Perhaps no government organization raises as many questions and negative rumors as a child protection social service (Child Protective Service or CPS). The Russian-speaking employee of the social service from New York Diana Gorshenina told how the system is arranged and works.
“My husband and I had just come home from work and quietly sat down to dinner when social workers knocked on the door,” says Elena Artamonova, a resident of the United States. - We are a decent family, we take care of our two children as expected: food, toys, clean rooms. We moved to America four years ago, settled down, work, invest in the education and leisure of children. "
Elena's story is cited as an example by the publication “MK in the New World".
“It turned out that our oldest daughter complained to her classmates that we do not allow her to play gadgets all day long and make her do her homework. It's natural! And they advised her to complain to teachers about domestic violence! ” - the woman admitted.
“We are social workers who carry out a full assessment of the safety of the child's life upon contact with the Administration for the Protection of Children's Rights (ACS), as well as provide social support to families when necessary. To work with us, you must have a bachelor's degree in sociology, psychology, criminology, education, anthropology, or similar disciplines, says Diana. - City services in New York are trying to recruit people who speak several languages, and therefore, even if the candidate received such an education at home, the confirmation of the diploma makes it possible to admit to the exam. Based on the results of this exam, a selection is made for the position of a specialist in the protection of children's rights ”.
Each American state has its own social programs to protect children from adult abuse, and the attitude to this issue is more than serious. Among other things, school and medical staff are required to report to the social services and competent authorities about possible cases of child abuse, even at the slightest sign of something like that. By the way, in the city of New York one of the most stringent laws regarding the observance of the rights of the child.
- So anyone can call 911 and complain? A neighbor who has a bad relationship with other tenants, a child who is offended by their parents for not buying him a new toy?
- Anyone can complain, and even anonymous complaints are accepted. Like many things in America, there is a high degree of trust in a person who will not settle personal scores in this way. Although, of course, one cannot ignore the human factor. Fortunately, most of these messages turn out to be false - and a social worker is obliged to check on each of them! For example, in New York alone, we receive up to 50 calls every year about possible cases of child abuse. As I said, the identity of the applicant is kept secret, but sending a knowingly false complaint to the social services is considered a crime and is punishable by law.
- What happens after you receive a complaint?
- Even if I, an experienced worker already, see that the complaint is completely invented, as, for example, in the case of your reader Elena Artamonova, we are still obliged to open a case. Within 60 days, a check is carried out, during this time the social worker visits the school, the pediatrician, asks if there is a criminal file on this family in the police. If necessary, a medical and psychological examination of the child is carried out, possibly, his placement in a hospital. At the same time, we do not have the right to access medical documents without parental permission, so we ask them to sign a special form. After all the checks, a decision is made whether the complaint was justified or not. The social worker is obliged to notify you of the results of the check. If you disagree with the decision of the social service, you can appeal it.
- If the complaint is unfounded, is this information retained in this case? After all, parents can suffer - for example, when hiring, they often check the criminal record of a job seeker.
- Criminal dossier and social services data are different categories. As a rule, our records are requested only in those cases if a person is looking for work in a field related to children (education, foster family, nanny). If the complaint was found unfounded, then the case is closed, and no one will give its materials to the employer without a court decision.
- A story from our reader: a teenage girl wanted to "take revenge" and told her stepfather about sexual harassment, the stepfather was imprisoned for a while, then sorted it out, but, as they say, the sediment remained. If a child came up with a story and complained about his parents to social services, what kind of lies would he be?
- Social service workers never scold or blame children, even if their statements were false. In cases where there is a suspicion of sexual abuse, the child is brought to a support center and a team of police officers, social workers and psychologists works with him. Based on interviews with the child, parents, teachers and doctors, decisions are made on the validity of the charges. We proceed from the position that if a child “slanders”, it means that there are problems in the family that parents, for various reasons, do not notice. I had a case when a 17-year-old girl, being in the hospital, called a social worker and told about a fight between drunken parents. It turned out that this is a reaction to a change in the medication that she was prescribed for increased anxiety and stress. She panicked and wanted to stay longer in the hospital. In another case, a child made a false complaint because the parents were divorcing and thus attracted attention to himself. So there is always an explanation for this behavior, although for parents this, of course, is extremely unpleasant moments. I personally believe that you need to have a trusting relationship with the child. At the age of six or seven, he already understands the difference between truth and lies. It is necessary to explain to the child that false accusations will cause verification by the service that protects and protects children; and instead of helping kids who are really in trouble, they will have to check mom and dad, their work, you and your school, and come to your house. I think the kid will understand.
- How should parents behave if a social service employee came with a check?
- A social worker is not allowed to enter your home without your permission. Of course, if you have nothing to fear, then it is better to let it go so that there are no unnecessary suspicions. If you are not allowed, then the social worker goes to court and takes permission to enter the apartment. Given that we are talking about children, such a permit is issued as soon as possible, up to two days maximum. If you know you have not done anything wrong, remain calm. The social worker is obliged to familiarize you with the official letter about the existence of a complaint and the reason for the check. Do not believe those who write on the Internet that social services are "interested" only in taking your children away. Our main task is precisely to help parents if they do not properly look after their children, and to keep the family together. We are interested in the minimum level of childcare: fresh food in the refrigerator, clothing suitable for age and weather. We check if the light, gas, plumbing works, if there is hot and cold water. It is very important that the child has his own sleeping place! Of course, mothers who practice sleeping together with a child may be outraged, but by law, the child must have his own bed. If all this is not there, and we see that the parents are trying as best they can, and the child is not threatened with physical violence, we bring a bed, diapers, clothes, food, even toys, help with insurance and explain the laws to immigrants.
