How To Help

Question: (Background info: we live in a low income neighborhood. Neighbor is a single mom with 3 young children. Child Protective Services (CPS) has a habit of meddling in the business of poor families)

2 days ago, a CPS caseworker knocked on my door. She told me she has been trying to talk to our next door neighbor, but she hasn’t been opening the door when she knocks. She kept asking me questions about the neighbor and trying to get information (How many kids does she have? Do you ever hear yelling? Do the kids look well fed? Does she leave the kids by themselves? Do different men come and go? etc etc)

I said I have no clue to all her questions. (I just came home from college 2 weeks ago so I was telling the truth.) She then starts telling me personal information about her “investigation” that made me so uncomfortable that I cut her off and said, “I’m running late and have to leave.” She hands me her business card and asks me to call her if I see them outside or pulling into their garage, so she can “zoom over and bust them.” (Her words, not mine. Not a chance I would call her back anyway.)

Now, what to do ? I know that CPS will insert themselves into the littlest things in order to take children away from their mothers. What would you do in this situation? Would you go over and let Mom know that CPS is watching? I was thinking of going over there and explaining exactly what the case worker asked me and what kind of car she drove. I’m nervous because we don’t ever talk. I don’t want her to think I’m working for CPS or that I was the one who reported them. Maybe a letter ? But then, she could just check her ring camera and see it was me anyway. I might as well have an actual conversation. Do you think she already knows ? Should I just stay out of it entirely ?

I have no idea.

Suggestion:

Absolutely go talk to mom. Please please give her a heads up and tell her everything. Help the mom address any issues that could arise. Let her know that she can trust you. Offer to help her get her house “home inspection ready”, just in case. Make sure mom knows her rights with CPS.

Also, report the caseworker who was freely giving out private information to a complete stranger. At the very least, gossiping about your case is extremely poor ethics.

Example of a Home Inspection – Check List

Hard Times Don’t Come Around No More

Both of my parents were Great Depression babies – born 1935 and 1937. For that fact alone, it isn’t a wonder they both ended up adopted, though the reasons are much more complicated than that. But certainly, financial hardship in the lives of my two original grandmothers is the key factor.

So this is on my mind this morning after watching Angela’s Ashes on dvd last night and being reminded of the song – Hard Times Don’t Come Around No More written by Stephen Foster and published in 1854. Some of the lyrics – While we all sup sorrow with the poor, Many a days you have lingered around my cabin door, There are frail forms fainting at the door, Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say, There’s a pale weeping maiden who toils her life away, With a worn heart whose better days are o’er: Though her voice would be merry, ’tis sighing all the day, Oh! Hard times come again no more.

So what was it like in the 1930s ?, was a question on my mind this morning. The Great Depression was the worst economic downturn in modern history at the time it occurred. It profoundly affected the daily life of American families in ways large and small. The bleakest point was about 1933 or 34.

The life of a child in the 1930s was very different than a child’s life today. With the Great Depression, children and their families were greatly impacted—millions lived in poverty and had very little to eat, let alone money to spare for entertainment. Times were tough everywhere, and an additional mouth to feed was a burden. Certainly, I believe that both of my grandmothers encountered this mind set when they were seeking aid with their newborn babies.

Food was scarce for a lot of families and many children suffered from malnutrition. As we were watching children die in Angela’s Ashes my husband said, it is the lack of nutrition that makes it impossible for them to fight off diseases.

My maternal grandmother’s childhood family did live on a farm that was not ravaged by the Dust Bowl being west of Memphis in the rural countryside. They probably did grow a variety of crops and raised small amounts of livestock to survive. During the Depression, casseroles and meals like creamed chipped beef on toast, chili, macaroni and cheese, and creamed chicken on biscuits were popular. Jello was actually considered a cheap protein source (had to believe it would be viewed as that – one serving only has 1.6 grams of protein and the equivalent of 4-1/2 tsp of sugar !!) But Jello still found its way into many cookbooks during the Depression. Potlucks were often organized by churches to share food and provide a cheap form of social entertainment. The board games Scrabble and Monopoly were introduced during the 1930s. Both of which my own family has played recently.

Economic struggle caused mothers to leave the home for work and children to leave school for work as a breakdown in child labor law enforcement occurred. My paternal grandmother was put to work in the Rayon mills in Asheville NC to help support her family. A quarter of the US workforce was unemployed. Those that were lucky enough to have steady employment often saw their wages cut or their hours reduced to part-time. With record unemployment, children competed for jobs with their elders to help contribute to their family’s income, often forgoing further schooling. Many children were technically self-employed, collecting junk to sell or doing odd jobs for neighbors.

