Tag Archive | Domestic Violence

I am Now Pro-Responsible

Since the beginning of time, the issue of women’s reproductive rights has been an issue. Whether it was a decision as to who would raise the child, how to keep from having a child, who had rights over the child, who was the father, whether or not you could claim to be from a particular religion, and this was an argument no matter what class level you were at. From Catherine’s children being removed at birth, by Empress Elizabeth, to all women having no control over getting pregnant. That was until Margaret Sanger came along and opened the first birth control clinic in 1916 (before this there were condoms and other items that wealthy women had access to).  In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court voted on Roe v. Wade (or legalizing abortion) and from that moment on, the war between pro-life and pro-choice has been an endless battle of women and men, screaming why they were right and not listening to the others point of view; safely from their battle grounds.

Now you are deemed anti-feminist if you are pro-life and you are a “baby killer” if you are pro-choice. I once went to a protest in the 1980’s in Los Angeles, CA. It was at a federal building in the Santa Monica area. Women were lined up on two sides and my first thought was that it looked like they were playing “Red Rover, Red Rover.” Each side yelled at the other, to the point where they were red in the face and barely able to talk by the end (I feel sure). They were hoping someone would “come over,” or at least this seemed to be the point of their debate. Though, in retrospect, I really don’t think they cared who crossed the line, they were more focused on the strength of their vocal chords and being right about their beliefs. I walked away from this “debate” because I felt disturbed by this façade or pretense that they even cared about women’s rights. All they seemed to care about was their side. I’ve never focused on arguing about this ever again. It is pointless when no one listens.

Instead, I have continued to work with young women or the father’s, pre-graduate degree in counseling psychology and post. In homeless shelters, TAPP – Teenage Awareness Parenting Project, Social Services/CPS, The Fatherhood Project (various men’s groups I was involved with), and now as a therapist in private practice.

It was hard for me to stay on the pro-choice argument when I began to learn that modern young women were just not using birth control. Not that I don’t believe women have a choice but I was alarmed at the staggering numbers of young women who – not because they were ignorant or had no knowledge of birth control – simply refused to use it. In the foster care system, the girls actually assumed that this would get them “out of the system.” They assumed that the courts would suddenly emancipate them: now that they had a baby, no money, no shelter, no job, no nothing – which is what would happen if they were dumped out on the street as an “emancipated adult.”

Other girls tell me they don’t use birth control because their “doctor said they couldn’t get pregnant.” It is amazing how many girls actually believe their doctor said this. I feel pretty sure that they concocted this belief by misinterpreting what the doctor said. There are probably rare circumstances that a doctor would say this but ultimately, if you are a teen, you are going to get pregnant. This is the prime age for fertilization. A teen’s body is ripe and in outstanding shape. If it isn’t the doctor’s fault, than they are playing the Russian roulette game, “Wait and see.” They aren’t married, just women who are risking and disrespecting their bodies with a guy who is totally hopeless. There are also the girls who “don’t want to get fat,” from old stories about antiquated birth control pills but don’t take into consideration the nine months of being fat, till your deliver the baby.

Meanwhile, the guys are playing the “I don’t feel comfortable with a condom” game. They also play Russian roulette with their bodies, because when they get AIDS or Herpes, that is not very comfortable either and lifelong if not life life-threatening. It is also not comfortable to have “the crabs,” or other venereal diseases. It is easier for a guy to run away from the “I missed my period,” sentence uttered by the gal, because we just don’t do much to hold them accountable in our culture.

So, while I do feel that ultimately, a woman has a right to make a choice about her body, I feel it is disrespectful to our society, to their bodies, and to all the children who are born unwanted to take such a carefree approach to life. Margaret Sanger did not risk her life and give up her family for the sake of abortions. She did this so that women could have sex without the burden of having an unplanned pregnancy. She did this so that poor young married people, in the inner city, weren’t having to forsake marital relations in lieu of 13 kids that they couldn’t feed. Welfare has become a crutch for ignorant people but they didn’t have this back when she started her clinic (welfare is a crutch because people who are raised this way, assume this direction if they get pregnant and so depend on its existence as their fallback plan). Margaret Sanger also did this so that any class level of men and women could have sex and enjoy this without procreation.

