System Failure

To follow up from my last post…

A single phone call can change how you see the world. A single phone call can break your heart in a million tiny pieces. In the months after “the call” I learned these things.

In April I got a phone call to pick up a child from a police station. A child who was left by her mother. A child who had no idea what to do or expect. A child who’s whole world had come crashing down around her without her even realizing it. When I first arrived at the police station I was told that the child’s mother had been in an argument with her boyfriend at the time. An argument that led her to tying a rope around her neck and a threat that she would kill herself. Clearly, not a home conducive to caring for or raising a child. Unfortunately for me, I understood this situation. This wasn’t just a random call to help a stranger. They didn’t pick my name out of the phone book. The police were looking for me to answer this call. I’d be lying if I said that there haven’t been times in the past few months that I wished more than anything that I wasn’t home. That I was away on vacation. That they moved on to the next name on the list. But it didn’t happen that way. It happened for a reason. This call hit very close to home for me. I know this mother very well. I understood her past, in fact, I’d been there. I’d been there for many episodes similar to the one happening at the time. I understood exactly what was happening. I actually predicted this as soon as I heard of her pregnancy 3 years prior to this. Sad, but true.

I saved a small child who was abandoned in a police station. I took her home with me. There was no other choice I would have ever made. I went to bed that night after a call from an after-hours social worker, telling me to call the police if the mother showed up trying to take her child back. I was afraid that night. I was afraid of having to call the police on this mother, who I loved at the time. I also wanted to protect this child. I knew I had to. I had no idea then that the next three months would be some of the most challenging of my life.

I was unaware of what was actually happening until around the middle of the next week when a social worker finally called and came out to meet us. He wasn’t very interested in much. He was just covering for another social worker who was on vacation. As I would learn, almost the entire agency would either be on vacation, switching files, covering for someone else or waiting for guidance from superiors during our 3 month span of dealing with them. I spoke with many social workers. None who actually ever had any update on what was actually happening with this case. No one seemed to ever know what was going on. It was frustrating to say the least. Over the first month or so I bent over backwards, doing exactly what I was told by these people. The same ones who would constantly tell me over and over that they had no update, that things were always changing.

Instead of worrying about it, I focused entirely on the little girl. Just keeping her life as normal as possible. When she arrived at our home, she was meek, didn’t speak, didn’t run and play with the other kids. She had a hard time going up and down stairs. She couldn’t climb the steps on the slide. When I put her in a baby swing she couldn’t figure out how to hold on to the chains. It was like she had been locked away. The best comparison I have is to compare her to veal. It was like she had never moved. Never played. Never been so stimulated in her life. I was outraged. It wasn’t just me who noticed it either. I took her to daycare where I got more mention of how far behind she was in motor skills. We kept at it though. We have a busy house, and three wild children. It wasn’t long before she too was running through the fields, playing on bikes, swimming and loving life. She was thriving. She started to do things the other kids were doing. She started to become comfortable. We made her a home here, one that she was clearly lacking in her life before she came to stay with us.