The stress of financial strain took a psychological toll—especially on men who were suddenly unable to provide for their families. The national suicide rate rose to an all-time high in 1933. Marriages became strained, though many couples could not afford to separate. Some men deserted their families out of embarrassment or frustration: This was sometimes called a “poor man’s divorce.” So, was this what my paternal grandfather chose when faced with yet another child on the way ? Is this why he failed to show up for my grandmother and mom when they returned to Memphis after her birth in Virginia (where she was sent away to avoid embarrassment for her father, even though she really was a married woman).

Disadvantaged families couldn’t afford much for their children, so most of their clothes were cast offs and children often went barefoot. Most middle-income boys wore t-shirts with overalls and girls wore blouses and plain dresses. Both would have one pair of shoes and an outfit for special occasions. The Depression-era motto was: “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.” I definitely saw these effects in the lives of my in-laws (both born in 1921) and on my dad’s adoptive parents.

Baby2Baby

I had not heard of this non-profit charity before this morning. In 2006, Karis Jagger, Lee Michel and Marnie Owens, 3 moms in Los Angeles founded Baby2Baby and began the important work of giving back to children in need. As a project of Community Partners which is a fiscal sponsorship program.

As Jennifer Garner wrote regarding the recent celebration of the organization’s 10 anniversary – Moms consider diapers, wipes, hygiene products, warm clothes, car seats— “necessities”— but what happens when families can’t afford these basics, when parents are choosing between diapering and feeding their child?

For ten years Baby2Baby has worked tirelessly to better the lives of families, lightening the load for struggling parents who want desperately to give their children as comfortable and safe a childhood as possible. When basic needs are met, parents have more resources for food and shelter, yes, but just as important—they have more bandwidth to read to, play with, sing to their babies—to enjoy them. For children’s growing brains, connection is where the magic happens.

They are a go to organization for relief across the country, sending trucks of necessities to families impacted by natural disasters and humanitarian crises. They have an ongoing tally of the good they have done. Currently 200,032,502 donations distributed including diapers, wipes, clothing, cribs, backpacks and more. The Baby2Baby National Network is a group of like-minded organizations who distribute basic essentials to children living in poverty in over 40 cities across the United States. 

Baby2Baby is a mega diaper bank and nonprofit organization providing essential items to children in need across the country. In the last 10 years, Baby2Baby has distributed over 200 million items to children in homeless shelters, domestic violence programs, foster care, hospitals and underserved schools as well as children who have lost everything in the wake of disaster.

You can learn more about them at their website – https://baby2baby.org/

Exploitation

I’m reading this morning about the surrogacy baby factories in India in the current issue of Time magazine. I personally know of more than one family who has acquired their child using surrogacy. I’m not a fan. Learning about the in utero mother baby bond has done it for me. Separating the baby from its gestational mother creates trauma in the child.

Both India and Africa are hot beds in the trade of women’s bodies to create babies for their intended families. There is also surrogacy in the United States. Always it is a matter of poverty and money.

One poor woman writes – she went to the clinic to live out her pregnancy because she was worried that being pregnant while divorced would subject her to malicious rumors. “If I tell anyone, they think that I am going to give away my own child. They don’t understand that I am simply giving my womb on rent.” Still, as far as that baby in her womb is concerned – it IS her own child.

I do have sympathy and compassion for the poor women who turn to surrogacy as their only method of creating revenue. This is a difficult situation. Without a doubt, commercial surrogacy takes advantage of low income women. I do not believe that making only Altruistic Surrogacy legal is the answer as it does not address the poverty that drives woman to provide their wombs in service to prospective parents. It will likely only drive the practice underground. A 9 month long commitment is a huge demand on any woman’s life.

Legal protection is needed – for both the surrogates and the intended parents. There needs to be medical insurance for the surrogates and a minimum amount of compensation for the time they are devoting. Don’t get me wrong – I still do not favor surrogacy. However, I am being realistic about the financial circumstances that drive a woman to agree to this. Banning the procedure will not work any better than it has worked for banning alcohol or illicit drugs. One needs to look at the source of what is motivating the behavior – poverty and desperation.

