Massachusetts State House
Thursday, Jan 23, 2014
A quirky and biased report by Julie Greene
I heard that this meeting was to take place only two days ago. I was determined to show up. I didn’t think too many of us from the antipsychiatry movement were going to be there, since there wasn’t much online discussion and planning. My own personal commitment to ending what I call overmanagement, forced and inhumane care, and cruelty to children is strong enough so that I would brave any weather to get to the State House on Thursday.
I had no clue what I would encounter. I was a little scared. I heard anyone could show up, including those of us that weren’t journalists and had no legal connection to DCF. Anyone was welcome. I had to pass through a security screening much like those at airports but there was far less pressure and no long wait. It’s not like the folks entering the State House are embarking on long journeys with overstuffed carry-ons. I had my cell phone with me and I feared it might be confiscated because it has a camera. But no, we were simply reminded to keep our cell phones turned off so that we wouldn’t disturb the meeting. I’m so accustomed to dumb rules in mental hospitals that assume we patients are in kindergarten. Guess I forgot that in the real world, we’re all adults here. The occasional accidental ring would hardly be noticed. As soon as I walked in, I knew the meeting was going to be tense.
I was told 11am. I arrived at the Gardner Auditorium 10:40. I’ve never been there before. I found an aisle seat. I wasn’t necessary to be able to read the text screen where everything spoken could be read. Acoustics were fine, the microphones worked, and I heard every word.
I found my notebook and two pencils. I had to reassure myself that I wasn’t no longer on a mental ward, and no “staff” was going to confiscate my favorite writing tools. I opened the notebook. Blank pages.
Verbatim, as I wrote:
“I have seen David Silver, said hello to him and he remembered me. Right now, he is speaking to a journalist from Channel 7. The journalist has a large tripod in his hand. David showed the journalist a photo of his son, Faith, who died at the age of five. I do not see the photo myself, I only see David’s grief. “I lost my son.”
David asks the journalist to photograph this photo. I’m not sure what’s happening, if the journalist said he would speak to David later, or if David just heard one more excuse.
I say, NO MORE. Why is this man being persecuted?
I know. Someone pinned a label on him: “mental illness.”
Here is a man who loved his son. His son died at the hands of the institutions that stole the boy from his parents. Show me this so-called “mental illness.” I only see a grieving man, a man for whom I feel so much admiration. There is nothing worse than losing your child. David is well-composed. If it were me, I know I’d hardly be able to contain myself at this moment. Here in the Gardner Auditorium, State House, Boston, the lives of thousands of kids are on the line.
Many people are sitting here, chattering. Not too many folks are here yet. 10:55. I glance around, looking for anyone I can recognize.
I have come here because of my deep commitment to end psychiatric abuse. To end the madness of forced care. To unlock all locked doors. Maybe that’s a high ideal, but I believe in ambition.
I have been inside many locked wards. These aren’t luxury spas, hardly. Inside those wards, I have seen horror scenes. I surely remember those things I have seen. Today, I continue to write about it. I don’t plan to shut up.
I have been speaking, just now, to Kevin Hall. He has printed up signs. He gave me one that says, “DCF & Boston Children’s psych unit kidnap and drug children. Free Justina.”
I have seen in my life many similar kidnappings. I watched in horror in 1983 when they took a 15-year-old boy from a community hospital, and shipped him off to Vermont State Hospital. I had only been on the ward a week or so. His crime? He didn’t want to live with his parents. He tried to run away. His name was Richard.
How many kids dream of running away? We grew up on Oliver Twist, hailed as hero for running away. When I was 15, I looked up to kids who had the guts to do what Richard did.
Richard comforted me when I cried. Many times, he assured me that everything was going to be okay. I was 25 years old. This generous, kind, empathetic boy was a far better listener than just about any “mental health professional” I’d ever met. One night, they took Richard away. I have no clue how long he was kept at Vermont State Hospital. I cried aloud. I was told to shut up.
I was fed up with the staff’s insistence that what happened to Richard was “for his own good.”
I suppose it took guts, at that moment, to do what I did. I had my cigarettes and I was alone. I ate five of them, filters and all, and washed the bitter tobacco down with a glass of water.
Later, I was sick. I threw up. This was one of those rare times that my stomach rejected what I’d put into it. I guess that, too, made a statement. I was told I ate my cigarettes “for attention.”
I think it’s about time someone listened and cared about young people. Over three decades have passed since then. Is anyone out there? Does anyone care?
Today, my kidneys don’t work well because of psychiatric drugging. As I sit here, my legs are cramping up. I am scared that if the cramping is too painful, I will need to jump out of my seat to stop my muscles. This happens because my kidneys can no longer excrete potassium properly. I am often scared about my heart.
The hearing has begun.”
Here, I had to write quickly so much is abbreviated in order to get the words down faster. I knew once I got home I could type it all up. I have 41 pages of notes.
Rep. David Linsky was chairing this meeting. Olga Roche, Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, introduced herself. Quickly, I realized that Roche and her DCF are under more fire than I had originally thought.
Roche said was that DCF exists to protect kids and to strengthen families. She went on to give her background, stating that she grew up in Puerto Rico and is a social worker. She stated that strengthening families was her passion, mentioning her own background of strong extended family.
Immediately, she mentioned Jeremiah Oliver by name, though she had stated just previously that it wasn’t the intention of this meeting to focus on individual children. Jeremiah, a very young child being served out of the Fitchburg office, disappeared, that is, DCF lost track of the boy and now no one knows where he is. Not only that, but something about his circumstances leads many involved to believe Jeremiah is at serious risk. I’m guessing Jeremiah’s story has been made far more public than DCF is comfortable with. DCF considered this young boy’s family to be abusive, without question, and already they fear that Jeremiah may no longer be alive. Everyone, not just Linsky, is at this point demanding answers from Roche. I’d like to know, too. What on earth happened?
