When I Was Reported to Social Services
The day I was reported to social services, I remember sobbing as I attempted to hide out of view with my two children in the ball pool of a local play centre. It felt worse to me than someone wrongly reporting me to the police. I may not have been physically arrested, but mentally I felt shocked and shackled. How could this have happened to me? Worst still, I didn’t even know who had such an issue with my parenting because it’s all confidential. I’d received the call shortly before nursery pick-up while jogging around the park seven years ago with my baby in the running buggy, and my other daughter at nursery, and I had already promised her a trip to the local soft play. The phone call from social services stopped me in my tracks. All I remember them saying was: “Somebody has called us, saying you may need some support.”
But all I could hear in my panic-stricken head was that they were social workers and immediately I assumed they wanted to take the kids off me.
The voice on the other end of the line was calm and reassuring, however, but that didn’t help much at the time. The rest of the night passed in a blur as I did my best to keep the “mask of motherhood” smile on my face, occasionally bursting into tears when I couldn’t hold them back any longer. While feeding my baby to sleep that night, with her elder sister snuggled next to us, I felt a deep sense of panic rising up in me as I lay there in the dark. Was I parenting wrong? Was I so “bad” that the social services were now going to remove my babies?
The next day, I kept replaying the conversation in my head. Someone, it seemed, had reported me for seeming “overtired” as I was still breastfeeding both children — who were aged 3 and 1 by now. I didn’t know who it was, and I still don’t, because I had received so much criticism about the fact that I was naturally weaning my daughters from “friends” on social media as well as passers-by if I breastfed my kids in public. I was tired like any parent and if anything less tired because I co-slept with my children so I wasn’t up and down all night. They wouldn’t give me many details, but I know this stemmed from a person who had criticized me for breastfeeding.
In the cold light of day, and thinking more clearly, I decided to call social services myself to find out what was happening. The person I spoke with reassured me that it was standard procedure to look into any reports they received. Their initial response would be to simply contact some of the playgroups I attended. I felt so ashamed that a number of playgroup leaders would discover I was in “trouble.” The social worker I spoke with kept trying to allay my fears, reassuring me nobody was talking about removing my children. She told me she was there to offer any support I needed, but I found it hard to trust what she was saying. The service began the process of reaching out to the various groups I was a part of, and I vowed not to return to any of them.
But then, something amazing happened two weeks later. The bottom didn’t fall out of my world. The social worker who had been assigned to my case and speaking to my playgroups commended me for how much I was doing for my children.
This support gave me the confidence to return to those groups. It took me another week to recover, but I plucked up the courage to go back. I knew I had to bite the bullet because my daughter loved that environment and so did I.
I was petrified before entering each group, thinking everyone would look at me.
My fears weren’t realized, quite the opposite. Nobody said anything until I would check with each group leader that they were still OK with me coming.
What had initially felt like a harsh spotlight on my “weird” parenting methods, actually ended up putting me into the limelight. Each leader recognized what I was doing well, and my love for my children and they gave me the confidence that I wasn’t such a bad mum after all.
Throughout that time, I was struck by the compassion of the social workers I dealt with. Most of them do such a hard job, and there’s such a lot of stigma attached to the work they do. Yes, there are some awful ones but I have been fortunate enough to only experience the majority of good ones.
In the years since that phone call shook my world, and now as a single mother, I’ve come to view that most of the social services are professional allies who are there to support families rather than remove children.
Image via contributor