How to help, social services edition
January 22, 2021 8:06 AM   Subscribe

I am shortly going over to stay with a friend who is deeply upset. Social services were called to talk to her young children at preschool. The children are still meeting with the social services people and have not yet come home. After they come home, what should I do or say or definitely not do and not say to help them after a challenging day?

The children are my first concern. I also want to support their mom and dad, so any advice on that front is also welcome. Please note this is literally all the information I have (and we do not live in the US). I encourage commenters to respond to my actual questions rather than speculating on the situation. Thank you!
posted by Bella Donna to Human Relations (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would let the family have some family time while I busied myself in the kitchen & let them take the lead. Find things to take off mom's plate.
posted by bleep at 8:16 AM on January 22, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Following up on bleep's suggestion, can you bring them dinner, either something you make or take-out?
posted by FencingGal at 8:21 AM on January 22, 2021 [11 favorites]

Best answer: My focus would be on letting them de-stress and connect with their parent(s) while you run background tasks. You take care of snacks as soon as they get in and then start dinner, get them all fed (maybe make something that makes leftovers for tomorrow?), clean up, provide any needed logistical support during post-dinner and bedtime routines. You might let their mom vent to you for a bit after they're down, if you can stay that long.

Really, food and your presence are the best things you can give. If you're able to put something together for special breakfast in the morning, leftovers for lunch or dinner tomorrow, and leave the dishes clean that would be a lot of low-level stress off her for a moment. Tomorrow's Saturday, so unless they're in weekend care it's probably not too urgent to get clothes/bags reorganized tonight.

If you happen to be well-known and close to the kids, you can certainly offer to do a special bedtime reading or storytime, but usually kids want their comforting normal routines after a stressful situation.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:27 AM on January 22, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Agreed with the idea to take things off the parents’ plates and bring some dinner. You might also bring over some low-key activity for the kids if they need to decompress or not be the focus of their parents’ feelings for a little while. Clay, drawing supplies, bubbles, picture books, etc. I wouldn’t do something like “hey, we got you fabulous new toys,” more “pleasant diversion if you need it.”
posted by corey flood at 8:32 AM on January 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Food and if you have time/means I would bring low-key age-appropriate crafts (simple things like stickers or those mosaic sticker things or clay) so the kids have something new/different to occupy them while the parents huddle or whatever. But nothing too fancy...I have memories of people bringing fancy things over during Family Trauma Time and it just contributed to the weirdness.

If it's a normal-ish thing to do and the parents are ok with it and Covid permits, you could also take the kids out for some physical activity, especially something like soccer/skipping/running. It's a good way to expend any tension. If not, a bubble bath (again, if it's normal and if it's normal for YOU to be involved) might go over ok, as long as it's not a molestation investigation in which case just, no.

Otherwise I'd just go over and prepare to hang out and enjoy the kids. Whatever is going on will come out over time. This is an adult crisis point but with young kids, it hopefully is not, it's just a series of conversations.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:37 AM on January 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Family friends when I was younger had twins born with a rare condition that gave them the physical appearance of severe neglect. They had several interactions with CPS and social services every year because of this. What they needed most was to maintain the status quo at home despite the stress so their kids saw this as just one little weird thing in their otherwise totally normal lives. What they needed second most was someone to make sympathetic facial expressions and gestures while they vented.
posted by phunniemee at 8:47 AM on January 22, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: We are foster parents and have dealt with "re-entry" after stressful stuff like this a number of times. In our experience, the older kids need time alone with music or screens to just crash for a little bit and let the emotions settle down. Younger kids have those same feelings but don't represent them as clearly. Giving space and low-stress activity (ice cream and reading books or laying down with a comforting stuffie and a familiar movie are favorites of the little one we have now) are a good way to transition back. The times that we've tried to engage or talk things out have typically been unproductive.

And 100% on bringing or arranging dinner. Mom and dad will need to process, too, and having that bit handled gives them some freedom.
posted by AgentRocket at 9:48 AM on January 22, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: There's some good advice about what to do here. Food, going for a walk, etc. I think that's covered. In terms of what not to do or say, my question would be how you know about what's happening. If your friend told you directly, I think it's OK to ask gently about how things are going and if there's any way you can help. If you heard from a third party, though, stay quiet and don't bring anything up. Let her take the lead.

I agree with the advice about keeping things normal-ish for the kids. I went through something like this once when I was a kid, and while I knew it was a big deal, I also moved on pretty quickly. Kids do that. This is one of the cases where their short attention spans are a feature, not a bug. The adults are probably having one of the worst days of their lives, but if you just do a normal fun hangout with the kids, they should be able to put it behind them pretty quickly. I also think that's helpful for the parents: half of the anxiety they're feeling is due to the worry that their kids are going to be scarred by this, so if the kids move on, that might help the adults relax a bit as well. Obviously there's a lot of adult follow-up that will happen, but seeing happy normal kids should help deal with the anxiety so that they can concentrate rationally on next steps.

(This is, of course, assuming that your friends did nothing wrong, which you probably would have mentioned if you felt like they did.)
posted by kevinbelt at 9:50 AM on January 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You didn't mention the age of the children (but preschool) so most likely the kids have no idea something serious is happening if the interviewer is doing their job remotely right, because they are just talking about their lives and what interests them and what's happening at home and don't have any of the fear about what they are saying means. They might not even know who the person is aside from the nice person. (This may change of they have had previous interaction with child protective service agencies)

So, definately be mindful of how the children react and not make it bigger for them.

For parent(s), they are also going to have interviews that are long and way way way more stressful. Seconding things that make it easier, dinner, being a low key distraction for the kids. Also ask if there's anything they need, sometimes these investigations come with requests from the investigators and other things with little notice and time constraints, so they may need some extra help. Depending on the state, allegation, and investigator these things can take TIME (and initial investigation can be open 60 days in the state of IL) so checking in depending on how things go would be useful for the parents.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:00 AM on January 22, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Make their space/routine as normal as possible, while supporting the adults if they need to take phone calls or leave the room to cry or whatever. Don’t grill the kids for details if they don’t want to share them, but give space for them to talk if they want and allow them to have their own interpretation of what happened, which could be anything from “oh yeah I guess there was a new teacher, they had curly hair” to really traumatizing. Understand that the kid may not want to share in front of you or one or both parents.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:24 AM on January 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

I guess it is morning over there now so responding to the above won't help. How's it going?
posted by Mr. Yuck at 8:58 PM on January 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Hey everybody, thanks for your helpful responses. I was there when the kids came home from preschool with dad and was asked to keep them busy so the parents could speak privately. I fed the kids in the kitchen and unloaded the dishwasher and then we went to the kids’ room to play quietly until it was bedtime.

I found it a little stressful when the younger kid announced that they weren’t going to get to see their family ever again (because apparently older kid had told younger kid that on the way home). I did not make a big deal out of it but pointed out that younger kid was at home with sibling and parents right that minute and that younger kid was not going to be taken away to a new family (which I knew for a fact). Then older kid parroted back my words when younger kid periodically announced that they would not get to see their family again.

Older kid shared something their dad had said on the way home that was weird and clearly the result of being stressed out by social services and had nothing to do with kid and, again, I did not make a big deal out of it but I did murmur hopefully comforting things and moved on. Saw the family briefly today and things seemed back to normal; I hope any damage was minimal. Thanks again for your help.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:53 AM on January 23, 2021 [4 favorites]

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