Roche assured everyone that yes, the DCF workers who saw Jeremiah and his family had certainly allowed this kid fall between the cracks. These personnel, Roche tells us, behaved badly on the job. Following Jeremiah’s disappearance, DCF removed those workers from their positions.
Linsky and others grill her: Why afterward? Who was overseeing these lazy workers and why did this slacking go on for so long and and not get caught until tragedy occurred?
So Roche goes on to say there are four categories of families that are especially concerning: those that have already been shown to be abusive, those in which there is substance abuse, those families with “mental health issues,” and those with “unresolved childhood trauma.”
Here, I’m going to delve into some commentary of my own, not that I haven’t been doing so all along. I question all of this. Sure, these families that fall into these statistical categories may in fact be statistically speaking, ones we should be concerned about. But how do they end up categorized like this, and who assesses them? Are these determinations correct, or off base?
As I see it, if the assessment is incorrect to begin with, then the family is immediately brought into suspicion for no reason. I cannot imagine how much pressure is on these parents, always put on the defensive, forced to “prove themselves.” Something is seriously wrong here because I honestly believe it’s far too easy to be placed into DCF care for wrong reasons or no reason.
Abuse is reported randomly, or not at all. We all know this. Some abuse goes on for over a decade and no one says a word. Other families get profiled. Economics plays a part here. What about racial profiling as well? DCF comes in following this report and a specialist investigates. How impartial is this specialist?
No one who is human, even the best of journalists, is impartial. I don’t write impartially, for one thing, nor does the best of journalists. I don’t make effort to hold back what I feel inside because I’m not a journalist. I’m a creative writer, hardly cut out for journalism. I write memoir.
No one can write entirely unbiased writing. Many people work difficult jobs where they must act and record what they observe without interjecting any judgment altogether, or the least amount possible. Legally, this is required of them. What about DCF’s investigative workers.?
Allow me to divulge further for a sec. We’d assume a highly trained doctor who has been working in the field for a long time will see a patient’s body for what it is, without judgment. They go to school to learn this, I hope. However, even doctors read into a situations and see things that don’t exist.
I went to a doctor I’d never seen before. While in the examining room, my lips felt painfully dry. I licked them to moisten them. I wished I hadn’t forgotten my lip balm that day. The doctor asked about my background. I told him I’d taken antipsychotic medication in the past. Immediately, he assumed I had Tardive Dyskinesia in my lips. I don’t, though. Days later, I found that he’d written the derogatory term, “lip smacking” in his notes, which I found online.
Do you see what happened? He heard, “antipsychotics,” then immediately created a scenario in his mind. This is a highly respected doctor with a lot of seniority. What about the less experienced “social workers” that DCF has working for them?
What is the criteria for placing clients in the second category, substance abuse? I fear that many might get their kids taken away from them if they are present at a party where drugs are also present. Others may drink quite a bit or do other drugs and are never called substance abusers. To what extent is this substance abuse affecting the client’s ability to be a good parent? Secondly, what’s to prevent profiling and false assumptions that their problem is affecting the kids more than it is?
Of course, we have seen incidences when substance abuse appears socially acceptable. We hear shocking stories where we see not one person, but many turning a blind eye in these situations, in particular in middle and upper class families, which aren’t already targeted.
What about this “mental issues” category? I’ve certainly written quite a bit about how someone can end up being labeled “mentally ill” without any logical cause. There is no definitive measurable test for mental illness. Whether or not you have one is a matter of one doctor’s opinion. The determination that a person is “mentally ill,” no matter how quirky or straight-looking that person is, certainly causes the person permanent harm. All you have to do is to show up at a shrink’s office, and automatically, you get a disease pinned on you. Otherwise, the shrink won’t be able to get insurance companies to pay up.
I cannot see anything definitive or measurable in determining that a family is affected by “unresolved childhood trauma.” Who decides just how unresolved the trauma is? And what constitutes trauma? This seems to be the most vague category of all.
Clearly, anyone doing work with families said to be “at risk” has a huge responsibility. The worker is deciding a child’s fate. Every rung of the DCF ladder contributes to this decision. Accuracy and unbiased observation are essential.
At this point in the meeting, Roche brought up the “technology problem” that DCF seems to be having. Someone said that work conditions at DCF were poor. The buildings were run-down and equipment wasn’t up-to-date. However, Linsky pointed out the obvious: With quality staff, why should technology and a snazzy building be so important? Roche pointed out, countering him, that an improved computer system would allow workers a sneak peek into the dirty underwear drawer of every DCF family member down to the family dog. She stated that surely, DCF needed funding, because fancy computers were surely the answer.
DCF removes children who are abused or neglected, Roche said. They “assist” parents if the need arises on temporary basis if the parents cannot care for the kids. She went on to claim that Massachusetts was third in the country for its track record. Which track record, and whose statistics? I waited for an answer. If Massachusetts is third best, doesn’t this mean other states were far worse horror stories?
Again, Roche stated that she couldn’t comment on specific cases because of strict confidentiality laws. But of course, she knows a lot more than the general public about what really went wrong in the dealings with Jeremiah Oliver and his family. Linsky and others dug right in and pummeled Roche about Jeremiah despite her efforts to deflect this questioning.
