Social Services – Did you ask the children, alone?

Before the police informed us that Jennifer Hart was the one with her foot on the accelerator I already knew from this photo it was her. When the story first broke, this was one of the photos we were shown and it hit me immediately. I could see the narcissistic tendencies begging to be shown as if to say “Look at me!” She is leaning forward asking for the most attention while her partner is leaning back, wanting less of the light. Her brood of four (out of six are under her) and you can see the command she holds over them. Sure you might say, it is easy for me to say now that we know all the details.

I am an ex-social worker with eight years at CPS (Childrens Protective Services) in California. Now I work in private practice and specialize in working with victims and survivors of emotional abuse (from a Narcissistic parent or partner). I always tell my clients and I will say this about Jennifer Hart as well. I am not diagnosing your parent or partner (or Jennifer). I am just saying that it sounds like this person has narcissistic tendencies. It is not ethical to diagnose someone we have not met. Most often my clients come in and tell me their parent or partner is narcissistic based on what they read online. I always check their stories out by looking for the tell tale signs. The language of the perpetrator (they all seem to use the same phrases, like they all speak Narcissistic French), the walking on eggshells of the victim, it is always the victims fault and the perpetrator is never sorry or never takes responsibility. The victim/survivor has lost their sense of self after years of emotional abuse and being told it is their fault and trying desperately to make their parent or partner right or hold them up on a pedestal of some sort. Sometimes there is violence and this usually occurs when the narcissistic person has been pushed up against the wall (metaphorically) by their pathology by the victim or in Jennifer Harts case, her perceived threat of her ego by CPS. The violence happens to re-assert their power.

These perpetrators have been working on their externalized stories and behaviors since early childhood, sometimes even infancy.

In this case though, what bugs me even more is whether or not CPS even spoke to these six children, ALONE. In the last article I read, which came from the New York Times  they mention the reports from CPS being released in court. I see in this article where CPS spoke to the parents but I see know mention of speaking to the children. Maybe they did and it is not shown here but it begs the question.

The reason I speculate this lack of efficiency is that these children, we have been told in several articles, had no problems going to teachers or complete strangers (neighbors they did not know personally). One photo shows the little boy going up to a police officer in “the famous photo.” Why was he crying that day? People had all kinds of comments about this before he was killed but now, looking back, why was he crying to a police officer? The children, we have been told, went to these neighbors asking for food. They told these people that they were being starved or abused. In the NY Times article the teachers have stated that they got tired of telling CPS because of the retaliation that the children would face as a result of their home visits. This again begs the question: “Did CPS ever speak to any of these six children alone?” They should have spoken with all of them alone and even separately. I am not just saying that because now we know they are dead. I am saying this because this is their JOB.

Obviously a parent or caregiver is not going to say “Sure, I beat my kids,” or “Sure, I starve my children when they are bad,” or “Yeah, I have sex with my children.” This is the reason you always talk to the children alone. You talk to them at school, you talk to them in their bedrooms or take them for a walk outside their home or sit in your car. Anything to get them away from their parents ears and give the child a chance to feel as if they are not going to be in trouble. Then, you don’t go back and tell the parents, “Well your kids said …” and walk out the door.

In this case, the parents (according to NY Times reports of CPS statements) punished their children for having a penny in their pocket and lying about where they got it. The kids were punished for five hours (forced to lay on their beds) for lying about eating all the pizza. What made me think again of the narcissistic behaviors was this statement:

In a 2011 episode, Hannah told a school nurse that she had not eaten. Jennifer Hart then became angry and shoved a banana and nuts into the child’s mouth. When confronted about this, Sarah Hart argued that Hannah was “playing the food card” and should just be given water.

All of this is serious neglect because it is out of the ordinary or unusual punishment. The paragraph above screams out narcissistic language, but all alone would not. However, most people in our profession don’t put a lot of their attention on the subject of narcissism. What she was doing here was shutting her adopted daughter up for what she said, to keep her from speaking again. What her partner was doing was placating her partner (agreeing with her to save their marriage). Sarah, however long she had been with Jennifer, had learned to keep the peace by keeping her happy.

So why, with all these reports, with Jennifer taking the six children out of school and then home-schooling (to have more control), did CPS never take the children out of the home in three states? It still begs the question – Did CPS ever talk to the children alone? If so, why didn’t they believe them? It is pretty rare that a child is going to lie when confronted by an authority figure and in this case, they had already gone to someone who made a report to CPS. They were brave kids, begging for help and no one ever did anything to help them except the mandated reporters and neighbors.

