Tuesday, July 3, 2012

[peaceful parenting] Allegation: abuse

Roughly one year ago, my family was dealing as best we could with a very difficult and very stressful situation.

I had just finished up a doctor's appointment for myself.  I was worried that if I was coming down with something it could potentially hurt my new baby.  I decided to be proactive and nip any problem in the bud, hence the doctor visit.  Thankfully, I was fine.  As I got into my car to head home, my phone rang.  The number was blocked, so per my usual routine I let it go to voice mail.

Brian had managed to get off of work early that afternoon and had met me at the doctor's office to help with the baby.  He was gearing up to ride his bike home when I frantically waved him over to the car.

I had listened to the voice mail message.  It was from a woman I didn't know.  She identified herself as being with Child Protective Services.  She was outside my home and requesting entry to follow up on a call they had received that accused me of abusing my son.

I have to stop right here for a moment.  I will wager that everyone at one point or another in their lives is accused of something that they absolutely did not do.  I know that I've on rare occasion been accused of some petty stuff in my life, but to be accused of abusing my son--it was like a gut punch to my being.

Red-faced, scared and near hysterics, I shoved the phone at Brian to listen to the message.  I was shaking, unsure if I had heard the message correctly.

Brian listened, and I noticed a look of bewilderment wash over his face.  He confirmed that I had heard correctly, but he also could not understand why CPS would be at our door.

I called back the number, but got a voice mail.  I apologized for not being at home and left as calm of a message as I could requesting that the caller call me back at her convenience.  I was still shaking.

Brian suggested that we go grab some lunch to regroup and calm down.  I agreed as I just could not see myself doing anything productive with all the shaking.  As carefully as I could manage, I followed Brian to a nearby restaurant.  Shortly after arriving, my phone rang again.  I stayed in my car for privacy and I answered.  It was the caller from before.

In an official and matter-of-fact way, the caller again identified herself as a social worker and investigator for Child Protective Services.  They had received an anonymous phone call that morning in which the caller identified me, my husband, and son by name.  This anonymous caller knew my address and phone number, too.  And they claimed that I was abusing my son through neglect, that I was refusing to get him adequate medical attention, and that I was, due to lack of milk supply, not feeding him enough, and refusing to use formula.  The anonymous caller knew details of our situation that only a friend would know, in addition to our address and phone numbers.  But they had also mixed up many of the details and left out many of the facts of our situation.

Once I heard the report as relayed to me by the social worker, I was still deeply saddened and upset, but I was also horrified to think that a FRIEND was the one who called me an abuser.  As calmly as I could muster, I outlined our exact situation: Declan was under the care of a medical doctor, his pediatrician, and had been under his care since his THIRD day of life.  Declan was diagnosed with Gastro-Esophogeal Reflux Disease and we were breastfeeding him on demand.  Additionally, we were supplementing his feedings with additional milk or formula each time he breastfed.  While he had lost weight, his pediatrician was seeing him on an average of once a week and was closely monitoring the situation.  While it was true that I could only pump an average of 1 ounce at a time, lactation professionals and medical doctors acknowledge that the amount a woman is able to pump is NOT an adequate measure of how much their baby is able to draw down.  (Babies are much more efficient at extracting breast milk than pumps are.  Not to mention, 1 ounce is enough to fill a newborn's stomach.)

During my conversation with the social worker, I expressed shock that anyone who had access to the information given in the phone call would make such an accusation.  The social worker, to my surprise, told me that it was obvious to her that any one who would make such a call was a false friend and that I should be careful about who I trusted.  She went on to say that she understood why I was feeling betrayed, and that based on what I had told her it appeared that my case would be a colossal waste of her time.  Still, she added, if a call is made she is required to investigate and that she would have to come see us.  I understood and we made an appointment for later in the week to meet.

Lunch that day was not enjoyable to say the least.

