CPS and/or Intervention. Need advice.
February 8, 2008 2:10 PM   Subscribe

I think they just need to grow up, but do family members need an intervention and/or CPS called on them?

My relatives are a messy and quite possibly insane bunch. It's not that they just forget to vacuum and dust once a month. Their house looks like it belongs in a slum. On top of that, they do not take care of themselves. And they have a 4 month old who I feel should not be in their care. I've been wanting to call CPS. Family members want to do an intervention, but without a professional running it. I feel they are enablers and want to take the easy route.

I saw the baby a few days ago. The child was wheezing like it had a cold. Ever since this poor kid has been home, it's had cold like symptoms.

I want the best for my relatives and their kid. I thought they needed to get their lives in order before they had a kid. Family enablers thought having a kid would do that. I feel a professional or a court appointed professional needs to help because my significant other and I have tried to our part on the emotional and physical levels.

Any suggestions from anyone who has been in a similar situation?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Talk to them directly before you call the CPS in.
posted by Solomon at 2:34 PM on February 8, 2008

Once you call in the government, you have no control. What if they decide to do something that you aren't cool with?
posted by smackfu at 2:52 PM on February 8, 2008

I think you should think long and hard about calling CPS. I work in Illinois, and I know that CPS wouldn't come out for a call that went like, "Yeah, well, their house is really dirty." I've called in worse things and they've done nothing. They'd probably call the family to check out your claim and then let it go. Then the family would know someone had called CPS, and if they guess it's you, not only have you done nothing to help but you've alienated yourself as well.

When you say the kid has had a cold since he/she has been home, does that mean he's had a cold for four solid months? If so, offer to drive them to the doctor. Help foot the bill if they can't. Let the doc drop the news that their house isn't hygienic enough. If they still don't shape up, then maybe think about another type of intervention.
posted by christinetheslp at 2:54 PM on February 8, 2008

anonymous: My relatives are a messy and quite possibly insane bunch. It's not that they just forget to vacuum and dust once a month. Their house looks like it belongs in a slum. On top of that, they do not take care of themselves. And they have a 4 month old who I feel should not be in their care. I've been wanting to call CPS. Family members want to do an intervention, but without a professional running it. I feel they are enablers and want to take the easy route.

Well, you're not incredibly clear on what's going on here and what's happened so far, but it's clear how you feel. You call the rest of the family "enablers." You feel as though they don't really care. For what it's worth, my initial reaction to this sort of thing is that calling CPS without talking to them very directly and very forcefully is sheer cowardice.

I've had neighbors who called the police on my dog before asking me to remove him from their lawn. It's ostensibly the same case: CPS and the police exist because families fail sometimes to make sure good behavior happens. The brave thing to do, and the right thing as well, is confrontation, real, reasonable, and confident. Ask them to a small dinner, just you, your spouse, and the couple in question, at a neutral place like a restaurant. Explain clearly that you care about them, and firmly that you don't feel like this is right for the kid. And mention-- don't threaten, but mention-- that you'd thought about CPS, but didn't want to get them involved at this stage. Be kind, be firm, be straightforward. CPS won't necessarily be unhelpful, but they're not designed to improve family relations, they're designed to help kids; and your family relations will be damaged indefinitely if you don't have the courage to talk to these people directly. Calling the law is what you do when you're powerless to affect a situation, and, in your position, only a coward would think that they were powerless.

If you've already done this, and it's failed, then move ahead with the intervention. Make sure that you all agree on aims. Interventions can be worthwhile; they're not just a tool for 'enablers.'

Finally, stop referring to people as 'enablers.' It's kind of ugly to use a word like that as an insult.
posted by koeselitz at 3:08 PM on February 8, 2008

Someone actually just gave me this link on here earlier in the week:

Compulsive Hoarding

If their house looks like that, then there could be deeper problems. If that does describe the situation, then you might have luck addressing the underlying issue. Compulsive hoarding is sometimes caused by a kind of OCD and frequently is tied to depression... there's therapy and medication. Suggesting that might go over better than calling CPS. If nothing else, telling CPS they're compulsive hoarders may clue them in that you're talking far beyond mess.

