It seems like it has become trendy to complain about CPS. You’ve probably seen the stories of parents ending up in the crosshairs of CPS because their 11-year-old was playing outside by himself for an hour and a half while his parents were caught in traffic. Or the mom who was on Dr. Phil insisting that CPS had wrongly taken her baby and the truth was that he was just sick…
I made the mistake of reading the comments on these articles and it was…well, ugly.
People were bashing Child Protective Services, saying they are just causing trauma by removing kids, and they shouldn’t be allowed to do it anymore. People ask why CPS wouldn’t comment and why aren’t they answerable for cases gone wrong and insisting that the whole system needs to be done away with.
“The system is broken.”
I’m sure you’ve heard the sentiment – or even felt it yourself.
There are two competing narratives going on regarding CPS and foster care.
I’ve experienced them both first hand as a foster parent.
On one hand, there are the CPS-is-evil-and-needs-to-go and foster-parents-are-only-doing-this-for-the-money-or-to-abuse-kids stories. I heard these all the time especially when there was a hugely publicized case in our area. It was everywhere in the media and in mom conversations. Until…
People found out I was a foster parent.
Then the other narrative took over when people realized that I’m a semi-normal human being and not a sadistic baby-stealing, money-grubbing person — just another mom with dark circles and flip flops trying to figure out how to figure out the logistics of dinner and soccer practice.
Inevitably, I heard something along the lines of “Oh my gosh, that is so wonderful of you to do that! You are a saint!”
Neither narrative is accurate: CPS isn’t an inherently evil organization and I’m definitely far from a saint. Both are hyperbole because I think we’re uncomfortable with dealing with the extremely complicated nature of the subject.
The reality of what happens in the offices of CPS and courtrooms is messy. There are so many more moving parts than I ever imagined before I really got involved and clear cut answers are hard to come by. It’s ugly and it will always be ugly just because of the nature of human nature and we’re all far less saintly than we’d like to think.
The truth is that CPS is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
The problem is that we view things only from our own perspective. The person who called the cops because the 11-year-old was playing outside did so because they thought this was unacceptable, despite this being hotly debated on social media. Parenting wars of helicopter versus free range have become militant enough that we sometimes buy into the lie that what the other parents are doing is wrong. “Wrong” and “not ideal” are two very different things.
And none of us are ideal parents.
I don’t share a lot of what I know about our foster cases and those of our fostering friends because it’s not my information to share and also, people tend to make comments that they can’t believe that anybody would do such things…
The judgment of bio parents is, in my opinion, often a defense mechanism to protect ourselves from the idea that we would never, could never do such a thing. Sometimes, I think it’s why CPS gets laughable calls; if we denigrate other parents, maybe we feel like better parents so we set our own standards impossibly high.
But in what I’ve actually seen in the halls of CPS, the abuse isn’t letting the kids outside unattended. The stories were enough to make me leave crying many times. It’s why social workers experience such burnout. It’s why I’ve seen judges and lawyers hang their heads with tears in their eyes.
The situations that most of us were lucky enough to grow up in bear little resemblance to the ones these kids come from. It’s heart-wrenching which is why those that say it’s wrong for CPS to take kids because it causes trauma are speaking from a place of privilege.
Trauma has already occurred.
Yes, being removed from a home is traumatic, but it sometimes needs to happen to remove a child from unspeakable horrors. Those worried about causing trauma are basically doing the same thing as refusing to pull someone out of a burning car because they’re worried they might scrape them up in the process.
I see things differently after becoming involved. I had to stop watching the news. Breaking news alerts would come on about something horrible happening when kids were involved.
And I’d look over at my phone and make sure it was on.
Because I knew I might be getting a call to see if I would be willing to come pick a little one up.
I know because I’ve gotten those calls.
To those who say that CPS is taking kids unnecessarily: they generally aren’t. There are isolated cases of it possible, but our experience has been quite different.
One of our kids went home unexpectedly. There is a court process after the removal of the child called adjudication. The judge rules whether there are legal grounds to keep a child in state custody. Our little girl’s case didn’t meet those standards, but if you knew the details… I’ll simply say the legal bar to keep a child with their biological family is shockingly low. Parents have to meet a basically minimal standard of care because the state values keeping families together whenever possible.
And when we are tempted to jump on the bandwagon in solidarity with parents who insist that they had their kids taken away unfairly, we need to pause. Their words need to be taken with a grain of salt since we will only ever know one side of the story.
For the sake of the kids, CPS will never comment on why they remove children.
