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Mothering on the margins

Mothering on the margins. Exploring how mothers make meaning of an encounter with Child Protection Services. Meghan Mulcahy McGill University. Research motivated by a social work practice encounter that occurred in a rural community in Eastern Canada.

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Mothering on the margins

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  1. Mothering on the margins Exploring how mothers make meaning of an encounter with Child Protection Services Meghan Mulcahy McGill University

  2. Research motivated by a social work practice encounter that occurred in a rural community in Eastern Canada. • When asked, by a woman recently the subject of a child welfare investigation, for plain-language literature on a “normal” emotional response to an investigation I could find no appropriate resources. Motivation

  3. Research initiated as part of a thesis-based Master of Social Work conducted at McGill University in Montreal, QC. • Interviewed women residing in rural communities on the East Coast of Canada who were contacted through RiseUp, an independent, community-based agency. Rural mothers’ perspectives

  4. Interviews were audio-recorded, semi-structured, in-depth and lasted approximately 1.5 hours. • Interview guide began with a question asking “Can you describe for me the first time you were contacted by child protection services (CPS)?” Methodology

  5. RiseUp contacted Taylor and Catherine • Taylor suggested her friend Joni and the two were interviewed together. • Catherine’s husband Steve joined the interview as it drew to a close. Research Participants

  6. Impoverished • Low literacy • Aging population • Women parenting alone • Little public transportation Rural Context

  7. Sparse services: “You’re stuck with who you get, whether you like them or not.” • Lack of confidentiality: “Everybody talks.” “You don’t know who to trust”. • Lack of anonymity Rural Context

  8. Initially contacted following a report she suspected was filed by her abusive ex-husband. • Referred CPS workers to RiseUp staff who attested to her parenting capacity. • File closed shortly thereafter. Participant Vignette: Taylor

  9. Initially contacted following a 911 call reporting that Joni had been slapped by her partner Rob during an argument initiated after a night of drinking. • After a second report, CPS became involved, eventually telling the couple they must separate in order for Joni to retain custody of Alexander, aged 18 months. • The couple continued their relationship, but hid it from CPS. Participant Vignette: Joni

  10. Second son, Brandon, apprehended from hospital shortly after his birth. • Both Brandon and Alexander were adopted out of care. • At time of interview, Joni continued her hidden relationship with Rob, was parenting their daughter Hailey, and no longer involved with CPS. Research Participant: Joni

  11. Married to Steve with whom she has three children. Contacted CPS after her son, Evan (7) reported being sexually abused by family friend, neighbour, and babysitter Breanna (13). • Breanna and her brother Iain are the children of Catherine’s boss and best friend Tammy and Steve’s friend Mike. • 4 instances of direct CPS contact before file was closed. Participant Vignette: Catherine

  12. “I had all my i’s dotted and my t’s crossed…I had it going on for me then. I had just finished my [employment training program] that was sponsored by RiseUp, and I just got accepted to university, and I had a job, and ‘Come on in.’ I had nothing to hide. My kids were there, and you know, the house was clean.” (Taylor) Initial CPS encounters relatively benign

  13. Deterioration and corruption of the helping relationship

  14. “He never said nothing. He didn't say “Don't say anything to Evan.” He didn't say the police were gonna be notified. He didn't say, he didn't say anything, right. He just got the gory details and that was the end of it.” (Catherine) Workers focussed on the investigation, not the family

  15. “That’s what they make you feel like, like you’re beneath them and that they own you.” (Taylor) Workers perceived as overpowering and controlling

  16. “When you’re under their eye you do everything wrong. Everything. You can’t do nothing right and they pick everything out.” (Joni) • “[T]hey don’t believe that he [Rob] can ever change. That’s the way that they look at it. Nobody can change.” (Joni) Encounters deficit-based

  17. “[I]t was just a joke that they wasted their gas money to come out. They could have called first and, you know, they just surprised me. They thought they were going to find something and they didn’t.” (Taylor) Investigation through unscrupulous methods

  18. “I couldn’t trust them and then some of them that you thought you could trust would twist everything around.” (Joni) Creation of an atmosphere of mistrust

  19. “They were just nosey to come into my life... They did parenting with me, but you wanna know what the parenting was? Jean Silver come out, the nosebag, and ask everything that was going on in my life, not anything about parenting. Nothing was done with me whatsoever and they’re writing down that there’s these many sessions done. I said, “What? We gossip and find out what’s going on in my life?” (Joni) Services and interventions perceived as “traps”

  20. “What you say can and will be held against you.” (Taylor) Evidence gathered for use against parents

  21. Parents feel apprehension an omnipresent threat • “I don’t believe that they’re always in the best interest of the, the kids. It seems like they get brownie points for the more kids they take or something.” (Taylor) Evidence gives workers “the authority...to take your kids...for next to nothing”

  22. “They said, ‘Joni, you know what you have to do to keep this child. The only time that we’ll be out here is if we get a call and then we apprehend your child.’ (Joni) Apprehension threatened as a mechanism of control

  23. Exacerbating impact of systemic problems

  24. “So, it was exactly a month [from the initial report] til they came out. So, if it was that much of a concern, why did it take them a month to come out was one of my questions. You know, ‘If you’re so worried about it, why are you here a month later?’” (Taylor) Delayed response

  25. “I'm emotional on the phone, I'm crying, and I'm like, I'm screaming in the phone “Somebody help me.” You know, “I'm losing my mind here. I don't know what to do. I don't know if I'm coming or going. I don't know what I'm supposed to say to this little boy” (Catherine) Workers unavailable

