Monday, October 24, 2011

Difficult advice

Recently, in Feminist Mormon Housewives, the “Mormon Therapist” asked a question about what a child should do it they had gone to their (step)mother about being sexually abused by their brother, the (step)mother had taken them to the bishop and the bishop had sent them to CPS (Child Protective Services) but the stepmother had not gone out of fear at what CPS would do to the family.

It was easy enough for me to say “call the nearest Child Advocacy Center.

It is easy enough to say “call CPS [by yourself].” Obviously a child advocacy center, which specializes in providing a safe, protective environment and coordinating things is going to be an easier first step.

But, well, there are some caveats. In the “YFZ” case (the one where they had the mass seizure of the FLDS children in West Texas), the children at issue were more likely to engage in underaged sex with adults either as a statistically average resident of Austin, Texas or as a child in custody in the CPS system. A lot of sexual assault goes on in foster care situations, there are a lot of baby daddies in Austin. Typically the mothers are underaged, the fathers are older than 18, often in their mid-twenties or older.

Typically, if the perpetrator is in the household, and if a parent has knowledge and has failed to protect, the intervention may well be robust. Sometimes that is a very good thing, but parents often do not deal well with children being removed from the household and placed into the system. The step mother is right that the CPS probably would have taken some of her children away from her.

It is the same with family violence. I used to do a lot of volunteer work and other work with getting protective orders and divorces for abused women. Received some awards.

The hardest thing to deal with was people who decided to back into a life of abuse after considering the alternatives. The people I was proudest of where those who cut themselves free. I was lucky, almost everyone I was sent was ready to cut themselves free and make a life on their own terms, without abuse.

In seeing other people’s clients I saw people who preferred relative wealth (sometimes a lot of it, sometimes just usually regular meals) to the loss of it. People who were on their third or fourth divorce from the same person. Someone in on their fifth year of protective orders (since they had not cut the ties or the relationship, but tried to use the orders to negotiate the terms of it).

With adults it is always easy to tell them: “You have to embrace the risk, the loss. Anything but freedom is really death.” With children, especially given the state of the system they will end up in, it is much harder.

Now the cases where I was an ad litem? I was lucky. The kids I dealt with often had terribly messy legal issues (that is how I got approached to be an ad litem in the first place, to untangle a complex ball of estoppel and a court of appeals decision no one understood), but blessedly positive outcomes. Life changing positive outcomes. Part of that I have to attribute to CPS workers I dealt with who, in retrospect, were saints. The rest to luck.

But with what I know now, it isn’t always as clear cut, always as easy to tell a child what to do.

So sure, I can tell a therapist to make a referral to the agency designed to make the outcome as good as possible (Child Advocacy Centers were founded to have someone who stood for the children in abuse cases, so that the system did not create as much trauma as the assaults – something that was distressingly common in some places). But they, and CASA (a related NGO group that assists children in the system) still have limits.

Not all CPS workers are saints. Not all foster homes run out of love and care. Not everyone has a relative they can flee to for refuge.

Which means I don’t know the answers. At least I don’t know the easy ones. I know the legal ones, in my jurisdiction. I just report any abuse I’m aware of, there is a state run 800 line. Once I do that, I’ve done what the law requires.

But it is a long time from the days when the law required I keep confidences and I paid for a kid to go to a therapist who I knew would discover and treat the child so that they would stay in a safe place and not be returned to an abuser. I can’t guarantee that the children will be in safe places, will get just the right therapist, be protected and never be exposed to risk.

I wish I could. Sure, I can tell you that as a general rule, all things considered, you should just always report, always send people to CPS. But can I promise people that is going to be the best thing, each individual time? I don’t know, I’m glad I’m not in a place where I deal with it now, and I’m glad I’m in a state where there is mandatory reporting.

I only wish I could be glad I knew the answer in each individual case, rather than the general rule.

It’s a good rule though. If you are the victim and you are a child, call the nearest Child Advocacy Center. If you are anyone else, report to CPS and advise the victim to ask CPS to call the Child Advocacy Center for them.

Then pray that this time, this very time, it will be for the best and not an exception to the rule.

I don’t have any other advice.

1 comment:

SilverRain said...

Thanks for illustrating the nuances. People ignorant of abuse say "just get out" but there are many factors even for an adult that have to be weighed. Getting out is sometimes NOT the right decision, just as reporting to CPS may not always be the best choice.