My phone rang late one afternoon, the voice on the other end breathless and worried, “Cheryl I need you to come talk to the police, they are calling CPS on Kate again, some neighbor saw Mark outside without any pants on. I just pulled up in my driveway and saw the cops in here, can you come quickly? Thanks.” The phone went dead before I had a chance to answer. Kate and Mallory are two ladies who just happen to live on the same street, both have special needs children. Mallory’s son has Down Syndrome and is grown, lives at home and helps his mother with yard work and likes to hang clothing on the line in the summer. Nobody thinks twice about his special needs or the fact that his mother leaves him home alone while she goes to work fours hours a day. Grown adult Scott can be seen while his mother is at work, busy tending to her flower garden. People smile and wave at Scott who often shares his home grown tomatoes with neighbors.
On the other side of the street, things are not so calm, peaceful or understood. While Scott has lived a life of full acceptance Mark has not. Mark is a teenager now, taller than his mother, stronger than his father and faster than his little brother. Mark is profoundly autistic. He does not understand even basic social skills and cannot connect with his family or teachers. When the weather heats up, Mark strips. Mark not only strips, he longs to run in the sprinklers in underwear the way he did as a toddler. Mark does not understand this is a social “no-no”, nor does he understand the difference between his yard and lawn sprinkler or any other neighbor’s lawn and sprinkler. Water is water to Mark and it’s meant for fun, stripping off your jeans and running in your tightie-whities fun.
Mark’s parents have spent a life time barracking their once pretty suburban home. A six foot fence surrounds the property complete with gates that close off the driveway. City zoning ordinances would not allow a wooden privacy fence in the front yard, so chain link leaves the front open to prying eyes, and does little to keep Mark contained. Alarms blare from doors and windows. The front door has an intricate maze of different kinds of locks to keep Mark at bay long enough for someone to reach him before he escapes into the yard without an escort.
I pull up in Kate’s drive way behind a police car, and jump out. Mark knows me well, and struggles to get out of his dad’s arms to run to me. I say nothing to anyone but walk up to Mark and say, “Hey buddy, Mrs. Mallory called me and said you did some fence jumping today and got in some sprinklers down the street. I know, it’s summer and warm, and you and I like to play in the water don’t we. John is in the car do you want to go see John and sit with him? Mark repeats John and glances at me for a half a split second. My heart is breaking, in that split half a second Mark and I connect and I can feel all his wisdom and intelligence wrapped in that glance. Mark relaxes and stops fighting his dad. I smile to the police offer and say “this is the face of extreme autism, can we talk?”
The officer and I walk back toward the house. He tells me he has already heard the autism plea and saw the sign in the front yard that reads “Autism, one in 88.” He then goes on to tell me autism or not, this kid cannot run free and strip. I agree and ask him what he suggest a family do. The have already turned the house into a fortress, talked to all the neighbors about Marks condition, but at some point, you cannot have your hand on him 24-7. At some point these parents have to work, cook a meal, help their younger son with homework, and it only take a split second for someone like Mark to pull a Houdini and slip out of the house.
“He needs to be medicated or in a home for these kids.” The officer says.
“What do you suggest and what home, where, there are no services or homes here.”
“I don’t know, but I have already called CPS and maybe they will do something, it’s their job to deal with abuse and neglect.”
“Do you honestly see neglect here, and physically restraining Mark would be abuse, but hey it would keep the neighbors happy wouldn’t it.”
“I don’t know, my job is done, I got here when I was called, you’re the autism expert, you talk to CPS and work out something, all I know is, I better not get another call about this kid running through the neighborhood in his underwear again.”
I walked back to Kate and told her yes, CPS has been called again, and yes more than likely the case would be closed before she ever heard from them, but just to be sure I would make a call on her behalf. I told her to call me if she needed anything and that I was sorry it was summer and I was sorry Mark saw the neighbors sprinklers go off at 5 p.m. the way they would every summer day from now until fall. I offered to talk to the neighbors again and pass out autism information. I told her I would stick my head in at the police station and remind the Chief of Police where all the autism families live and to please let any new offices know if they had any issues to call me before calling CPS.
Two days later CPS called me to confirm the report of neglect of Marks care and I ask the worker to again review Marks’ plan of care, and school IEP with his parents. The case was swiftly closed that afternoon. I bought Mark a water snake that twisted and flipped spraying out water when it was attached to a water hose. Kate set it up in the fenced in back yard and dared anyone to deny her son some summer fun in the privacy of his own back yard.
What do you as a parent of a disabled child need to keep in your home should you find CPS knocking on your door?
- Keep a copy of all of your child’s medical information. If you can’t keep the actually records, keep a list of all doctors and hospitals where your child has been seen.
- Keep a copy of your child’s diagnose and what that means for your child. Autism for one child is not the same as autism for the next.
- Keep a copy of your child’s IEP, school records, or therapy sessions on hand. Never ever leave home without documentation of your child’s disability or needs on your person . I keep a card in my purse at all times with contact information of both my son’s doctor and people who know me in the event issues happen in a city were I am unknown and someone questions my actions or son’s actions.
Take a day to host a block party and invite the neighbors to get to know you and your child. Sometimes the best prevention is just letting people see into the windows of your life to know you have nothing to hide and are doing the best you can with the resources you have and the knowledge with which you are empowered.
Disclaimer: I am not a legal advisor nor am I a social worker. My contact with CPS has always been positive and helpful for both myself and for parents of special need children. It is because I have been called into question on the behalf of other parents that I am choosing to write on this subject matter. I know first hand how quickly parents of special needs children find themselves being investigated for failure to properly supervise educate, dress or even care for their special needs child. This post is meant to be a guide and answer questions concerning parental rights where children are concerned. All names, places and events have been changed to protect those involved.