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Three Reasons You May (Definitely) Like Your Pet Better Than Your Kid

           I’ve always grown up with pets. Whether a cat a dog, a fish or a frog, I’ve been a parent to many a small creatures. So naturally, when I found out that I’m allergic to dog and cat hair, that was a sad day. Luckily, I already had three dogs – so I decided that allergies were going to take a backseat and I would suck up my fear of needles until my little fur-babies bought the farm. My kids, including the big hairy one, all whined and moaned. I want a cat, I want a dog, I want a monkey! Everyone wanted something I was allergic to and I gave my resounding NO to all who breathed an animal request in my direction. That is until…

            Ok, so I lost my entire resolve when three small kittens found their way into our shed. Surrounded by dogs and all the wild creatures hanging out in our woods, we had to save them from a life of orphanhood until we could find them a good home (aka, our home). They were 3 or 4 weeks old, had an absentee mother, and they yanked on the part of my heart that still loves to foster small, needy things. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as you have to eye-dropper feed little creatures, you’re kind of attached… especially if you choose to name all three of them. (Let’s be real… this was a done deal from the first meow anyways.)

            Ok, so here we are. A family of 2 adults, three kids, three dogs, three kittens, and we are moving into our new house with our two in-laws and a grandmother. I say I want to simplify my life, but I just keep adding things in threes! Yet their big, sweet eyes and tiny, pink noses bring me so much happiness that I’m contemplating getting rid of the three kids instead of the cats. (Because if we’re being honest, the cats are way cooler than my kids.)


            Three reasons why I may like my kittens more than my kids:

1)      My kittens were potty-trained in 12 hours.

          Do you even understand the irony of this in my life?? I have been potty-training my toddler for 2-and-a-half YEARS! He is never going to be out of diapers or pull-ups. NEVER! I even tried to shame him into toileting.

          “Wyatt, even the KITTIES go pee in their potty and they’re just babies.” But his response was this. “Mama. I’m not a kitten! I’m a little boy!” (I have no idea how he thought this fixed things, but it did in his mind.)

          My son is the king of announcing that he peed in his pull-up. At the store, in the yard, next to the toilet, it doesn’t matter. I picture him in his cap and gown, shaking hands with the college president, switching his tassel to the other side as he proudly announces “I peed in my pull up!”

          Or maybe he will be in his double-breasted tuxedo, standing in front of 100 of his closest family and friends, looking deeply into the eyes of his bride-to-be. Only instead of vows, I see him lovingly whisper to her that he peed in his pull-up.

          And can we take a moment to remember Taylor being 6 before bed-wetting stopped? Not to mention that Cameron still has the occasional accident at age 11? Even my dogs can’t hold it anymore. All I do is clean up urine in my life. All day, every day, I deal with pissing and moaning in the most literal sense.

          So yeah, I definitely like the kittens more.

2)      My kittens are content to snuggle in silence.

          Whereas my toddler chooses to use cuddle time to try out his WWF moves, the kitties snuggle sweetly into the crook of my neck. Whereas my toddler bites, pinches, sits on my head, and randomly humps things, the kitties stay in one spot, occasionally nudging me with a nose to encourage a head rub. They never leave me bloody or feeling violated, and that’s a huge improvement in my life.

          And then there’s my daughter. She LOVES cuddling. Like, if she could crawl into my skin and join her cells with mine, it still wouldn’t be enough physical contact and emotional oneness for her. People talk about their children being up their butt all the time, however, I literally feel like my daughter tries to imitate a butt plug during 98% of her waking moments. She’s a human enema.

          Finally, there’s my oldest. He refuses to cuddle or have physical contact in the slightest. His idea of snuggling is sitting on the bed and asking me 9 trillion questions as I lay there with my eyes closed trying to go to sleep. Does he not see? Does he not realize? Does he not think? The answer to all of the above is “Duuuuuhhhhh… I’m a pre-teen boy… I have no social skills… duuuuuuhhhhh.”

          Do kittens ask me questions? Do they have to be inside of my body? Do they smack my back fat and laugh at the jiggling?

          No. No they do not. Because cats don’t have an 18-year learning curve. And that is why kittens are awesome and kids stink.

3)      Kittens are self-sufficient.