Jeremiah’s disappearance indicates both good and bad for DCF, Linsky said. He pointed out that DCF did a good job, perhaps, until the family relocated and was transferred to the Fitchburg office. Linksy pointed out that the DCF workers work hard and agreed that the lousy working conditions made any job tough. He said the workers clearly are overloaded with needless paperwork. Still, he asked, “How on earth do you lose track of a young child?”
I can answer that myself. I was a CBFS client for two years. I knew these weren’t real social workers that came to my home. Nor were they psychiatric nurses. Does anyone really believe that in this day and age, the state is going to allocate enough money to send qualified people to visit the homes of poor mental patients once a week?
The “chronics” are especially seen as societal waste, not much more. We are best off “managed” and kept out of trouble until we die. What else are they going to do with us? We’ll never get well no matter what they do. This message rings loud and clear, even to patients.
And what about their collective attitude toward their at-risk kids? Is it similar? Are they only managing these unfortunate kids, assuming that these kids be populating the country’s jails and mental institutions in a few years, no matter what DCF does?
We unfortunates aren’t that unobservant. It doesn’t take long before a person feels those low expectations deep in their souls. The kids are twice as perceptive as adults. No, none of us throwaways are wanted, cherished people, not on the part of these institutions. We’re “cases.” The very presence of these workers, those that check up on those targeted, is gravely insulting.
There were three workers over a period of two years that I was a client of the state. My first worker didn’t even bother showing up most of the time. I didn’t need her for anything, but for me, trying to work around her unreliability was exasperating and inconvenient.
Now, i am hearing at this meeting that Jeremiah’s worker was also the irresponsible type. Jeremiah’s worker made an actual face-t0-face visit in May 2013. This was the last time, according to all sources. Then, nothing.
I’m not surprised. Unreliability is a given in social services. I have learned to expect no more than minimal effort. Somehow, the fact that I ended up with this supposed “mental illness” meant that this bare minimal was my deserved fate. This is grilled into us, and I assume a similar cloud of drudgery, “This is what you deserve,” is hovering over the lives of these targeted families.
The mental health field is prime breeding ground for laziness. Who are we “clients”? If we speak out that our workers aren’t doing their jobs, who will believe us? I tried to speak out and here’s what happened: I wrote my worker’s boss an e-mail threatening to report the agency’s negligence to the Department of Mental Health. Shortly after, I was “sectioned” by CBFS for no concrete reason. By this, I mean I was literally forced into a useless, wasteful hospitalization. My worker’s boss came to my home along with my worker, and instead of legally writing a Section 12, which would have gone on record, he stated that if I didn’t voluntarily show up at a hospital, he’d call the cops. I knew he could legally have me sectioned because he was an actual licensed social worker. Was I at all surprised to learn, weeks later, that he had been taken off the job?
Linksy, Roche, and everyone acknowledged that kids under five aren’t in school yet, meaning that they aren’t nearly as visible as those that are. The structure of school demands accountability.
Linsky demanded to know whether the worker had physically seen Jeremiah. Had anyone even bothered to look into this employee’s records to see whether she had seen him? Roche confessed that the neither the worker nor that worker’s supervisor had been doing their jobs. Roche stated that the supervisor took no action, though she was well aware that the worker wasn’t working.
Not that I’m surprised here, either. My first worker, whom I’ll call J, was showing up at least an hour late if she showed up at all. Often, she called and said, “It’s too late. I had an emergency, so I’ll have to meet with you next week.” I learned that these “emergencies” were most likely nonexistent. Instead of an actual visit, J phoned me, asking a quick, “Are you okay?” No matter what, I’d answer “yes” because J’s visits inconvenienced me so much. J would then say, “You don’t need me then. I’ll come some other time.”
There was nothing helpful about J’s visits. She even picked up personal calls on her cell phone during her visits with me, speaking at length with her own family members. I’d sit and wait till she was done talking, but inside, I was fed up. Was there anything I could do to change this?
December came, and J announced that she was going on a six-week vacation. “If you need anything, call the office,” she said, while flying out the door. She didn’t leave the office number. Six weeks later, she was a no-show on her due date. A week later I was determined to get rid of her.
After that, J took extended sick leave for many weeks. Funny, she told me the day she left for vacation that she “expected” to be sick after her return. I knew her supposed disease was planned out.
One day after I’d had J as a worker for about a year, her supervisor called me and asked me if anyone had seen me all those months. He knew J was a slacker, but was he aware of the extent of it? Did he even care? He came to my home and met with me, saying he’d deliberately assigned J to me because she knew nothing about my particular issue, anorexia nervosa. He said he didn’t want CBFS to “fix” me. That, he said, was someone else’s job. He described J as “no-nonsense.” Apparently “no work,” either.
I knew, however, that this supervisor had assigned to me quite randomly. She had openings. I had heard from an outside source that J was the worst worker they had. Her track record was poor and there had been prior complaints. There was no way around it. When the supervisor told me I would be reassigned, I hoped that the next person was more reliable. I knew that CBFS regarded me as someone they didn’t have to worry about, so long as I don’t smell and I pay my rent.
Before long, the supervisor made every effort to get me to agree to take J back. I knew in his eyes, I was less at risk and didn’t need someone who did actual work. I wouldn’t budge, though. I’m grateful to be alive to tell this story.
I turned my full attention back to the meeting. Roche stated that three workers at the Fitchburg office were terminated. These were the caseworker, who was supposed to be visiting Jeremiah but didn’t, the supervisor, who was also not doing her job, and the person overseeing the supervisor who didn’t check up on any of her employees.
Linsky wasn’t satisfied. He said he was not only deeply concerned about the one child that disappeared, but about every single child who is served out of this Fitchburg office. “What were these workers doing?” he demanded. “Anything?”