Pro-Life and Pro-Choice women could actually come to the table and have some agreements with each other, just as the Pro-Gun and the reductionists could and just as the Democrats and Republicans could. They don’t because each side is more invested in being right than in coming to a compromise.

My new stance on being Pro-Responsible is that focusing on being responsible is much wiser and a better stance to take with young women and women in general than whether or not you should have an abortion. Pro-Life women are women. I haven’t really talked to many of them who believe that a woman who is raped should stay pregnant. However, this is dealt with anyway, IF a woman goes into a Rape Crisis shelter because she can get the “Day After” pill or the RU486 or whatever they call it these days. Though, if it is not the day after, women in general don’t believe a rape victim should be forced to keep the pregnancy. Meanwhile, pro-choice women have told me more times than not that they really wouldn’t get an abortion if they were pregnant or they wouldn’t want to but these are generally very responsible people.

Women who have told me they had an abortion, went through an unbearable amount of pain and grief. Generally speaking, this is a one-time thing, not a birth control option – though it happens. There are no accidents in life though. This is 2019, I don’t accept “it was an accident.” If you are not using birth control, it was on purpose. This is what women need to be focused on as an issue, not whether or not to get an abortion. By focusing on abortion rights, you are going to an early emotional grave – yelling and screaming – about what is the least of our problems. Women not using birth control, this is the more important issue at stake. Lets not forget the Special Needs girls who are extremely vulnerable (especially those in the inner city) to sexually active boys, who will pretty much do it with anyone they can get to pull their pants down.

Being pro-responsible is going to have more of an impact on our youth and young adults as we focus on making sure they are not only educated but encouraged. The most vulnerable population is the inner city girls and the girls from single parent families. These girls all KNOW about birth control, but they aren’t using it. So, what do we do?

We focus on teaching children to have respect for their bodies and building their self-esteem. I have, in the past, been a part of a wonderful organization in San Jose, CA called “Girls For a Change.” In this group, girls became “Social Change Agents.” They focused on projects, throughout the course of their school year, that took them out of themselves and into being concerned about an issue they cared about. Whenever we gathered together for conferences, with hundreds of girls, no one was pregnant. They were also less interested in gangs, chemical dependency, and hanging out with the wrong people. They were more focused on having an education and going to college in the future.

UNESCO studies show that the more educated a woman is, the less children she will have.

I was a Girl Scout until I was 14 years old and this was a safe place, that I could go to, to learn about: being a woman, work ethics, leadership, building a business, among many other things. This organization continues to provide young women with the same values. Women who are in the Girl Scouts, from around the world, can vouch for how this has impacted them. We continue to hear women thanking this group for helping them to become the person they are today. Eighty percent of female entrepreneurs; were once a Girl Scout. It is an institution that has been around since 1910 (began in England).

There are other ways of teaching young women to have respect for themselves and their bodies. Naturally, this is the job of parents but it cannot happen in a household with drugs/alcohol, mental illness, domestic violence, child abuse, narcissistic parent (s), and/or other mental health issues. It is part of a religious education but can’t be if the theologian has issues with women. It also can’t happen in a girls organization that is in a bad neighborhood and controlled by the streets rather than the group (which I have seen).

The Roe v. Wade argument is ridiculous because the law has been passed by the federal courts. It is ridiculous because it has avoided the real issues and we are ignoring the fact that women/girls need to be responsible for their bodies. Men/boys need to be responsible for their bodies as well. When adults do nothing but argue, kids will go off and look for emotional comfort. If we spent more time being focused on family planning and less on abortions being right or not, the issue may be of less concern. To do this, we should focus on creating more organizations that teach young people to respect themselves and to respect the other gender.

Teaching respect for bodies and self, will keep children occupied on their goals for the future and to be more aware of society at large. This is why I am now Pro-Responsible.