         Seriously, have you ever had a cat ask you to wipe its butt? Or does your kitty scream that your neighborhood is stupid because there are no other cats their age to play with? How about this, has your cat ever thrown a royal tantrum and then asked you to give them money minutes later for a new toy?

          No! Of course not! Cats are thrilled with whatever you serve them for dinner with nary a complaint! They go to sleep without a tuck in, 4 drinks of water, bedtime prayers, or a story! You guys, cats are quite literally over the moon with a piece of freaking string. On the other hand, my children require an entire circus, a posse of friends that rotate every 5 minutes, and mind-numbing electronics to keep them from complaining that they’re bored (and even these things only last for a half hour, if we’re lucky).

          Kittens enjoy their shadows. Kids want constant entertainment. Kittens can play with a tiny piece of paper for hours. Kids can tantrum for hours when asked to pick up said piece of paper and put it in the garbage. Kittens smell like sweet fur and milk. Kids smell like neediness wrapped in week-old socks.

          When it comes right down to it, don’t we all like pets just a little bit more than we like our children? You don’t have to speak your answer out loud, I won’t make you feel guilty about your secret contempt for parenting… but just remember that the next time you hold a little baby in your arms and your spouse looks at you with a glint in their eye that says, “You wanna?” – I want you to smack them square across the face and go get a kitten. It’ll save your life, I promise.


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Though I Walk Through The Shadows

No holding back, right? That’s what I promised when I started writing 7 years ago. This is not something I take lightly, not at all. Because honestly, it puts me in a bad light and makes me even more vulnerable than I already am. However, the idea is to be a living example of the testimony that can come out of one broken life. Show people your weaknesses and they will see God’s strength even more. And so, Friends, I offer up this free association of my failures… God’s hopefully about to do an awful lot of shining.

This continuous nagging at my insides is all too familiar, I fear. That reminder that things are not as they should be. I am not who I should be, I am not where I should be, I am not the mom I should be nor the wife I should be. I am not enough for my church. I can’t actually enjoy life when there’s so much sorrow in the world. My kids make me angry. My kids make me feel inadequate. They make me hate waking up and so I find myself sleeping more. They exhaust me when I already feel so tired. When I feel this way, their constant bickering and tattling and testing limits seems so intolerable that I have to run away to escape my feelings towards them. Their screams are like needles to my eardrums. I try to “fix” my children… one who doesn’t even want to change, I’m pretty certain. And despite the wrongness of it all and the fight that I put on daily, I lost one child to a system that I loathe with all my heart. I beat my hands on my chest because I realize I can do nothing to change things. I am a person and I am fallible.

My marriage is broken. I don't want it to be, but it just is. I can’t tell my husband real things I face because we aren’t on the same page about anything important. I have failed to show him Jesus and have fallen so short of what the Bride of Christ is supposed to be. It seems like the harder I pray for our family to work, the more aware I am of all our broken pieces – shards of glass that cut open our feet as we daily walk through our messy lives. I’m convinced that my husband thinks I’m weak or incompetent –  even when I feel like I’ve given all I have to be strong… only to collapse in front of him reaffirming my weakness.

I’m also pretty sure that my extended family things I’m weak, too… and dramatic. That I’m lazy and that I do too much, all in the same breath. That if things don’t go exactly my way, I can’t cope. And yet I wonder if they know what it’s like to live a life of constantly feeling like things are going the wrong way, that things are always breaking and collapsing, and that no matter what I do, it will never be enough anyways. I feel like I constantly do everything wrong in someone’s eyes. I take on too much and feel too hard, and then I get tired all over again. I don’t find contentment for long because there’s always something more that needs to be done. Then there are days where I don’t do anything and I feel even more tired than before.

It has been the worst summer I’ve had in all my life. There has been so much loss and unresolved grief, so much chaos and fighting this RAD disorder that seems hell-bent on destroying our family, so much personal pain and acknowledgment that people (myself heavily included) will constantly fail. There has been more need than there has been of me to go around, and even the part of me that’s there to help has been ground up and amounts to very little of anything useful it seems. Those in my world see me as both a martyr for a cause as well as a ticking time bomb. I’m the strong advocate and the closet weeper. I scream about as much as I pray. One moment I am utterly certain I’m doing what God has called me to, and the next day I want to pick up and start life over afresh. I feel like a chameleon and a fake, all at the same time. One day I know that I can be what I need to in any situation, the next I feel like I don’t even know who I am anymore – just who I don’t want to be.