Roche began to explain that the workers didn’t have proper technology. Linsky said, “But what about people not doing their job?”
I ask myself who will keep track of lost children, of lost people. Parents, ideally, keep track of their kids. Most do a great job. These workers aren’t nearly as invested in the kids. Of course not. These aren’t their own kids.
Roche said 78% of the children go home eventually, and “do well.” Fewer than 2% return to DCF after their cases close. Linsky said, “The object is to keep kids alive and healthy.” No numbers were going to impress him. Thirty-six thousand kids are in DCF “care.” Roach assured everyone that every single one of these kids has been visited.
Every single one? And Jeremiah was the one exception? Did anyone really believe this? I’m sure this agency’s records are so slipshod that no one can tell one way or another if every single kid has indeed been seen.
Linsky asked what happens if a family relocates or the child is relocated and then is assigned to a different office, which was what happened with Jeremiah. Roche responded that the new worker reviews the case, the child’s stats, and all past records available, and that this is supposed to be done thoroughly. Again, she said this was never done. There was no ongoing communication with the office at Jeremiah’s previous location, Roche said.
I was dying to raise my hand and ask a question at that point, but they weren’t taking audience questions. I would have asked the following:
On what basis are these workers who do the home visits hired? What education is required? What prior training to the workers have?
Roche had repeatedly used the term “social workers” to describe these weekly people. This terminology was deceptive, a lie. I’m certain, though, the main basis for hiring in these agencies that do home visits is the worker’s possession of a car and cell phone. These reliability of these two essential pieces of fancy equipment, car and cell phone, matters more than the personal caliber of these workers. I know many social service agencies even provide the cars to workers that they can then keep for personal use.
I would have asked, if I had a chance, if these so-called social workers actually provide a service, or do they only monitor activity and write reports?
This question got answered without my having to ask it. Precisely, the workers provide the following: They assess the family’s need, doing a “comprehensive assessment,” and then “make referrals.” They connect the needy family to community services, such as mental health care, child care, and ensure that there is effective communication with the child’s school. Apparently the initial in-depth assessment done by someone other than the weekly worker. I was unsure about what the educational requirements were for this other person. Was she, too, a fake social worker?
Then, Roche stated something about neglect. She swiftly mentioned “medical neglect” but quickly brushed the matter aside.
Someone asked what track Jeremiah was on, but Roche couldn’t answer this question for confidentiality reasons. Someone else stated that it that DCF seemed to put “strengthening families” too far above “protecting children.” But was this only a matter of rhetoric? Is DCF really making kids a priority?
If this state agency is anything like the one I had actual dealings with, the answer is an emphatic “No.” The workers who came to visit didn’t have my welfare in mind. They came to placate me, to keep me silent. It didn’t take long before I began to question why they were there at all.
I have an eating disorder. I am thin, and of course there’s nothing wrong with that, but I have, in the past, starved myself till near death. Didn’t it make sense that whomever they sent should know something about eating disorders? Two out of the three workers that came knew absolutely nothing. I’m no exception here. Most everyone in CBFS care that I know who has an eating disorder has informed me that sadly, they, too, are in the same boat. It’s a rather fruitless task to try to educate their workers about eating disorders, as these workers are unreliable and lazy on the whole.
This leads me to my next imagined question, which I believe didn’t get answered in the discussion:
Are workers knowledgeable in the specific challenges that families face? For instance, if a client is affected by Multiple Sclerosis, does DCF send a worker who has knowledge of MS? Or, say, heroin addiction? Or are these workers assigned at random, based on who has openings? Does DCF send the lazy ones to the “easy” cases, as was done rather deliberately to me?
Was anyone even listening to Jeremiah and his family? I’m sure they were clueless.
I’d love to think that some very smart person knew how to get Jeremiah away from DCF clutches. I’d love to think that somehow, Jeremiah ended up at a loving community. I dream of that idyllic commune somewhere. After all, I grew up in the 1960’s. I’d love to think that right now, little Jeremiah is playing freely in rolling green fields, eating healthy food that’s grown right there, surrounded by kids and adults that cherish him and encourage him to grow.
At that moment, I felt tearful, but no tears came, not yet. I thought of little Jeremiah, though I couldn’t summon up a photo of him in my mind. I felt that I could speak to him. I saw him at bat. I saw that one pitch come toward him. Before my mind’s eye, little Jeremiah hit that home run every kid dreams of.
Am I alone here? Don’t we all wish the best for all kids? That no kid ever has to fight to survive or to be heard, or have his basic needs met?
I come up with straws. No one knows what became of Jeremiah, the kid DCF lost track of. They say they fear his fate has not been good. He is under five years old.
Roche was asked about the role of the schools. How does the school identify kids that have problems? She stated that teachers and principals have special training sessions where they learn to spot family problems. DCF personnel regularly attend these trainings.
Which DCF workers attend? One or two, or the whole fleet? It sounded like the schools were doing actual work, and DCF was heavily reliant on them. DCF handed the job onto the schools after these children turned five. It’s called passing the buck. I know it well. It means there’s no communication and everyone assumes the other guy is doing the job. Who gets blamed for screwups? In fact, every attempt is made to put as much blame as possible on the clients themselves, so that the hired support people can come clean.
Roche mentioned the important role of the school nurse. Wasn’t there still only one nurse per school? Or has that changed since I was a kid? How can this nurse keep track of every single student? Guidance counselors, too, have their hands full.
I was a troubled teen. Many teens are troubled. There was no nurse to go to, no counselors. Us troubled teens sure knew where to go to get love and understanding. We went to our peers.
