The Reality of the Child Welfare System

By Laci Hart, Compassionate Caregivers advisory group member

Imagine a world where your mistakes are held against you long after they’ve been rectified. Do you think you would give in to the inevitable, or would you fight for what is right?

The child welfare system has created a reality where people live this nightmare day in and day out. Families who have fallen on hard times face a system that can rip apart their lives. My name is Laci, and I am writing this with the hope it will reach at least one person who is seeking validation during what could be the hardest stage of their lives.

In November 2017, my two-month-old niece tragically passed away. That date would put the wheels in motion for even more devastation in the coming months and years. I suffered from addiction for my entire adult life. Up until that dark day in November, the disease I have was kept at bay for most of those years in adulthood. After my niece passed, it didn’t take very long before my own children began to suffer. I struggled to wake up and function throughout the day. I could not face the pain of what happened, and I turned full force to drugs to numb that pain. It worked! As long as I was using, I could distract myself from reality. I did not know how to get through the loss without numbing myself—I didn’t have the coping skills for hard situations. Sure enough, by February 2018 I had lost temporary custody of the boys to CPS.

I will spare you from all of the horrifying events that took place during the initial investigation, but trust me when I say I have never been a witness to anything so traumatic in my entire life. I know my decisions to use drugs were neglectful. But that does not give anyone the right to devalue and degrade me in front of my family and children. I would later learn this sort of treatment from CPS was typical. I spent the next year in a deep depression and had a hard time getting sober. The removal of my children only made an already devastating time much worse.

From the very beginning, I had the sense that CPS did not want my children to return home to me. While I understood the loss of custody when I was unable to maintain consistent sobriety, my children should not have been kept from me after I completed all my services and more. But this is exactly what CPS attempted to do. After I had completed treatment and maintained housing and a stable job, they still tried to have a relative adopt my children. How is this reunification? I did eventually get my boys back but not without the help of my relative. Without her denying CPS’ several attempts to persuade her to adopt, I am not sure what would’ve happened. I am only one of likely hundreds of other parents who completed the services asked of them, only to be told, “That’s not good enough, someone else should adopt them!”

My story did not stop there though. I have since volunteered with NewDay Services, an organization offering support to parents involved in CPS, to teach and mentor mothers just like myself.  I also partner with Our Community Our Kids to lead a support group for parents currently dealing with their own CPS cases. During this time, I have had a front row seat to so many cases that still make my heart ache. This unjust treatment by the state, caseworkers, investigators, foster parents… it is still running rampant. My latest mentee had to sit in court for four hours and listen to her children’s foster mom fight to adopt them—after CPS had returned them home!

I am still trying to understand the system and its many flaws. But most importantly, what can be done to stop the stigma attached to parents who need help? Somewhere the lines have been blurred, and I will continue to bring awareness to this problem so no one else goes through what I did.

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