You see, Depression is not my friend, but she is sometimes my shadow. Often on the sunniest of days, her presence is seen most. A wife and mom, friend and family member, an author, therapist, worship leader, public speaker – I have a beautiful family, a new house being built, most of the bills are paid… And?

And there I sit with my shadow.

It feels like death and despair are all around me – every child that is being hurt, every mom who is crying out, every lost soul who is desperate for something… I feel it all the way through me. When those around me tell me to stop taking on other people’s burdens, I don’t even know how they’d like me to achieve that. Aren’t the world’s burdens ours to bear? Are we not to carry one another’s crosses with them and stand in the gap and hold their hands when they feel alone? Not because we can do anything in and of ourselves, obviously not – and I know that’s part of what ails me. But we’re Jesus with skin, aren’t we? How do we walk the tight-rope that is joining with those at the cross and leaving those burdens there?

I know my shadow will fade once again. She will not stay permanently – she never does. She can’t, because God has claimed victory over her, over each and every one of my conflicting feelings of discontent, self-doubt, and helplessness. I feel the presence of depression now, but I hold an unwavering Hope that my God will not leave me with her alone.

This is not a feel-good message, in case you haven’t noticed. But this is my brutal honesty.

I also know that there are many of you out there who also struggle with depression. Anxiety. Panic attacks. Fear. Worry. Self-doubt. Disbelief. And I encourage you to take comfort in your own sadness.

I know that sounds strange, but when we reach a certain point of sorrow, we are reminded so brightly that our light is not from ourselves but from the Lord. I do not feel happiness by the standards of this world – when I see all the suffering around me, I don’t know what happiness would even feel like. But then again, happiness is temporary. It is Hope that is eternal.

Even when your shadows are creeping up and the walls are closing in, remember that there is joy in sorrow, peace in chaos, and strength in Hope.

“Though sorrow may last for the night, joy comes with the morning.” ~ Psalm 30:5

 “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all”. ~ Psalm 34:17-19

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” ~ Isaiah 40:31 

 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11 

 “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 

“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.”  Psalm 94:19

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The Pre-Teen RAD

I am parenting a pre-teen RAD. By parenting, I mean keeping alive. And by pre-teen RAD, I mean sociopath. Because is there honestly a more difficult combination than Reactive Attachment Disorder and pre-pubescence? I cannot begin to imagine a worse combination, a more deadly mixture that could wreak this kind of havoc on a family! I mean, do I love this kid? Yes (thinks the tiny voice inside my heart that’s currently being bound and gagged by my humanity), but do I like this kid? Nope. Not even a little bit. Not right now.

Judge if you need to, I’m okay with it! My skin has become far too calloused from the past several months of lies and rants, tantrums and rages. I no longer carry the ability to feel “judged” by my peers. It’s kinda like when you reach a certain age and you can convert to leggings and the messy bun (every day for every occasion) – you just sort of quit. Well, that’s how I feel about parenting my son. I am the legging-wearer, the messy bun, the “screw the make-up” kind of mom now… and there may be no turning back!

And these are the reasons why:

Normal pre-teens have crushes, even going as far as to carry the “boyfriend/girlfriend” label for sometimes a week at a time! Whereas my pre-teen? The only girl he notices is his sister, and that’s only because he threatens to murder her in her sleep if she doesn’t empty out her piggy bank to him on a weekly basis.

Normal pre-teens have hobbies or sports and try to appear “cool” – to fit in – to be popular. My pre-teen is as coordinated as a sloth on roller skates, so sports are out. And I don’t know how he does it, but he can’t even make breathing appear anything but painfully awkward. He hates everything and only attempts to make a go at an activity if he might get paid to do so. He literally must be bribed financially to play with children!

Normal pre-teens look forward to school dances and after-school parties. My pre-teen plots ways to steal from those children while they’re busy socializing with friends.

