Former CPS Worker: CPS ‘Re-Traumatizing Children’

July 18, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

I don’t know how many times I’ve pointed out to child protective authorities that, for the most part, children do better with their parents than with someone else. There’s a fair amount of scientific literature on the subject of biological parents versus foster care and, for the most part, even the children of moderately abusive parents tend to have better outcomes than do those of foster kids. That’s for a number of reasons, one of which is that abuse and neglect in foster care is far more likely than it is in biological families, including again even those that are somewhat abusive.

The other reason is that, pretty much regardless of who their parents are, children have bonded with them and being separated from those adults who represent the only love, the only stability the children know is almost invariably traumatic to them. Being taken away from their parents and placed in foster care, even for a short time, can be a life-altering emotional blow to a child.

That’s why I’ve criticized the tendency of child protection workers to take the child out of its parents’ home and ask questions later. I fully understand that the tendency comes from the classic proclivity of every bureaucrat ever born – to CYA, to protect him/herself from any consequences in the conduct of his/her employment. In the case of CPS workers, that often means being “proactive,” so if there’s the slightest problem at home, it looks better in the file if the employee did something.

The problem is that that “something” often means taking the child out of the home and placing it with foster parents or in a group home. In many cases, those are the only alternatives the child welfare worker has. I’ve long argued that CPS should spend its scarce resources more on services designed to get parents to be better at that job and less on foster care. The truth is, in many cases, a little help, a little teaching, a little guidance is all it takes for parents to be adequate at caring for children. And that’s far better than throwing the child into an emotional whirlwind by being taken away from his/her parents and tossed into foster care.

This article puts some meat on those bones, but has one rather glaring omission (GoLocal Worcester, 7/17/13).

It seems that Dr. Brenda Harden has some experience as a child welfare social worker. In fact, she worked on the front lines of New York City’s Child Protective Services for many years. Now she’s in academia and she says frankly that what she and countless others in CPS did was abusive to children.

“I can’t tell you how many attached family relations I’ve interrupted. Sometimes there were good reasons. But mostly we (social services) are re-traumatizing children in our effort to help…”

If a state’ Child Protective Services (CPS) find that a kid’s parent, usually Mom, are substance-involved, hurtful, mentally ill or neglectful, obviously the best thing to do is get the kid out of there, ASAP. Duh. Right?

But Harden’s research proves that it’s absolutely the worst thing you can do – except in totally hopeless cases when Mom is irredeemable…

But those babies (taken from their mothers) plunge into deep mourning… Babies know and love the sound of Mom’s voice, smell, her familiar movements. Mom is inevitably the first relationship. The health or weakness of that bond affects kids’ capacity to attach to others in healthy ways going forward. Strong mother-child attachments give kids a resilient, socially healthy start in life. Weak, screwed up or broken early attachments often lead to a range of future problems including attachment disorders, depression and other mental health issues.

Harden says, “Good mental health is what gets us through life.”

Harden’s research shows that what works best for everyone involved is to teach the “defective” mom how to parent well. Strengthening rather than weakening their bond gives both the mom and the baby their best shot at future health and success.

It’s pretty much what I’ve been saying all along. Whenever possible, help the parents; don’t just haul the kids out of the family and into terra incognita. It’s better for kids and it’s cheaper for the taxpayers. What’s not to like?

To her credit, Harden has learned the errors of her past ways. She now teaches child welfare workers to try to teach good parenting methods to mothers who may need little else to become the type of parents who don’t hurt or neglect their kids.

Meanwhile, the author’s writer, Julia Steiny, asks a good question, one that pretty much answers itself.

As a culture, are we just too punitive to get our vengeful eyes off the offender and on to collateral casualties, like the kids? By removing defective moms as though they didn’t matter, social services endorses the kick-out mentality. The mom is bad, thus disposable. Labeling people “bad” and putting them aside is too simple. It ignores all the connections, the attachments, the context.

Just so. Child welfare workers should be taught to keep families intact if possible and given access to the services that could make deficient parents into adequate ones, you know, the type who didn’t have to be visited by CPS every month or so, the type on whom CPS don’t have to maintain a perpetually open file.

By now of course you’ve figured out what that glaring omission in the article is. That’s right, Dad. He’s nowhere to be found, even though every word of the article, and every word of Harden’s research, applies to him. Do babies bond with their fathers? You bet they do. Within weeks of birth, they can identify Dad, differentiate him from Mom, etc. Is a child’s removal from Dad emotionally traumatic? Of course it is.

So where’s Dad? Well, my guess is that Harden works mostly with a community of mothers who have so little connection with the fathers of their kids as to be irrelevant. She omits them because, for all practical purposes, they don’t enter the picture.

The National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

The National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting. Thank you for your activism.

#CPS, #foster, #Harden, #Steiny, #UrbanInstitute, #WhatAbouttheDads

As to Steiny, she’s written plenty before about the value of fathers to children, so it’s not anti-dad bias on her part.

Still, one of the many problems with CPS is its proven tendency to ignore fathers when taking children from abusive or neglectful mothers. The Urban Institute’s study “What About the Dads,” catalogued how, even when the fathers and their whereabouts were known to caseworkers, over half were never contacted as a possible placement for their own children.

So any article about taking children from abusive or neglectful mothers that doesn’t at least mention fathers as a possible substitute for foster placement has a gaping hole in it.

#CPS, #foster, #Harden, #Steiny, #UrbanInstitute, #WhatAbouttheDads

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