I Never Expected to Be Investigated by Child Welfare Caseworkers, But I Was
Worry. Doubt. Panic. One single father shares what it was like to get a call from the Administration for Children’s Services after he says his son accidentally fell in the bathroom. This is his story.
I'm a single father with joint custody of my 2-year-old son. For the first time in years, I am finally in a place where I feel like I have good life balance—I'm caring for my son, working full-time as a bartender at a high-end cocktail bar, and self-producing a solo album. I don't have much free time, but I'm confident that it’s working for me and my family. Or at least I was confident until last month when I checked my voicemail and heard the letters "ACS" play through the speaker. Why was the Administration for Children's Services calling me?
As a parent who shares custody with the mother of my child, this has always been my worst nightmare. I especially feared this moment since my son's mom and I recently went through an exhausting custody battle. I thought we were finally at the point where we could bury our ballasts and find stability in our respective families. Clearly, I was wrong. After all, here I was fielding a call from ACS.
The night before this call, my son fell getting out of the shower and had to get five stitches. My roommate, who is a medical professional, was home at the time and helped me care for him at our apartment while I alerted his mother of the situation. After sending her photos, we agreed to meet and take him to the hospital together. When the message from ACS said they wanted to meet and talk about the "shower situation" my heart sank. I immediately called the caseworker back. It was 2:30 p.m. This call started the clock on the most anxiety-ridden day of my life.
A Panicked Day of Waiting
The caseworkers and I agreed to meet at my home at 4 p.m. so I could give them a tour of my apartment before I had to leave for work at 4:30. They wanted to ensure my apartment is a comfortable living environment for my son and that it's been fully baby-proofed. They also wanted to hear my explanation of what happened leading up to my son's fall. My roommate was planning to be home for the visit as well.
Once I hung up the phone with the caseworker, my panic officially set in. Was my home as great and safe as I thought? I looked around the apartment: baby proof foam on every wall and furniture corner, foam lining any ledge that is remotely within bumping level, two different kinds of cabinet locks on every cabinet he can reach. Logically I knew it was fine, my son was safe in my home. But logic wasn’t in control with less than two hours before my caseworker appointment.
My doubt became deeper as I began second-guessing myself and my parenting. "How stupid are you to only give yourself an hour and a half to make this place presentable," I think. Then my thoughts spiraled somewhere dark: "You're not enough. No amount of time, continued education on parenting, or energy spent at the park with my son could ever make you a good enough father." I blasted music out of the living room speakers to distract myself from the self-destruction I reveled in. I began rebuilding my son's crib. Since he spent part of each week sleeping at his mother's house, I took the crib down whenever he was not with me. It made me too sad to see his space unoccupied. Even though my son was not expected to sleep at my apartment that night, I rebuilt the crib to show ACS that he did indeed have a crib and that I was a fit parent.
While I over-looked for the Allen wrench, I realized that my son's toys were too organized and that I might come off as an overbearing parent for expecting such meticulous organization from my toddler. I appropriately disheveled everything: blocks didn’t have to be color-coordinated, that stuffed elephant didn’t have to stand so straight. I considered if his book cabinet should be open or closed. Closed I can show off the cabinet lock, open I can show off the books. But open also means there's an exposed corner I can't put foam on. I hastily close the cabinet.
I looked at the clock and it was 10 minutes past 4 p.m. and still no sign of ACS. I called back the caseworker and she said she got caught up with my son and his mother. I called my boss and asked if someone could cover my shift then called the caseworker back. She told me she would get to my apartment around 8 p.m. 8 p.m.?! How were we running four hours behind? She then offered to come the following morning instead, but my roommate would not be available then. I needed her support and opinion to help me get through the appointment. "No, it has to be tonight. I'll find a way to make it work," I said on the phone.
Hope Through Frustration
The caseworker finally arrived at 8:23 p.m. My heart raced as she conducted the interview. She said she found no problems in the apartment and asked if I have any concerns. I asked how I could prevent ACS from showing up at my front door again. The caseworker did not have an immediate answer.
According to the ACS's Parent's Guide to Child Protective Servies, anyone can make a call if they suspect a child or adult is being abused or neglected. Some professionals including doctors, social workers, and school teachers are required by law to call child protective services if they suspect abuse or neglect. The law does not allow ACS to identify who made the call, only what was said in the report. When a call is placed, CPS speaks to the children involved and living in the home as well as all adults or caretakers living in the home.
Now that this ACS visit is behind me, I continue to educate myself not only as a parent but as a co-parent. I continue to meet with my therapist. During the ACS appointment, I freely offered myself up for random drug and alcohol screenings for the duration of the ACS investigation, which can last up to 60 days, and had my screening the following morning. I am still waiting for this case to officially close.
I am hopeful that my situation will get better and optimistic that my son will be supported and loved by two parents who can respect each other. My visit with ACS replays in my head as I continue to love and care for my son. After all, that's all any good parent can do.