Category Archives: Parenting

Where The Hell Is Jane Doe?

jane We were at the end of the line, the final week of the field period where everyone had to take a hard run at their remaining cases, working every angle, every lead to get in touch with the respondents whose trails had gone cold. Sometimes you were still running down leads, feeling like you were one call away from getting the respondent on the phone, or that you finally had the address where you might find them at home during a drive-by. But there were always a token two or three with whom you’d had zero contact, dead ends every which way, no response, no known associates, no clue. Jane Doe (name has obviously been changed, along with identifying details) had become my white whale of the project. By the end I found myself obsessing about finding her, in a way I didn’t with the other missing respondents. Who was she? What did she look like? What was her story? I knew from her file that she was in her early thirties and that her kid(s) had been removed from her home. But as to her whereabouts? That was anyone’s guess, and my responsibility. Continue reading

Under The Radar, Pt. 2

radar iiContinued from Tuesday

But what were the options in that moment? I couldn’t very well snatch the offer of fifty bucks away, I’m sorry, but I can tell you’re not into this even though you said yes, and in order to preserve your dignity I’m going to make your choices for you? Run out and hope she’d go permanently under the radar so QC could never reach her? I struck a deal with myself, do the interview but pay close attention for signs of discomfort and remind, in such a situation, of the respondent’s ability to skip questions or stop the interview at any time. It never felt like a convenient time to tell the respondent that if they answered fewer than sixty percent of the questions they didn’t get the cash. That wasn’t exactly in the consent form, but that was the expectation.

I dove in, starting at the beginning, questions I knew almost by heart at this point, what services have you been offered by DSHS? What services are you utilizing? And on into questions about ages and special needs of children in the home? What about the children not in the home? What disorders did they have?

She sat on the bed, fixing me with an intent stare that communicated in no uncertain terms, “I resent you for taking me through this.” Continue reading

Under The Radar

radarBy mid-field period I had called her about a dozen times, sometimes getting the pre-recorded message that “the subscriber you have dialed is not available” (a euphemism for “the subscriber hasn’t paid their bill”), sometimes getting a voicemail with that pleasant robotic woman reading out the ten-digit number, the pinnacle of cellular anonymity. There was no way of knowing whether or not the number was still good, and the respondent had long since left the address we were provided by DSHS. (We were to find out at the bitter end of the field period that someone at DSHS had screwed up royally, providing our Director with respondent contact information three months old, and in some cases older. With a transient population, as parents with active CPS cases tend to be, contact information changes often. Three months may as well have been three years. We had been behind the eightball the entire study, and while we’d sensed it, running down lead after lead, coming up empty handed, we’d accepted it as part of studying this population, never assuming DSHS wouldn’t possess updated, verified contact information for its own clients. In retrospect, of course we should have assumed the worst of this big, clunky, broken government machine. You’ve seen the headlines. Shit is always fucked up with CPS.) Continue reading

You Are So Fucking White, Pt. 2

jay iiContinued from Tuesday

Jay began to lecture me on white people and their uptight ways, a stream of consciousness flowing into rants about The System, legalization of marijuana, discreet drug use so as not to expose the kids, defense of her parenting and her philosophy of personhood in general. Her speech was pressured and confident, her total self-assurance evident. I sensed she was looking for some sort of validation, a reaction from me, despite her conviction. She wasn’t going to allow me to withhold my personality much longer. No neutral, passive research attitude would be tolerated. I caved as much as I could. “Jay, you are by far the most interesting person I’ve interviewed,” I told her, placing a light hand on her shoulder. We shared a smile. Continue reading

You Are So Fucking White

jayJay had been sitting in the middle of my stack of files for several weeks, below the hot prospects who had agreed to interview appointments, above those that had proved to be dead-ends, all contact information bad. Her phone had been disconnected from the first time I called but her address hadn’t been explored. (We found out at the end of the study that the Department of Social and Health Services had fucked up, providing us with months-old information for a largely transient population, and oh my god was that the only information they had? How were they reaching their clients to provide services?)

Once I had several addresses prove to be the only means of contact for multiple respondents, I made a trip down I-5 for a series of drive-bys, an unscheduled, unannounced pop-in. The best-case scenario for a drive-by was gaining access to the respondent and completing the interview. Often times drive-bys led down a rabbit hole, as the respondent no longer lived there, or wasn’t crashing there anymore, or the place was vacant. This time I was headed to a suburb south of a city, not far from a joint Army and Air Force base. Lots of stripmalls, lots of hourly rate motels, the overall impression of low-rent squalor shaded by massive, densely growing Evergreen trees. Continue reading

The Setup

cps 1I had claimed the south west region as mine for the study, meaning I was responsible for interviewing all respondents within that Child Protective Services jurisdiction. A lucky thousand or so parents with active CPS cases had been randomly selected to participate in a quality control measure to determine if a new state social work practice methodology was proving effective. Almost all respondents were women, many single moms, some of whom had had their children removed during the course of their case, some living at in-patient drug rehab centers, almost all living in poverty. I wanted south west because my fiancé was working as an attorney in that jurisdiction—representing the very social workers our study would QC–in their child abuse cases. While we swore we wouldn’t trade names or other identifying details, I figured it would be fun to have lunch with him and all our friends who worked in his office a few times a week, and get a peek into their professional world. And the mileage checks would be great.

