It appears the more things change, the more they stay the same. Four years ago I graduated from a Christian college with a degree in social work. I did a one-year internship with Child Protective Services (CPS) and Family Outreach of America in Bell County. It was during this time that I became very upset with the over-intervention of our agency in the lives of families that truly did not need our services! (Yes, I did see actual cases of abuse, but for the most part, “actual cases” were few and far between!)
When a social worker says, “Who is going to protect the children from their parents?” it goes to the heart of social work education. There is a presupposition that parents do not know anything about what children need. The Family Outreach agency for which I worked actually sent workers to families’ homes to offer our services free of charge to teach them parenting skills! (Of course they had to agree to the agency’s “style” of parenting to use their services.) Most accepted!!
I was so bothered by this occurrence that I did my senior thesis research paper on When Government Intervention Becomes Excessive: The Rights of the State versus the Rights of the Parents. (I gave a special focus on the parents’ right to educate their own children.) I had to present this research orally to the entire graduating class of social workers. It was not very well received! My professor got up and walked out during my presentation. It was by doing all the research for this paper that I began to feel convicted about home educating my own children. I saw too much undermining of parental authority with my work as a social worker in the public school system.
As I said, it appears the more things change, the more they stay the same. Recently I was watching the evening news and saw a glowing report of this new program in Texas called Healthy Families. I had to chuckle a bit at the thought of this being a new program and then chuckle some more at the high praise the program was given by the reporter. I just shook my head in disbelief at the public acceptance of a program like this and its long-term implications for the families of Texas.
When I was an intern, I was told that our agency serviced families strictly on a voluntary basis. Families could decline our services if they felt the services were not needed. It sounded all nice, neat, and tidy! As I got more acquainted with how the agencies worked, however, I learned that our client base was fed to us straight from CPS. CPS would get a referral from the hotline for child abuse or neglect. Then the intake social worker would determine if the case was suitable for a full-blown CPS investigation. If they determined that it was not serious enough to investigate, they would refer the family to Family Outreach or Healthy Families. From there another social worker, not related to the state, would make contact with the family in a very non-threatening way, offering all sorts of free services. To the many low income, minority families with whom we had contact, this offer was very appealing and inviting. We were invited into their homes and welcomed with open arms. The only problem was that the agency never fully stated its intentions for offering all these wonderful, free services.
If we had been up-front and honest with the client families, we would have told them that we were a monitoring agency for the state of Texas. We were there to make judgment calls and enforce our brand of parenting and discipline in their homes. We never told them that was our purpose for being there. Instead, we had seduced these families with all kinds of incentives such as free medical services and transportation to appointments, a mom’s fellowship (really a state-appropriate parenting class), and much more.
With the seduction under way, we worked our way into the hearts of these families and gained their trust. We had weekly get-togethers at their homes, met with their children and played, and just had fellowship with these moms. The families agreed to sign contracts and release forms with our agency that allowed us access to any medical information, school records, and psychological evaluations. They also gave us permission to report abuse or neglect, should any be found. They signed this freely, without a second thought, because they were isolated, alone, and very hungry for fellowship.
As an intern, I had investigated a number of families by recommendation of CPS. My immediate supervisor was an employee of Texas CPS, so in essence, I was reporting directly to the state about these families. CPS was an ever-present shadow over our work. There were many instances in which I differed in opinion with my supervisor over what constituted true abuse and neglect within these families.
One case in particular had a seven-year-old boy who walked daily to the corner convenience store by his house to buy gum and candy. Occasionally he got caught stealing. The store owner contacted CPS, which referred the case to Family Outreach. I was assigned the case. The family eagerly wanted my help (rather, my companionship) and invited me into their home and their lives. By my observations, there was no abuse or neglect of the children—just extreme poverty. They made parenting decisions that I personally would not make for my own children, but that in itself is not abuse or neglect. My supervisor, on the other hand, felt that the parents’ “slow” mental abilities, poverty, and the fact their seven-year-old walked less than a block from the house to the store constituted neglect. I did not. I did not think it was the wisest or most prudent decision by a parent, and I shared that with the parents, but emphatically it was not neglect! My supervisor referred this case back to CPS. I was off the case, and the mother was truly hurt that I was no longer able to come by for our weekly visits.
Thus began my understanding concerning the ambiguity of what constitutes abuse and neglect. Each social worker and each supervisor has his own basis of what he personally considers abuse. Some think spanking is fine; others feel it is abuse. Some believe poverty is unfortunate; others feel it is abuse, and children should be removed from homes. It is never easy to tell what the values of any individual social worker will be. They vary vastly among the profession.
These agencies are trained to locate the “at-risk” families. Those “at risk” are supposedly more prone to abuse or neglect their children. Have you ever read a list of the criteria that makes a family “at risk”? These are just a few:
- more than two children in the family
- claim a religious preference
- single-income family
- single-parent family
- home schoolers
The list is so broad that I have never met anyone who was not an “at-risk” family!! The agenda of the state is rather hidden. If CPS refers a case to a sister agency like Family Outreach or Healthy Families, its goal is still accomplished. Families are monitored, and reports are made to the state concerning private family matters.
I strongly encourage and admonish each home school family to hold fast to its freedoms. Never give an inch. If you find yourself in need of support or outside intervention, I strongly encourage you to seek out your local home school support group. If you are not able to have fellowship with a support group, seek out an older woman in your church to spend time with and mentor you. Be alert and aware that there are agencies out there that will want to “help” and support you, but this help comes with the hefty price tag of your freedom. Guard your hearts—and your freedoms—with all diligence.