(John Leyba, Denver Post file)

Parenting: “Us vs. them” mentality and Child Protective Services

Child Protective Services is not exactly the popular kid at the lunch table, at least not among the circles that comprise the marijuana community. I get it — innocent lives are unnecessarily disrupted; many happy families have been needlessly ripped apart. Some children have been exploited for money by greedy foster parents while others died tragically at the hands of their temporary caregivers. None of those things are OK and especially not under sanction of the government. Those that are not neutral on the subject are typically anti-CPS to extremely anti-CPS.

I can count on one hand the people I know who have something decent to say about CPS – and I am actually one of those people. I’m not expecting to make any friends in asserting that either, and that’s OK.

Why wouldn’t I like the idea of CPS? It’s an agency meant to keep children safe, isn’t it? A statewide support network for children staffed with advocates and trained caseworkers sounds like a dream come true.

I have a picture in my head of a family in distress. Dad berates and hits mom, and in turn, mom is violent and verbally abusive to her daughters, who are doing terribly in school and life in general. A relative too afraid to address the couple calls CPS hoping it will alleviate the guilt they feel for not stepping in to help the children themselves. CPS makes a home visit, suggests and provides family and individual counseling for the family members and determines a need for visits and further evaluations. Within a year mom and dad are on the track toward being better parents and the children are thriving.

That happens, right?

Pot, parenting and politics: This two-part series looks at some Colorado legislation that riled many parents and marijuana advocacy groups — Part I || Part II

I imagine that when a child is neglected, abandoned or has all family lost to them, CPS inherits and welcomes the child with open arms. The child has a safe bed to sleep in, other children and caring adults to commune with, hot and nutritious meals and regular therapy to ensure a smooth transition. It’s almost like a boarding school from the ’50s; sure the staff is a little stern but at night it’s all fun and games, like in the movies. At the very least there is a stable environment for these kids with an expectation of being educated, physically nourished and placed with a family.

Doesn’t it work like that?

Because in my mind, CPS rescues abused children. Back in the day, if a parent beat their child, a.k.a. corporal punishment, it was just understood — that was how the parent disciplines their kid and they were totally within their right to do so. The parent might have been considered strict but not a criminal. We’ve evolved since then but children are still in need of an advocate to help and protect them when their caregiver is abusive. In my perfect world CPS is an organization that has outreach at the grade-school level. Many kids don’t know that abuse is not normal. Those kids grow into adults who think abuse is OK. School-age children could benefit greatly from a yearly, or bi-yearly, family education class. This would allow children with concerns or questions to approach a familiar adult and discuss any problems within the home (in private if they wish).

That’s part of what they do, isn’t it?

Oh, if only that were the reality. Believe me, I’m not trying to broadcast that CPS is without fault. Aspects of what they do are convoluted and misguided based on misinformation. When CPS takes a child out of a functioning home just because the parents use marijuana, they are upsetting lives and squandering limited financial resources in the fight against cannabis. It reminds me of the high numbers of people with marijuana convictions among the national prison population. They’re just taken in to prove a point and then forgotten about until they serve their sentence, however long that may be. So the kids who are earnestly suffering abuse or neglect and truly need help may not get it.

We need to have balanced views. The idea that all of the practices of CPS and all of the people who work within that organization are immoral and loathsome is just not realistic. You can’t lump an entire group of people into the same category and consider them all the same. That’s called prejudice. And being prejudiced against a group of people you are convinced are unjustly prejudiced against you is clearly problematic. I can’t logically put all of “them” into one category the same way that I, as a cannabis consumer, don’t want to be placed into a preconceived “pothead/stoner/burnout” mold of what that means about me. Ya dig?

If a parent’s marijuana use is detrimental to the individual or their family and there’s clear evidence of neglect, that’s one thing, obviously. Action definitely needs to be taken in some cases. But pot possession and responsible use alone isn’t enough of a reason.

I’m wondering if we’ve gone too far in the wrong direction to get back on track. The ideal child protective agency should be an integral part of a functioning society. It wouldn’t be unnecessarily invasive and wouldn’t have what seems like bad intentions based on bad data. It would be a family support organization rather than what it is now — a tool used to frighten parents into conforming.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments below or email me at parentingcannabist@gmail.com.