I have written criticisms in here about practices by the Cabinet that I find unsettling and sometimes that I abhor. I have also written defenses for the Cabinet because of the monumental tasks they are required to accomplish with such limited resources. Both of these positions are open to being misconstrued and misapplied. Yes, there are some real concerns in the practices of many workers and supervisors in the Cabinet and which are fostered on up the chain of command. There are some significant systemic problems as well. However, if you find yourself in the unfortunate predicament of having the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Department of Community Based Services (what a mouthful of a title – I feel sorry for the folks who have to answer their phones) in your life, the single best approach is to keep a mindset of cooperation; avoid antagonism. I am writing this to correct any idea that I inadvertently promoted that being adversarial with the Cabinet is the way to win your case (I mean adversarial in the sense of ones attitude rather than in the sense that the court process is an adversarial process). Those criticisms are designed mainly for a global change in the system through political action; they are not meant to fuel a personal vendetta in an individual case.
Of course it is human to want to lash out in anger at this behemoth of an agency that does not seem to care or at workers who do not seem to understand. Of course it is a tragic and trying time when your child has been taken from you and young folks fresh out of college and are not yet fully raised themselves are telling you how to raise your children. Take all of those normal feelings, go in a closet, grab a thick pillow and scream every bit of outrage into that pillow where no one can hear. After that, whenever you are interacting with the Cabinet or with your children, you remind yourself that these folks are there doing what they believe is right for your child. That is actually the case about 9,999 times out of 1,000 or more (the key word is “believes”). In fact, the vast majority of the time they are at least hitting the paper that has the target printed on it even if they are missing the target itself, let alone the bullseye.
So, after screaming it out, you need to take a good, hard look at yourself regarding how the Cabinet says you screwed up. Do this for your child because if the Cabinet is close to right, then you owe it to your child to admit the shortcoming and fix it. Yes, they may have gone about things the wrong way, denied a Constitutional right or two, misrepresented what you said or sometimes flat out lied about you (they tend to justify the means by the end and the phrase “best interest of the child”). Those are NOT to be your focus unless you want to increase your chances at a termination of your parental rights down the road. Your focus is getting your child back in your home by becoming a better parent (we can all be better parents, so take the chip off of your shoulder when I say that). Don’t just play the game; honestly consider what they say and find how it fits. Believe me, they have enough work to do without needing to take your child for no reason at all or to just mess with you. Sure, they may have grossly overreacted, but that does not change that they picked up on a legitimate issue.
Now, I am not saying to admit to things that, after reflection, really are not true and this advise mainly applies to after an adjudication or stipulation has occurred (before that: be careful what your say, talk to a lawyer if you can, but still be kind). I am surely not telling you to say or do something your attorney has advised against. I am talking about a mindset and a cooperative approach that will increase the likelihood of the return of your children. Be kind and respectful in talking to your worker, avoid blaming them or others and never cuss or threaten them.
Why? you ask. Two reasons: 1) it is the right way to treat folks, even those who seem to be harming you; and 2) it is the pragmatic thing to do when faced with someone far more powerful than you. For a variety of reasons, Cabinet workers tend to take displays of anger towards them from parents as signs of denial and defiance. They equate denial and defiance as someone who is not going to take good care of their children and a likely sign of emotional instability. They want compliance, not consternation. I know, you are right, they are supposed to be trained professionals who understand the grief process and wildly swinging emotions that kick in when one’s family is ripped apart. Just forget about that. Being right is not going to get your children home. All you will achieve by pointing out the individual flaws of your worker is someone with a great deal of authority who believes you are a lost cause. Again, I am not saying to just parrot back to them everything they say, but if they say something that ticks you off, just say “You know, I really want to understand what you are saying there” or “I really want to spend some time thinking about what you just said” and then work it through later, somewhere else, with someone safe.
This is also not to say that you don’t fight for your rights. It is just a different way of fighting. Let your lawyer fight using the tools of the system in court. Fighting does not have to involve emotional attacks. I have represented many people in dependency, neglect and abuse actions. Those that get their children back home the quickest are the ones who take the approach I outlined above. Those that are determined to right the wrongs in their case usually take the longest to see their children return. Those that are adamant about beating the Cabinet are usually the ones who lose their children for good. Remember, the Cabinet has the overwhelming advantage because the statutes give them the upperhand, because they have far greater resources that you can imagine, and because the judges believe and trust them. You can stand shaking you fist and yelling about the injustice all you like, but that approach, in my experience, always makes justice more elusive.
As an aside: there is one supervisor with the Cabinet who is terribly fond of telling parents from whom she has removed children or terminated rights that “it isn’t personal”. I think of her as the Vulcan of the starfleet Cabinet. There is nothing more personal than having one’s children taken away. I think it is her way of constantly insulating herself from the inevitable pain that goes with her chosen profession. I also think she is trying to tell parents not to hold her personally accountable for the decision; that she is just a cog in the wheel. She’s wrong on both accounts. But, if you have this supervisor or another who uses “it’s not personal” as their catch-phrase, let it remind you that your personal feelings are not safe in their hands. Find someone for whom it is personal in the sense that they care, have compassion, but can still confront you when your are wrong rather than just commiserate to share those personal feelings with.