid-east. They had a teen-aged daughter and son. She had met Daughter in group sessions she was conducting at a high school. Daughter wanted to do “western stuff”—hang out with kids at school, dress like friends, etc. The Step Father disapproved—and the tradition of dealing with a “woman stepping out of line” was beat her to get her back in line. Step Father broke into bathroom while Daughter was bathing and beat her with anything he could get their hands on. After Ms. M32 hadn’t seen her for a few days, she went to the home and knocked on the door. The mother said Daughter was “sick” but Ms. M32 could tell she had been beaten. She called a caseworker and reported what she had seen. CPS didn’t follow through. Daughter became agitated during group sessions that followed and afraid to go home. Ms. M32 took her to shelter where she heard, “I know you. Are you still running around with all those boys?” (Daughter had not been running around with any boys.)
At a meeting with Step Father, an interpreter, a caseworker and a senior administrator in the agency, Step Father went into a rant, “You are denying me my rights. I’m going to sue you. You are discriminating against me because I’m from different country. It’s all a ‘cultural misunderstanding.’”
The senior administrator backed down at the word “sue.” Ms. M32 was fuming. This was not about culture. It was about dignity of young girl who needed to be able to live free of abuse. Being from a “different culture” does not mean one does not have to follow the laws of a country to which one has come to live permanently, and the laws in this country definitely do not allow a man to break into a bathroom while his daughter is bathing and beat her up. The senior administrator said to interpreter, “I’ll explain to my employee so she understands.”
Ms. M32 walked out of the meeting, took deep breaths and prepared to drive home. Before she backed her car out of the parking spot, she saw the senior administrator walking behind her car. For a brief moment, she thought, “If I back up right now, fast, I could say I didn’t see him.” The temptation lasted only that brief moment, but she realized she had to get out of any job that took her to a place where she was even having such thoughts. Ten years later, she feels things still haven’t changed with CPS in Harris County, and funding for treatment of mental illness is probably in even worse shape.
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