Working for Child Protective Services sounds like a career that would conjure a mixed bag of emotions. On one hand, it would, undoubtedly, be one of the most rewarding experiences anyone could have. Rescuing children from violence or neglect and assisting them on a path to a better life would make anyone proud to lead such a career.
But, on the other hand, listening to their stories would be a harsh burden to carry. CPS agents, or those who have worked closely with CPS, were kind enough to share on Reddit the cases that challenged them harder and disturbed them deeper than anything else they had seen. These are their stories, edited for clarity.
"I dealt with a couple who basically treated their kids (five of them) like animals. Not pets, more like farm animals. The kids lacked even the most basic of skills. Several of them had no understanding of how to use a toilet. Most wore diapers. They had never learned to eat with a fork or a spoon. One was decidedly brighter than the others and was functioning more or less normally. All the others were a mess.
I wish I could tell you it all ended happily, but that's not how it went. The kids were re-integrated into the parents' home."
"I worked for a non-profit emergency shelter for children who had been abandoned, neglected, or abused. Mind you, I worked at this shelter more than 10 years ago, so the details were a bit fuzzy. I got a call one night working the graveyard shirt about two male siblings coming in. They had been found and picked-up at 'Motel Drive.' The oldest was 11, and the other was 9.
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 showed increased signs of PTSD, hyper-vigilance, paranoia, aggressiveness. He ended up pulling a knife 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 selling the 11-year-old's body out to johns so she could get money or smack. He would stay awake all night in the motel while she was out of it 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 elementary schools and was banned from that particular school district. Eventually, Mom lost custody. The last I heard, they were placed in foster care."
"I worked at a group home that assisted mainly handicapped adults. However, due to the success of the way we integrated them into society, the state began sending younger individuals (ages 12-40). The year I began working, the state asked us to do a pilot program working with abused children who were wards of the state. I worked with three young boys who all came from heartbreaking situations.
The first boy was severely neglected and was left in his baby carrier, never held. His head was totally flat on the back from being forgotten. He was 9. The other child was 12 and was so horribly abused that his private parts became incurably infected. He had an operation so he could urinate through a hole in his abdomen and he wore an adult diaper. He was placed with us for trying to take advantage of a young, handicapped girl. Finally, there was a 5-year-old little boy who was covered in scars. He was placed with us because he took some newborn puppies and microwaved them, then covered himself in their remains. I loved those kids, but they were permanently damaged. It's sickening what some humans will do to another human.
This was years ago so I don't know where they are now. I also worked with the courts as a volunteer caseworker and in the schools with special needs kids. I often stay awake and wonder what happened and pray things got better for them. The 5-year-old I described above did improve once he was there for a few months. Sweetest, cuddliest little guy. It makes me sad.
If I had it my way, everyone would be put on birth control until you they could prove they are emotionally and financially ready for a child. I remember one incident in which the little 5-year-old child was throwing a tantrum, kicking and screaming, and I was supposed to gently restrain him. My supervisor came running in and told me to 'Get out!' She went in and tried to sedate him. Afterward, she told me that when he wanted affection he would tantrum because that's when we would hold and touch him. It broke my heart. The psychological scars run deep for kids of severe abuse.
People are basically creating sociopaths when they neglect and harm children. Once the damage is done, it very rarely ends well for anyone. I couldn't do it anymore. It was also hard not to feel guilty for leaving."
"Back in my mid to late 20s, I worked as a CPS agent. Specifically, I was the type to be sent to scope out living areas to see if it was suitable for the child. I think the worst living situation I've seen was this:
I got called to this place. The report stated that the house this family was living in was not suitable for the child. It was pretty vague, as they tend to be on my end, so I went to the place. It was a really small house in 'Middle of Nowhere', Texas. This house looked like it had been abandoned for the past 100 years. It was, essentially, just the husk of a house. Rotting wood, barely stable. There wasn't really a front door (or front wall), so I let myself in. I was really confused, because there was no way anyone could live there. There were no cars, no signs of life.
I decided to walk around the outside of the house to make sure. In the distance, I could see something that did not look like it belonged in a Texas desert. I walked toward it, a good mile away. I got closer and noticed that it was a tent. Actually, it was three tents all next to each other. Terrible tents at that. There was a bicycle leaned against one of them that was missing a wheel. There was trash EVERYWHERE, mostly cans and smoke butts. There was also plenty of food wrappers, hypodermic needles, and what appeared to be used toilet paper. The area smelled atrocious. I approached the front of the biggest tent and could hear people's voices coming from it. The voices had thick southern accents and they sounded 'weak,' for lack of a better word. I could only make out two distinct voices. They both sounded like adults. I stood in front of the tent and just said, 'Hello, anybody home?'
I understandably scared them, because I heard 'WHAT THE HECK?' come from the inside of the tent. A very skinny looking man, likely in his late 20s unzipped the tent. He was undressed and was holding a small, beat up kitchen knife. He looked high out of his mind.