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Emotional Abuse is Domestic Violence too

I like to use movies, literature, TV Dramas and other forms of art to discuss issues we face because then people will hopefully turn to them and re-examine what I am proposing. When it comes to Domestic Violence, most people think that it is simply physical abuse and nothing else.  In fact a woman is considered to be in a domestic violence situation when she is emotionally abused (even when nothing else is present). If you are trapped in a relationship because of emotional abuse and manipulation then you do not have the freedom to live your life or make choices and often lose a sense of self. Women are always surprised when I tell them this because they have tried so hard to cover up for their partners for so many years. Sexual abuse has long been undercover because of the assumption presented in society that if he is your husband you are supposed to have sex with him. Often sexual abuse takes play in emotionally abusive situations because he is not afraid to manipulate you in any situation he can.

When I turn to both literature and a musical, I think of characters who never got their woman – and in some situations we feel sad for this; i.e., Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights because it is written for us to believe Heathcliff and Catherine would have had this great love between them. I recall growing up, hearing my friends talk about this terribly romantic story of unrequited love, no different than Romeo and Juliet. In other situations such as Judd in Oklahoma, it is written for us to think of him as a lowlife, even though he is no different than Heathcliff and so in this musical we are grateful that he and Laurey don’t get together. Yet both characters are the same. They are possessive men who don’t get the girl but then continue to show how abusive they are to others. These types of men make me uncomfortable as a woman because I know that had they been able to be in a relationship with the girl, their possession would become much stronger, more dominant and she would have become strangled by their love. It would have led to sexual abuse, possibly even physical abuse. When a person is that narcissistic about their beliefs there is no self-awareness, no self-examination and the result is a catastrophe.

Currently, I am watching the Turkish Muslim TV drama on Netflix entitled “The Girl I Loved.” The story of Heathcliff and Judd are turned around because Timur (pronounced Tee-mur) is now a wealthy businessman and he has control over Mine’s family as he is the boss of the patriarch and later the son too. Mine (pronounced Mee-ney), is in love with Sinan (pronounced See-naan), also from a wealthy family though he is the son of a capitalist and comes across more like a socialist instead. He rejects his money and status for love. The difference here is that Timur is an adult male about 20 years older than Mine and Sinan is a man of about 18 or 19 when he first appears in the drama. Mine is 17 years old. Sinan’s father rejects his love for Mine and when she turns up pregnant (which happens when you have sex carelessly without a thought for being responsible and taking birth control), Sinan’s father whisks him out of the country to America without telling him that his love is pregnant. At the same time, Sinan’s father tells her father – who comes to plead to the family to take responsibility for their son’s and his daughter’s actions – that his son wants nothing to do with his family and they even question the paternity of the child.

Now the story begins. Timur, who had now fallen in love with Mine, a young vulnerable girl who he feels he can relate to, hears of her plight and wants to save her. We have already learned that he has saved the life of his housekeeper, another woman, but we don’t find out her story until much later. She had fallen in love with him but the minute he becomes consumed by Mine, Timur begins to reject his housekeeper and even his daughter. His housekeeper is sent to live elsewhere and return each day to tend to his household needs, whatever and whenever he demands. He marries Mine, after embarrassing the father and the family by asking for her hand – Mine’s father has a lot of pride and does not want his boss to have all this control over his family, the class issue and plus he realizes he is 20 years older. But the mother of Mine, delights in her daughter having this money which means stability so she is more practical and talks her husband into it. This of course causes him to eventually fall in love elsewhere; a different level of the control by men in this story. Mine rejects Timur’s love but is basically forced into the marriage because it will get her father to love her again. He had now considered her dead to him and refused to speak to her. Timur marries Mine, knowing that Sinan didn’t know anything about the pregnancy and is very much in love with her. Eventually the father begins to talk to daughter again and everything is written to look like a happy marriage.  The one thing that we can respect Mine for is that she is smart enough to realize that Timur wants her badly and so she makes demands which he actually respects. He will not sleep with her and for a couple of years she even locks her door to ensure this. This caused me to wonder if Timur has sexual problems. I doubt this will be brought into the picture (I am on episode 42 out of 79). I am pretty surprised to see a man who will give up sex in a marriage (and not have a lover on the side). This is how we see how his devotion and love for Mine is more of a religion. He has idolized her to be this saint and will do whatever it takes to have her by his side, even if it is a faux marriage as it is never consummated.