Let me interrupt again.  Breastfeeding can be stressful.  Unfortunately, stress has an adverse effect on breast milk production.  When one's son is already dealing with health issues, and seeing a doctor every few days--you can bet that there is even more stress.  But you know what?  That stress is nothing compared to the stress one feels knowing that one of you "friends" could not be trusted, and you have no idea who that is.  Additionally, knowing that you're under investigation for child abuse--no matter how unfounded--is stressful.  So there is a deep irony.  Who ever this anonymous caller was, not only were they wasting tax payer resources and the social worker's time, they were actually adding to our stress and actively making our situation worse.

I lost a fair amount of sleep over the course of a few days, but eventually the day arrived when the social worker came to visit.  Upon arrival, she examined Declan.  As she looked him over and watched him nurse, she repeated her frustration at being called out to investigate when there was obviously no abuse.  She agreed that Declan was small, but she saw an alert, happy baby with no signs of lethargy (the anonymous caller claimed that Declan showed signs of lethargy and failure to thrive, they further claimed that he may even have some brain damage).  She mentioned that who ever called in the allegation, they probably had spent almost no time with Declan directly, or that they had almost no experience with children.

Small, but happy and alert
As much as we all would have liked the "case" to have ended right then and there with that visit, the social worker had a procedure to follow.  She repeatedly stressed to us that we were not the only ones upset by the anonymous call as she would have to spend valuable time on our case instead of serving the children truly in need.  She gave us an overview of what to expect: she would have to phone our pediatrician, she would have to sift through all of Declan's medical records, a nurse would have to visit our home and validate the social worker's assessment of Declan's good health, the social worker might have to visit a couple more times.  The investigation would come to a conclusion and we would receive a notice about their findings via a letter.

Just as the social worker predicted, we had to go through the steps above.  The nurse, upon her visit, also validated our position as loving, non-abusive parents.  Declan was small, she noted, but certainly not neglected nor abused.  Admittedly, it felt good to be validated, but it would have felt better had we never been accused in the first place.

The entire process from beginning to end lasted weeks upon weeks upon weeks.  The wheels of progress move very slow in these cases, and it is stressful the entire time.  Sure, I felt better hearing from professionals who, sadly, do see cases of actual abuse telling me that it was plainly obvious to them that there not even a whiff of abuse in our case, but--again--I would have much preferred to not be in the situation in the first place.

It is an awful feeling not knowing who to trust, constantly wondering if one "friend" or another was the anonymous caller.  Brian and I withdrew for a while for fear that this anonymous "friend" might try and use anything we said or did as fodder for another call.  We also listened very closely to questions that we were asked about Declan, and to comments made to us about him.  And eventually, we figured out who it was who placed that anonymous call.

We cannot ever be 100% certain unless they come forward and admit it*, but we are mostly certain that we know exactly who did it.  We were able to use the information that they had given to narrow down the field of possible callers--not everyone has our contact information, for instance.  We used other clues from the report itself to narrow down exactly which conversations they either had with us or overheard.  And then the probable caller even used a few key words and phrases from the allegation in conversation with us after the fact.

While it was (and even IS) tempting to completely cut this person out of lives, we've decided to keep our friends close and, in this case, our enemy closer.  We still see them socially, but we now know not to trust them, particularly with Declan.  We are civil in their presence, despite wishing we could let them know just how much trouble they caused.  And we are definitely careful about what we say lest they misunderstand us again and decide to waste more tax payer money by making another call.

As for the investigation, it did eventually come to close.  The social worker had told us all of the possible outcomes.  One way or another the case would be closed.  It could be determined to be inconclusive or unfounded.  A safety plan could be put into place, or not.  Or, worst case, they could decide that there was, in fact, abuse via neglect and they could remove Declan from our custody, but this last possibility was highly unlikely as nothing had pointed to even a shred of evidence of abuse.