Sital Kalantry is a clinical professor at Cornell Law School and has written extensively about surrogacy. She worries about the lack of informed consent and notes that many of the women are unable to read the contracts, which are written in English, and they sign them using a thumbprint. The clinic highlighted in the Time magazine article has a C-Section rate of 70%. It probably is safer for the fetus than a vaginal birth but it is definitely more convenient for the doctor (your blog author raises her hand that she has had 2 C-Sections – these were said to avoid transmission of the hepC virus she co-exists with). And it is more convenient for the intended parents because they know when to pick up their baby.

A ban on commercial surrogacy in India will only send the practice underground. The conditions for the surrogates will be worse and it will still be in effect unregulated. Underground the surrogates will have no protections whatsoever. An example is China – despite commercial surrogacy being banned there – it is estimated that more than 10,000 children a year are still being born through that process.

You can read the entire Time magazine article here – India’s Ban on Commercial Surrogacy.

Neglect Is The Reason

75 % of the cases where children are removed from their parents and home are for the broad term “neglect”. These children are then placed into foster care where the care may not be very loving and the foster parents may be simply in the system for the tax free monthly payments directly into their bank account with no accountability required about how they spend this money.

We do not need foster care. We need better programs to address mental health and drug addiction.

Neglect is an outcome of poverty, drug addiction and mental health issues. It does not usually stem from crappy people that just don’t care about their kids and so they neglect them. Sexual or physical abuse is not considered neglect.

Just a thought – what if we put the billions of dollars spent on foster care into drug prevention programs, mental health screening, preventive care? Would neglect be reduced?

Wonder just who reports this neglect? The highest percentage are teachers. What qualifies for a teacher to report neglect? Kid being dirty? Wearing the same clothes? Not having lunch? Why are these things reportable to Child Protective Services vs reporting a genuine need for the intervention of a program that could help families overcome these challenges?

If you don’t see something wrong with this system as it currently exists, maybe you are part of the problem in your complacency.

There’s a huge problem when society thinks they are “helping” children but are actually damaging them more. People do not understand how these systems actually work but they still trust them. We need to educate teachers and the public about their poverty bias and on what causes actual trauma.

In effect, everyday children are kidnapped because of a belief they are at risk of possible future harm. Many have experienced corruption in the family court system. In reality, most children never were harmed or neglected at all but people’s judgements of them made it so.

In one case, someone shared their family came under investigation by Child Protective Services because a doctor reported the husband when he went to that doctor with symptoms of a paranoid personality disorder due to PTSD. The “potential harm” was nothing more than thoughts at the time. But the experience was an absolute nightmare for the family. Thankfully it ended up being only an investigation and not a removal.

When my young sons were acting up in public – I used to caution them that they really needed to behave better because someone might not understand what our family was really like 99.9% of the time and take them away from us believing that we were abusing them, when we were only gently disciplining them in such a way so as to get their attention long enough to get them to stop. It is a fine and scary line that parents have to balance. One mother shared that her son’s principal at his school reported her to Child Protective Services – twice – just because she didn’t like her.

During the pandemic, there has been almost a 50% decrease in CPS reports from mandated reporters. While some cities did report an increase in child visits to the emergency room, possibly due to physical abuse, the cause may have simply been the shut down of conventional medical offices. There has been no documented increase in emergency room visits or fatalities related to abuse or neglect. Obviously mandated reporters are significantly over reporting.

When my mother in law was in the prime of her career as a social worker, she worked within the low income Black community to make certain that whatever was keeping the child out of school was provided to the family to ameliorate that lack. Here’s what one teacher said about their school’s social worker –

I am a teacher in a low income area. When we see poverty related issues we go to the school social worker first, who contacts the family to offer resources. Usually our family resource center can offer things like coats, shoes or snow boots, school supplies, food and clothing. Some schools I’ve worked at even carry clothes for adults in their “caring closet” for families in need. School social workers will also coordinate with outside agencies to help families get situated with housing or any other needs they may have.

This teacher defends neglect calls from her own experiences. Like when the parents don’t seem to be making an effort or don’t seem to care. There may be a lot of reasons why they are coming off as not caring, but situations where a child is sick and throwing up or injured and the parent can’t be reached for hours and when they are reached they don’t show up to pick up their kid and this happens every time their kid gets sick. There are kids who get returned to school on the bus because they’re 4 or 5 years old and there was no one at the bus stop and it’s hours before the parent can be reached and they didn’t even realize their kid was missing when the social worker is knocking at their door at 6pm trying to track them down, and again it’s not the first time.

