Usually I'm on the other side of Child Protective Services. When the foster parent becomes aware of a situation neglect/abuse has already occurred, been reported, and investigated. While it is awful to hear about the reasons children come into care, what's even worse is being the one to witness and have to report the neglect or abuse.
Making the decision to call in suspected neglect or abuse is difficult for most people. If you have a relationship with the family, reporting may seem like betrayal. It's easy to second-guess what you saw or wonder if it's severe enough to merit a CPS investigation.
I was in this position today. I suspected an acquaintance of mine was using drugs in front of their children. I HATE confrontation. I was standing in the doorway of this persons house, marijuana smoke billowing towards me while the other person in the home frantically sprays Lysol everywhere. I thought about the children in the home- the ones being sprayed with Lysol as I made my decision. I said what I had originally gone over there to say and did not acknowledge the illegal activity that was clearly going on here. When I left and got to the driveway I stopped and thought for about 20min. Did I want to upset this person? Were the children really in danger? Did CPS even care about weed? Obviously this person would know I called since they knew what I just saw, and then CPS shows up at their door. Wouldn't it seem sneaky to be nice to their face then call behind their back? Even though I am super uncomfortable being on this side of foster care, my first priority is always the same. To keep kids safe. I had to do something uncomfortable because it was the right choice.
I called my acquaintance and asked them to talk to me outside. I explained to them that I smelled marijuana, and was concerned for the safety of the children in the house. I let them know that I didn't want to call CPS, but had to because I'm a mandated reporter and I love the children in this family. I explained that a CPS report is not about me feeling uncomfortable or the parent being offended- it's about the best thing for the kids. I said that I was talking to them first because I didn't want to be two-faced, I wanted to be up front.
Then I called our local CPS line and told them everything I had just seen. The dispatcher offered to let the call be anonymous, which was unnecessary since I already identified myself to the parent. She asked if I thought the police needed to come immediately or if the children would be OK until the investigator got there. She said I would get a call tomorrow morning to review what I saw with the investigator that is assigned to the case. She asked for any info I had including everyone's full name and the children's ages. She wanted to know the relationships between the adults and kids in the house. She asked for their address and phone number as well as mine.
The downside to warning the parent of my impending call was the chance that they would clean up and toss anything illegal before the investigator arrived. The upside was that my acquaintance came outside one more time before I left and said they understood why I had to call and that they weren't mad at me.
I still haven't shaken the headache I got from the whole ordeal and I feel sad that any of it happened. I can't imagine how much more terrible I would feel though if I hadn't called and something had happened to those kids- or the adults for that matter. I don't know what happened when CPS got to the house this evening or what will be done to protect the kids, but I know I made the right choice.
Every state has local numbers you can call to report suspected neglect or abuse. If you do not have that number, 1-800-4-A-CHILD is the national child abuse hot line. They can take calls from all 50 states and immediately send them to the local agency.
My advise is to follow your gut in situations like these. It is better that a parent be inconvenienced over an unsubstantiated complaint that for a child to be harmed because no one wanted to rock the boat. It is not the job of the general public to determine if alarming behavior is abuse or not- that's what Child Protective Services is for. It is our job to report anything we see that puts a child in danger.