What I am very much aware of in CPS is that I would say “all” of the individuals that I encountered in my career had good intentions. All, including myself, at times would have a negative impact in spite of their intentions.
So we have this law and this particular client did not have one child that had been lost to CPS but two children that had been lost. She was on drugs and she did not even try to get her children back. In light of my core philosophy of doing minimum damage I decided to help this person get into a drug treatment program. Now during this time I did not have a fondness for drugs addicts. My moral judgment was high, however, I had a conflicting thought that my personal view should not matter but my principle of giving every client an even playing field did matter to me.
By 1999 I was fully aware of what was “real” in CPS. I understood the difference between the theory of the law and the framework of the law, and the policy of the agency. Sometime in late 1998 or early 1999 there was a nurse in one of the hospitals. She would tell the workers that the patient had tested positive for drugs. The workers would take her at her word and they did not challenge that statement. It was found out later that she was giving false statements to CPS. She had decided to take justice into her own hands. Who knows the number of children who were lost in the system because of this person’s need to mete out punishment? After it was discovered what this nurse was doing, the agency started asking and getting blood tests. I already knew that there was an uneven and unfair playing field for clients.
I took this client to a drug treatment program. I made arrangements to pick up the client and I would drive the client to the program. I picked up the client and she was high. To say I was annoyed is an understatement. The client got into my car, high looking at me with a what am I doing here look. The client kept reaching for the door handle like she wanted to jump out of a moving car.
I am thinking to myself….What am I doing….if this woman jumps out of the car she will be dead. I looked at her and said that if you touch that door handle one more time I will put you out. She looked back at me and in a very knowing tone You don’t like addicts very much do you. I told her in my most self-righteous tone No I don’t I think you are the walking dead. She became quiet and she did not touch the door handle again.
We had a long drive and for much of the drive I was a nervous wreck. I was relieved that she had stopped touching the door handle. I was still annoyed and wondering to myself what are you doing Katherine. It would be so much easier to just apply that law that said she was a “no Services case” and move on. I wouldn’t have to fight with any one in Court, I wouldn’t have to justify my decisions. In fact I would be applauded as a good team player. Most important I wouldn’t get any grief.
There was that pesky principle lens that I had and though I tried to talk myself out of taking this woman to a drug treatment program. I couldn’t face myself so there I sat driving to Marin with this high woman saying to myself, why me Lord.
When we got to the drug treatment program, I discovered that they would not take an actively high person into the program. I did not know that drug treatment programs did not take high clients. In graduate school drug addiction was not one of subjects that we learned much about. There was mention of substance use but not very much training. In 1997 there was a separation of the two fields. Mental health and Substance abuse were separate fields and one did not know very much about the other. So there I sat with this very high woman and I was wondering to myself what am I going to do about this situation? I was fortunate that the program director told me that she would arrange for her to go to a detox facility and once she had detoxed she could go into their treatment program. Arrangements were made for me to take her to Marin General to get stabilize. I drove her to Marin General, while we were waiting whenever she saw a small child, she would lunge towards the child. I am thinking to myself, we are the only two black people in this place and she is going to get us arrested. If she keeps lunging at these babies I am going to get arrested trying to explain what she is doing.
I am even more annoyed with me that I am with her. I am really regretting what I am doing. It is getting late, way after the time for me to get off and here I am mucking around with this crazy woman. Something happens.
She pulled out her wallet and in her wallet there were two pictures of her babies that she had lost to CPS. The pictures were worn and you could tell that she had looked at those pictures a lot. I looked at her and I realized that she was not some crazy woman but a woman longing for the children she had lost.
For the first time I saw her humanity and that changed me. I stopped looking at her from my very high horse. I stopped remembering that her case record said that she didn’t care about her children. I saw a person longing for another chance. When I was able to see her humanity not the law, not her case record I was able to have a genuine conversation with her.