When the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare comes to your door, they don’t look happy and cheery like they do in the picture. And the people they’re coming to visit aren’t smiling either.
Child welfare workers have the legal authority to immediately detain a child if there is a determination that the child’s living situation presents a danger of abuse.
I know this because one day I came home from a meeting and there was a business card stuck in the screen door on my front porch. Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, it said. Call this number immediately scrawled on the back.
It’s impossible to describe the level of panic that such a business card induces. Almost feral. What happened? How do I protect my family? What’s going to happen?
Fleeing becomes a feasible option in one’s mind almost immediately. Fear—- flight. That’s what they say, right? But fine, upstanding people who haven’t done anything wrong don’t flee. They straighten their ties, make a plan, try to remember their lawyer’s phone number. They sit at the dining room table, point at family pictures, offer coffee. Educated, refined, in control, aware, able to address the situation, capable. Leave us alone. We have everything under control.
The Bureau did leave us alone after that meeting although we had occasion to meet again a year or so later. Truth and courage go a long way in situations like this — that and having a college degree, a husband in a suit, and a lawyer on speed dial. I wonder what would’ve happened without those things. I don’t make accusations. I just wonder.
What I learned from this is an amorphous, shadowy thing. It’s a feeling that I have for people who have been the object of inquiry and investigation, whose parenting has been called into question, who have been threatened with the removal of their children. To say “it’s complicated” is to give the feeling an undeserved level of simplicity.
What happened to me, happens to people everyday in Milwaukee. It’s not unjustified either. Usually the Bureau is called because someone suspects something very bad is happening. I don’t fault the Bureau. I just truly know what it is like seeing the card in the screen door. And I feel for people in that situation. That’s all. I just feel for them.