'Who the heck are you?' he asked very politely.
From inside the tent, I could see that there was a woman crouched in the corner of the tent, also high out of her mind. I couldn't even tell if she was fully conscious, but the baby she was nursing certainly was.
'Hello,... I work with Youth Protection Services,' I said. 'I've been called here about a poor living situation regarding children. Sir, do you have any children here with you?'
I was extremely scared at that point. I was in the middle of the desert and the only item of self defense I had was a taser. I tried to keep my composure though. He lowered his knife and stepped out of the tent. Still completely in the buff.
'Heck, man,' he said, 'I thought you were here with the government here to take my kids and weapons away. I'll give ya a tour of the place if you want.'
I was dumbfounded at that point, but I followed him as he walked over to unzip one of the other tents. Inside I saw two children. One was unresponsive, laying face down in the corner of the tent, and looked to be around 5-6 years old. The other one looked to be around 8-9 and was laying in the other corner playing with a tape Walkman without a tape or headphones in it. These were obsolete even back when this happened. I asked him if it was OK to ask his kids a few questions.
'They don't talk much,' he said, 'but sure.'
I poked my head into the tent and asked the kid playing with the walkman, 'Hey, what's your name?'
He didn't answer. I asked his assumed father if it was alright if I tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. He said sure, so I did. The kid looked at me with a blank expression on his face. I could immediately tell that this kid had severe developmental problems.
'Hey, friend, what's your name?' I asked. He didn't respond.
I then tapped the other kid who was laying face down on a blanket. He turned over and his face was completely covered in bruises. He looked like he, straight up, went through a fight club. I asked him what his name was. He said, 'Devin.' I asked him where all of the bruises came from. He looked at his dad, then went back to going face down into the blanket, and started sobbing. I couldn't get his attention anymore.
I stood up from the tent and looked at the father. I asked him what was in the other tent. We started walking over to it. As we did, I noticed this horrible smell coming from it. He unzipped it and I saw a girl who couldn't have been older than 4. There was a corner of the tent that was lower than the rest of it. It was full of urine. To ground level, just full of urine. She was in the corner of the tent playing with some dolls. I stood up, told the man that I would be right back and I just had to grab something from my car.
I returned to my car and called the local police. I told them who I was and what the situation was. They asked if I felt safe stalling until the police showed up. I said yes.
I talked to the father about not much in particular. I asked him why he thought the government was coming for his kids and weapons. He went on this long incoherent rant about how ever since he moved here, he feared that he was going to lose them. I asked him where he kept them. He said he kept them under the floorboards in the rotting house. Around that time, the police showed up. Three patrol cars full of cops drove out to the tents. The man didn't even turn around or notice until one of the officers told us to put our hands up and drop to our knees.
They got processed and the kids got put in foster care. As it turned out, the couple were biological siblings and heavy substance addicts. For what it's worth, I am not in this line of work anymore. It really gets to you after a while. I was an agent for around 6 years."
"There were three babies under 6 months old. One had broken ribs and a broken arm. It was likely the child had been kicked or stomped on. One had broken ribs, skull fractures, subdural hematoma, retinal hemorrhage, and was put on life support for a time. The third was a failure to thrive. The kid looked like an alien he was so malnourished. All three are doing very well now.
In another story, a one-year-old was hanging out of a second story window. The neighbors had to kick the first floor window in to get inside the apartment. The mother had gone to work and left the kid with her addict roommates, who were asleep. He is also doing well.
In another, I learned of a child who requires a leg brace and has a colostomy bag. He was severely medically neglected. It is still yet to be determined how well he's going to be doing.
Those are just within the past four or so months."
"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 inappropriate videos and physical adult activity by her biological dad.
One night, one of the kids said, '[Girl's Name] touched my wee-wee.' The parents, shocked, talked to each kid individually, in which 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. Her siblings couldn't have friends over. She couldn't go to school or the park or birthday parties, because she was a registered offender.
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 was a case manager for CPS. I had a toddler on my caseload who came into care because of a severe beating that left her with a skull fracture and two broken femur bones. She was in a full body cast. She was in medical foster care. The mission of the agency was to have to children reunify with the parents. So, the parents had to complete a case plan and attend court hearings. It took a while, but the parents completed the case plan and the child was reunified.
During this time, the mom became pregnant again with a baby boy. She delivered around the same time the reunification occurred. The parents found the baby boy dead one morning. He was six weeks old and the same age his sister was when she came into care. And he had the same injuries.
Before the reunification and the birth, I did everything I could to prevent either child from going back to that house. I even begged and cried in court. Dad was a suspect, but there was not enough evidence. He was a true monster. I waited two weeks. I put in my notice and walked out."
"It was one of the first cases I investigated.
There was actually 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 3-year-old sister. I had just been cleared to take P1s 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. Super sketchy as preliminary reports showed no head injuries.
