The day after CPS came to my house, we had an appointment at the Child Welfare Services office for my middle kid’s interview. The office is located fairly close by in a huge modern building (an architectural monstrosity which proved difficult to navigate). When we walked in, there were two armed security guards stationed right by the door. We were both required to sign in and then proceeded to the reception desk (situated behind bullet-proof glass). We informed the receptionist who we were there to see, and were directed to sit down.
The waiting room was huge, clean, and well-lit. There was a small children’s table with four tiny chairs atop a colorful rug in the center of the room. The table held boxes of crayons, but no paper or coloring books. Along two walls were a single line of hard plastic chairs and near the guards were five rows of plastic chairs. There was a large flat screen television mounted on the wall, visible from every seat in the place. The children’s movie “Ice Age” was playing. (Sidenote: I’m not sure what message, if any, was being given with this movie since the scene where the mom jumps off a cliff holding the baby to avoid the saber-toothed tiger was running as we sat down. Good moms jump off cliffs trying to save their kids? Or bad moms endanger their kids?)
The social worker arrived via the same door we used and took my kid back to an interview room. I looked around at the other people in the waiting room. I had been so tense, intimidated, and ashamed when I walked in that the other people hadn’t registered. Now I got a good look.
There was a mid-30’s man in a football jersey slouched down under the TV with bags of wrapped gifts piled onto the neighboring chairs. A little while later, a CPS worker came and called him back to a room. He gathered up his packages and disappeared around a corner with her.
Adults with badges came in through the guarded entrance, trailing one, two, or even three kids behind them. Seated adults rose and the kids would walk or run over and hug them. Sometimes the person with the badge would take the kids and adults down a hall to a visiting room, sometimes the visit took place entirely in the waiting room. I realized that the kids were brought from somewhere else…in the building? From a foster home? I have no idea.
An older couple came in, signed the log book, checked in at the front desk, and sat down beside me. A social worker came in and spoke to them. They had come to see their grandson. He was about seven. It seemed like a regular thing for them.
I don’t know the stories of any of the people I saw at the CPS office. But just sitting there, it was one of the saddest places I’ve ever been. The adults, including the staff, were subdued and somber. The kids were nervous and fidgety. Clearly, a number of these adults were having an early Christmas visit with their kids. Obviously, they weren’t going to see their children on Christmas morning. Some of the kids were excited to see the adults, some weren’t. Everyone was uncomfortable.
I’d been sitting there for half an hour and begun to worry that my kid had been sucked away to wherever these other kids were being kept. I wondered if I would be returning with bags of wrapped gifts for my kids instead of spending Christmas morning with them. The social worker and my kid emerged from the hallway and the social worker motioned me back to an interview room (really small and very dimly lit).
None of the abuse was reported as taking place in my presence or at my hands, she said. She went on to explain that she had given my kid a handbook on teen services available, including shelters for runaways (that plane ticket to Missouri made her think the kid might take off. Me too.); talked about safe sex; and possibly had given out a supply of condoms (the blood was rushing in my head at this point so I’m not sure if actual condoms were handed out or just advice to always use condoms. And really, given the circumstances, I’m not going to object either way). She also said she would try to contact my husband and other kid before writing her report. She was noncommittal about the report and the timeframe.
I was just happy to get out of there with my kid. We had Christmas together at home, for which I’m incredibly grateful.