Child Protective Services agents and people in similar positions know what they're getting themselves into whenever they signed up for the job. Going in, they know they are going to see things that can never be unseen, hear things that can never be unheard, feel things that can never be forgotten. Still, they carry on because they care so much about the children they have sworn to protect.
But there comes a time when even the most seasoned CPS workers have to take a minute and think about what is actually happening in front of them. The people in the following stories fall into that camp as they recently shared the most disturbing and unsettling experiences on the job. All posts have been edited for clarity.
"My cousin is a cop in a small are in Kentucky called Somerset. He told us about this crazy old woman named Mrs. Howell and her weird obsession with the kids from the family down the street. Apparently, the old bat, who lives alone with a multitude of cats, seems to hate the kids and their parents, yet at the same time has gotten it into her head that if she gets them taken away they'll be given to her (which they've obviously explained is not the case). Here's some of things I can remember of what Mrs. Howell called for:
Apparently, the poor family was always nice, clean, and albeit exasperated, very polite. The kicker was that my cousin HAD to check every case, a poor CPS worker often in tow, because a few years back here in Cincinnati there was an incident where a foster boy wound up dead due to CPS negligence. They always knew Mrs. Howell was a racist old lunatic, but they couldn't take the chance, so the family was tormented endlessly.
Mrs. Howell insisted the father of the family be arrested for mowing his lawn wasted.
When the mother was pregnant, Mrs. Howell said she asked her if she wanted to buy her new child. Again, investigation showed no evidence, and lead to a very disturbed mother.
Mrs. Howell claimed to have been inside the home and said it was covered in roaches, describing it as 'they were seeping out of the walls.' When the cops asked, the family insisted Mrs. Howell had never stepped foot in their house.
That they kept the little boy (about 5 years old) chained up outside on a leash next to the dog. When the cops investigated, they found the family did not even have a dog.
That the kids were forming a Mexican cartel (keep in mind the oldest one is like 12). When they asked why she thought so her evidence was that their mother is Mexican.
I just remember asking him, 'Couldn't you just ignore her if she's clearly making this up?' and being told they can't because it could lead to a cry wolf situation and they can't risk the kids."
"One of my relatives is a child advocate. They've been doing it for years now, and to say their level of anxiety outside work environment has increased is an understatement.
A case that brought them home crying concerned a mentally ill mom who would tie her 6-year-old son to a chair placed in the middle of pentacle painted on the floor, stuff his night time diaper in his mouth, and put out her smokes on him in order to 'exorcise the devil.'
She would proceed to whip him where his clothes would cover, then rub the diaper into the welts. All of this would be done in the family room, with the grandmother (who was too scared of the daughter to do anything) in the next room.
Even after the son was removed, the little dude would ask when he could see his mom again."
"I'm a former special education teacher. Most of the students in my class had amazing parents, but the other teachers had some awful stuff.
One was a 14-year-old female with severe disabilities, dysmorphic facial features, but a developed body. She dressed in form-fitting clothes and acted flirtatiously. About once a month, the girl would have a massive, traumatic, meltdown and scream, cry, and wail at the top of her lungs for hours. The other students would come to my classroom and her teacher would stay with her. One day her teacher was helping her in the bathroom and the girl had purple handprint-shaped bruises on her inner thighs. Like they had been held open. The teacher asked how she got the bruises. She nervously answered, 'I fell!' The teacher asked what she fell on, 'I don't know.' The teacher contacted the principal, who wrote a report, took pictures as evidence, and contacted the girl's mother. The girl's mom said she had been scratching herself and dismissed it.
Another female student, 14 with quite mild disabilities. Very quiet, tiny, and frail. Like a little bird. There was suspected abuse by her father for years and years. The teachers would have lessons about abuse, that it's not okay for anyone, even your parents to hurt you and that you can tell a trusted grown-up. Trusted teachers would take her aside and gently ask if anything was wrong or if anyone was hurting her. The girl would never say anything. She would have accidents and wet her pants. On Mondays or after long vacations, she'd come to school walking with a limp and she'd be more quiet than usual. One day, we found human tissue that appeared to be an early termination of pregnancy gestational sac tissue, in the toilet after she had used the bathroom. We took pictures of it and wrote a report. I asked the other teacher why nothing was being done, but because the girl would never say anything was wrong and neither of her parents would say anything was wrong and there was no appearance of physical abuse or neglect nothing could be done."