We went to the house to investigate the scene with the police and the mom. Everything had been stripped bare - all the furniture and family possessions gone. It smelled strongly of bleach. It was the first time I had a close look of the mom and she had bruising on her neck, a huge and 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 the mom's boyfriend was abusing the children (pulling their hair out, slapping them, etc.) 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 2-year-old'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 for his crime. Both he and the mom are now in prison. The little girl's big sister was reunited with their bio 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. I no longer work with CPS and that case was back in early 2012. However, the biological father still pops up in the news every now and then as an advocate for protecting children. He was also present at the trial for the mom and the boyfriend.
The one image I can't get out of my head from the case is when biological dad was sitting with the 3-year-old in our visitation room. It was shortly after the news had been broken with him and he was just holding his daughter in his arms with tears coming down his face. I had to excuse myself for a few minutes after seeing that."
"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 years later.
We received a call around 5pm, 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 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. He asked his unit to send somebody to go check on his wife to make sure she was okay. Too easy.
The unit sent a guy over who found the wife in the kitchen, covered in blood from the waste down, in her underwear. He also noticed a blood trail from a back room into the kitchen/foyer area. There was a bloody spatula on the counter. There was animal feces and trash covering the entirety of the house (save for 'walking paths'). There were two small children crying from somewhere in the back of the house. The dude immediately made two calls: one back to his command and one to CPS.
Command notified the solider, who was immediately sent home. Command also called us. We received the call after the one from CPS. CPS reported the same story. They also informed 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 responded. We observed exactly what was initially reported. The sight was unimaginable if you had never seen something like it. The smell was something between death and landfill. We wore Tyvek suits to move around the house.
When we finally got the wife cleaned up, she told us that while using the bathroom, she had a very early term miscarriage. She stated 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. Craziness of that aside, CPS and law enforcement had now seen the conditions of this house. After hospital visits and making sure everyone was physically and mentally healthy, we headed back to the house with CPS to see what we were actually looking at.
It was a 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 the heck it was). The kids only had mattresses on the floor. There was 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 went on.
CPS gave them three weeks to fix this atrocity or the kids would be removed. In that time, the parents got into more legal trouble. Not to detract from the story, but their charges included substance abuse and the mother turned out to be a lady of the night. 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 house I've ever seen. The smell stuck to your clothes. Housing said the only way the house would be safe to live in again would be if it were completely torn down, not to mention the crazy parents."
"I am not CPS, but I worked in partnership with them. In all of these cases, CPS workers were on my side and their leadership was against them. They had far, far too many cases to be safe.
I had a client with birth defects because he and his mother were the product of incest. The grandfather took advantage of his much-younger sister, and the mom was the result. He assaulted her and my client was the result. He was following the pattern of aggressive behavior and kept being returned from the facility where he was being treated and sent right back to the family where he was being abused. It was absurd.
In another case, I had a biological father returned to the home after prison time for assaulting his daughter. They had the girls follow extensive safety procedures instead of tell the parents he couldn't return. There was, likely, a return to the abuse. The state did not want to initiate a removal because she was 'old enough to learn to protect herself.'
I had an 11-year-old threaten suicide and refuse to safety contract. We called crisis intervention. They did not come out because, if she didn't safety contract, there wasn't a bed within eight hours or so that could take her. And, if they came out, they were responsible for her. I stayed with the client for (I think) about 14 hours.
I witnessed a physical assault on a child. It was incredibly violent and the parent could have broken the child's neck while I was watching and moving toward them. I dialed 911 and stepped between them. I was later reprimanded for putting myself at risk. If the parent was willing to do that in front of me, what were they doing when no one could see? The state did not move them into foster care because they were 'too old' and the oldest kid could watch out for the younger.
As a side topic, if you're struggling with addiction and think you're still a good parent, you aren't. That's your addiction fooling you. Get your kids into therapy, and let them live elsewhere until you get yourself clean."
"I had a report about an incorrigible child. Pretty normal stuff. Parents tried everything, but they could not control their child and were worried about the safety of the other children. This particular case was slightly different.
The child and her two siblings were adopted by their grandparents. The grandparents stated that the one child, let's say her name was 'Ellen,' was threatening to hurt her sibling and actually went as far to chase him around with a knife. Ellen was a 12-year-old at the time of this report.
After further investigation and services with the family, I learned the full reason for the original adoption. When Ellen was younger, about 6, she was being abused by the mother's boyfriend. When her mother found out about the abuse, she murdered the boyfriend in front of Ellen and had her help her clean up the mess.
The grandparents were unable to figure out why Ellen was troubled.
After talking to Ellen more, she was angry at her younger sibling for being 'normal' as he was also present for the murder but too young to remember. As I last kept up with the family, the grandparents and siblings left her behind and moved to another state. She is currently living with a foster family and is doing much better. The mother is currently incarcerated for life. Ellen would switch from calling her 'Mom' or her actual name. She would constantly write her letters throughout the time I worked with her."