The conflict begins for Mine when Sinan returns from America and eventually he learns that she is pregnant with his son and they both find out that they were tricked. However, by this time, she is so emotionally manipulated by Timur, she cannot see his possession. She is now dressing nicely, like a rich wealthy woman (at first she rejected his money). She doesn’t have to work (at first she did anyway) and has now returned to college though there is no emphasis on this in the story so it is more like an idle past-time that Timur allows her. Mine and Sinan get together many times because she is still so in love with him and they have crying fests over her conflict and his undying love. We also see that Mine has grown up and is putting her child’s needs first (the martyr) and that Sinan is trapped in a fantasy of young love he is still chasing. He is unable to accept that she has grown as a woman and his jealousy has made him into a whiney little boy rather than growing and taking steps to turn this situation around. I keep wondering why he doesn’t hire an attorney to fight for paternity, visitation as well as put on a suit and become a responsible man that Mine will fall in love with all over again. If he fought for her and his son this way, she would be able to respect him. His character seems doomed though and when I accidentally read someone’s English comments I found out this is exactly what does happen in the final episode.

This emotional manipulation of Timur goes to great lengths that many women cannot see in their relationships (straight and even lesbian/gay). Timur stalks her first with a cell phone that she must answer whenever he calls. He locks her in the room himself and doesn’t let her leave (the fact that there is a sliding glass door on one side of her room is now hidden from camera and we the audience are supposed to forget it is there). He steals her phone so she cannot call anyone and even when her parents show up unannounced he talks them into believing this is just a lover’s quarrel. The first time she leaves him to go and clear her head at her aunt’s house – he follows her there and brings her back home. The second time she is already there and in front of all the women in her family tells him she needs time to think. This time he is too embarrassed to do something in front of these women and leaves. However, he is there every day and calls every day to check up on the son and her. Each time he arrives he  pesters her again about why she is doing this and how much he loves her and so on and so on.  How is she expected to actually think – I wonder? But he has no respect for his wife. He idolizes her and she can do no wrong but he doesn’t want her to think, he wants her to remain stupid and naïve so he can continue to possess her. We are still led to believe he is undaunted by the fact that they have not had sex and he has not had sex either for the past two-three years now.

What is saddest of all is Timur’s daughter, Merve (pronounced Mare-vey) who is so caught up in her love for her father that it would seem incestuous driven though this is normal for a child psychologically, i.e., the Oedipus complex. She has lost her mother (story is vague) and dad has been there for her until Mine, to the point of it seeming a little too close, on his part. Because she is bright enough to see her father’s obsession for Mine, she tries all types of tricks to get her father to notice her including attempting to kill herself (accidentally as this wasn’t her intent) and controlling Mine while she was pregnant (though Mine didn’t care because she didn’t want to be there anyway at the onset). When her father continues to reject her, even after a temporary “I am sorry, I still love you” moment between father and daughter, Merve goes in another direction. She is the one to tell Sinan about his son and was the one who brought Mine and Sinan together initially when he returns from America. She finally gives up and decides the only way to get her dad’s love is to love his “son” and be nice to Mine. You can see though how she is falling apart emotionally and I can only imagine, as a psychotherapist and if they write the story correctly, that she will eventually fall into the hands of a male that she will either control or be controlled by dependent on how vulnerable the character is shown over the years. It will depend on whether she is a survivor with one more trick up her sleeve or completely collapses altogether because some cocky guy makes her feel loved once again. Either way, it won’t end good for this young child because her father continues to ignore her over and over again as if she is nothing more than the housekeeper.

Now, if you were to be Turkish and could read all the comments on Turkish websites about this show, you might see a lot of favoritism toward Timur. This show is trying desperately to go in his direction and give you the idea that he is the one for Mine. At the same time, they are not allowing the Sinan/Mine relationship to end – it keeps the show rolling but they continue to show it as pitiful and hopeless and leave us to believe that Mine will end up consummating her relationship with Timur. Perhaps there are sides – women choosing Sinan and those opting for Timur. I hope she ends up leaving Timur and coming to her senses that she is a grown woman and doesn’t need a man. Both men are equally possessive but Timur is so emotionally abusive and if he ends up owning her 100%, which he is close to now, this won’t be a happy marriage. He lives for conflict because he is a passionate man and will soon need another woman to protect and shelter. How did he get to this place that he felt he was this God of poor lost women? This is what I question as a psychotherapist. What is his backstory? I hope we will find out in the end as I want some closure on this.