"Not a CPS agent, but I'm an attorney who does pro bono family court work. This is the most heartbreaking and messed-up thing I've witnessed:
One of my clients lost her six kids that she had birthed between the ages of 14 and 23 because they were living in the filthy basement of a two-bedroom home along with my client's sister's six kids, as well as two other children from some other relative. There were 14 kids on a handful of dirty mattresses in a dank basement.
When we interviewed everyone, we found out that the oldest male cousin (15 years old) routinely assaulted my client's oldest daughter (11 years old) and nobody ever bothered to stop him, despite every adult in the house knowing about it. All the adults said it wasn't a problem because the 11-year-old girl wanted him to do it.
When we asked the little girl why the others might have thought she 'wanted' it, she said, in the smallest voice: 'If I let him do it to me, he doesn't touch any of the little girls.'"
"It was one of the first cases I investigated, and it involved a child death.
There was another worker assigned to take the Priority 1 cases that day, but she was stuck out in the boonies working another emergency when we got the call. A 2-year-old child had been brought to the emergency room by her mother. The child was cold and blue and she had a living sister. I had just been cleared to take Priority 1 calls, and my unit supervisor sent me to start working the case. She also called the region to send us a special investigator (a CPS investigator with police or military experience; they have special privileges in their work).
By the time we got the report, police were already questioning the mother. It was my first time to witness a police interrogation. The mother refused to speak English during the interview and she had her friend translate for us (for some reason there wasn't a Spanish to English translator brought for the interrogation).
The mom claimed the child had been jumping on the bed with her sister when she fell off the bed and hit her head on the floor. She was vomiting later in the evening, and when the mom checked in on her the next day, the child was dead.
Her story seemed sketchy as preliminary reports showed no head injuries.
We went to the house to investigate the scene with the police and the mom, and everything had been stripped bare - all the furniture and family possessions were gone. It smelled strongly of bleach. It was the first time I had a close look at the mom, and she had bruising on her neck, a huge fresh bruise under her chin, and her eye was swollen. She claimed she slipped and hit her chin on the kitchen counter.
In the following days, we learned the truth. A year prior, CPS investigated the family when it came out that mom's boyfriend was abusing the children. The department required the mom to end her relationship with the boyfriend, which she did, and provided therapeutic services for the family. But a few months after CPS left, the boyfriend came back to the home.
The night of the child's death, she messed her pants while the boyfriend was watching a sports game. He got angry and kicked her in the stomach. But he kicked her in the stomach so hard, it almost lacerated her liver in two. The mom was correct in that the child had been vomiting and sick the night before her death. This child spent her last hours on Earth suffering a painful death.
The mom had waited so long to take the little girl to the hospital because she wanted to give the boyfriend lead time to escape. He ended up going to Mexico, where he was later found, brought back and charged in the case. Both he and the mom are in prison.
The little girl's big sister was reunited with their biological father, who had been spending the past few years trying to find the girls. He was inconsolable with the news.
It was, by far, the worst case I have ever worked. Child death cases always are. As an employee with CPS, your job is to protect children and when you work a case with a dead child, you feel so useless, so helpless."
"The one that hit me the hardest was before I actually started going out on my own and was shadowing the after hours team. We got a call from a different state worker about a family who had moved to our state and we needed to follow up.
The family had six kids, and the barely 12-year-old girl in the family was a registered offender. At 12. It was heartbreaking. It was a blended family, and the mom (who was the biological parent of the girl), believed that the girl had been exposed to smut and other filth by her father.
Anyway, one night, one of the kids said, '[Girl's Name] touched my junk.'
The parents, shocked, talked to each kid individually where they all disclosed that she had touched them. Not knowing how to handle it, they called CPS in their state for help. CPS came out, called the cops, and for reasons that weren't clear to me, the child was placed on the registry by a judge. In my experience, usually they try inpatient and other therapies before going that route, but apparently that state and judge did things differently.
So, when the family moved to our state, we had to go out to make sure the family was following adequate guidelines. For example, the girl was not allowed to be alone with her siblings. She couldn't swim in the pool at the same time as her siblings. She couldn't go to school or the park or birthday parties, because she was a offender. Her siblings couldn't have friends over.
She was such a sweet kid. It really was such a sad situation. She told us she wanted to be a fashion designer and her favorite thing to do was play Xbox with her siblings. All the kids were in therapy, and they appeared to harbor no ill-will toward her.
