Tuesday, October 05, 2010

My Call to Protective Services

The student came to school a few times in recent weeks visibly unwashed and with an odor. Then I saw the cigarette burns on his legs. Some old and faded. Some fresher, red. He didn't want to talk about them, say what they were, anything.

It happens. We teachers are mandated reporters. The homeroom teacher -- for whatever reason -- had not reported this. But the student is in my classroom now for theatre, I saw what I saw, and my job is clear. So I made the call.

The call was not encouraging.

What you do is call Protective Services, report what you saw, and provide whatever information you can. They asked me questions. It seemed to go well. Then they wanted personal information for follow-up. Some of that, I had. Some of it, I didn't -- they wanted answers I did not have and cannot access.

"Can't you get that information from the school office?" I asked.

"Well, yes," she said, sounding put out. "But I have to call them and fax over my state I.D. and it takes more time."

Time is of the essence when a child is in danger. I got that. And yet -- this sounded like something else. I spoke to two people at this office and both of them were spending time with me they could have spent talking to our excellent secretarial staff, trying to get me to fill out their checklist for them even after I had told them I had no more information for them. Then they told me they might have to give up on the report altogether.

Bronze rage began to heat up behind my eyes.

"Considering what this child may be going through, is it really such a big deal for you to do your job and follow up with the school office for the additional information you need?"

God help this poor kid, because it sounds like the State of New Mexico won't do anything until someone does their paperwork for them.

[Photo: the Children, Youth, and Families Department of the State of New Mexico.]


Adam said...

That's tough. I hope this gets resolved as soon as possible. Sorry to hear they're more worried about a few pieces of paper than the well being of a child.

Nathan said...

I worked for about four years in part of the other end of the chain - a residential treatment facility for kids who had been removed from their homes. There were some wonderful moments, and some kids who truly were able to turn their lives around and either get adopted or have parents who cleaned their lives up as well - but mostly, it was a big wheel of samsara. Many of the kids would get help, and then return to the same dangerous mess they came from. Others languished away for years, learning more "bad behavior" and thought patterns in order to cope with being with several other "crazy" kids day after day after day. And those of us who worked with them had little support, and were treated as replaceable most of the time.

So, it's hard to know if a kid who ends up in a county case load is going to be better off, or not. This doesn't mean people shouldn't intervene, but perhaps we might consider more creative ways to do so.

Ji Hyang said...

good work. and, it is really challenging when our systems are not sound. Ten thousand years, nonstop...

Pam said...

Good for you, Alg! I would be frustrated, too. I encountered a similar situation a few years ago with a child that 'confided' in me.

I'm happy to say that CPS here was much more responsive. They talked to me, the counselor and they paid a visit to the home of the child. This was all done within days.

Sadly, our country's agencies that deal with abused and neglected children is underfunded and understaffed. I have a friend that was a social worker. The burn out rate for overworked social workers is astounding!

And, to top it off, more and more kids fall through the cracks.