They spoke of training just then, the same question I had in my head. Of course, I knew the answer already, having been a client of the state myself. They aren’t social workers at all. They have bachelor’s degrees according to Roche, in social work or a related field. I’ll bet many are hired without that required bachelor’s degree. Licensing in social work requires not only a specialized master’s degree, but extensive supervised field training.
Roche stated that the “trainers” had specialized expertise and were experienced in various topics.
So the “worker,” that is, this person who may or may not have a bachelor’s degree, has a 30-day orientation period, then she is assigned six families. A month later she is assigned six more. After that, she handles the full caseload of 18 families. Roche stated that the screeners who do initial assessments are separate from these fake social workers and come from some other background. She didn’t specify what their qualifications had to be. She went on to say that some families come to DCF on very short-term basis and then they are on their own.
What about the workers’ sick time and vacation time? These workers are unionized. No one can convince me that this is any excuse for anything. They get benefits and they’re impossible to fire. This was that ideal job for many of them. How handy it must be to land a job in mental health right after college, knowing you don’t even have to work.
There are some, such as my second CBFS worker, who was indeed dedicated. She was assigned to me only briefly. I knew she was exasperated that the others weren’t doing what they were supposed to do. She took up the slack for other workers and also for her lazy supervisor. It was no secret that he wasn’t doing his job.
I am convinced that these workers, such as this second one I had, are the exceptions. She was that rare one with drive and belief in what she’s doing. The question of burnout was raised at the meeting. I can answer that myself.
One day, my second worker didn’t show up at her usual 9am Monday appointment with me. I waited in bewilderment. She’d been reliable so far, but now what? Finally, I got a call from her at noon. She’d overslept and forgotten to come. I asked myself how someone who worked her hours could possibly still be asleep at noon. The grogginess in her voice spoke like that picture worth a thousand words. Next week, she failed to show or call. A few days later the new supervisor who had replaced the old one called me to say they had no clue where my case worker was. Apparently my worker had vanished into thin air. Then I got a call maybe a week later saying worker number two was on extensive sick leave. Before long this supervisor met with me and informed me that I now had a new worker. The supervisor assured me, telling me that “We’ll do better by you this time.”
How many times have I heard that empty promise? It always led to gross failure. I felt a deep sense of tragedy over worker #2, that one rare one that had any knowledge whatsoever about anorexia. I know she did go back and was working for CBFS. My new worker, G, was fresh out of college. She did indeed what schiz and bipolar meant. She had no knowledge of eating disorders. During her visits with me, her attention was divided between our conversation and the lure of her cell phone. She usually cut our visits short. It’s not pleasant knowing you are low on CBFS’s priority list, or anyone’s list. I put up with G, though, telling myself she was a cute, young, innocent girl. I felt sorry for her.
As the weeks went on, I questioned more and more what this state agency was supposed to be doing for me. So far, they’d been an inconvenience and more time-consuming than anything else. It was a former herapist’s idea that I should have this CBFS. The therapist mentioned a few times that she’d put me into CBFS so that she could arrange a smooth transfer of me to the state hospital. More than once, this therapist told me having CBFS in place meant that less red tape for therapists, and patients could easily be shipped off to state hospitals or to state-run group homes. I relayed this to the CBFS supervisor, who assured me that my therapist’s crazed threats were unfounded.
If CBFS does the same thing DCF does, that is, they “make referrals,” then something was sorely lacking in this “referral” process. I repeatedly reported abuse by practitioners I’d dealt with, yet CBFS did nothing. I never got one referral from them. Worker #3 once spent a few minutes online and printed out a couple of pages from a health plan website, and brought them to me. These were pages I could easily access myself. Still, I thanked her because she’d done something instead of nothing.
Every single effort made to find treatment for myself, I did entirely without the assistance of CBFS. I made hundreds of calls. Where was CBFS and why didn’t they keep listings of therapists that serve low income people? I even tried contacting the local Crisis Team once and arranged for emergency help. They, too, screwed up. When their shift changed at 3pm, paperwork they had about all plans that I had arranged with them had been lost. Only hours had passed, yet they had no record of their ever having spoken to me.
I asked myself if I really should be at all involved in these state-run services. What were they there for? Wouldn’t I be better off without them?
So DCF is requesting $20 million. I assume that if they are anything like CBFS, they will take the money, buy this technology they claim to need, and still be lazy as ever.
After Jeremiah was transferred to the Fitchburg office when his family relocated, there was no communication between the old office and the Fitchburg office. The worker failed to do this. Not only that, but this worker already had a poor track record.
Another person questioned Roche as to whether these workers are audited regularly. Are these internal audits? Roche said that after Jeremiah disappeared, strict audits were put in place. At this point, the majority of people in the room were horrified. Why did DCF wait till tragedy struck to do anything at all?
There are clients of the state and clients of any institution that become victims in such a manner that they are essentially sacrificial lambs. My observations are keen because I write memoir. I was fortunate enough to take my education as creative writer to the master’s level. I saw what was happening to me, right before my eyes. Maybe I should have been blind to it, but in this world, there’s no “should have.” I went on a rampage. I starved myself because, as I put it, no one gave a shit. Things were seriously falling apart for me. I was able to step outside myself even in my starved state, enough to know I was falling between the cracks. Even when I got to a point of delirium, I was immensely frustrated with a system that sorely fails its most vulnerable citizens. I wondered if I would die and be another one sacrificed, one whose death wakes people up to what was truly going on. I asked myself why I had to die to save the others, why I had to die to make my voice heard.