I think about this case a lot and I always wonder what happened to their family."
"I also work at a Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility for kids.
We mainly deal with kids whose parents are too wasted to properly care for them, parents can't handle their child having ADHD, or just not wanting their kid in general.
Every so often though, we have a few cases come through that leave a lasting impression. My first day on the floor I was told to read some of the client's documentation to 'get to know their situation.' The first one I read was the graphic retelling of this kid watching his mom and step-dad slam his little brother on the cement floor repeatedly until the child's head was no longer identifiable as such. I still remember my knees buckling a bit after I finished reading it.
Another kid had a personal collection of cats that he caught around the neighborhood and stuck in a deep freeze.
We've had kids come through that have either been the victim of, or committed, all forms of assault you could imagine.
Up to this point, all of the kids that I've listed have had a reason to be placed in a psychiatric facility, so them being there is understandable. The one kid that I still think about often was one whose mother was so numbed out that it took her three days to make a two-hour trip to our facility. This kid acted up constantly, had to be put in multiple physical restraints a day, not following directions, ignoring staff, etc. I started spending the last 15 to 30 minutes of my shift talking to this kid, reading books, playing with whatever toys he was interested in, stuff like that. In the end, he ended up telling me that he was acting so bad because he enjoyed the attention; it's the only way his mom would acknowledge him and he felt like that's what he had to do in order to feel recognized. That still breaks my heart. His mother ended up losing custody of him and he went on to live with an amazing foster family. Unlike other kids, he hasn't been a repeat at our facility. He's the only kid in the last four years that I would have gladly brought home with me if I could."
"I didn’t work in Child Protective Services, but I did work closely with the agency. I worked for a non-profit emergency shelter, for children who had been abandoned, neglected or abused. Mind you, I worked at this shelter 10 years ago, so the details are a bit fuzzy.
One night, I got a call (worked graveyard) about two male sibling group coming in. They had been found, and picked-up at 'Motel Drive.' The oldest was 11 years old, and the other was a couple of years younger. I started reading their case file, and there was a long abuse/neglect history. After being with us a few days, the 11-year-old was showing increased signs of PTSD, hyper-vigilance, paranoia, and aggression. He ended up pulling a sharp weapon on another one of the kids in the shelter because they came up from behind and grabbed him.
Apparently, the mom who was a smack user was turning the 11-year-old out to johns so she could get money/smack. He would stay awake all night in the motel while she was out of it on the smack to make sure none of the johns came back to hurt her or his younger brother. By the time the kid turned 12, he had been expelled from three different schools and was banned from that particular school district.
Eventually, the mom lost custody, and the last I heard is they were placed in foster care."
"I've worked in child welfare for seven years, and I've seen some pretty tragic stuff during that time.
A toddler was discovered covered in blood. The toddler's mom was murdered by her partner who then contacted one of their kids from a previous relationship (reason unknown? To help clean up?) and then killed that kid. Then, apparently not caring about the toddler, the partner killed himself. Friends of the older kids came by a few hours later and were worried when no one answered the door. They could hear the toddler screaming inside and called the police. Police broke down the door and the little one ran to them, just covered in blood.
Then there was a group of five siblings removed because their father was arrested for domestic violence. The 4-year-old was covered in bruises and we later found out that he was regularly intervening when the dad was beating the mom and taking the mom's beatings. The girls were all wearing several layers of pants. Later, they learned the father was abusing them and the girls were wearing layers of pants in the hopes that he would stop. The poor girls were like 9 and 10. The 3-year-old's teeth were rotting out of his head from neglect and he had to have at least five teeth pulled. I think the dad also killed one of the family's pets in front of the kids. He went to prison, obviously.
Another time, a dad got released from prison, where I'm pretty sure he was assaulted because his personality was completely different according to family members, and proceeded to start beating and abusing the mom. She finally called the police after a couple of months and gets him out, but doesn't end up being cooperative (very common due to the trauma of the abuse) and the charges are dropped. The mom never got treatment for the trauma she experienced and ended up acting very erratic around her children. She threatened to stab them while brandishing a knife, screamed at them, the works. One of the kids responded very poorly and started being violent towards other people. She was little, 7 or so. She tried to strangle an elderly family member. She threw a toddler into a wall. She strangled a cat and stomped another cat to death. Finally, a family member had enough and child welfare stepped in. By the time, I got the kid, she'd been in group homes for years. Eventually, we got her into transitional housing and she finally stopped attacking people and destroying property."
