(this was written almost a year ago. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long, but these same conversations [and cases] keep coming up and I feel it’s finally time to discuss it. At the time of its original publication, I did not feel comfortable talking about why we were called in to CPS. Having gained some distance from the matter, I will now say that we were called in to CPS because our house was a mess and our kids were “dirty.” So there you have it… the horrific “abuse” that was going on behind our doors. In the future, dear friends and neighbors, if our house is not up to your standard, you are MORE than welcome to show up on my front porch with a mop and a broom. If you’re willing to show a little bit of love, that is.)
“I think we have a general problem in our society when our first response is to call on a government organization instead of attempting to TALK TO THE PARENT(S) and offering help.”
I’d just written this in response to someone asking if they should call CPS on a family when I heard a knock on the door. Our local sheriff was standing on the porch and in an eerie twighlight-zoneish scene, I listened in shock as he informed me that someone had made an allegation against our family. I don’t want to get into too many details, but suffice it to say that although the charges were declared unfounded, our world was turned upside down and for better or worse, I don’t think we’ll ever be the same again.
The comment I made just before the sheriff came to our door was in response to someone in a facebook parenting group asking if they should call the authorities because a child was overweight and “smelly.” (According to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services the answer, by the way, is no.) Shortly after that, I saw this little gem being shared around facebook:
Dirt and “unsuitable clothing” are signs of neglect? Really?! According to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, listed among reasons NOT to call CPS are:
“A child who is improperly dressed, but the clothing deficiency does not result in harm to the child” and “hygiene, that although not optimal, does not adversely affect the well-being of the child.”
Children being “unsupervised” is incredibly subjective and as for #3, if a child is really hungry and parents are struggling to feed him/her, should our response really be to call in the authorities? Or should it be to help a struggling parent?!
Since I made that statement, this same group – comprised mostly of so-called “Christians” – has been mired in more debates over whether it’s appropriate to call the authorities for various situations and I can’t help but be saddened by our obvious willingness to report each other rather than help each other. Over the course of the week, I heard the following reasons given as a justification to call CPS, rather than help:
“I don’t have time”
“It’s not my responsibility”
“If parents are dumb enough to ___ (insert parenting decision you don’t agree with here) _____ the parents deserve to lose their kids.”
And we’re not talking about physical abuse here, we’re talking about situations where others have looked in and judged that something is inappropriate or “unsafe” without ever speaking to the parents or attempting to gather any facts. You don’t have time to help? It’s not your responsibility? These are lies straight from hell and this is not how Jesus admonished us to treat each other. Is it worth a few hours of your time, to help a family in need? Is it worth being late somewhere, skipping an event or two, or missing your favorite TV show to ensure that a family isn’t wrongfully accused of neglect or abuse and that children aren’t wrongfully taken away from loving parents?
Is it worth a little inconvenience to actively love those around us?
I think it is.
Our actions have consequences. Several parents during the course of these discussions made the point that “if the authorities are called and nothing is amiss, nothing will happen.” Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Although many social workers do everything in their power to help families, abuses within the system – within any system – do happen. Mistakes are made and families lives can – and are – ruined by false accusations and assumptions. Am I saying that the authorities should never get involved? No, I’m not. But I am saying that as so-called “Christians” (as the majority of people in America still claim themselves to be), as neighbors, and simply as decent human beings, there is absolutely no excuse for not making the time to help those around us whom we perceive to be in need.
There is no excuse for reporting someone to a social worker simply because they have a different parenting style than you. There is no excuse for reporting a family if you haven’t taken the time to find out if they really need help. And there is absolutely no excuse for reporting a family who does need help if you haven’t already done your level best to help them. There is no excuse for commissioning the government to take care of a problem that Jesus Himself commissioned YOU to help with.
But, of course, we don’t have time to do that…. and it’s not our responsibility. Every day, we echo the words of Cain: “Am I my brothers keeper?”
I mentioned in the beginning of this article that thanks to the person who called CPS on our family, our family will never be the same again. Our children learned about prejudice, apathy, false accusation and (dare I say it?) cowardice first-hand. Their innocence, their trust in the world and those around them, has, in some ways, been taken from them. As for me, it’s impossible to describe what it feels like to have your worth as a parent weighed by people who don’t know you, yet have the power to take your children away from you and there is nothing you can do about it. It’s impossible to describe what it feels like when every day you find yourself thinking of a hundred different things someone could misunderstand or judge you for… if our 1 year old is dressed in nothing but a diaper… if our yard gets messy… if the kids play outside unsupervised… WILL SOMEONE CALL AGAIN? It’s impossible to describe what it feels like when you no longer feel safe in your own home.
But we also learned about true love, and what it means to be a family in Christ. Friends we’d known for years, friends we’d met only recently and complete strangers rallied around our family, offering both physical and financial help to help us meet the demands of the social workers – and even go beyond what they’d asked us to do. Without hesitation, they took time out of their day to support us in every way imaginable. They cried with us and laughed with us and prayed with us and loved us in unimaginable ways. We got to see love – true love – in action.
And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading [of it]?” So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain [man] went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded [him], and departed, leaving [him] half dead. “Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. “Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. “So he went to [him] and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. “On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave [them] to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
– Luke 10:25-37
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