Normal pre-teens start paying attention to the way they look, smell, and act around their peers. My pre-teen still only showers one side of himself, still can’t figure out how a comb works, refuses to wear an outfit combination that could even be considered remotely attractive, and often smells like a garbage truck…. Probably because he refuses to brush and floss his teeth, leaving weeks worth of food and plaque globbed between his braces.

Normal pre-teens plan for summer camp. My pre-teen plans for the psych ward.

Normal pre-teens get a pet and start learning the responsibilities of caring for another creature. My pre-teen kills or harms most animals he comes in contact with. If this is a sign of his nurturing skills, we may have to have him sterilized!

Now, those parents who do not have a RAD child are probably sitting back right now saying that only a terrible mother would right such horrific things about their own child! Eh, perhaps. But I look around and say that I would be a terrible human being if I didn’t warn the rest of the public of my child. I mean, in the words of Antoine Dodson, “hide your kids, hide your wives”, right? This is my due diligence to society… even if I don’t happen to have a wildly popular social media rant-turned-rap in my back pocket!

But for those of you who DO have a child with RAD, I can actually hear your Amens ringing loud and clear across the nation. I feel them in my soul as we stand together and say that parenting a pre-teen RAD is quite possibly the most exhaustingly heart-wrenching thing, the most tediously frustrating thing, the most frightening love-hate thing that has ever, ever been.

So, when you see me, bear with me. Don’t mind my dirty house, my broken objects, or the screaming child coming from the upstairs bedroom. Don’t worry when my child bangs on the car windows motioning for other vehicles to save him from his “abusive family”. Pay no attention to whispers of inappropriate conversation escaping my son’s mouth – the screams, the threats, the hate and disrespect for women…

My mind is now oatmeal, and my ability to carry on a conversation while watching for my child seek out his next victim is basically gone. If I smile maniacally, it is because my resting face is translated to my son that I am in fighting mode. And if I hyperventilate in your presence, I apologize… chances are I’ve been holding my breath until bedtime when I am finally free to ingest air again.

And to all of you other pre-teen RAD mamas and papas out there… my heart is with you. If you’ve kept your child alive, you are my heroes. And if you haven’t, I totally get it. Here’s to 7 more glorious years! (Oh, sweet Lord almighty…)


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With Death and Injustice for All

Our county was supposedly established on freedom. Justice. The pursuit of Happiness. However, when it comes to welfare and safety of children, we have failed and we have done so immensely. Don't believe me? Take a look for yourself.

In the great state of Pennsylvania...

Jan. – Dec. 2015:

Child Fatalities: 34

Child Near Fatalities: 58

58% of the families of fatalities were already known to Children and Youth Services (CYS) - (had an active case, had been reuinified, or the case had been successfully closed.) 55% of the families of near fatalities were already known to CYS.

 Jan. – Dec. 2016:

Fatalities: 46

Near Fatalities: 79

Of the fatalities and near fatalities, 66% of these families were already in CYS’s care or had been successfully closed, 22% had not been known to CYS, and 12% were not specified.

 Jan. – May 2017:

Fatalities: 42

Near Fatalities: 73

No reports have been given at this time regarding how many of these families were already known to CYS, and 7 months still remain in this calendar year.

Look at the numbers. Just look at them. Even to an untrained layman, it is more than obvious that there’s a rise in fatalities and near fatalities of children each year – and that the statistics for 2017 were only for the first 5 months of the year! It is also quite clear that each year, CYS is aware of these cases in over half of the families who have had fatalities or near fatalities. They've had active cases, had “successfully” closed cases, or the children had been taken from foster care and reunified with their birth parents, only for those children to wind up dead or severely wounded.

If these numbers aren’t enough to cause some kind of emotional reaction in our communities, then I fear for all of us, not just our kids.

In the 2017 records, 86% of the children who died and 60% of the children who nearly died were under the age of 5 years old. These are children who have not yet entered school. Also in 2017, 74% of children who died and 77% of children who nearly died were under the age of 3… children that CYS themselves determine are too young to self-report, therefore they continue to be harmed until they are hospitalized or they pass away. In fact, just last year, the state of PA put in their own annual statistics that out of the children who died in 2016, 94% of the time, the perpetrator was a parent of that child. For near fatalities, 89% of these cases listed the parent as the perpetrator. These children are with their perpetrators for most, if not all, of their time until they enter school. These very kids may have no other safe person set eyes on them if not the caseworkers in charge of determining their fate.

