Can a mother be too protective, when it comes to her child? For the entire week prior to the meeting with the Social Services case worker, I wouldn’t let Emily out of my sight. Not for a second. Fearful that “they” would take her if I dropped my guard for a moment. It seems so irrational, as I write of it now. An unwelcome presence had insinuated itself into my home; fear, dread and interior chaos pervaded.
The past week had been fraught with such anxiety, uncertainty…I prayed that our Lord would give me peace and presence of mind to make it through the morning meeting. Despite all the negative emotions, I had real confidence that our Lord would work something great in this suffering. That’s one of the truly frightening aspects of trust in God: sometimes He allows the seemingly incomprehensible to happen, to work some greater good in our lives. The good, the bad and the ugly…all work to His greater glory!
Emily was thrilled to have a few private moments with mommy. Buckled into her car seat, she chattered happily in the backseat unaware of the concerns that had absorbed her parents for the past week. Both mommy and Emily were as “fashionably attired” as possible. It is a sad fact that the poor are treated differently in circumstances such as these. Were I to approach the Social Services case worker, unkempt with my child and I attired in torn and/or dirty clothes, many negative assumptions could and most likely would be made.
Elevator. Emily happily pushed the buttons. I took a deep breath, said a “Hail Mary” and approached the receptionist’s desk. Within moments a young woman nearly half my age, ushered us into her office. She introduced herself as Amy* and immediately began to apologize for the confusion of the past week.
“I’m so very sorry that you’ve had to go through this. I just received the police report this morning and the officer’s statements clearly indicate that no neglect was implied nor charged. I just wish we’d had this information sooner…”
“I thank you for your apology. This has been one of the worst weeks of my life. Hopefully, you’ll never have to experience such a degradation. To parent children for nearly a quarter of a century and then have a government agency begin to question your ability to parent. It’s been too much. I don’t understand why the police report wasn’t ordered from the beginning. I offered to bring you one…”
“We have procedures we must follow. Yes, you could have brought me a police report. But I would’ve had to order another one, just to make sure the one you brought had not been falsified. As it stands, I’m processing your case for dismissal. May I have Emily’s social security number?”
“No…I’m sorry. I can’t allow that. If you have no grounds for even having a case, I’m not going to give you a number to tie to a case that doesn’t exist. I’m not trying to be hostile, just protecting my child’s privacy…that’s my right as a parent.”
“I’ll note this in the file. This will take a couple of weeks to clear the system, but after that the only record on file will be one of “case dismissed.”
“So, there will be a record? I’m really not willing to have a file maintained on my family in this office, whether it reads “dismissed” or not. Is this information that follows us from place to place? Do I need legal counsel? We are moving next week…I don’t want any loose ends in this community.”
“You’re moving? May I have your new address to forward the dismissal form? There’s not much I can do about the file we already have. It doesn’t follow you from place to place, though it does remain on record.”
“I’d prefer not to give you my new address. Our mail will be forwarded, you can send the dismissal form to the address on record. Amy…I’m really not trying to be difficult. You have no idea how this has impacted my family. To have lost a child, safely recovered her and then have to deal with your office, as though we had committed a criminal act is wrong. I’m sure you work very hard at what you do…I see a picture of a baby boy on your desk, I’m assuming that he’s your son. Imagine that someone questioned your ability to parent. Now imagine you’ve been parenting for 25 years. Children are taken from parents by Social Services. Everyone knows that. You guys are the “big, bad wolf” that the rest of us are afraid of. Do you understand my hesitance to give you anything more than the barest minimum of information? Do you see why I don’t want to be in a database in your office?”
“Mam, I completely understand and, yes, I’m well aware of what people think of our office. We do good things, though, too. We help families adopt. We remove children from potentially life threatening situations. I’m sorry that this experience has been traumatic for your family. Your little girl is adorable and obviously well cared for. I have a couple papers for you to sign. Acknowledging the dismissal of the case…you can read them.”
“I’m sorry if I’ve said anything hurtful to you. I wish I had the same confidence in your office’s ability to help families, that you have. I don’t. What happens to children that enter “the system” is so horrifying…You see this file? This is everything that I looked up all week, how to protect the rights of my family, I even have a copy of the manual that you used to train with. This is how frightened our family has been. Guilty until proven innocent. I had to wait all week to have you tell me that we are not guilty of neglect, when I had a police report that said that all along.”
I signed the papers. Emily skipped all the way to the elevator. Once inside, I scooped her up in my arms and cried such tears of joy and relief. It was over! Truly!
The tense faces of my daughter and friend greeted to me. It didn’t take long to tell them, breathlessly and through many tears that it was finally over, Emily was safe, the children were safe.
The rest of the week was spent packing and moving.
Two weeks later, sitting on the porch listening to the birds sing and feeling the cool spring breeze, I heard the mail truck. Opening the mailbox, I grabbed the stack a mail, noting with panic that a letter from our previous county’s Child and Family Services office was on top. Standing by the road, I ripped open the envelope and read the following words:
Case dismissed. Three or four lines and an apology. I had forgotten. I looked over at Emily playing in the enormous sandbox under the tree in the front yard. Smiling, thanking God for the day, thanking Him even for that awful experience…you can’t know how much you appreciate peace until you’ve lived in chaos.
So friends…that’s the tale. Why did I tell it? For the sake of entertainment? No…there’s a caveat here. A warning. Be careful, be very careful when you seek the authorities for help. We teach our children that the police are the good guys. They are our “knights.” We don’t often think about what happens when a family seeks help from the police or other officials. Sometimes the actions of a parent can come under question during a routine visit to a physician or a much needed trip to the ER. I’m a bit more guarded now. I have to admit, when I had to call 911 after my grandmother fell in my living room, I was nervous, but it was necessary. Thank God we live in a country where these services are available when we need them! I don’t regret for one moment calling 911 to help recover Emily. The police brought back our little girl…that is a priceless gift. Social Services, on the other hand, is a whole other kettle of fish. Know your rights! No one has the right to enter your home without a warrant. No one. No one has the right to question your children without your permission. No one. Don’t live in fear, live informed. I’m working on that one, right now. As I said…I’m still a bit cautious, but I’m working on it. Trust in God is the key. He daily shows me my weakness and I’m thankful. Were I strong, I’d see no need for Him. Trust in God…make everyone else show you some identification!