I have been hesitant to write about our experience in Stuart for a couple of reasons. First, it is still very emotional for me and when I talk about it, I still get really upset. I don’t think I will ever not feel strongly about it, but I hope that at some point it doesn’t make me feel like crying. Too, I think that many people automatically judge you, assuming that it must have been with good reason, when they hear that CPS was investigating you. The experience has been such a huge ordeal in our lives though, that I feel it is important to include in our story.
Last month we were staying at the mooring field in Stuart when an anonymous fellow boater called Child Protective Services because our kids were on deck without life jackets. Our kids have life jackets and wear them whenever they are in the cockpit or on deck and we are underway, but it is perfectly legal not to wear the jackets when moored. CPS said they had to investigate regardless. They showed up with police and insisted on interviewing the girls very intrusively. They had originally asked to schedule an appointment to inspect the boat, assuring us that it was no big deal– they just wanted to see that there was food in the fridge, hot and cold running water, and a working toilet. Great! We have refrigeration, but it looks more like a picnic cooler; there’s cold water when we pump it and no hot water at all, and the head works a lot more like an outhouse than a restroom. After speaking to several lawyers who made it clear to us that CPS’ standard practice is to take kids first and ask questions later we decided not to show them without a warrant.
We were under no legal obligation to stay at that point, so we decided to get off of the mooring ball and out of town. As soon as we tried to leave we realized our depth sounder wasn’t working. We weren’t comfortable moving on without it, so we anchored across from the mooring field and made an appointment to get our bottom cleaned. For the cleaning, we had to tie up at the fuel dock of the same marina where they had tracked us down before, and we felt very much like fugitives. We didn’t even let the kids get off the boat.
While we were waiting across the river for our appointment, the CPS agent called the marina and was informed that we had moved on. She asked the manager if he was at all concerned about our children. This is one of the nice pieces that came from the experience. He told us that he’d given us a very good report and said he thought our children were lovely and well cared for. He also said that many of the other regulars would be willing to vouch for us and give good reports. It is nice to know that not everyone we met there was thinking negative things about our family.
After 3 weeks without hearing a word, the CPS agent finally called my dad, and asked him if he was concerned for the safety of his grandchildren. He gave a positive report and she told him that she was closing the case. Hopefully that’s what has happened, though we’ve still not heard back from her ourselves. The interviews with the girls didn’t turn up anything so we are optimistic.
The whole experience has been very taxing and emotional. It is so scary knowing that someone can come in and make a credible threat of taking your children from you on the anonymous say-so of any random person. It is something I have never thought could happen to us, yet it very nearly did. It has definitely had negative side effect on the girls too. I’m worried about what people think of us. The other day Lorelei was wearing pajama pants with her clothes, and I asked her to change. In such a sweet sad way she said ‘I thought I looked cute’. She did. She looked like she dressed herself. I just didn’t want anyone to think I didn’t have clothes for my children and they always had to wear pajamas. I’m so sad I made her feel like she didn’t make a good choice.
After having an up-close look at the CPS system, I believe it is seriously broken. They waste so many resources investigating situations that are not in need of help, and causing trauma to healthy families when their goal should be to stop trauma. If you are not completely positive that a child is being neglected or abused, please don’t call the state. If the people that reported us had just stopped by for a chat and expressed their concerns, I’m sure we could have worked it out. By calling CPS you are saying that you believe the children would be better off in a foster care system than with their family. If you truly care, offer your help or support and not just your judgement.