In real life though, a middle class woman marrying a rich man is something “dreams” are made of for many young girls. It is a fairytale that we see in cartoons and musicals and classics. So many women have entered into this story and at times it has a happy ending. Other times though it ends with emotional abuse but the woman fights not giving up all her money and prestige. It is a tough call. When you have become enslaved by money, power, prestige, and realize that if you leave this person you will have nothing, may end up being shunned, will fight him in court, and so on, it can cause a woman to remain and this will cause the man to feel he has even more power over her. This of course means more domination and control. Emotional abuse is domestic violence. This needs to be recognized and understood more. It is difficult when the art world romanticizes this and ignores the fact that it exists.

Children’s Mental Health As Important as Physical Health

 

This is a very powerful message about mental health and children. While we are not in the UK, we have many places locally that serve young children and adolescents. The best place to look for someone in your area is to go on PsychologyToday.com At the top of the page click on Find A Therapist, then put in your zip code and then you narrow down your selection by clicking on the different variables provided. (Note: Psychologytoday is a nationwide website).

Forensic Files: Journalists

The final part of this series is about the press. We have all seen what happens to celebrities. A day does not go by where we are not influenced by the media. As a society we have opinions about people we will never know based on what we read online. Every time someone is labeled as “alleged” by the media, they are automatically seen as guilty by the audience. This is the reason why many riots are caused in inner cities around the world. Ignorant people who think they know what really happened because they heard from another person or on the internet, the “True Story.” Until you are met by the press for something you and your family member has supposedly done, you can’t possibly know what it is like.

Case A: A young girl on my caseload was schizophrenic. She had a professional who was inappropriately involved with her and often took her on outings, unknown to me. When the teen ran away, this person would know her whereabouts but never made me aware of this. One day the teen decided to slit the throat of a passerby while on an outing with this professional. This professional did not turn her in to the police for a couple of days. Once this occurred, the press posted story after story about her case. Suddenly she was a gang member involved in an initiation ritual. They printed her name, which is unethical for a minor, especially one involved with social services. For days, stories about her gang initiation was all the rage with journalists until she finally reached the court room. I was not allowed, being a social worker, to make any statements to the press. If you work for social services or any type of public agency or have any type of confidentiality clause in your contract, you are not allowed to speak to anyone about the case that is not already involved. Please keep this in mind. It does not mean something is being hidden by social services. It means it is none of the public’s business and if it were your family  you would be grateful for this.

The press have a job to do. Investigate a story and find out all you can so that you write something before the deadline. They are not held by many standards other than they aren’t supposed to make something up. While she was not involved in a gang in the above mentioned story, someone could have told them this. If someone gives you information, you can print it as long as you can prove someone did this. Not printing a minor’s name in California is an unwritten law. It is just known that you don’t do this. Some newspapers have no ethics whatsoever. Again, as I was her social worker, they were not allowed to contact me and even if they had, they would know I would say “I am not at liberty to discuss this case.” They did approach me outside the court room and I found it quite humorous. It is a game for them. Though I will say, that I desperately wanted the press to know the truth. However, having been interviewed several times by the media for other reasons, I know how your words are always taken out of context and they will write what they want. So I was glad that my agency protected us by not allowing us to talk to the press.

