In 2009 I aged out of foster care with my 1 ½ year old son. I had my own apartment, was in college and had a job. But I was always running late to pick up my son and my rent was always past due. Life felt overwhelming so I quit college to work. I refused to allow myself to be homeless.
I was doing my best to manage all of my responsibilities, but at 21, living in the projects scared me. I’d hear gunshots two or three times a week, so on the weekend, I didn’t want to go outside. I was confined to my apartment, just me and my son.
While in care, I had support from my caseworker, CASA worker, as well as my peers. Aging out I felt afraid and alone. My loneliness made me vulnerable to the idea of wanting to be loved, and that’s how I experienced my first domestic violence relationship.
No Place to Hide
When the abuse started, I couldn’t run or hide. I had no place to go. So I kept my mouth shut. A lot of my friends from the system have told me similar stories. Many of them have succeeded. But being so alone sets us up for trouble.
In 2015 I became pregnant in the relationship. That’s when I got the courage to make a police report. After I gave birth, my newborn son’s father paid me back by calling the cops on me, saying I threw our baby, who was 2 weeks old.
The day the officers came to my house, I informed them that I had done nothing wrong and that my son’s father had set me up. They didn’t listen. Instead they let him leave with our baby and they arrested me.
I was released that same day. But my baby was gone. For the next month, I was home alone crying. To my relief, when I went to court, the judge ordered my son’s father to give the baby back to me. He also recommended preventive services.
Child Welfare Back in My Life
A part of me was afraid to have child welfare back in my life watching me. Every other week the worker and I would meet and talk about how the kids and I were progressing. Every six months we would discuss my strengths and goals.
There were times when preventive services felt intrusive, like when they went to my children’s doctors to make sure they were vaccinated or to my son’s daycare to make sure he was developing. My case was open for three years, and at the end, when I wanted to close the case, the agency kept pushing me to keep it open. I finally had to say, “Isn’t this a voluntary service?”
But because I had a worker, my son’s father stopped the physical, verbal and emotional abuse. The most important thing preventive did for me was protect me when my son’s father called child protection on me.
Prevention Vouched for Me
In the last three years, I’ve had 7 calls to CPS against me, always after my son’s father has come around. The first time was after I moved into a shelter due to the domestic violence and left everything behind.
After I moved from the shelter into a new apartment, I didn’t have much, just a bed for me, a bed for my son and a dresser. At that time, my son’s father was saying he wanted to be involved in his son’s life so I allowed him to pick up his son from our home. After his visit, ACS called with a report that I had no furniture.
Luckily, my worker could vouch for me. She said my house was always clean, there were clean clothes on my kids, and they were up to date with their medical. Preventive also provided a crib for my baby, dressers for my children’s clothes, and a table for the kids to eat on. It was very strange to need one part of ACS to protect me from another part of it.
After that, I decided that I have to protect myself, not just from my son’s father but from anyone who might make a call against me.
Once I picked up my son from daycare and noticed scratch marks on his face. The teacher insisted that she didn’t know whether another child did it or if he came to daycare like that.
I was furious that she couldn’t tell me what happened to my son and that she implied that he might have been hurt at home. I was scared that a child protective case might be called in on me by yet another person for something I didn’t do.
Harassment and Stress
After that incident, I made it part of my daily routine to take pictures of my kids before taking them to daycare and school so that I would have proof that my children were fine before they left my home. That’s probably not something many parents would even think of doing, but for a parent like me, it just makes sense.
Over time, I came to think that my son’s teacher was simply trying to protect herself. But I realized that as a parent living with constant threats of investigations, I need to cover myself as well.
After every call made against me, my preventive worker vouched for me, and CPS was able to see that my son’s father was really just trying to harass me. I’m so grateful that that’s the case. Still, I wish they could’ve stopped the malicious reports instead of allowing unnecessary investigations to be used as weapons to hurt me. All those CPS investigations did is add a lot more stress.