Kids with obvious medical concerns that have been brought to the parents attention repeatedly and the parent does not take them to a doctor. Once we had a kid transported to the hospital via ambulance with the parent completely unreachable. When the parent was finally reached they said they weren’t going to meet their child at the hospital because they were in the middle of cooking dinner. The parent never showed up. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) was eventually called and a worker had to come out and go find the parent to take them to the hospital. It was like 9pm and the parent was just refusing to go get their kid.

Sometimes neglect is a symptom of something far worse. A child can be removed for neglect initially and get bounced in and out of foster care for neglect, only to find out years down the line that there was severe physical and sexual abuse that was occurring.

This teacher did agree that providing resources should be the first line of intervention, when dealing with neglect issues. Yet it is her perspective that when a family is being offered resources and the issues continue, it’s important to dig down deeper because kids are not going to come right out and tell non-family adults about abuse that may be happening. Kids can show up to school with marks and bruises but so long as they deny abuse, nothing will be done about it. They can even initially report abuse and then. will take it back when DCF shows up or after the parent threatens them. Parents will tell kids that foster care is so much worse than what they’re living with now in an attempt to scare them into keeping quiet. They will tell kids that in foster homes, kids are starved and fed nothing but bread and water- all sorts of stories to keep them quiet. Fear of the unknown, shame, and the desire to protect their parents are all powerful tools that keep kids in abusive situations silent.

As I read all of that, I personally had reservations about the teacher’s perspective. Someone else responded as I had been thinking – did you ever consider that poor parents who have jobs don’t have the ability or privilege to take off work every-time they need to take a kid to the doctor, pick them up when the school calls or even answer the phone? Why assume they just don’t give a shit? Some people have to take whatever job they can find and some jobs, more specifically low wage jobs aren’t often very understanding. So if parents are having to leave work, they may lose their job and then you’re calling Child Protective Services ? Now they can’t pay rent and are homeless because public housing often has wait lists 8 years long and most women and children’s shelters have long wait lists too and stay full. I worked in a school. Maybe where you worked school social workers were “helpful” but that’s not always the case. Your school doesn’t seem like a low income school because low income schools don’t typically have all of those resources to offer the student’s families. And maybe a parent refusing to go get their kid is in the middle of a mental crisis and needed immediate HELP and that is not having their child removed. Most parents are not just assholes who don’t give a damn. There is always something more going on. Rather than removing kids, let’s fund families better, make even more services available to them. Let’s stop making assumptions about why things are happening and work with families to get to the bottom of their very real problems. Remember, a struggling parent isn’t going to be very trusting because they know how the system works. So when they act like they don’t want to take your help, maybe it’s because they don’t trust you.

I believe a lot of what this person shared below, also happens in my rural community where the median household income is $43,636 annually and for a single wage earner only $23,587.

The school in my town (rural/low income) has washers and dryers and people donate laundry supplies to them. The kids themselves or their parents that aren’t able to clean their clothes at home can take them to school to have them washed, so that the kids have clean school clothes to wear. They have a clothes closet where people can donate shoes or clothes for kids in the school that need them. They have a big coat and shoe drive every Christmas and give hundreds of kids in our community a new coat, a new pair of shoes and toys. We have a huge school supply giveaway every year before school starts where they give everyone a backpack full of school supplies, free haircuts, a new outfit, socks, underwear and pair of shoes. This year our county Board of Education is providing every student all of their school supplies free. They give kids a bag full of food every Friday, so they know they’ll have food when they’re out of school over the weekend and every child at our school gets free breakfast and lunch. I think all of these are great ideas that could help a lot of low income communities. It is well known that one reason families get reported for neglect is because the kids are dirty or wearing dirty or out of season (no coat or shorts in winter) clothes.

Low income families often just need a little extra help. Our society can and should do better !! But I need to end this with just one more because there are multiple sides to every story. This one is sad and regrettable.

One of my friend’s family was reported by a teacher to Child Protective Services (CPS) for bruises but by the time they actually responded, his mother had broken his arm. I was repeatedly physically abused as a child and I even threatened to call CPS myself. My mother told me I would be abused even worse in a foster home and the trauma she had caused made me actually believe it. If your position on a subject is firmly entrenched due to a negative experience, then nothing anyone else says will change your mind. If we didn’t have the Child Protective Services system and there were reports of children dying from neglect and abuse on the news every night, people would demand something to be done to protect innocent children. In my case, I was never taken from my biological family, but I should’ve been. I suffered extreme amounts of trauma and have had counseling multiple times to try and help me deal with the aftermath.