"I'm not in child services, but I once had a foster cousin who was born with some severe birth defects. She was mentally handicapped and couldn't talk, just make garbled noises. Her mom was an addict and would invite men over to do certain acts with the girl for money and substances.
I remember when we first met her she was very handsy and would try to kiss you and touch you, but quickly she got out of the habit. Poor girl. My aunt once told me that her mother used to sit her on top of the fridge to punish her.
To make things worse, my foster cousin was in our family for over a decade, but one day my cousin was getting ready for school on a hot day, and she put on a sweater. When my aunt tried to tell her to change, my cousin had a tantrum and so she ended up getting on the bus in tears because my aunt had to take her sweater away. Child services made a big stink about it and took my cousin to a halfway house for a time, and my aunt decided to just forget it, and let them keep her.
I understand that my cousin was a handful since she was a perpetual child, in a way, but I also am disappointed that she could abandon someone that had been in our family for so many years."
"I'm not a CPS worker, but I worked Criminal Investigations for the Army for a number of years and worked very closely with CPS on our Child Abuse/Neglect cases.
One particular case sticks with me five years later.
We received a call around 5 pm, which is usually a good indicator that we're going to be responding to a legit call. The bad ones always seem to come in right before we head home for the evening.
The call came in from CPS. They had received a call from a soldier's unit. The soldier (husband) was in the field for training exercises and had gotten a very vague emergency call from his wife that she was having some medical problems. The husband asked his unit to send somebody to go check on his wife to make sure she was okay. Too easy. Unit sends a guy over who finds the wife in the kitchen, covered in blood from the waste down, in her underwear. He also notices a blood trail from a back room into the kitchen/foyer area. There is a bloody spatula on the counter. What's more is that there is animal feces and trash covering the entirety of the house (save for 'walking paths'). There are two small children crying from somewhere in the back of the house. This dude immediately makes two calls; one back to his command and one to CPS.
Command notifies the husband, who is immediately sent home. Command also calls us. We receive this call after the one from CPS.
CPS reports the same story. They also inform us that the CPS worker who responded to the house had to call for help because they threw up from the smell of the house before they even got inside. We respond. We observe exactly what was initially reported. The sight is unimaginable if you've never seen something like it. The smell was something between death and landfill. We wore hazmat suits to move around the house.
When we finally get the wife cleaned up she tells us that while using the bathroom she had a very early term miscarriage. She states that she had no idea what to do, so she grabbed the spatula from the kitchen and scooped the miscarriage into some diapers and towels. She then put everything into the freezer. Her intent was the keep them until her husband came home and then decide what to do.
All craziness of this aside; CPS and law enforcement have now seen the conditions of this house.
After hospital visits and making sure everyone is physically and mentally healthy; we head back to the house with CPS to see what we're actually looking at.
Two-story townhouse. The entire house was covered in trash (food, dishes, clothing, etc) and animal feces. The dining table was covered with dirty dishes and rotting food. The food in the fridge was expired and moldy. There was no sitting room on the couch in the living room. The master bedroom had a queen bed, no sheets. The mattress had a dark brown stain covering over half the mattress (was not positive for blood - never figured out what it was). The kids only had mattresses on the floor. No other furniture in their rooms. Clothing, trash, and feces all over the floor. The bathrooms...I've seen truck stop restrooms that were cleaner. The list of disgusting things in this house goes on.
CPS gave them three weeks to fix this atrocity or the kids would be removed.
In that time both the husband and wife get into more legal trouble. CPS finally was able to get the kids out of that home. I never learned if the parents regained custody, but I pray they didn't. It was the absolute worst imaginable house I've ever seen. The smell stuck to your clothes. Housing said the only was the house would be safe to live in again would be if it were completely torn down. Not to mention the crazy parents."
"I talked to a CPS worker one time. She told me about a set of twins severely behind the learning curve. They lived in a ritzy neighborhood, and the parents were able to afford two of everything. They had their own cribs, pack-n-plays, and swings. The mom would feed, burp, and change the babies and then put them on their backs in their individual playpens. They never played with one another and were never given tummy time. They had no toys, not even a mobile for them to watch. They were not given time to interact with each other. The doctor called after their one-year checkup and they were taken away from their parents."