Hint: This is the reason CPS, that mandated reporters and neighbors often don’t report, because they see you are not doing anything about it. Hint: To mandated reporters and neighbors, don’t give up because you are starting a paper trail and eventually CPS will do their job when their hand is forced. AND, if it is not too late.

In my practice, here in Ohio, so many times my clients (who are adults now but some who are still children and had dealings with social services) tell me they never once spoke to the social worker. I often hear “They spoke to my parent,” or “They spoke to me in front of my parent (s).” One young person said to me “What is a social worker?” when I explained this they said “I never spoke to anyone.” I of course spoke to the social worker about this and made it clear that they needed to speak to the child, alone. What are they afraid of? If the social worker is intimidated by the parent, parents, or caregiver, call your supervisor and ask for support or contact the police and ask for them to “keep the peace.” I found you often had to tell the police exactly what they were supposed to do, even though they collaborated with us all the time. Sorry, I am not bashing them but that is what we had to do. Social workers get intimidated by these calls that they make, when confronted by the perpetrator. They are not policemen and are not always strong or street smart and sometimes are newbies.

In this case, there was mention of Jennifer drinking. Narcissism is a character trait of addictions. Obviously, since their only priority is getting a fix (drink or drug). Ironically, the last photo of Jennifer is in a convenience store buying food (bananas – again bananas – it appears) and two other items which I can’t make out from a video surveillance camera. She has a look of disdain on her face. Unlike the other photos of her, where she is aware she is getting publicity that she wants, she is unkempt (like most people are these days). She is not wearing a bra, she doesn’t have her hair fixed nicely, she has her hand in her pants (to feel secure when you feel insecure). CPS had now been trailing them for three states. She had the kids in home schooling but still they were onto her. It sounds as if the day or days before (the murder) the car was in the driveway but no one answered the door. You can’t knock the door down or even have the police go in unless of course there is perceived danger at that moment. They might have called out a “health and safety check” which the police do when you know they are there and not answering the door.

In all these states mandated reporters were doing their jobs. The neighbors were being a “village” and protecting the children in their own defenseless ways and calling CPS and making anonymous reports. Still nothing happened.

Narcissistic violence is generally spontaneous, not planned out. When I hear clients talk about these scenarios where they had confronted the perpetrator, it is an act on the victims part of standing up for themselves or saying the truth but not expecting it to have any effect on the perpetrator. Usually they would hear “You don’t know what you are talking about,” or some other type of criticism. In these circumstances where violence occurs, the victim continues to push the button (or in this case, CPS doesn’t give up). Violence can be accidental even, such as throwing something and it happens to hit the victim. They could be pushing the victim and they fall down and hit their head on the corner of a table or dresser. Spontaneity means it is not pre-meditated and so they haven’t planned the attack.

In this case, I am reminded (as many adult survivors of abuse can recall) of my parent slamming on the breaks to get us to behave. There were instances of pulling the car over so they could effectively reach back and slap you or wail on you if it was really an annoying behavior. But, Jennifer stopped the car and then here is what I imagine. My theory is she made some last remarks to the children that probably sounded like this “If it weren’t for you…, I have had it with you kids. This is all your fault.” Then with all her self-centered egotistical pride she pushed down on the gas and let it rip.

For all of you, who, like me focus on the “Why didn’t they open the car door and jump out?” The children and partner were probably too paralyzed in the moment to do anything because they were in shock those brief seconds and then it was too late. If they could live to tell us, they would probably say “It all happened so fast.”

 

Special Note: I have since been given a copy of a report that was put together by OR CPS. This was thanks to another social worker who read this article. Yes, they did in fact talk to the children alone (in this state) but still felt compelled to say “insufficient evidence.” I have since shown it to another social worker whom I once worked with. It is hard to understand what another social worker is thinking or know how much experience they have had in the field or how much training they received (or what their degree is). Hard for me to read the mother stating that she held the child’s head under water, while the other mother helped and think “insufficient evidence.” This is an inappropriate punishment for a little girl. She admitted this. Along with other information given above, there were countless reasons why these parents needed the children removed, court involvement and then decide whether or not they should be returned. Yes, they spoke with the children alone but as the Minnesota teachers said, every time they contacted CPS, the children suffered more abuse. By the time they got to Oregon, they probably weren’t quite eager to talk to someone who wasn’t listening. Obviously OR wasn’t. The children didn’t even admit to the abuse that they had already told people before, which the social worker new about, as it is stated that they did in the report. This would have been a red flag for me. But reading this entire report, about 13 pages and then seeing the conclusion, I am dumbfounded that the children weren’t removed for that report alone.

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