- Talking about “take the children”. Former Minsker Elena Adamova asks if social services can really select children and on what grounds: “I left two children at home, the eldest is 8 years old, and went to the store myself. In our homeland it was natural and normal! And here they scared me that my children might be taken away. "
- If there is a signal that the children are at home alone, then we sit with the children and wait for an adult to come. Of course, we will conduct an explanatory conversation. Contrary to popular belief, most states do not have a legal age when children can be left alone at home. There is a "reasonable" age, let's say. For example, is it safe to leave a baby alone at home? Of course not, unlike a 10-12-year-old child who, if something happens, can call 911 himself. Of course, a lot depends on the specific facts. For example, in my practice there was a case when a mother left one child with autism at home. For a long time. Can you imagine what a shock the child had? In such cases, we are of course obliged to call the police.
Only a few states have laws that determine the age at which a child can be left alone at home. For example, in Maryland it is 8 years, in Illinois it is 14 years. However, there are guidelines developed by the Department of Health and Child Protection Agencies. We take into account the age and maturity of the child, the general safety of the surrounding areas, the circumstances and measures taken to ensure the safety of the child. There are general guidelines to help you navigate. A child under the age of seven should not be left alone at home, in a car, or on the street. From 8 to 10 years old it is not recommended to leave one for more than one and a half hours, and only during the daytime. A child from 11 to 12 years old can be left for up to three hours, but not late at night. From 13 to 15 years old can be left on, but not overnight. From 16 to 17 years old, you can leave it overnight too, but not more than two nights in a row.
- How often do you take children from families?
- Again, most investigations do not lead to the removal of a child from the family. Whenever possible, we make every effort to keep the family together, working with this family for a long time. In situations where, in the opinion of the CPS, the child is in imminent danger, a request will be made to the Family Court to remove the child from the family. Sometimes we can pick up the child urgently, even without going to a judge, if the social worker believes that the harm or risk to the child is immediate. The day after the emergency seizure, the social worker must file a petition with Family Court, and you have the right to ask the judge to return the child immediately. If, as a result of the court hearing, it is determined that the child is not allowed to live with the parents, then we must establish whether there are other family members or close friends who could temporarily take over the child's care. After checking the biographical data and assessing the living conditions, the child can be transferred to them. If there are no such people, or if the persons you named do not meet the safety criteria, the child may be placed in foster care, but this usually happens very rarely.
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- What threatens the parents, whose actions are of interest to the employees of social services?
- If it was recorded that the parents beat the child or there was sexual violence against him, then these data are sent to the police. And even if for some reason a criminal case is not opened, all the information will still be stored in your file in all police bases. In other cases, the parents are almost safe. Unfortunately, each state has its own social service system and each service has its own databases. For example, if a family, whose actions we were investigating, move to another state, then no one will know that they were interested in the social services of our state - at least until they attract attention in a new place. Unfortunately, many people use this "loophole".
- It's no secret that in many Russian-speaking families, they still adhere to outdated methods of upbringing, when a slap on the butt is not considered something out of the ordinary. How often have you encountered this and is it difficult to explain to your parents what is welcomed in American society and what is not?
- Physical punishment is not encouraged, but it is not prohibited either. The only condition is that the punishment must not be excessive. That is, just a light slap on the pope is at the discretion of the parents. But the real beating, to the point of bruising and abrasion, injury and harm, is considered excessive. However, physical punishment is not the most common reason for contacting social services in our Russian-speaking community. Often, "our" parents allow situations when a child misses school without a valid reason.
- Yes, I have repeatedly seen such complaints on Russian-language forums. For example, they bought discounted cruise tickets and left. And on your return - a surprise! - a complaint to social services. Or when there is no money for a nanny and the parents leave the older child at home with the younger, not suspecting what this threatens them, because in the former Soviet countries this is treated more simply.
- Therefore, each parent needs to familiarize himself with the rules of the school where your child goes. In most schools in different states, a child cannot miss more than 10% of the days of the school year to move to the next grade, and these absences must have a valid reason (a certificate from the attending physician, for example); cruise, as you can imagine, is not such a reason.
Another common situation leading to complaints is the failure to follow medical prescriptions by the parents. For example, if the pediatrician prescribed medication, and the parents decided to self-medicate. If you do not agree with the diagnosis or treatment plan for your child by a specialist, then do not cancel it yourself. You can contact another specialist, but do not replace antibiotics yourself with tea with honey! If something happens to your child due to lack of treatment, then you will have to answer according to the law. The same goes for vaccinations. You must have a serious reason (for example, religious) giving your child a rejection of vaccines. Otherwise, all this is considered as “improper care”, and the school employee, checking your child’s medical card, must report to the social services.
- How do social services behave when they have to deal with illegal immigrants? And if the parents are illegal, and the child was born here and is an American citizen? Can social services really take the child and expel the parents?
“By order of the Mayor of New York, employees of all city services must maintain the confidentiality of all our customers' data. We may ask you about immigration status only to check if you are eligible for family or child services. Do not forget that the country has so-called "cities of refuge" (and also "states of refuge" California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont); in other places, they are obliged to report their illegal status to the immigration authorities.
Where to call if you have witnessed child abuse:
New York - (800) 342-37-20
Massachusetts - (800) 792-52-00
Minnesota - (800) 422-44-53
New Jersey - (877) 652-28-73
Pennsylvania - (800) 932-03-13
California - (800) 422-44-53
Connecticut - (800) 842-22-88
Florida - (800) 962-28-73