A continuation from Part I

We’ve all seen the stories…a child is missing, a community bands together with police to search. Most times the outcome is a happy one–parents and child are reunited and society breathes a collective sigh of relief. The alternative in these cases is devastating: a child lost, never to be recovered, or eventually recovered, only to be mourned. Having celebrated the return of a little one who had been lost, one would expect that the family would be able to gather together praising God, and give special thanks to the professionals who aided them in a time of most desperate need.

Believe it or not, it doesn’t often work out that way…

Within minutes after the confirmation from the 911 operator that Emily had been found, a police cruiser arrived. Hurtling past children and neighbors, I tearfully hugged the police officer, thanking him continually for bringing my little one home, safe and sound. I saw Emily’s frightened and confused eyes through the window of the cruiser. She had her brother, but she needed her mom. “May I have my daughter, officer? I know she’s very scared right now…” The officer was quite curt, “Mam…let’s go inside. We have a few questions and the little girl is quite cold…”

Emily and Arthur emerged from the back of the police car and were showered with tears and hugs from all family members as we made our way into the house, trailed by two officers.

I was so happy, so very relieved, I didn’t even notice the look of concern on the face of my husband when the officers asked us to excuse the children from the room. I didn’t want Emily out of my sight, but asked Clementine to take her upstairs for a hot bath. The remaining children went to their rooms.

It wasn’t long before I began to share my husband’s concern. The officers began asking very detailed, very personal questions. “For the record” we were told. With grim countenance and brusque manner, they asked me to relay the details regarding Emily’s disappearance. Through many tears and much self recrimination I shared what had happened, reiterating that in 25 years of parenting, I’d never had anything like this happen before. We had never, ever lost a child…

“Excuse me, mam…are you saying we’ve never had a report from this house before? What I mean is…Officer X and I had recalled visiting this home before on a missing child case. Is this the first report we’ve ever taken here?”

“Isn’t one more than enough?!” I cried. “Are you under the impression that we’ve had this problem before? I can most certainly assure you the we have NEVER had a police report on file…surely you can verify that? Is there some kind of problem?”

“Well…just a small one. It’s routine, in cases of child neglect, for the police to call Social Services. The address given seemed to my partner and I to be one that we had dealt with before. We felt we were dealing with a case of neglect, so we had Social Services on standby to take the child. It’s clear that we have a case of mistaken identity, that this is clearly not a case of neglect, but something that could happen to anyone. We’ll put the call in to Social Services to tell them they won’t be needed.”

Social Services. Are there two words that can conjure more fear in the life of a very large homeschooling family? My blood ran cold when I realized just how close we had come to losing Emily and possibly the other children. As if the shock of Emily’s disappearance were not enough to cope with, my heart clenched in my chest at the thought of what happens when Social Services enters the life of a family.

The officers were so much more relaxed now. We talked for a bit, they reminded us of the dangers surrounding us on the street corner we lived on; speeding cars and pedophiles are a lethal combination for small children who are not kept under close watch. We thanked the officers profusely, telling them that we were moving in less than two weeks and hoped to have a little more piece of mind in our new rural setting.

They left.

The strain, the shock, and that knowledge that my children were very hungry and confused brought on another round of tears. Praising God through our tears, we gathered around our Sunday dinner in true thanksgiving. We were together. Everyone was safe.

And then the phone rang.

“Yes, mam. My name is Mr. X, I’m with Social Services. How is your daughter?”

“Ummm…she’s just fine, thank you for asking…may I, uh, ask why, ummm you’re calling? The police had said this was not, ummm, a case for Social Services…umm…I’m just a bit surprised to hear from you…”

Surprised?! Terrified! I was literally stuttering, shaking like I had been when Emily was missing. Was this a courtesy call? What was going on?

“Well, mam. We did receive a call from the police. It is still within our jurisdiction to follow up on these cases. We simply want to ascertain that the family is okay, that your daughter is okay. Do you need anything?”

“Nothing at all, sir. We just need to eat dinner and get to bed. This has been a very traumatic evening. I thank you for your concern.”

“Mam, I’d like to leave you my name and number, in case you should have any questions…”

Questions? Yes, I had a question…why had he called? My husband assured me that this was simply routine. A name is entered in the database and protocol must be followed to clear that name. The officers certainly hadn’t given us any indication that Social Services would still call. I had a very uneasy feeling.

“I don’t think this is over, Roger.”

When the phone rang, bright and early Monday morning, it was quite obvious that it was not over. With Social Services, it’s not over until they say it’s over…

To be continued…