Do, however, try to figure out if there's something else going on before getting CPS involved. That's sort of thing people grudge over indefinitely.
posted by Gianna at 3:16 PM on February 8, 2008

Their house looks like it belongs in a slum.

What does this mean?

Is there an infestation of rodents and/or insects?

Are the bathrooms and kitchen accessible?

Are any of the living spaces exposed to the elements?

Is garbage disposed of or does it accumulate in the house?

Are there strange odors in the house?

Do they have pets? Are the pets cared for?

What are they feeding the baby?

Does the baby have adequate clothes?

Is the baby bathed daily?

Have they taken the baby to the doctor for the cold symptoms?
posted by mlis at 3:18 PM on February 8, 2008

First, do you try believe that the hold's health and well-being is seriously being impaired by the parents? If the child is sick and no getting needed care then that's the first priority. I would agree with christinetheslp about trying to make that happen. This will let you know (hopefully) if the child is really sick and give your family a chance to see if the parents can take responsiblity for caring for their sick child.

By the way, interventions are tricky - it is not only about expressing concern but also what you and the other participants will do if (a) they are willing to accept help and (b) if they refuse help. I strongly recommend having a trained outsider to manage the process - otherwise the odds of a disaster are rather high.
posted by metahawk at 3:27 PM on February 8, 2008

I posed a similar question a couple of weeks ago. For me, calling CPS involves neglect or abuse. MLIS asked very pertinent questions. Are they just messy/dirty people or are they neglectful? Is the baby being fed and washed? I'm not sure what a 4 month old eats but is it prepared in a clean fashion? Is the baby in warm clean clothes that fit properly?

A LOT of children in good homes get colds and sometimes chronic colds. That's not alarming in and of itself. Has the baby seen a pediactrician?

I disagree with koesilitz. Never mention that you're going to call CPS. You need to be able to see the child and a threat like that would jeopardize your access.

A non-CPS intervention is not enabling. You seem like a caring person that wants to help. Calling CPS when it's not necessary can cause more problems. A gentle nudge can work much better than a hard shove.
posted by red_lotus at 4:46 PM on February 8, 2008

Unless the kid is in danger, this is none of your business.

Having been 'raised' by a bi-polar hoarding controlling mother let me just say that a dirty, messy, cluttered house and a sick kid are not necessarily the same as neglect. Just because it isn't how you'd raise a child doen't make it your business. So, be sure there is a real problem before jumping in.
posted by trinity8-director at 5:20 PM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Are you or another relative willing to take custody of this child if it is determined that the baby is in danger? If not, I would seriously think very long and hard before calling CPS.

Foster care is often *worse* and more neglectful than care by biological parents-- this is not to say that there aren't some truly amazing foster parents, but there are also many who collect kids for money and/or because they have a "need to be needed" that isn't about helping the child.

Also, most kids in foster care get moved from house to house. Each time, it's basically like losing a parent to death. Imagine being placed with a different spouse every few years.

The psychological effects of being moved back and forth from one placement to another, basically at any age over a few months, can be profound and disabling. Of course, many kids are fine-- but often, the system makes worse what it tries to fix.

You talk about an "intervention"-- is there alcohol or other drug use involved? Are you sure it's addiction? You suggest that there may be mental illness. If so, there are better ways to get people into treatment than doing a formal intervention-- you need real professionals, not just some drug/alcohol focused "interventionist" who may not be educated about psychiatry. And when there are kids involved, it really is important to get treatment right and not move someone from the home of a slightly messy potsmoker into that of an alcoholic or abusive or even more chaotic foster home.
posted by Maias at 6:04 PM on February 8, 2008

