I knew I was to blame, too. After all, I was the social worker who picked up the phone to call Child Protective Services when the mom tested positive for opiates in Labor and Delivery. Her case haunts me, because she was a normal mom who found herself in a bad situation. Her crippling neck pain had caused her to take prescription painkillers during her pregnancy, and she took far too many of them. The narcotics created a placental abruption, and her baby almost died before an emergency C-section. I called CPS because the mother's drug use had put her child's life at risk, and CPS responded by placing all four of this mother's kids in someone else's home. When I placed the CPS call, I never would have imagined this outcome or the mom's icy stare as she left the hospital without any of her children.
My social work license mandates that I make the call to CPS whenever I have concerns about child abuse or neglect. The law is incredibly clear, but, unfortunately, my job is not. I routinely have to make judgment calls based on intuition, hunches and the best evidence I can put together from minimal information. I have to act in the best interests of children, even when I'm not directly working with them. I have to call, even when I know a CPS visit will obliterate my relationship with the mother in question. Hands down, it's the worst part of my job, and probably the most important.
So, what's going through my mind when I call Child Protective Services? I want the family to receive help. I want them to learn parenting skills, or perhaps get help for a long-ignored addiction. I want the mom to know I care about her and her children, even if my care appears punitive. Most of all, I never want to be the social worker in the news who should have seen a child's death coming and intervened beforehand.
Once I notify CPS about possible abuse or neglect, the case is entirely out of my hands. From that point on, CPS decides whether abuse or neglect has occurred and how it should be handled. I wish it was more cut and dry, but I've seen caseworkers handle the same situation very differently. For example, I once called CPS about a positive marijuana test in Labor and Delivery, and the caseworker still decided to send the baby home with Mom. That same caseworker was the one who placed all four of the opiate-using mom's kids in foster care. I'm bothered that I never really know the outcome of my call — but a lot less bothered than if something terrible happens to a child.
If you're ever on the receiving end of an unnecessary CPS visit, please try to be grateful that systems exist to protect our nation's children. Social workers are doing the best they can — and if there are no concerns for your child's well-being, CPS will quickly exit from your life. But if there is evidence of abuse and neglect, try to remember that CPS is there to help you restore your family rather than destroy it.
The author wishes to remain anonymous.
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