In 2016, 44,259 reports were made to Child Protective Services (CPS) in the state of Pennsylvania. Of these calls, 37,853 were made by mandated reporters – individuals trained to know the signs of abuse and neglect in children. And out of these calls, CYS determined that only 4,597 of these allegations were substantiated. That means that the other 33,256 calls made by doctors, teachers, day care workers, therapists, nurses, and police officers are deemed to be not severe enough for CYS to even open a case, let alone remove a child from the home. This is despite the fact that 1,952 calls made were cases of repeated abuse. In these cases, even though CYS already knows the family from prior dealings, only 13.6% of these cases of repeated abuse were substantiated and a case was opened.

In addition to the 44,259 CPS reports made in the same year, 151,087 General Protective Services (GPS) reports were made. GPS reports are “those reports that do not rise to the level of suspected child abuse but allege a need for intervention to prevent serious harm to children. The department is responsible for receiving and transmitting reports where GPS concerns are alleged” (page 24 in the 2016 reports). Of those calls, 48% of the reports were screened out and not assessed at all, whereas 21% were validated, requiring CYS to attempt to visit the home at least once. The state provided no information on what happened to the other 31% of calls made to GPS.

However, of the calls that were looked into by Children and Youth Services, they found that the highest percentage of problems in these homes (by more than double) was due to parental substance abuse. This information is increasingly frustrating when you factor in the comment made by a Beaver County CYS worker that if a parent is a “functioning addict and there are no broken bones” they cannot and will not intervene. Knowing that these “functioning addicts” are the biggest reason that children are dying or nearly dying should make that a difficult comment for anyone to wrap their minds around.

Also in 2016, 166,971 calls were made to Childline, the crisis hotline for abused and neglected children. These calls go to the local CYS agency, the local police (who have informed me that they do not receive these reports for at least several weeks after a call has been made), and the District Attorney. Of these calls, 155,911 were answered, 10,957 calls were abandoned (there is no description as to what this means on the government website), and 103 calls were deflected due to not meeting abuse or neglect criteria. Since the state of PA was given $1.811 billion in funding for child welfare services, and since there appears to be such a high number of calls by trained professionals regarding abused and neglected kids, it shocks me that only 13% of this budged was used for investigations into these allegations (this 13% INCLUDES the salaries for personnel that work these investigations).

(As I live and work in the Western Region of PA, this is where my main focus has been. However, if you are interested in looking at the statistics for your own counties, the links to the necessary government websites are listed at the end of this post.)

Fatality and Near Fatality Accounts of 4 core Western Region Counties:

Allegheny County:

1)      18-month-old female died of serious physical neglect by her mother. Mom was on heroin and morphine which the child ingested because the drugs were left on the bed next to the child. A sibling was then placed with a grandparent. Mom was sentenced only 30-60 months in jail.

       Prior history with CYS over 6 years (7 GPS calls made).

2)      2-year-old male nearly died of physical abuse by his maternal uncle. Prior to this, the family had a case with Beaver County CYS where the child was placed in a foster home and then given to the maternal uncle and aunt as a kinship placement. The child was shaken severely because the uncle caught him going through the garbage. This lead to a brain bleed and a seizure. The child and a sibling were placed back with the previous Beaver county foster home.

       Both the bio mom AND kinship uncle had previous history with CYS. Mom had reports made on her of sexual abuse, lack of supervision, mental instability, inappropriate discipline, and physical abuse. The uncle’s family had reports made of physical abuse, the oldest 4 of 6 children were acting out sexually, no food or beds, the uncle is an alcoholic, and the aunt has mental health issues).

3)      2-month-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by mom’s boyfriend of 2 weeks. He was tossing the baby 4-5 feet in the air and catching her when her head snapped. Baby girl had internal bleeding, 3 rib fractures, bruises on face and butt, and has shaken baby syndrome. Boyfriend is in jail and the baby is in kinship placement awaiting reunification with mom.

       The family was previously known to CYS.

