Friday, February 26, 2016

It's Harder For Me

When you work with children, you sometimes run across child abuse and neglect. I have definitely had to make more than my share of calls to Child Protective Services, and every time is really, really hard.

(Clearly this is going to be a hard post to read. That's part of my point but if you can't handle it, don't read further.)

Some calls are fairly straightforward: "I saw a bruise that looked like a pinch mark on the child's upper arm; when I asked him about it, he said that his dad pinches him until he cries whenever he doesn't do his homework." Then I fill out a paper with my information, the child's information, what I saw, etc.

That's an "easy" call. That's one where I don't think the child's life is in danger, I've seen evidence, and the CPS worker is probably not going to argue with me. It's not usually that easy, and even that takes a lot of emotional energy, because I care for these kids and want them to be safe and not be hurt.

Other calls are much harder. I didn't have to report the child who had a fork mark burned into his forehead - it looked exactly like someone heated up a fork over a stove burner and held it to his forehead, and that is probably what happened, but he was in someone else's class. It was a friend who had a young child in her class who had his hand held onto a stovetop burner as a punishment. I have had to make a few physical abuse reporting calls, but most of mine have been verbal/emotional abuse and/or neglect.

I had one child who was constantly being told by his father that God had made him (the student), "special," and because of that, he must be tested. The father explained that this testing would involve setting the child on fire. As long as he was in my class, the dad didn't act on it, but they moved and I don't know what happened. I reported this every time the child told me, and on one of the calls, the person taking the report began to cry. I don't think she probably lasted very long at that job.

The authorities did check out the family, and I know this because the child handed me a note once, which just said that he couldn't talk to me any more because he was in trouble for telling anyone.

Another child, "Johnny," told me that his mother's boyfriend was scaring him. When I asked further, he said that the boyfriend wanted the mother to move with him to another state. She mentioned bringing her kids and he said, "If you bring your kids, I will kill them and feed them to my mother. I will kill them, chop them up, and feed them to my mother." The third grader overheard this and was understandably frightened. That was one of the only calls where I saw the result. CPS came to the school and talked to the child and the next week, his uncle came to me with tears in his eyes. He said he was Johnny's guardian now (as well as guardian to the younger sister) and that he had never had children but he loved them and he would do anything for them and would keep them safe. I really hope things turned out well for them.

Neglect is perhaps the hardest thing to report because it's tough to quantify. I've had to call on kids who are left home alone overnight, especially when they are young and having to take care of a baby sibling. I've had parents who won't take kids to the dentist for major problems - one child had a bleeding ulcer in his mouth and I had to send him home several days in a row because he was bleeding all over the classroom - even when I find them free dentists. I had one student who came to school (when she came - she missed about a third of the total school year ) reeking of marijuana every day. Her mother would not come get her when she was sick, EVER, and often wouldn't pick her up from school period.

I had to actually talk the person on the CPS hotline into taking my report, as she wasn't convinced it was a problem. This wasn't the first time - I had one time that the person refused to take a report because it wasn't bad enough. I asked him for his name and he said I didn't need that. I called back to talk to someone else and she said they only had one male staff member at the time so she'd pass it on to the supervisor.

I realize this is a hard job. I honestly don't know how ANYONE does it. The social workers working for CPS have a very high turnover rate and that is not surprising AT ALL.

I also realize that it's hard to hear about. I'm betting that a lot of people didn't finish reading this, so if you did, thank you. In my new job, I've had to make a few CPS calls, and they seemed to come all at the same time, making it hard for me. I love these kids and I worry about them, and it is exhausting to deal with this. I cry a lot after making these calls, and I get tired and achy and sick and irritable.

When friends ask how things are going during this time, I tell them. Things are really hard because I've had to make several child abuse reports. I get a few different responses.

One is the person who just doesn't understand and thinks it's easy to keep work and work and not be bothered by it after I make the call. I don't really know how to even talk to this kind of person and fortunately, I have few friends who are like that.

The second is the person who can't hear about it. They can hear "I had to make a CPS call," and then they tell me they can't hear anything else. It's too hard, they say. I have a really hard time with this. OF COURSE it's too hard. But if it's too hard for everyone, then I have to carry it alone. And that's much too hard. I am there every day with these kids and their struggles and sometimes their abuse. If I can't get supported, then I can't support the kids, and of course, things are hardest for them. If I can't get support, I can't keep doing this. It may not be fair, but when people say it's too hard to hear, I want to shout, "If it's that hard to HEAR, how do you think I feel being in the middle of it?? How do you thin k the kids feel who are abused?" Again, not super fair. But it's how I feel.

Fortunately, the third kind of response is the wonderfully supportive friend. I have friends who are really truly supportive, and that is very helpful. But sometimes not enough.