There is legal confidentiality and even if they look like the bad guys, that’s okay because the people involved are willing to take the blame in order to shield kids from their stories being forever out there. Cases need to be tried in a court of law instead of public opinion. In a case that divided our area, my friends in CPS and I just shook our heads because we knew the other side of the story and it was sickening. If you know of a family in a position like this, support them but don’t enable by pledging blind support. Truth and love must always go together.
The way CPS is supposed to work is that the child is the focus and the child’s best interests are always at the heart of everything. To deem one side “evil” means that we are already negating one voice a child has speaking for him or her.
Furthermore, I don’t think anybody gets any joy in removing a child. Most of the social workers I’ve worked with are just regular people trying to make a difference. I’ve seen the agony in their eyes over cases. I’ve never heard any of them ever say they “won” adjudication or a court hearing ruling.
It’s not about winning or losing. It’s already been lost. All there is to do is to pick up the pieces.
It is about mitigating the damages. And it’s painful to bear the cost that comes with this.
Maybe it’s easy to write me off – I’m just part of social services, but I’m not defending the system. I think the system can only ever be as good as the people working in it.
It’s also easy to beat up on the system when you have nothing at stake in it. Blaming feels good when something goes wrong. Complaining is convenient, especially from behind the anonymity of a computer screen.
When things go wrong and something happens to a child, people often ask why CPS wasn’t involved and yet, people love to complain when CPS takes kids. Social workers have the unenviable job of trying to keep families together and yet ascertain the risk to kids in doing it. No one ever really knows what is going to happen and so they have to make their best guess. Sometimes they get it wrong or there is nothing they can do because it isn’t legally actionable. It’s one of the reasons there is a fairly high turnover amongst social workers: it is emotionally exhausting and extremely stressful.
I hear calls for “accountability” whenever something happens to a child in care. I agree and it infuriates me too. People who would further victimize these precious kids deserve to have the book thrown at them. While they alone are responsible for their heinous actions, part of the blame falls somewhere else: on us.
As long as good people stay away from working in the system and aren’t willing to pay the cost to help these kids, people who shouldn’t be in the system are going to sneak in. People are spread thin and there aren’t enough foster homes.
The only people who can change this is us.
We can support foster parents to make the load easier, we can foster ourselves, and we can advocate for these kids. It’s how we fix the cases of CPS over-reach. If good people with great judgment flood the system, we’ll be able to put the brakes on things before they ever happen.
CPS is ugly because people are ugly, we are ugly, and we’d often prefer to ignore it in favor of being comfortable.
Blaming a nebulous entity is one thing, but when we are confronted by a living breathing person who is walking these paths, it’s much harder. People are shocked my foster daughter is such a sweetheart since the stereotypical foster kids is a terror, broken, and unlovable. She’s encouraged people I know to rethink becoming foster parents since kids are just kids – some have just been through more. I break the stereotypical mold since I don’t seem to be out for the money and love my kids… all of them whether they are biological or not. I think that is why people presume I’m a saint. I laugh out loud whenever I hear this! I have just as much mess in my life as the next person; I just have Christ too.
Making a difference doesn’t start with signing up to be a foster parent though. It starts with us deciding to pay the cost wherever we are and in whatever capacity we can. That’s why I don’t think we are really entitled to an opinion about CPS if we aren’t willing to pay.
The person who called police on the 11-year-old outside and home alone probably thought they were doing the right thing. Let me say it this way: the right thing would have been opening up your home or even just offering to help if he needed anything. Calling police is the last resort – that’s easy. Being present and engaged is harder – that’s paying the cost.
Long before we were foster parents, I tried to do what we do now, just on a different scale. The neighborhood kids know our house is always open, they can play in our backyard, and I’ll feed them. My neighbors do the same thing. One mom and I take each other’s kids home with us if we’re late meeting the school bus. The moms on our street have a code: if one of us hears or sees something concerning about another’s kid we share it and we don’t judge. I’m blessed to have friends like this, but it starts by being a friend like this.
If we recognize the needs around us, things won’t always hit a breaking point when CPS needs to be involved. Life is messy. Ugly comments need to stop, especially when made without the full information. I know we rationalize that it’s a way to impact the system and it actually is – negatively. It perpetuates the myth that the system is generally predatory and makes good people turn the other way rather than wading into the mess. Yes, it’s gross to wade in the mire, but the same depravity exists in our own hearts too. Luckily for us, our worst days just aren’t so public.
The hard place next to that rock needs to be softer and it starts with engaging wherever we are and opening our doors. After all, we fix problems by turning towards them and not away.