Unfortunately, I've been in this situation several times. I think, like several other posters are alluding to, that you need to examine this situation and how you feel about it a little more carefully. Do you simply have an ideological issue with how these relatives are raising their children? Are they simply bad parents, or are they subjecting their children to the kind of abuse or neglect that a CPS investigation would determine warrants action? Are the parents drug or alcohol dependent and is that directly affecting the children? Are the children being subjected to repeated violence or threats (themselves, or another adult; physical or emotional)? Are there other illegal activities going on in the home? Does the home have running water and a working toilet? Does the home have a means of storing and preparing food? Does the home exhibit any immediate dangers to a child's safety (broken stairs, unshielded electrical outlets, broken windows, missing floorboards, no heat, etc.)? Are the children suffering from repeated injuries or unexplainable illnesses? I will say that personally, I've never called CPS yet, but I have called the police several times for domestic "situations" involving family where intervention was warranted. I've intervened myself in others, and some, I've let go in the sense of trying to choose my battles.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:50 PM on February 8, 2008

Trinity-8 director's point of view has made me back off from my initial reaction, which was: Do not call the government. Do do an intervention, but don't expect much. If they don't right themselves on their own or by seeking professional help with a set time frame, then do get the kid out of there.

First off, I'm agreeing with people upthread that you need to evaluate what is truly filth. Insect infestation, lack of bathing the child, rotting food scatterred around the house, feces and urine building up in odd places, from pets or otherwise, those are serious problems. Clutter, perhaps not.

I am curious if there are emotional / mental illness as well.

From my perspective, my sister was 13 when she moved away from my mom's house, which was full of filth and emotional distress, and my sister was already exploring drugs, smoking, all kinds of nasty things. Family got her out of there. Family got me out of there at 17. By my age, I had become hardened to it and turned out fine. My sister turned out OK too. In fact, by and large we both turned out great.

However. It was the most miserable experience of my life, I counted down the days till I turned 18 and could leave, felt trapped, and to this day don't know certain habits for caring for a house, tips that parents share with kids as far as mending and caring for clothing, for their skin and hair, nutrition, self control when it comes to amount of food to eat and curbing ones' own bad habits, etc. So, while overall I'm happy and awesome, I'll have challenges. Then again I'm making good money so I could always hire a maid and go to a spa to learn all about that stuff, if I really cared. Mostly, I'm happy to keep my place clean if not tidy like many twenty-somethings, and to care for myself but do not wear makeup or go through a skin-care regimen involving "toner" whatever that does.

Anyway, the point is that the kid might turn out fine. Or it could turn out to be like my sister, who would NOT have been fine if not taken out of there. You have to judge it. From my own experience, if there's both filth and emotional abuse / emotional neglect, you really need to consider stepping in.

I'm still glad I never was in foster care. I'm happy and think I'm a cool person and would not be the same if not for the experience with my mom, but it was a truly painful, dark period of my life. I did some (research into foster care as an adult because I was curious as to what might have happened to me if I'd gone that route, and it certainly seemed like nothing good. So I guess the upshot is, whatever you do, don't call CPS unless you absolutely can't do anything yourself (and please be generous with yourself, try to think of the child as part yours if at all possible, because it did not ask for this and is helpless) and you're sure that the health of the child is seriously threatened. As I recall, foster care doesn't even really tend to the physical health of its kids that well, let alone their mental health or education.
posted by lorrer at 7:21 PM on February 8, 2008

I'll present a little different perspective here as a long time CPS supervisor. We get calls like this at the hotline I manage all the time, and I think the folks who answered above have given you some good things to think about before you call.

