I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know a lot about cases where Child Protective Services interferes with a parent/child relationship. I used to worry about it though. Rowdy boys who I did my best to keep socially acceptable in public in the most gentle way I could. I used to warn them that they really had to listen to me or someone might take them away. They seemed to understand well enough to settle down and not raise misguided concerns. That is the world they grew up in and they are now very well-behaved teenagers, thanking all that is good we all survived their childhood but that isn’t always the case. So my story today is about one such case and its causes and impacts.
A father and son played for hours at the beach, splashing the water, and building an elaborate sandcastle. The two of them are so similar it’s sometimes hard to imagine they aren’t the same soul living in two separate bodies. Their bond unbreakable regardless of what the courts may have ordered. Their visits are essential to our son knowing who he is, where he comes from, and who he takes after in this world. (Don’t know for certain but believe he has been adopted. The woman shares that the boy’s 2 older biological sisters are still in foster care, which explain what comes next.)
While spending time together, Dad said to me, “I need to start being good and following the rules if I want to see my daughters…. it’s just hard, because I never had rules to follow before, so it’s not easy for me.”
How hard it must be for first parents to be asked to follow the strict guidelines children’s aid societies and child protection services (CAS/CPS) sets out for them when they themselves grew up in circumstances where there were minimal-to-no-rules. Is it this perpetual cycle that explains why the children are removed ? Then, why the parents struggle to obtain reunification. And then, when that isn’t possible, struggle to be able to maintain visitation after Termination of Parental Rights, when CAS/CPS controls the narrative, the rules to follow, and the access to their children. It’s something I think more foster and adoptive families need to recognize is part of our privilege, and be more mindful of the unreasonable expectations placed on first families.
I’m grateful that CAS has no say over who we visit with, how frequently, or under what conditions, so that we can see our son’s family as often as possible; but I’m continuing to learn and to be heartbroken by this terrible system designed to keep families apart.
One woman shared a similar story about rules that was not related to this first one. CPS told a neighbor her 12 and 14 year old children were not allowed to walk home from school. They had to take the bus or be picked up. She lives 1/2 mile from the school. That felt really controlling and they held that over her head, as if it were a problem. How is something like that possible ?
My sisters and I walked to and from school every day of our childhood. Both of my parents worked. There wasn’t even a school bus provided but we did survive it. We were probably healthier for the exercise. This is the kind of over-reach that worried me when my boys were very young.
There are so many problems with CPS “rules.” The first woman went on to add these thoughts – the rules often sound arbitrary, conflicting and complicated to follow in real life. And I can see how they don’t seem “so bad” to those with the means and privilege to have a flexible schedule, financial resources and a support system. The whole premise is corrupt and needs to be dismantled and rebuilt with an emphasis on family reunification, support, culture, and preventative measures, so we never end up here in the first place.
Cultural rules change a lot depending on what cohort you are part of. CPS rules are based really heavily on white middle-class cultural rules, which are stunningly different from other groups of people. Which led another woman to share – our case worker keeps saying my nephew goes ‘AWOL’ and it bothers me so damn much. Because I know that feeling of not being in control. The ability to come and go as you please, to go on a walk is not AWOL. The amount of re-framing the system needs to do is staggering.