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The start to my day: “Hi Miranda, it’s Chief. I am sorry to have to tell you this, but a report has been filed stating that your home is unsafe for your children. The command will need to come perform a child welfare check today.”
This conversation began the worst and longest 30 hours of my life.
Bewildered, I made numerous phone calls to Fleet & Family Resource Center at our base and was finally connected to the case worker assigned to us. During our discussion, words like “child neglect” “Child Protective Services” and “uninhabitable environment” were thrown around. The case worker informed me that a maintenance worker from Housing had reported us because of a “strong odor” that emitted from the home, in which they believed came from animal waste. Because of this report, our case was labeled as “Possible Child Neglect.”
Hearing those words made me want to throw up. Even typing those words today makes me ill.
Prior to the shocking phone call from Chief, I was going about my day, being a responsible advocate and loving mom. I was adding thickener to my children’s drinks to make sure they would not choke. I was washing the umpteenth load of laundry to make sure we all had clean clothes. I was getting an update on our health insurance to verify we were able to keep our therapist after the TRIWEST transition. (You can read HERE about the long struggles that we’ve been facing for over six months to ensure that my son receives the best therapeutic care I could find him.) Every single day, I wage war to protect my children: reading contracts, researching disabilities, and advocating to make sure they have every opportunity afforded them. And in a split minute, a stranger accused me of neglect.
I spent the next few hours on the phone with our team of doctors, therapists, and respite providers, retelling my horrific story and asking if each one would write a letter on our behalf stating that my children were well cared for. I cannot begin to explain how humiliating it was to have to make these calls.
My brain fixated on the complaint: a strong odor emitted from the home, in which they believed came from animal waste. My two pets are well trained, well cared for, and so the allegation of pet odor didn’t seem possible. But then the light bulb came on; fecal smearing. My autistic son fecal smears. It is being addressed every single day, but I forgot – earlier on the day when the maintenance worker was there, my son had an accident. Although I promptly cleaned it up, I can see where a strong odor would be perceived. Once we knew the culprit of the “strong odor”, my husband and I went on the offense.
That afternoon, my husband’s brand new command (he had just checked in 3 days prior) arrived to inspect our home. What an introduction to the Leadership of the Command – “come-in-and-make-sure-my-children-are-living-in-a-safe-environment.” It was utterly humiliating.
Over the next 24 hours, my husband and I made calls to the FFSC case worker and Housing maintenance supervisors. We had to explain my son’s disabilities and struggles. We had to go in detail about his special needs, and how we – a strong, solid military family – don’t neglect our children. I had to divulge personal information about my son’s diagnosis and therapies, all because a worker took it upon himself to rain hell down on our family without asking a simple question.
After 30 hours of crisis mode, we received the call telling us that our case was dropped and they were sorry for the inconvenience.
Extremely relieved, I hugged my children tightly. But then, an overwhelming anger hit me. Why was this allowed to happen? Why was this worker allowed to make a complaint against us without ever telling his supervisor? Why can someone who has NO knowledge report us for neglect?
As my previous battle for not only my children, but other military dependents comes to a close, I feel a new battle brewing on the horizon. Our special military families should not have to fear the day a repairman comes to our homes in the event our child has an accident in their pants while learning to potty train. We should not need to worry that we will be reported because a lawn caretaker sees a parent carrying a child indoors that is mid-meltdown. When is enough, enough? Our families have enough to worry about and false accusations by untrained people shouldn’t be another.
Miranda is a Navy wife and mother to three kids: Hailey, Josie and Teague. All three have a swallowing disorder, Teague has ASD and Josie has Chiari. Miranda is the VP of Community Outreach for the Military Special Needs Network. You can contact her at MirandaFort@MilitarySpecialNeedsNetwork.com
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