Were we research interviewers concerned about venturing into the homes of people who were in the middle of child abuse allegations and investigations? Continue reading

The Greatest Joys Will Never Be Material

Corn_husk_dollThe American Girl Doll catalog arrived every season in all its over-sized, elegantly-laid-out, colorful glory, featuring three dolls, each of whom had a unique wardrobe, sets of accessories and a book series. The dolls represented a different point in American history, as reflected by her story, period clothing and accessories. I would spend hours poring over the catalog, marveling at each girl’s school lunch, bedroom set, play clothes and formal wear. The dolls themselves were displayed like Playboy centerfolds–spanning two pages, you had to turn the magazine ninety degrees to behold her full, upright glory, the artificial gleam in her eyes, her glossy hair and sweet smile, replete with two tiny front teeth poking out. I wanted one. I needed one. I suppose you could say the American Girl catalog was porn to my elementary school sensibilities. I spent hours alone in my room with it, engaging in endless fantasies about possessing the dolls. Continue reading

The Interview Series: Full Heart, Empty Mind

IMG_20150220_170714My first impression of her was of a young, energetic, highly intelligent young woman exuding ambition, replete with a tailored tweed suit. I was told she hailed from a political family in the Midwest, and as a third year law student, was more serious about the cases as an intern than almost any of the attorneys in the office. In the intervening five years since we met she had finished law school, become a licensed attorney and state assistant attorney general, gotten married, had her first child and moved across the country. I was intrigued by her experience as a stay-at-home mom after such a hard-charging set of career years. I knew she had left behind a sterling reputation as an outstanding lawyer and respected colleague, and speculation about her political ambitions was often discussed. We talked one night after she’d put her eight month-old son down, and she gave me a look into her dramatically different new life as a mom, making observations and assertions about her experience that seemed to fly in the face of current conventional parenting wisdom.

The mommy world is like an alternate universe, where other moms seem only to talk about kids, she began. Adult interaction has been limited since her son was born, and joining support and educational groups for new mothers has helped her feel more comfortable in her new role. Even so, she senses she’s forgotten how to interact with adults and listening to other women talk about kids eighteen hours a day isn’t helping. “I wish for these grand, complex discussions with adults and I’m on the floor knocking over blocks instead.” Continue reading

The Interview Series: Open Doors

IMG_20150220_170714The “Sex Ed Failseries Candid Uprising featured in December and January (a progression of posts about my experience of working at Planned Parenthood) were the most-read content on the site yet, peaking with “Sex Ed Fail: The Interview“. I found myself wanting to trace sexual attitudes through the generations, to talk to a parent about their perception of responsibility for educating their child about sex, and how that may have been shaped by their parent. Out of the woodwork came a woman in her mid-forties, a mother of two, open to filling in the picture for me.

As a kid she moved a lot, never settling in one place long enough to make a close group of girlfriends. Later, she would point out that a lack of girlfriends made her vulnerable, often times sexually. She grew up in a family that was comfortable with nudity around the house, parents who were honest and forthcoming with her about sex and sexuality. Her earliest memories of learning about sex involve a conversation between her and her mom when she was eight. “I asked my mom about kissing, and she told me it was something that people did with each other when they loved each other.” Any question she had, her mom answered with medically accurate information. What seems to have made the strongest impression was her mom’s ability to talk to her on her level, in a developmentally appropriate way. It increased her comfort level so that asking her mom questions about sex felt natural as she grew up. In lieu of girlfriends (or “the playground” where so many of us learn backwards mis-information, legends, really about sex), she had her welcoming mom. Continue reading

Ribs

ribsMy first full-blown trial in an actual courtroom was the result of a two-month-old baby boy, Mr. T, who suffered from a pair of broken ribs on each side of his tiny, little torso. Broken ribs in an infant are surprisingly difficult to detect, even with today’s x-ray and other bone-scanning technology. Essentially, the ribs are so small and soft that it is nearly impossible to see the telltale hairline cracks that you would otherwise find in fractures of the longer bones of the legs or arms. Or in the ribs of an adult, I guess. Continue reading