Case B: A very popular young woman’s magazine approached me through a website I used to run for survivors of domestic violence. They wanted my opinion as a social worker on a law being passed in NY, in regards to the issue of women losing their children to domestic violence. After speaking to the reporter for approximately two hours, I got a follow-up phone call to go over the details. They had changed several things that I had said, including upgrading me to a Ph.D. (Psychologist). We went over the changes and then a month later I got a copy of the magazine. My stance was “in the middle.” That is because you can’t be concrete about any situation when it comes to a forensic case. This is why we have jury’s. It is why we have attorney’s and a legal system designed to protect the innocent. The magazine wanted an article that would sell. Needless to say I was horrified when I saw the lengths the magazine went to, to manipulate my words and visually demonstrate their real opinion. I opened up to the story and found a photo of a crying white baby hanging onto the bars of its crib.  The caption read “Should children be removed in domestic violence situations?” I might have paraphrased that because it was years ago. Then I saw my photo – a white woman, labeled as Child Welfare Worker in California. To the right of me was an African-American parent who had their children removed. Obviously they were making people assume there was a racist element here – without saying it. This was 2004, a little before people became so nauseating about using the word racist out of context. Above my side of the article was the word “YES,” and above her was the word “NO.” Her story was her words, which any social worker could read between the lines and see exactly what was missing. My side of the story was also turned around and luckily my colleagues could also see what I meant. The problem though is that this magazine is NOT read by social workers. It is read by 20-30 something girls, mostly uneducated women who have no knowledge of social services. A popular domestic violence organization in San Francisco applauded the other woman in the article by quoting something she had said. I was so furious because if they had heard what I had said, they would have realized it was more appropriate to the cause at hand. But I was the victim of the press, just as my client was above.

Therefore, if you are involved in a case that will have media attention, be prepared. Whether you go into court looking like a cold heartless bitch, or a woman ready for a nervous breakdown, the media will have you labeled as guilty of something. It’s a Catch 22 because journalists will flip the visual to their advantage. A story gets lots of money if it is picked up by other papers. It’s a crap shoot who actually gets the truth, sometimes when they least expect it. Once in a rare moment, the journalist will win an award. I doubt the average guy hopes for a Pulitzer, they just want to get paid at the end of the day. So while it is a sleazy profession and most people have absolutely no morals – same as paparazzi’s, it pays the bills.

You also have realized by now that all of us, in society, are excited by drama, the richer the better. We are in a world of reality shows vs. television dramas. It’s the reason our beloved soaps were removed from the air. Who wants to watch Erica Kane or Crystal Carrington (fictitious characters) when they can watch those Kardashian girls? We are voyeuristic and lack in empathy.

Keep this in mind when your family is involved with the press. If it is really bad, get a PR consultant. Dress professionally when you are going to make a statement. Have it written down and pick someone to talk who can do so without emotions, some but not a lot. People do not like to see crying babies. Even though it shows sorrow, we are more interested in hearing your admission of guilt or you taking responsibility in some way. Make sure you have an attorney on your case, even if you don’t think you need one, have one lined up for consultation. Don’t read what you see online or in the paper. Only do interviews with respected programs. Make sure when you do television interviews you go over the questions that will be asked before going on the air. If you are shocked on camera, you look guilty. Don’t be rude to anyone just be respectful. Always remember that they are doing their job. Be prepared for any crazy question that might be thrown in your face. Someone might have been going through your trash.

If you don’t like it, stop buying it. Don’t pay for television. Don’t focus on what you see online. Treat it all as gossip and entertainment. Stop watching reality programs and pay attention to your family.

Forensic Files: Social Services

The next three articles I am writing have to do with forensic issues: Social Services, Attorneys and the Press. The reason I am writing this series is due to the extensive background I have working with forensic cases through Children’s Protective Services or as a psychotherapist taking on clients who are involved with the court on some level.

Forensic means court action involved in a situation. It does not mean murder or rape (solely) as most people think when they hear this word. Therefore if you are involved with the court on some level, some criminal action is taking place, you have a forensic case. Blood and guts do not have to play a part. Juvenile Forensic work is Children’s Protective Services (aka social services in some states), juvenile hall and psychiatric facilities (sometimes court is involved in continuing the stay at the hospital). Adult Forensic work might include people involved in accounting, real estate, finances, but also a case facing prison or jail time and again psychiatric facilities.

Now that I have explained this lets discuss Social Services. If you are involved with a case, your kids have been removed or someone in your family has been, or you are thinking about being involved as a foster parent, relative caregiver, or opening up a group home or other congregate care facility, then you need to read further to get some understanding of what you will be facing.

