Allegation: CWS is an “overbearing parent” 120110
A Fringe Analysis
When a social worker bangs on a family’s door, they rap their knuckles in your name. They claim to act on the authority of the government, and in the United States, at least in our mythology, the government represents the people. It isn’t the head of U.S. Department of Health and Human Service or the head of the State Department of Social Services that sends the social worker, ultimately, it’s you. You even pay for it.
As the ultimate source of authority, you should receive this report of emotional abuse: Sierra County Child Welfare Services is alleged to have used it’s “parental” authority in cruel and damaging ways on the parents, and particularly the children, of Sierra County.
The allegation comes not from the usual “confidential” source, but from the county’s most respected journalistic source. It contains specific, documented instances of the department being an “overbearing parent”, misusing authority (your authority) with results that meet the requirement for “emotional abuse”.
The allegations are still being investigated, but we can start on an evaluation and even suggest services. Initially, these can be “forward” services to see if the department can make use of informal discussions with low level service providers, and self-help using information provided.
If the agency doesn’t improve swiftly, or if the allegation is determined to be “substantiated” it might be necessary to provide more formal service, or even remove the county’s children from the care of the “parent”.
Without concluding a finding on the allegation, we can suggest that there seems to be evidence of an authoritarian and unreasonably cruel disciplinary style. The primary caregiver determines the nature of the offense and the punishment necessary to “correct” the family, and the secondary caregiver typically agrees to what the primary caregiver determines.
We’ll begin by suggesting some parent counseling. As someone with authority over families, it’s important to have realistic expectations.
First of all, it is important to understand your (the agency and representatives) own limitations. You are actually not a Supreme Being with omniscience, you’re a cop with a limited ability to understand truth in a family.
What you lack in real understanding you make up for by telling stories. You structure your stories in a way that becomes convincing, and allows you to define reality for the family. If you say the family is a bad family because they did this or that, and they disagree, you punish them for lying, or worse, being in "denial" until they agree with your version of the truth.
Agreeing with you, sooner or even later, doesn't mean you were right, it means you were overbearing. Perhaps they did this or that, but the circumstances in their lives are compelling; does your dogma allow for that? It’s important to understand that you do not, and can not, know or properly context, all the truth in a family.
Part of not being omniscient is the reality that you can’t tell the future, can’t really know what the consequences of your intervention will be. You might imagine that making the family stand on the front porch holding a sign that says “I wet the bed” will help, but in truth, you’re simply punishing the family in a way that will never directly impact the source of the problem. If you can’t impact the true source of the family’s problem, you tend to make up problems you can impact, and when nothing significant changes, you blame the family and punish them more. You can’t understand that your punishments aren’t going to have the impact on the future that you imagine.
It is understandable to have very high standards, and to want to “help” people. It is understandable that you feel pressure to “help” the family. It is clear you have great piety, and great faith in Our Father in Washington. It is well known that Our Father in Washington has strong requirements of His followers. But, you must think for yourself, and be clear on what Our Father’s intentions are. If you do that, you’ll be rational if you see that the rod and switch Our Father recommends are not in the best interest of families, let alone children. Our Father in Washington wants order, consistency, uniformity. Our Father is Washington doesn’t really know the trajectory of each person’s future, or care. He has his own dogma.
It might become clear to you that, though your faith is important to you, it might be necessary to modify it, to use the switch less and compassion more; your families won’t be perfect, but they’ll still be whole people. It is not necessary to break your families’ spirits to allow them to find salvation.
That is really the other important expectation. As you come to allow doubt to creep into your convictions about the “truths” you hold, you’ll also come to understand that your families will never fit your vision of what a “perfect” family is. You don’t know their future, your science is not that perceptive, it simply creates its own truth. Your families have their own lives, the meaning of which you can not know.
Don’t use punishments which become self-fulfilling prophecies. Give your families room to grow and come to their own understanding. Don’t set them up to fail. Don’t correct them at every trespass simply because your eye fell on it. Don’t separate them from their friends, allow them to find society.
Above all, if you aren’t certain of your actions, take no actions.
The secondary caregiver should also understand these lessons, and should rise above the gravitas and dignitas and question the primary caregiver. Is this offense really that significant? Is the evidence really that compelling? Is the expectation of the family really that appropriate? Is the punishment really that effective? Is the outcome really that likely? Should you allow the family to work it out without interference?
We’ve provided this parenting information to the agency, now you, the constituents of government need some education.
Don’t hold the social worker or the agency responsible for every tragedy that strikes a child. Naturally they are going to become obsessed and overbearing if you hold them responsible for things they can’t really control.
Don’t ask the agency to hold families to some ideal you hold in your mind but probably don’t live up to yourself. Do expect people to make mistakes. Do be glad if it isn’t you.
Let’s hope these educational and informational interventions are sufficient to allow us to close the referral without going to a case.