Long Story Short: Getting Investigated by Child Welfare

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.

5 Comments on “Long Story Short: Getting Investigated by Child Welfare

  1. I’m not sure if hitting “like” is appropriate here, but I do “like” your perspective on how you handled the situation. And of course I always enjoy your writing. Sorry you had to endure such an event. It must have been terrifying!

    Systems in place to help, protect and govern are for the most part broken because they are so large. And there’s also the aspect of some neighbors being just a little bit too nosy. In all, I’m glad things eventually worked out for you since I’m aware some may not fair as well.

    Best wishes for a lovely weekend. 🙂

  2. I finally caught up on the last 4 entries. Have missed reading them…. and now so sure of why I need to keep up. We can relate to this one for sure… must talk soon! Oh! and I have a easy brisket recipe for you- unless that one you were doing was mine! ha ha Still waiting on a referral for a child but making great progress in connections and it seems that the Nica gov. is working in favor of adoption! Hope you are well and love your blog… although just getting back to it!


    • Are you coming our way this summer? We’re ready to get together a little Nica picnic if you are!

  3. Jan, you’re always so insightful, I really enjoy the things you write. I was a foster kid and I happen to know that some foster homes are HORRIBLE. I also know some are SAINTS. My older sister got placed permanently when I was 7 and she was 13 and I’ve always been jealous of that (and she’s MUCH more stable than I’ve ever been!). Yet, as a young adult, I also almost lost my kids due to my own sh*t. Bottom line for me is that I have very mixed feelings about “the system” (any of them)… I want them to help and protect, but I also know that there’s tons of flaws and I hate the power that they hold over others – especially when it’s people who just don’t get it. “Helping” infers a power relationship and usually is based on a “I know what’s best for you cuz I’m a professional.” Sorry, but for the most part, the people who provided the best “help” to me were peers and for the most part, the people who hurt me the most, were so-called “professionals.” Not exclusively, and I’d be remiss not to give credit to those professionals who DID help me tremendously, but all of us need to recoginize the SYSTEM is extremely flawed. My frustration is that I can’t seem to get any real systemic changes made…

    Anyways, again – thanks for sharing and I’m sorry for my rant 🙂

    • Karen – I am so glad that you read my blog and that you liked this one. i have the same ambivalent feelings about the system. As a society, we need to have an organized way to protect children. At the same time, there is a huge risk when some people are put in a position of so much power. I guess the experience of being investigated put me in a position I had never been in before — of being judged and evaluated with so much at stake. It makes a person feel guilty even when they’re not. I don’t think most people get it though — how it’s not so cut and dried a lot of the time. It’s the Bureau’s judgment call. Thanks for your comment — means a lot to me.

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