On October of last year, a full FIVE months after the case was opened, we received our letter.  Below is the exact text (though I have edited out our name):

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Mxxxxxxxd,
Thank you for your cooperation during our investigation.  Effective 10/13/2011 your referral has been closed by this Department.  The reason for this action is that the allegation of child abuse and/or neglect was unfounded.
A SDM Safety Plan was not put into place during the investigation.  If a SDM Safety Plan was put into place, this is to advise you that as of ____ the SDM Safety Plan is no longer in effect.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding this matter, please call me.
Why after almost a year am I finally coming out to talk about this?  Honestly, I'm not sure.  While one of the first things I wanted to do after receiving that voice mail was to run to my friends for support, I knew that I could not because I had no clue which "friend" had claimed that I was a bad mother.  Additionally, I did not want to give the anonymous caller the satisfaction of knowing all the pain, all the stress, and all the crying (oh, there was a LOT of crying) that we were going through.  A real friend, with real concerns, would come to us directly with their worries.  A jealous friend, a bitter friend would hide behind a veil and deliberately stir up trouble.

So, doesn't this finally give that jealous friend the satisfaction that they wanted so badly last year?  Maybe.  But I hope that it also puts them on notice:  We know who you are now.  We know what you're capable of now.  But we also have an official piece of paper, a permanent record, that tells us how wrong you were to ever call me an abuser.  Unfounded is a new favorite word of mine.

Now, it's very possible this person only had good intentions.  They saw something that concerned them and took a misguided step to help.  But a friend? They should have come to us and found out the whole story, the true story (or even spoken with friends closer to us, as they would have known the facts), instead of giving false information to the authorities.  They made a tough situation worse.  Hopefully this will make them (and anyone else who reads this) think twice before taking a drastic step that turns lives upside down.


Here's my funny guy now
On a positive note, in the last several months we have all taken steps towards recovery from this harrowing experience.  I feel that I have moved closer to being able to trust people again.  I no longer live in fear of every glance towards my son.  I've even lost almost twenty of the numerous pounds that this stress put onto my poor frame.

Declan is, of course, still happy, alert, and very healthy.  He is so smart and so clever and such a sweet little boy.  We are all completely crazy about him and he continues to surprise us every day with his growth and development.

*You know who you are, of course.  And we would love to hear your apology when you are ready, but we cannot be counted on to wait forever.


  1. Hugs to you, sugar. You have a beautiful sweet son who is a credit to both of you.

  2. I hope the silver lining is that that "friend" has learned to mind his/her own damned business. What a jerkface.

    You guys are awesome and loved and so sorry you had to deal with this.

  3. Hon. I'm sorry. While I was in Cali a certain family member who did not spend time with us nor understand our situation (my medical conditions, or my sons autism, she believed he was spoiled), told me she was calling CPS on us 3 times. They never came, but I became a complete nervous wreck. COMPLETELY. I'm so sorry you had to go through so much. You guys are so strong. I would have completely lost it, personally. --glitterophelia

    I hope this so called "friend" learns a lesson from this, or karma teaches them one. Sorry. People calling CPS on other people for NO GOOD REASON angers me. You are the third friend I have this has happened to.

  4. Dearest Lily,
    I heard about your story from a mutual friend, Darcy, and I wanted to let you know how sorry I am that you had to deal with this. I had a little boy last year who also had very serious problems with reflux, bf, and weight gain. (I found out several months after the fact that he was diagnosed as failure to thrive!) I CAN NOT IMAGINE how I would have been able to deal with the situation you had to endure while I also was learning to be a mother to a baby who was having health trouble, a milk supply issues, and the constant worry that everything would be okay with my baby. I am in awe of the dignity and grace that your family showed in the face of such betrayal. Your son is so beautiful and as a stranger looking in I can only say BRAVO to you and your family for making it through and then having the courage to speak out now.

    ~Jennifer W. (Proud mother of a smallish, NOT exclusively breastfed baby boy who is happy and healthy and adorable.)



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