One night, I dreamed that someone distributed an e-mail saying I had perished. In my dream, I sat at my computer, opened personal e-mail, only to find my own death announcement. Was this how low my life had become?
August 12, 2013, my CBFS worker arrived on time. In fact, this was the one time she did. She dialed 911 not long after her arrival. Had this 911 call not been done, I wouldn’t be alive today. However, after that, during and after I was wheeled off, she handled everything as if she had no training at all, almost as if she deliberately did the most irresponsible thing possible. Who was this person? She was only a scared, inexperienced child. Three decades ago I was a scared kid barely out of adolescence, too, when my eating disorder began as an innocent “diet.”
I lived, and I’m writing this now. I am 56 years old. My kidneys no longer work too well. In September 2013, alive but shaken, I did what I knew was right. I called the Department of Mental Health and demanded an end to CBFS. Once and for all, I stood on my own two feet, free at last of these incompetent and abusive mental health practitioners and all medications. I am as healthy as can be under the circumstances. But more importantly, I am free.
To many, my choice to terminate these “services” seemed contradictory. To me, though, it was fruitless to search for a needle in a haystack that wasn’t even there. I knew I needed to spend my energy on life, doing what I felt passionate about. I needed to be the writer I was always meant to be.
An adult has to stand on her own two feet. So many people I once knew never learned this. So many are now gone. Today, I speak out, making every attempt possible to prevent the tragedy that almost happened to me to happen to even one more person.
So I sat in the statehouse at that moment, feeling joy in my heart when I heard Linsky demand, “Ninety-nine percent isn’t good enough! No more tragedies!”
Was 15 families per DCF worker too much? Undoubtedly so. These families have complex issues and within each family are many people, not just one. If you consider I myself had two out of three workers that weren’t doing their job. That meant 30 out of 45 families depended on people that weren’t cutting it.
The worker assigned to Jeremiah’s family only went to see that family twice in an entire year! Roche explained that by all means, this wasn’t typical. Do I believe this?
Surely, families know when the worker they have is lazy. Being monitored is unpleasant enough, but to have an unreliable person doing the monitoring makes the client feel even more worthless. What happens to people who are badly served? I was not surprised to hear that 20 percent of DCF appointments were missed. DCF claimed this statistic was untrue, that workers had “emergencies.” Were these like the bogus emergencies J was claiming she had, week after week?
I feel that with these “help” organizations, extremely good quality work can indeed be done. Whom should they be hiring? My answer: workers with lived experience. By “lived experience” I mean people who’ve been there. You send someone who suffers from MS a worker who also has MS. You send a former heroin addict someone who has been through that type of addiction herself, someone who knows a few things, someone who has struggled.
Today, I attempt to rally together those with eating disorders. At least, we communicate and share ideas over the Internet. I wish we could meet together face-to-face, free of intrusive monitoring of any sort, and speak freely, looking for some hope. I do believe that hope exists. It exists within ourselves.
Roche was questioned about how many families fall into which of those four categories mentioned previously. Roche said she’d have to look up this information and in fact, she had no clue. She said half the current cases involved children under five, but that was all she could say off the top of her head. Eight thousand, that is, out of sixteen thousand kids. Was there any followup after these kids were released from DCF?
I looked around. All eyes were on these folks speaking before us. Was that Governor Patrick I saw somewhere? Or was I getting awfully tired. In fact, I was immensely fatigued.
A worker must give 30 days notice before leaving, Roche said, so that the “case” can be properly transferred to another worker. But this says nothing about the shockingly large number of sick days these workers get. They’re union. Of course they get plenty of sick days. Or did these workers do what J did, and plan their sicknesses in advance?
Roche mention that very difficult families got assigned to “Intensive Case Management.” She said that there was 24/7 phone support. I challenge this, too. CBFS had a crackly cell phone that never worked when I called it. Voicemail was usually full. In the rare instance that I could get a human to answer, they claimed they’d never heard of my worker. I asked, “Have I reached Team 2?” I had to ask cuz I was wondering if I’d accidentally phoned a wrong number. It took a bit before the person answering even figured out this cell phone she’d answered was her work phone and not her personal phone. I gave up.
So the question of “high profile cases” was brought up. By this, I assume they meant those cases that are being screamed about right now in the newspapers and all over social media. The cases that get DCF into serious trouble.
I came here to the statehouse because I’d been following one such outrageous situation with the Pelletier family. Many outraged citizens are demanding that the Pelletier’s daughter, Justina, be set free. Justina has a medical condition called Mitochondrial Disorder, and unfortunately, she got the flu about a year ago. The family came up from Connecticut here to Boston because they were deeply concerned and Justina seemed very sick.
Something went terribly wrong. Some incompetent person “evaluated” Justina and claimed she didn’t have Mitochondrial Disorder at all, that her physical deterioration was all in her head. These ignorant people, who had their own agenda apparently, ignored the pleas of the parents, Justina’s Mitochondrial specialist at Tufts, and I’m sure Justina herself. The parents did everything they could to prevent this new misdiagnosis from taking hold, but the incompetent evaluators had too much power.
Justina was then placed in psychiatric “care.” This couldn’t possibly have been “care” at all. Even if she had the best mental health specialists on the planet, it would have done no good. This wasn’t the treatment she needed. After months of wrong treatment, she remained on Children’s Hospital’s Bader 5. Those of us, any of us who have seen the inside of these “units” know they are in fact prisons. She was imprisoned at Bader 5 for nearly a year, mainly because a bunch of adults couldn’t make up their minds. I and many others are demanding for DCF to release Justina and stop targeting her parents.