Be ready to describe dirty really specifically. Describe how it relates to the care of the baby. CPS folks are concerned about dirt when it becomes dangerous, which may mean that standards WAAAY below your's are not a child abuse issue that the government is going to get involved in. (Remember, we really have plenty of work to do already, and I have no interest in sending a worker out to knock on someone's door if there isn't a really good reason to be there. I am very aware of the amount of power our agency has and try to be thoughtful in its use). So, instead of just saying "it's dirty, it's a slum" say: "There are dog feces on the floor that have not been cleaned up for three days. The baby's bottles don't get washed and have sour milk and are used again. The toilet isn't working and is overflowing. There is no hot water." Relate the dirt to the care of the baby. Babies who are not mobile are often less at risk in a dirty house than a toddler would be. So, if the baby is rolling over, say that. If they leave the baby on the floor in a pile of moldy food, say that. Babies that aren't bathed very frequently and smell bad are sad but not unsafe; babies with untreated diaper rash that is bloody are a different story. Paint a word picture!

I'd mention the baby's health, of course, though I think PP's are right when they say it's not easy to know if that's connected to dirt or not (I'd be surprised if it was, unless the child has pet allergies or something). If you know the name of the child's pediatrician, pass it on when you call. If you don't think the child has ever SEEN a pediatrician, definitely pass that on.

I disagree with some previous posters here: If you aren't going to call and are just going to intervene as a family, fine. Often folks with chronic neglect issues are struggling with poverty, drug use, and/or depression-they are overwhelmed by the mess and don't know where to start.

If you are going to call, don't tell them first, unless it's in a general "I want to help you clean up this weekend. If you don't help me, and it's not better by next week, I am going to have to call CPS because I am so worried about Little Joey and I don't know how to help you". Nothing frustrates reporters more than to call and have the family clean up the house right before we get out, because they know we're coming-and then the week after we come out it's bad again, and we can't do an accurate assessment.
posted by purenitrous at 10:40 PM on February 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

I called CPS on my brother-in-law in another state. His 9yo daughter needs serious dental care, a tooth growing into her upper lip, which I offered to pay for all and any orthodontic expenses, he declined. She also has bedwetting issues at night that cause her to get nasty urinary infections, I had to take her to my family doctor twice in the 2 weeks I had her. She said she had been to her own doctor and he had said she just needed to grow up. My doctor recommended professional counseling because she was almost 10, I offered to pay for this, my brother-in-law declined again.

I did some research, found the CPS guidebook used to train agents and went through the checklist. At the very least the CPS worker was supposed to offer to get the family help with low-cost counselors. I called them. They visited the family, after telling them when the visit was going to be, against the guidelines of their own training manual.

After the visit they called and informed me, exact words "the kids are getting to school everyday and get three meals a day. That's all we care about."

I asked about the medical problems, the person did some query on a computer, said "her last checkup was 8 months ago and she was healthy." She politely chided me for calling CPS on my own family and how much distress it can cause blah blah blah.

3 years have passed and nothing has changed except for my brother-in-law having a new baby son. I have offered many times to pay for the dental care if nothing else and been refused.

CPS is too busy, too understaffed, too underpaid and overwhelmed to do any good. Unless a child is dying or claiming sexual assault there is very little CPS can do. And foster care is just more nightmare. I live in an area where it's profitable to have foster children and the group homes I know are run-for-profit. My own father does this, 15-20 kids pass through his house in a year, it's hard remembering all their names. He had an entire family once, ages 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7. He was the only home that would take the whole group. They spent 6 months in with him, on the night their parents got them back he got a call from the 7-year-old girl begging to come back. 3 months later and even though my father and his wife tried to get them back, the group was split apart and sent different ways.

Hopefully your relatives can have a meaningful and persuasive intervention. If I had had the help of my other family members instead of them calling my wife and I intruders for criticizing our our in-laws parenting skills, perhaps I could have gotten something done.

Also, messy parents -does not equal- bad parents, as had been said before. I was raised by a one of those old cat ladies with 20 cats stuffed into the house and instead of normal hallways there were pathways between the rubbish to the important rooms and cabinets. It made me a little OCD, of course, but my house is clean and I grew up, got married, have a career. The hardest part of growing up was everyone telling me how miserable I must be living under such conditions.
posted by M Edward at 11:02 PM on February 8, 2008

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