If Child Protective Services appeared out of the blue at your door, would you be ready to defend your parenting? What about a school principal? A police officer?
Would you be able to share facts? Or would you rely on emotions? In the stress of the moment, would your comments make sense?
When people in authority confronted me about my children, I expected them to believe me. After all, I was the parent.
In hindsight, I probably sounded like a bumbling fool the first and second times – after an anonymous source reported me twice to Child Protective Services.
Although the claims were “unsubstantiated,” I learned a valuable lesson about documentation – while enduring a massive dose of heartache.
THE NEED for DOCUMENTATION
For starters, the public doesn’t have a working knowledge of mental health – especially childhood trauma and attachment. Even workers within the system might not “get it.” Casting blame on the parents is much easier. Sadly, gross exaggerations about moms and dads happen more than people realize.
Oftentimes the most empathy comes from others who have “lived it.”
Frankly, I was unprepared – practically defenseless – when opening the door of my home. Many parents have been there, so I implore every family to maintain a daily log book of good and not-so-good behaviors. Including both makes a parent seem genuine, rather than vindictive. And parents who are perceived as vindictive gets nowhere quick. They can become a quick target – with heresy and without meaningful evidence.
Documentation can save your honor and your family.
WHERE to START
Document with or without the child’s knowledge – but never use documentation as threat. That strategy will likely backfire. Parents know their child best and can determine the right approach to minimize power struggles.
Include the obvious – threatening notes written by the child, bizarre pictures drawn by the child, school incident reports, suspension/expulsion letters, mental health evaluations and police reports (which you may have to request).
You want all evidence at your finger tips in a folder or binder. And store the information in a safe place, so nothing mysteriously disappears.
Detail is crucial because the parents’ memory can fail them when it’s needed most. Use the following list to create a daily log in a spiral notebook or perhaps a computer spreadsheet.
1-Description of behavior (whether positive or inappropriate)
2-Date and time of day
3-Length of said behavior
4-Reaction of others in the home
5-Intervention used to de-escalate the behavior
6-Child’s response to intervention
7-Response of therapist, teacher or other professional to intervention, if applicable
8-Outcome of response (which may be entered at a later date)
Parents must protect themselves and their families – while fulfilling obligations to the child in crisis.
By reading – and sharing the factual entries with others, a pattern may emerge. This includes any providers who work with your family. You need them to understand, not speculate. Nor mis-interpret. I will never forget one attachment therapist who sat silent in a meeting with juvenile probation – while not saying one word in my defense. Then a 20-something woman – with little knowledge of Reactive Attachment Disorder – ordered a parenting assessment, as if I had something to hide.
On one hand, I truly believe parents can learn from the past and be empowered to become better.
On the other, the documentation will enhance your diplomacy – and may prove your innocence – should a crisis erupt without warning.
A SAFETY PLAN
Every family should have a safety plan in writing. I advise involving a therapist or other third party in the development. Then ask the individuals to sign the plan and include their telephone number.
A safety plan should include incremental steps.
1-How do you maintain patience while de-escalating a situation?
2-Have you secured all weapons and items that can be used as weapons?
3-How do you keep other family members safe?
4-Are they aware of the plan?
5-Where is the most secure room in the house?
6-What professionals or family members can you call for support?
7-When do you call law enforcement – knowing this step usually shouldn’t come first?
Once the safety plan is written, follow it to the letter. Be ready to share the plan if your motives are questioned by Child Protective Services or law enforcement.
In addition to the safety plan, I encourage parents to maintain documentation of every training – whether a formal workshop or informal conversation with a therapist or educator. In the event that someone throws you under the bus, your level of expertise can easily be shared. Many organizations offer certificates of completion for this very reason.
If your child requires hospitalization or other specialized care, you will also have a paper trail to warrant treatment. The same goes for additional services at school. All use a deficit model to determine eligibility. Facts, not opinions, carry weight.
At the end of the day, parents must protect themselves and their families – while fulfilling parenting obligations to the child in crisis.
You never know who might be watching and forming strong opinions that have nothing to do with the truth. DCP
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