  26. “I got switched from so many different social workers that it ain’t funny and that was half my problem. One person come in, then it was time for them to leave and someone else would have to come in and they would have to do it all over again to find out who I was and this and that. And then the same bullshit would happen every time. So I never had someone.” (Joni) Changes in workers

  27. “I want to keep my kid”, I said, “you bring someone, even, like, ask them, you bring someone into my house and show me how I’m supposed to live my life to keep my kid”. They wouldn’t do it. Instead, just take my kid away and let someone else pay for it.” (Joni) Ineffective interventions

  28. “[T]here’s not even adequate foster care. Half the time the kid’s better off with their Mom if she is drinking or on drugs because of the foster care.” (Taylor) Unsafe foster homes

  29. “They didn’t help by any means”

  30. “I told them ‘Take your sign down cuz don’t, don’t go, you know, don’t go selling yourself that you’re a service to this community. You’re not. What have you done to serve me? Other than dick me around like everybody in here’”. (Taylor)

  31. “[My worker]'s done nothing for me, he's done nothing for my family, and this is family services that's supposed to be there to help.” (Catherine)

  32. “As far as I’m concerned they did me dirty. They didn’t help by any means at all.” (Joni)

  33. Beating CPS at their own game

  34. “At the top of the list, get an advocate.” (Taylor) Protecting against CPS

  35. “I put myself in the community. I put myself right in the community. I went to church. I teach Sunday school. I’m on the board of directors at RiseUp now. I’m on the breast feeding network committee. You know, like, I made sure that everybody in the community when they see me they know me and they can, and anybody has any questions about me they can say “Oh I know her from church”, or “I know her from RiseUp” or I know her from um the, you know, whatever. So I, I put myself in the community in a positive light.” (Taylor) Developing positive relationships with those who can “vouch for you”

  36. “[W]hat I'd tell another mother that's just going through this now about the system is that you've gotta fight for everything you do. That's what she's gotta do. She's gotta stay on them because they won't go outta their way to help her. They won't call her back…If I had to do it all over again I'd give them two days to return my calls instead of two weeks before I went over their head.” (Catherine) Taking CPS “to task” : Self-advocacy

  37. “I had my grounds covered because if they thought they were gonna take this child from me I would sign all rights over to my sister Stephanie, that was the youngest, that had a good paying job, that they couldn’t say nothing. Because I know you can.” (Joni) Working the system

  38. “Watch what you say.” (Taylor) • “Don’t open your mouth. Don’t say nothing to them, absolutely nothing.” (Joni) Withholding information

  39. “[M]y doctor just said, ‘Joni, write the father down unknown’ and that’s what I did and so that’s what I did for this child too. All my three kids are by the same father, but I couldn’t say that cause I was gonna lose them all.” (Joni) • “[W]hen he, [Rob] comes to my house and he stays there he does not go outside the trailer. Nobody sees him in or out of my trailer except for what friend I do have that knows that he’s there. Everything’s locked up. Windows are all closed.” (Joni) Hiding prohibited relationships

  40. “I knew every place my child was at. They might of never knew, but I did. I knew exactly where he was at. I even used to park down just to see if I could see him coming out.” (Joni) Maintaining contact with children

  41. “I was very suicidal, but then I put myself first and said, ‘Well, you know, my kids are gonna come find me some day and if I’m not here, you know, I robbed them of every bit of their life.’ So, but I miss them a lot. I talk about them a lot. I used to go up to social services all the time and say ‘Look you guys are the ones that see my kids and you tell me how they’re doing. Right? You could at least do that for me.” (Joni) Maintaining hope for an eventual reunion

  42. Long-term consequences

  43. “Hailey’s almost five months and I’m scared half to death that any day they could come in... I hear things at night time and I swear to God, you could almost bet my life on it, that there’s Children’s Aid workers out walking around my trailer, and it wouldn’t surprise me.” (Joni) Lingering fear of recurrence of CPS involvement

  44. “[Y]ouhave to always lie because you’re always scared something’s gonna happen and your kids are gonna get taken away from you. So [CPS involvement] it just, it just makes you, it turns you into a sinner as soon as you walk through those doors and that’s what I hate about it” (Taylor) “Made to become a liar”: Life under surveillance

  45. “I really want to be forth straight and I really want to go in there and say ‘This is Rob’s child.’ I wanna live a life with Rob and be able to walk around. Same with him with his kid...Cuz it’s not fair...It almost makes you think you’re gonna have to move...somewhere else to be able to live a life, a normal life, that you should be able to [live] with your kid.” (Joni)

  46. “Children’s Aid wanted me to be in this program with these people for two years. Why? They want me in this program, this health nurse to come out for two years to see what they could get on me and that’s exactly what it is.” (Joni) Refusal of services

  47. “I understand the whole concept of confidentiality. I understand…I don't want the whole world to know that my son was molested by a thirteen year old. And, you know what? I don't want to ruin her life if she's getting the help that she needs and she's gotta grow up in this community too. But there's gotta be some way you can find out in this area so that you can, you know, talk to other people that have been through it and I think family services should have that option.” (Catherine) Lingering isolation

  48. “If I would have downgraded Rob and said he was a piece of shit like they wanted to, but I told them that Rob was a good guy. Him and I had different problems, but he would never ever do nothing to his son. He loved his son and they didn’t like that. They didn’t like that at all. Cause my sister did that with Rob’s brother and she downgraded him and they loved her. They loved her.” (Joni) Concerns remain: Abusive relationships

  49. Future Directions

  50. “[F]irst of all workers who have their own kids and not workers who don’t have kids because they don’t know. They would not understand in a million years. You could have as many degrees and names behind your name, you know, but you just don’t know what that feels like. So, like, empathy, you know? Like empathy training” (Taylor) Demonstrating empathy

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