Watching With Tears


root - Posted on 31 December 1969

A mother in Texas loses her family to CPS

by Tricia Ward, courtwatch mentor; Dee Gray

When I was about three or four my mother had a series of illnesses that forced her to be in the hospital for several months. She ended up recovering but it took a long time and even after she came home she wasn’t able to play with me or even hold me like she used to. She was tired and spent a good portion of the days in bed resting. My aunt and my grandmother came to stay with us during that time to help my father. They tell me that I missed my mother terribly and was horribly angry during those months. Not the usual 15-minute toddle temper tantrum that comes on instantly and ferociously when a specific toy or plaything is denied and just as instantly disappears when some alternative is offered in its place. I was angry all day, every day, while my mother was away. I cried for no reason, I threw things, I didn’t want to talk or play with anyone. My mother said the hardest part of this period for her was not being able to explain to a three-year-old way she couldn’t just come home and be mom again. The separation was terrible for both of us.

As hard as those months were, at least they were just that - a few months. Within a year, things were back to normal, my mother was back and I was happy again. I think of that period of separation when I listen to a young woman named Toni tell her story of how her children were suddenly taken away from her by Child Protective Services. Her voice doesn’t waiver as she tells what happened, in fact, her words spill and flow from her mouth non-stop like water from a dam that has just been opened after a winter storm. Toni had lots of plans for the future, like any other young woman. She wanted to have a family. She wanted to go to school. She had plans to be a police officer. All those things changed one morning several years ago. "It’s easy for crisis to throw you off," she says.

Toni still doesn’t know who called child protective services on that horrible day. Probably one of the same neighbors that watched with tears in their eyes as CPS led the children away. Her two year old son had been acting up, he hit another little girl. She "whupped him," she said. She had been "whupped" as a child, everyone she knew growing up got "whupped". She didn’t realize she would lose her child for disciplining him. She asked the neighbors, "Why didn’t you help, tell me to cool down, tell me you’d watch the kids for a little while?" Instead someone called CPS and started the process of separating the children from their mother.

At first Toni did everything CPS and the social worker said to do in order to get her children back. She was told to take parenting courses, to attend group meetings and see a psychologist. She did all that, but was not reunited with her children. At one point, a social worker who had been fired tried to bribe Toni. If Toni would tell CPS how good the social worker really was, she would try to get Toni time with her children. This never happened. Another time she was told she would get the children back within two weeks, only to find out it wasn’t true, they had already been sent to a different foster family. Since then, Toni has learned much about how to maneuver in the world of CPS bureaucracy in order to appease those in power, in hopes of seeing her kids again. She’s learned things like knowing to hold back rather than saying anything when she isn’t happy about the way the foster parents are raising her children. If she says anything CPS would say she was ‘bashing" the foster parents. "Bashing" is not a good term in CPS-speak. So she keeps quite even when she doesn’t approve of the way someone else chooses to raise her children.

Now, the process has been started for the children to be adopted. They’ve been separated; they no longer live in the same house as brother and sister. Although she has not been to see them since December of 1999, Toni has not given up. She wants to tell her story in hopes of changing her situation. She talks of writing to the talk-show hosts; Ricki Lake, Jenny Jones, Oprah. Maybe someone will hear her story and know how to help. How to reunite her with her kids. "My kids are everything to me" she says, "You see when they do this, it’s like someone has kidnapped your children".

When I look at pictures taken of me during the time my mother was ill, I see what my grandmother and aunt mean about my anger. I’m not smiling in the pictures. There’s one in particular that shows me sitting on our front lawn in a pretty dress. It’s a bright sunny day and next to me is what looks like a huge Easter Basket filled with goodies. The scowl on my face doesn’t seem to make sense given the cheery setting of the picture. But I didn’t want a basket full of jellybeans and chocolate. I just wanted to be with my mother.

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