I know how these things work. Even psychiatrists who have pet diagnoses they insist everyone they meet has (in this case, Somatorform Disorder), eventually, deep down, realize they are wrong. However, the tendency is to avoid admitting a mistake on all costs, and to continue to persecute anyone who attempts to deny their wild claims of this bogus diagnosis. They called the parents “abusive.” They said the parents were defying the doctors, demanding that the Mitochondrial specialist that Justina knew well be involved. DCF and BCH claim this constituted “medical neglect” of a child.
Now, I heard commotion outside the room. People speaking rather excitedly. Where was Kevin? Where was David? Apparently, as I later found out, Kevin was visiting every office in the statehouse right then. Bravo, Kevin!
Roche was saying something about trauma-informed practice. Their intention was to reduce or eliminate the child’s trauma. Let me tell you, the presence of state workers, monitors in the home, itself is traumatic. Imagine having to live under the shadow of this agency, with their workers whose words claim “Help” but their eyes send an endless message of disapproval.
Children can stay in DCF voluntarily past the age of 18. I’m sure those that feel they are being served well certainly do stay in DCF.
Someone asked, “Wait a minute. How did it get this bad that now, there’s a public outcry?”
I realized then that I’d been riveted here at the meeting and I’d been there over three hours. I was fatigued and struggling to keep up my energy, but kept myself going.
Massachusetts is in fact 50th in the country on many levels, and our child welfare systems are the poorest quality of all. What was the death rate of those kids in DCF care compared to a similar population that wasn’t in DCF? Was DCF doing anything? The answer? Thirty to forty deaths per year.
Roche is visibly shaken now. She’s making what are obviously excuses. I am seated far away and I can barely see her face. I hear her discomfort, though. Was this fatigue, or pressure? So many questions about deaths at the hands of DCF.
Roche is silent for the first time. She’s struggling to find answers. Suddenly, I saw her differently. She was working so hard to maintain composure. This is the kind of PR person these institutions want, a person who can do well under scrutiny. I’d say Roche is tops for that.
I have to give her credit for not using offensive terminology such as “bad parents.” No, she referred to these families as “struggling.” Families who were dealing with immense pressures.
I felt my body then, because the fatigue was getting to me. I feared that if I tried to excuse myself and take a break, I’d keel over. I wrote in my notebook that I didn’t think I could sit there much longer.
But then I heard that DCF closed serious cases due to “parental noncooperation.” What did this mean? I, too, was considered noncooperative, I suppose, because I finally refused CBFS. I spoke out. I wanted to report what had gone wrong, but I was tired and there was so much wrong going on, I had no clue where to start. I took care of myself. I didn’t want anymore mismanagement, so I got out. Is the noncooperative family actually whistleblowers, troublemakers, people who are fed up, as I was? Apparently, if the family refused to work with the school or DCF, this all went to court and the child or children were taken away.
So lack of cooperation, that is, seeing this badly run system for what it is and turning away from it, leads to having your kids taken away.
Roche was asked about sexual abuse. I asked myself, “What’s more likely to cause DCF to remove a child from the home, noncooperativeness, or sexual abuse?” How strange it was that only now, three hours into the meeting sexual abuse was finally brought up. I asked myself if anyone was going to mention the gag orders placed on clients that know to much, legal orders that force them into silence. We don’t even know how often this is done. We aren’t going to hear the voices of those that have been gagged.
It was now just before three o’clock. A two-minute break was announced, the time not meant to be taken literally. I made a beeline for the ladies’ room. Because my kidneys were damaged by the psychiatric drug Lithium, I now have three times the bladder capacity of most people. You’d never know it, though, because short in stature. If you don’t look too closely, you might think I’m a child.
There were a few ahead in line at the ladies’ room, among them Olga Roche herself. I recognized her as soon as she turned around and I saw her face, but she had no clue who I was, nor was she aware of my pencil-scribblings. I believe either Roche or the two women with her, lawyers I believe, saw the small “Free Justina” sign I was carrying, though it was partially covered by my sleeve. Still, I’m nobody.
One of the two women assured Roche, “You’re doing great. Holding up just fine.” And then she said, “Just stay here. We can talk in here.”
How many times have I slipped into bathroom stalls and heard things I wasn’t supposed to hear? As I walked past Roche, I watched dab her forehead with a tissue, held in her shaking hand.
They assured her, over and over that she was doing fine. It sounded like they were planning ahead, prompting her, but I couldn’t make out all the words. By the time I exited the stall, they had left.
I am a writer and survivor of the mental health system. Clearly, I’m not the only one with a tough job.
I returned to the auditorium and sat in the same place I’d sat before. Roche will be briefed some more and then, following another break, they will hear testimony from Gail Gerringer and Liz Armstrong of the Office of Child Advocacy (OCA).
I notice that the text screen is now either turned off or malfuntioning. Does this mean text-to-speech recording is no longer being done? I have no clue.
Again, the question arose of “outcome” of DCF kids vs. those not in DCF but have similar challenges. A true assessment, someone pointed out, can only be done by comparison with some control group. This will tell us if DCF is doing any good at all.
Roche was questioned about staff morale, and she confessed that it’s not so good. I’m not surprised. But she quickly deflected the question by stating that outcome is “good.” Again, she mentioned the 24-hour “response team.” I know from my own experience that these “response teams” most likely don’t respond at all. Who answers these phones? Are they “social workers,” or are they only telephone operators, people hired to screen and redirect callers to get them off their backs?
Roche was asked about the “red flags,” those alerts that indicate a worker isn’t doing her job. The words, “bad social worker” were used.
