You Think I Did What?!
Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a parent like a call from Child Protective Services that says they need to make a visit to your house. It is easily the most upsetting thing that we, the parents of traumatized kids, hear. And yet, it is something that has either happened to each one of us or will in the future.
Unfortunately kids that have grown up with early trauma or have attachment issues are prone to making false allegations. It could be for several different reasons depending on the child. In some cases, the child has learned through being a part of "the system" that they can manipulate adults and make false allegations either to get attention or to get back at an adult for a perceived in justice. In other cases, the adults that are charged with taking care of them at school or other places may not understand their attachment issues and may question the parent's choice of parenting style. This can cause manipulation by the child and they sometimes tend to exaggerate what is happening in the home. If the adult already may not agree with what they think they are seeing this can cause issues.
We have had numerous allegations against us in the past 12 years. We have had our son go to school and tell far fetched stories that the teacher felt obligated to report. We have had him go to school with bruises from simply playing rough or perhaps from a rage and when asked, he may have a fishy response or he simply may not know how it happened and he accepts words that are put in him mouth. We have been reported by neighbors for the screaming (his) that eminates from our house on a regular basis. Any normal person would assume a child that is screaming like that is being hurt, so CPS has been called. We have had a report filed because our child has chosen to run out of the house and stood on the front lawn screaming "Let me in!" even though the front door is open. We have even had a report filed that we are not feeding him enough because he is VERY thin and is always asking begging for food. My child eats more than 3 adult men because he has no pain receptors and very rarely "feels" full. To anyone who is not familiar with our situation all of these reports would seem completely and totally justified.
I had to come to grips very early on with the fact that CPS would likely be a consistent part of our life. It is difficult to live under the stress of a possible complaint being filed at any time unless you adjust your thoughts about the whole process. Here are some of the ways I try to think about the issue and relieve my own stress.
1. Understand that CPS is a necessary evil. I had to realize that if it was not for a CPS complaint my child would likely be dead at the hands of his bio-parent. He was saved due to a neighbor's complaint. When they are thoughtful and take time to really understand what is going on in a particular situation, they are invaluable. Be thankful that they exist, this frames your reaction to them.
2. Understand that you did nothing wrong. When you react to authority in a threatened manner they assume you did something wrong. Be yourself. Your love for your child and your family will show through. Your intentions are good, taking the time to explain your situation and not go immediately on the defensive is crucial.
3. Advocate for your child. Explain the situation that they came from. Explain their background and ask if they have had any dealing with that particular issue before. Explain that your child has experienced early trauma and that is no different than physical damage. It affects them in many different ways. Your main goal is to keep them safe. You are the one who is dealing with the fall out, not the one who inflicted the inital trauma, but you are usually the target.
4. It is ok to get frustrated or emotional, but be polite and use good manners. Try to limit the anger. Attempt to look at them as advocates and not aggressors. They are simply doing the job they are called to do. Portray yourself in a positive light. I have been known to say "I am not upset at you or my child. I am angry that he has to live this way and that this is our life!" Be honest! Explain that this is difficult all around and you are thankful for agencies that are there to keep people safe.
5. Have the magic binder ready. We keep all our important paperwork related to my child in a binder that is easily accessible. Phone number for doctors, therapists and social workers are in the front. Letters or determinations of diagnosis are definitely important as well as any school paperwork like IEP and/or therapy reports. We also keep a copy of our adoption decree and medical paperwork there as well. Unfortunately, I also have the report determinations and case closed paperwork from the previous investigations in their own section. Police reports, other allegations, bio history, and/or abuse information would be beneficial as well. Offer this information and explain that you have it ready so that you can prove that there is a history of either false allegations of attachment issues.
6. Be honest with caregivers. It is OK to say "My child's behavior at school and my child's behavior at home greatly differs due to his diagnosis. I understand that is hard to grasp. If you have any questions about what that looks like, feel free to ask." It is ok to share details of your child's issues. It is easier for our kids to hold it together during the school day and then let loose at home. Most people don't understand that concept. It is ok to educate others on the ways that trauma affects our kids. You don't have to share specifics to educate. You can point them toward resources that back up what you are telling them. You can explain that you are pleased they see the other side of your child, but there is much more beyond he surface.
6. Above all know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Find a support group that "has your back" and knows what it is like to face that kind of trauma. It is crucial to have someone who has been through it before and understand what it feels like. It is a place to vent and to express all the previously unspoken fears. It is the place you can go to get angry and others will understand. It is your place to let off steam and to regroup. Knowing that a hundred or more women are praying for a quick resolution and telling you it will be OK is priceless.
It is one thing to type this and know it and yet another to live through it and still freak out. Just this past week we received a letter from our local prosecutor's office(our APS agency worked through that office) that we were implicated in a complaint filed by the school from our now 18 year old. Since he is 18, it was referred to Adult Protective Services. My first thought was, "They don't know us!" and one of my support moms said, "Think of it as training a new social worker. It will be fine". And it was. It was simply a case of him making an allegation and then changing the story. He did have a mark on his body, but it was from a restraint that was keeping him from harming himself and others in the family. Once our side was heard, the complaint was dismissed. APS is much different than CPS. In our experience APS was more in tune with the family and more concerned about helping find resources instead of pushing blame. So this time, our experience was good. Perhaps it was because I have this thing mastered . . . likely not. I'd like to think it is because I showed that I am not afraid because I did nothing wrong. I'd like to think it is because they did not only see the frustration but also the love for my child and the anger that this is HIS life.
We ended our intereview with a shout out to BeTA. I explained that there are parents who have come together for the good of their children who have all experienced trauma and/or have attachments issues. I asked if I could provide them with materials to give to other parents that they speak with who might need that kind of support. They are THRILLED to have another resource to give to famillies. It is my hope that another momma, another dad will feel less alone by understanding we are here waiting on them.
-Sheri (who blogs at Ain't That Sherific)