Social Services have the same federal laws that they have to follow in every state. A child can only be removed for abuse or neglect. How each state interprets these laws is dependent on the that region, the body of laws they  have put together to effect these laws and from what I can see the culture of the state’s people. Therefore, each state will behave differently based on the policies and procedures put together interpreting how they will run their county agency. To clarify, abuse means physical, sexual, or emotional (the latter is difficult to prove unless it is heinous) and neglect means medical, financial and basic needs, also not always easy to determine.

Having explained the above you will surprised to know that having a dirty house does not mean children should be removed. However, if there is no food in the house and the children are not attending school and do not have plumbing – basic needs not being met – this is a different story. Also, because the parents are using drugs, this is not a reason to remove. If they are using drugs and beating their kids or sexually abusing them or the kids are starving, this is a reason to remove their kids. Even domestic violence alone is not a reason to remove unless of course the children have been put in danger. This sounds very strange but acts of domestic violence do not always involve the children.

My background with social services was in California. All of us who worked as Child Welfare Workers (in our agency) had master’s degrees which meant we had clinical expertise. Social workers with undergraduate degrees do NOT have clinical expertise and have only experiential knowledge dependent on how many years they have been with the agency. This is a huge difference understanding why a family is behaving as they are vs. using judgement based on what you have seen and learned. California is an exceptional state because there were strict decisions adhered to with regard to “What is in the best interests of the child.” What I have seen in other states (for example Ohio where I am now) is much more loose and concerning.

If children have been removed from you or a family member and you are now involved with the court, here is what you need to know. These are the facts and maybe it sucks to hear this and it seems unfair but this is the way the laws are enacted and until something is done to change this, it is best that you listen. Not just read but listen! If you don’t, than you have no excuse for losing your child or family member. These are the facts. YOUR CHILDREN SHOULD COME FIRST NOT YOU. KEEP THIS IN MIND AS YOU READ.

1. You should have a right to an attorney – I hope all states at least allow this. Some states offer attorney’s for each child (CA). Whether you get a public defender or have to pay for one will be determined by your financial status. If this is your child that has been removed and you don’t have an attorney, you will be taken advantage of by the court and social services and there is nothing you can do about it. Get an attorney.

2. Judges only listen to attorneys in the court room. Social Services are generally not allowed to speak unless requested by the judge or asking the court supervisor to be allowed to speak. The same goes for parents who have no attorneys. If you have one, do not speak without your attorney’s permission. Do not make a scene in the court room. This will only make you look stupid and it does not influence the judge in a positive way.

3. Whatever has been charged against you as a parent, allow your attorney to deal with this and explain to them what actually happened. If you do not show up for court or your attorney does not win the case, the decision has been made. Do not expect that social services can do anything about it. Once the charge against you has been set in court, it will not change for the duration of your case. Wasting your time arguing with your social worker about this, is a waste of your time and theirs. Take responsibility for what has happened and go on to the next step of your case. Do you want your kids back or do  you want to waste people’s time? You had your chance and that time is over now.

4. Haven’t heard from your social worker? Time is precious, so don’t sit around waiting – ever. Don’t blame the system either. Often times we get the wrong phone number because someone is wasted at removal, or scared, or some other circumstance. Maybe your phone has been shut off. Take responsibility for your case. If your kids have been removed and it has been a day or two, call your local county social services number or go down there and don’t leave or hang up until you know who you should talk to.

5. Family Reunification. Once the court has removed your children and made them a dependent of the court, you will go into family reunification. If you want to get your kids back you have between 6-12 months to do so, depending on the age of the child and how many kids you have already lost to the system. If you are almost there at 12 months you often have an additional six months that you can request. This is the most valuable time you have to get your children back. If you waste it arguing about why they were removed, then you miss precious time focusing on yourself. There is a case plan, that you should be involved in and sign which details what you need to do to get your children back. Some states are not as formal with this process, which is very sad. Make sure you ask to see your case plan or ask your social worker “What do I need to do during family reunification to get my kids back? Do whatever they say. Yes that sounds harsh but they are professionals and it has been determined what you need to do to get your kids back. If you weren’t drunk that night and you weren’t in court to deal with this, than you need to go to AA. You didn’t abuse your child and you have to be in a parenting class and therapy, then you show up for that class and that therapist. Your boyfriend/girlfriend at fault – get rid of them and put your children first. Even if they are not guilty in your eyes, you need to focus on your children. You haven’t heard from your social worker, than follow step four and take responsibility.