I glanced around. Twenty feet away from me sat two women whispered to each other, eyeballing my Free Justina sign. I caught their glance. They whispered more. No one has any clue who I am. Why should they? I’m nobody.
Do the DCF social workers file grievances if they feel their workload is to large? And why should any of these workers have to file such a thing? Roche assured the angry questioners that following Jeremiah’s disappearance, DCF increased staffing. I laughed to myself, reminding myself that indeed, DCF has to replace the three that they had fired.
I glanced around again. A man in a white shirt with half-length sleeves paced the main aisle crossing the auditorium in back. He glanced at me then turned away. Security. I’ve been kidnapped so many times from my home and taken to emergency rooms by people in uniform that my response to such clothing is often knee-jerk fear.
But now, they’ve called another break. I know I cannot hold out much longer. I’ll need to journey home soon, and rest. My muscles are cramping again. All I can hope is that the pain won’t get as unbearable as it does at night. I have often screamed aloud in the wee hours, not that anyone has to know that. Nobody hears.
Now, Gail Gerringer and Liz Armstrong are testifying on behalf of the OCA. Apparently, a report had come out just that morning about Jeremiah Oliver. This report can be found on the OCA website.
Then, Gerringer spoke the word, “Jeremiah,” aloud. But she could barely say it because her voice broke. She was in tears, but she continued on. While Linsky thanked Gerringer and the OCA for their report, I listened and heard the tears of many of us. A sniffle. A blown nose.
Which classification of client was Jeremiah’s family in? Like Roche, Gerringer cannot answer due to confidentiality policies. However, she mentioned a “previous communication.” A worker had been investigated not long before, in New York. This was found to be the same slacker who worked with Jeremiah’s family. In the past year, OCA had received 88 “Critical Incident Reports,” she stated. Yes, the negligence around Jeremiah was already on the radar screen.
Here, Linsky mentioned Page Six of the OCA report. The “serious injuries inflicted on a two-year-old” of the “Jones” family. This wasn’t the family’s real name. The social worker had been negligent. It turned out that this was the same social worker that was negligent with Jeremiah’s family, years later. Was there no disciplinary action, no follow-up? No, there were no changes in the DCF organization, no increased supervision.
My experience with these powerful institutions is that they won’t make the changes legally demanded of them. No one notices when they don’t follow up. As long as they can get away with it, they will. The irony is that they will over-monitor and over-manage their own clients, many of whom are poor and have little social clout. Meanwhile, these organizations overlook their own paid employees’ bad behavior far too easily.
The OCA advocates mentioned that there needs to be more research into infant exposure to substances (any) and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. She said she was rather concerned about psychiatric drugging. She noted that it seemed that a disproportionate number of kids in foster care were being drugged, and she said she questioned this and felt the implications were serious. She suggested that they hold another meeting to touch upon topics that couldn’t be delved into in the time allotted today.
I was getting worn out myself. My feet and legs began to cramp up again. I wrote the following, verbatim:
“The pain of the cramping is yet another reminder to me. I consider myself lucky to be alive. I am tired. I am an activist and I get knocked down every day. When am I going to crumble? How much more social rejection can one person take? It feels like too much.
So Roche is asking the state for more money for DCF. So they can do more damage? I sure could use the money myself.
Last night, I fell in my living room. I have no clue how that happened. All I want to do is to lie down. I feel like I’ll never make it home.”
I tried taking more notes, but I can see I can by my pencil marks that I could barely write anymore. I wanted to stay till the meeting was over, but I knew couldn’t.
Before my kidneys were ruined by psychiatric drugging, my body had as much stamina as any other adult. But now, I could only think of one thing: getting myself home, and lying down with my little dog in my arms. If only I could click my heels together and be back there right now.
In the foyer outside the auditorium I found Gail Gerringer. She was speaking to Matt Stout of the Boston Herald. He, too, had been here at the meeting all day. I didn’t want to leave before getting my two cents in. I might be jobless and mean nothing to anyone, but maybe I could get someone to listen. Gerringer was busy speaking to someone else. I spoke to Matt Stout for a few minutes. He gave me his e-mail address and told me to write to him. I told myself that he seemed quite astute.
It’s late January now, and even this late in the day, daylight lights up the Boston streets. I descended a bunch of granite stairs, cut through the Boston Common, and entered Park Street Station. The subway, our Red Line I know and love so well, arrived almost instantly. I found a seat, telling myself I wouldn’t have to wait much longer till I’d be home.
Inside my brown canvas bag were the two signs I had, the Free Justina sign and my own laminated sign I had made a while back, “NEVER, EVER SHUT UP.” I reached over and touched the sign, just to feel its presence. Not shutting up was a promise I made to myself a while back. I’ve always been glad I kept it.
The subway stopped at Charles/MGH. A few passengers exited the train and others embarked. A lady caught my eye. I wasn’t sure if she saw me. I couldn’t stop watching her, though, from across the train.
I guessed her age to be around 65, or a decade older than I am. Her thinness was striking. You could see where hunger had taken the flesh from her face. Her hair was long, like mine. She carried several bags and wasn’t having an easy time of it. As she sat down, the younger woman seated beside her turned up from her e-book reader, gave her a look of disapproval, then turned back to her reading. I asked myself if in ten years, I’d be right where this elderly woman was.
The woman got up at the stop before mine. As she stumbled off the train, I wanted to hug her, to hold her and tell her she wasn’t alone.
We were all children once, dreaming of fields of green grass. I thought of that home run I’d hoped for, how I wanted to prove to everyone I wasn’t a loser. It was all so long ago.
The subway doors closed. I couldn’t see the lady who was me anymore. I touched my sign again and remembered my promise.