It’s not always easy to stir up compassion within my heart for the women I meet in the WIC Clinic. Sometimes, my judgmental side flares up and I think it is at these times that I fail to serve my clients well. I’ll never forget a time when I let my judgments get the better of me.
One of our regular clients, Alexis, was a petite woman with two small children. Her children were completely out of control during our visit. They were playing with the water at the sink, throwing toys and ripping books. They were shouting and hollering and fighting with each other. They were rummaging through my desk drawers. All the time that this chaos was occurring, Alexis did nothing to stop it. She sat and watched and didn’t speak one word of correction to her children.
Naturally, I became irritated, but I regret that I allowed the misbehavior of these children to get the better of me. I listened to Alexis speak about how tired she was and how overwhelmed she felt. She told me that she often fell asleep during the day because she was so tired, and left her 2 and 3 year old children unsupervised. Then, she told me that the last time she fell asleep during the day, her two-year-old son nearly started the house on fire by turning on the stove! She criticized her children and said that they were just plain bad and there was nothing she could do to improve their behavior. What I heard and saw were two children badly in need of loving discipline, but instead, they received criticism from their mother. I worried that these small children were in danger during their times without supervision at home.
So, rather than helping her to find resources that would help her with her parenting skills, and help her children with their social and behavior skills, I reported her to Child Protective Services for possible child neglect. I failed to look at her heart and see her pain and frustration, but instead saw her as some kind of careless mother who didn’t care about her children.
I immediately regretted the report after I made it. What have I done, I thought? How would I feel if I was having a bad day and someone did that to me? I was so upset that I couldn’t sleep that whole night. Walking into the office the next day was extremely difficult for me as I couldn’t keep my tears of regret from showing, and all of my coworkers questioned me about what was bothering me. I felt so guilty over what I had done that I could hardly talk about it. When I finally worked up the courage to speak about it, I could see by the looks on their faces that I had certainly made an error in my judgment of her. My coworkers knew Alexis better than I did and they thought of her as a loving mother who did her best for her children.
I called the caseworker from Child Protective Services for some reassurance. She told me that they would visit Alexis at her home, assess the situation, and try to offer her help in caring for her children and meeting her own needs for stress relief as well. She promised me that their goal was not to take children from their mothers. She told me that I had done the right thing.
Several weeks later, I received a letter in the mail from the caseworker. They were unable to find Alexis at home and had dropped the case. I never saw her back at the clinic. I don’t know if she had moved or just decided to go to another WIC clinic where she might be treated with more compassion than what I had shown her. One thing I do know for sure is that I will never again refer a client to Child Protective Services unless I am absolutely sure that the child in question is being abused or neglected without a doubt. In the future, I will spend more time with my clients to offer all of the possible assistance and resources that are available to them without resorting to drastic measures that could separate a family. I pray that in the future God will slow me down, open my heart and allow me to bring goodness and love to the clients I serve rather than looking down on them in their stress with judgment.