6. Very small percentages of people get their children returned in the 6-12 months period. This seems to be the same odds in every state. The reason being is people do not take responsibility for why their children were removed. They want to argue the entire 6 months. They resist following through on services requested. They don’t show up for court. They continue to spiral out of control and keep behaving as if nothing happened. The public always wants to believe it is the fault of social services – sometimes it is, professionals make mistakes. But more often than not, it is the fault of the family. There are some damn good social workers out there. Even though I am horrified at what I have seen in other states, this does not mean that the professionals are any less concerned about the children they work with. It means their hands are tied by ignorant legislators and old-fashioned thought processes.

7. Adoption and Legal Guardianship – Adoption means your PARENTAL RIGHTS ARE REMOVED. Your child’s name is changed and their birth certificates are changed. Legally you can hire an attorney in the future – once you have turned your life around and try to get them back but don’t get your hopes up. Also, think about what you are doing to your children and to their life. But the longer you wait, the more you make this miserable for them. Legal Guardianship means you still have your parental rights but the Legal Guardian determines whether or not you get to visit your children. They have this right until they turn 18. So if you show up wasted don’t expect to visit. If you make lots of promises and then only show up 1 out of 10 times, don’t expect to get the visit. It is easier to get your child back than adoption but consider whether this is the best thing for your child. Get an attorney and don’t waste people’s time with this until you have turned your life around. Turning your life around doesn’t mean you are in rehab for the sixth time or even the first time. This means you have been clean for at least a year or have been in therapy for this amount of time or have a decent home and have taken parenting classes – whatever you were meant to do on your case plan, you have done it and have been consistent for a certain amount of time. This also doesn’t mean that you have a new boyfriend and he is going to take care of things. You have to take responsibility. The more games you play with social services – before you are ready, the more you make life difficult for your children.

8. Visitation with your children – Do not show up with candy and toys. Do NOT show up wasted. Do come with home cooked meals from your culture. If they have already eaten don’t show your sadness. You should spend this time loving your children with your food, attention, and ears for listening to them. Play with them and hug them appropriately. Do not grill them about where they live. Do not give them false promises. In fact do not promise anything. Behave like a mature responsible parent. If this is supervised visitation try to ignore the professional in the room and focus on your children. It is awkward for both you and the professional, however, if it is supervised, than there is a reason for this. Take responsibility for the situation.

9. Return all phone calls. If ever you get a phone call from your social worker, you return the call promptly. If the police show up your house for a “health and safety visit” because you have refused to follow through, don’t act surprised. No matter how much you hate your social worker, you have to follow through. They have the power to keep or return your child.

10. Problems with your social worker – If your county does not have an ombudsperson or someone who is assigned to objectively deal with problems with your social worker, ask for a supervisor and talk to them about the situation. Stick to the facts rather than bad mouthing your social worker about how you didn’t get your kids back. This person wants to hear about the problems you are facing with your worker. They don’t want to have to go over your issues with social services that you are taking out on the caseworker.

11. Document everything that happens on your case from the moment your children are removed. If you want to convince anyone of anything, you must have your own facts to back up the case. Give dates and times and don’t write this all down the night before you go to court.

12. If you are wasted, don’t expect anyone to take you seriously. If you don’t show up for hearings the same thing applies. Don’t give excuses either. Communicate with your social worker while you are clean and sober. If there is an issue getting to court, ask your attorney to get you an extension – sometimes it is possible.

There are probably other things I am forgetting here but feel free to ask. Don’t leave comments about a kid you didn’t get back though. Hire a family law attorney and have that conversation with them. I cannot comment on a state or county or isolated situation when I really don’t know all the details. Even if you think you are right, there are always multiple sides to the story (facts) that will be unknown to me. An attorney knows your state laws and your rights with regards to family law. Whatever has happened in your family is very sad and I empathize with your situation but I can not change it. Only you can through the correct channels.