I expressed my concerns to the first social worker who was on this case. I have a very close connection to this mother, so I knew exactly what she was up to while I was caring for her child. I have many texts, which I had forwarded to her social worker, directly from mom stating that she was on heroin or oxycontin for the past 6 years. How she was prostituting herself. How she liked to be beaten and abused by these men because she hoped one day they would go too far and actually kill her. I have seen her texts about her lifestyle while I was caring for her child. I was gobsmacked by it. There is absolutely no way that any child should have any contact with a person who is living that lifestyle. I don’t care if their uterus created the life or not. The child does not need or deserve to live that life. The response from the social worker: I’ll have to forward this on to my superior. I heard nothing back about my concerns. Other people who had direct contact with both mom and child (they lived together), were never contacted. Their concerns were never addressed either. We were told the file was too new, that someone would look into it. It never happened. One day a good friend of mine called me and explained that there were police cars and ambulances outside of mom’s house. My friend had stopped in to see what was wrong. My friend was worried that the mom had committed suicide. It was after this incident that mom went off on a bender. She ended up in a hospital for a few days. So, for her to tell me that she had been clean the whole time her child was in my care, is a total lie. An outrageous lie. If nothing else, I know that prior to this “incident” involving the police and ambulances that this person was living in a den of drugs and alcohol. I have the pictures on my phone to prove it. What was the stance of the social workers at the time? There were no children living in that place, so therefore no case. No duh. Her kid is living with me and I think those pictures are a pretty good indicator as to why that needed to continue to be so. Even after the second police visit, her running off and ending up in a hospital, the social workers had no idea. They called me saying they couldn’t get a hold of her. They were trying to set up their next visits. At one point they were letting a drug addict take a child for visits in the community without even realizing that she was still using. I explained why they couldn’t find her. That she had been raped and beaten by one of her “Johns” and then went on a bender and ended up in a hospital restrained to a bed. They had no idea. The repercussion of this: NOTHING! She missed a week of visits maybe and then went back to supervised 2 hour visits. By this time we’ve moved on to different case workers. In fact, one day I mentioned something to one of the workers who I always saw in the office and she said “have you mentioned this to her worker?” I was shocked because all this time, I had thought THAT lady was her worker. But no, she was just filling in. So, who exactly is running this gong show? A few weeks after a bender, suicide threats and a stint in a hospital the sweet little girl is now back with her mom. I’m not even kidding.

By now your jaw should be hanging to the floor. I know mine still is. Let me explain more.

You see, this agency wanted us to sign an agreement with them. We took our lawyer for a meeting in their office. We all agreed that we would apply for custody with the courts. They said directly to both my husband and I, as well as our lawyer that if the mother came to get the child, we should call the police and they would apprehend her and place her right back with us. That this would be the case until this was filed with the courts. Done deal. We filed the paperwork. A couple of weeks after this, the mother finally comes out of her stupor and realizes that this whole time has been “voluntary” and that she can just say no. I can guarantee you that this was explained to her at this moment, months afterwards on purpose. In the months before when the mother kept asking for the agreement she signed while high on drugs, they kept putting it off. Oops, they forgot this time, next time for sure. But now that we’re causing a problem for them, all of the sudden their on top of their game. Protecting not the child, but the mother who deserves NO PROTECTION. They now say that they have no grounds for a case against her. That mom is doing much better now. All is well. A few weeks out of a hospital, multiple suicide attempts and threats, drug addiction and prostitution are obviously not grounds for a case, just in case you were wondering. Sorry small child, we didn’t do our job in a timely enough matter. In just a few weeks miracles happened. Back you go. Better luck next time.

I understand now more than ever that this is politics. That this is because this agency is busy congratulating themselves on the fact that they haven’t had to do any apprehensions in such and such amount of time. They have been dealing with issues without having to go that far, they say. BULLSHIT!! I understand also that they have no homes to put these kids in. I understand it all now and it enrages me!! At the end of the day who suffers? The child. The child suffers because she is back in an unsafe home, with a mother who is in desperate need of help and NOT someone showing her how to access subsidies so she can continue to live her destructive lifestyle.

I cannot express my anger at this situation. I just can’t even begin to explain how sad I am for this child. I know that next time, which I’d bet will be shortly, I won’t be able to help. I won’t be able to take this child in, because I will never in my life deal with this sort of gross negligence again. That it’s a losing battle. That I can’t save her. No one can. I do not know how these people sleep at night. I know I can’t, and I did everything I could to protect this kid. I’m not denying that her mom needs help. There are major gaps in our system, but of what concern is that for this child? Who is the person advocating for her? It sure as hell isn’t a “Child Protection Worker.”

I understand that these situations are happening all over. That children are neglected. That parents can be terrible. That tragedy surrounds us. It doesn’t make it easier. It doesn’t take away the worry I carry for this child. Worry that the next time this happens she’ll end up being bounced around from foster home to foster home, alone and scared. Worry that after a few rounds in the system, the damage will be done. That maybe she won’t make it out without bearing the emotional wounds that cripple people. I worry that I didn’t do the right thing for her. That I made the wrong choices. That I didn’t play nice enough. That I said the wrong thing. That I pissed off the wrong people. At the end of the day the only thing I care about is that child’s safety and her right to happiness. I can carry the burden of dealing with her mother hating me and wanting me dead, but I can’t ever face the child who I couldn’t save.

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