4)      2-month-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by mom’s ex-boyfriend. Outside in March, the baby was wearing a onesie and a light blanket and ex-boyfriend was reportedly erratically swinging the baby in the car seat from side to side. The male appeared under the influence when police arrived, but he denied using anything and no blood or urine tests were taken. Baby girl was blue and lethargic and had injuries from being violently shaken. She developed seizures, blood clots, and was put on a ventilator. Ex-boyfriend is in jail and child is with bio mom.

       Family was not previously known to CYS.

5)      18-month-old near fatality due to physical abuse by babysitter. Investigations seem to point to it being accidental, but the sitter is still being questioned for possible medical neglect.

       History of CYS with Mom but not babysitter.

6)      3-month-old male near fatality due to physical abuse by mom and step-mom. Baby had bone fractures in skull, rib fractures, retinal hemorrhages, and retinal folds – these injuries are believed to have occurred between 7 and 10 days old according to the doctors. Step-mom was arrested and is awaiting trial. Baby and 2 siblings were placed with grandparents before being reunified with mom 2 months later.

       History of CYS with mom for deplorable housing conditions and mom throwing things at the children.

7)      23-month-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by an unknown individual (probably an in-home nurse). Baby was born with multiple health issues and was receiving 16 hours of medical in-home care each day. A non-regular nurse for the child did an 8-hour shift and somehow the child ingested about 1 cup of salt, which her ill body couldn’t process.

       The family had no prior CYS contact.

8)      8-year-old male died due to physical abuse and neglect by his mom and her boyfriend. Child was unresponsive and had blood around his mouth, bruising all over his body, severe brain trauma, and hemorrhaging at the brain stem. Boyfriend is in jail awaiting trial and 2 other siblings were placed with grandparents.

       Prior CYS history for physical maltreatment. This was apparently unfounded so no services were provided.

9)      6-month-old male near fatality due to physical abuse by mother. Baby had skull fracture, scalp hematoma, multiple brain bleeds, and a seizure. Mom admitted to hitting the baby in the head with a hard plastic bottle and punching his head 5-6 times while frustrated with one of the victim’s 6 siblings. She also body slammed him 2 times. Baby was placed in foster care and mom was placed in the psychiatric unit while she awaits trial. Other siblings were placed in kinship care.

       History of CYS due to lack of supervision and maltreatment towards an older sibling. Mom and victim child both tested positive for marijuana at the time of birth as well. CYS couldn’t assess the family because they moved to Ohio. CYS then closed the case with no follow up or forwarding to the Ohio child welfare system.

10)  3-week-old male died due to serious physical abuse by mom. Baby died smothered next to intoxicated/high mother who had passed out on the bed with the newborn. (GPS and CPS reports were already filed due to mom being on drugs and alcohol.) Kinship care was given for other siblings, then they went to a shelter, and then they went to their dad, who also was using drugs and alcohol. Mom was incarcerated for 5 weeks before she was released and sent back to jail for 4 months.

       Prior history with CYS for 9 years. GPS reports made for drugs and alcohol, domestic violence, and the oldest two children were previously in foster care. 1 CPS report was made for physical maltreatment, which was unsubstantiated.

11)  17-month-old male died by physical abuse from mom and dad. Mom threatened to harm and kill the baby and 2-year-old because the dad had allegedly had an affair. Mom sent text messages of this to the dad but he didn’t take her threats seriously. Mom then sent text pictures and videos of her harming the children and smothering the baby with a pillow, causing him to die. The 2-year-old was placed with dad until CYS found out he had failed to intervene in the harming of the children. She was then placed with an aunt and is awaiting adoption. Mom was arrested and awaits trial. Dad was arrested and released on bond.

       Prior history with CYS and current CYS involvement. 2 GPS reports regarding parental substance abuse and allowing a sex offender to have access to the children – a case was opened briefly and mom was ordered a drug and alcohol assessment but no further actions were deemed necessary.

12)  2-month-old male near fatality due to physical abuse by mom and dad. Baby ingested methadone and was given Narcan to revive him. It was more methadone than was possible to have been in breastmilk. Baby was placed in foster care, then kinship care. Both parents were in jail and then released awaiting trial.

       No prior CYS history.

13)  5-month-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by male babysitter. Baby had hemorrhaging, bruised chest, and retinal bleeds. Babysitter awaits trial.

       Prior CYS with family – 5 GPS reports made between 2013 and 2016 when the baby died. Reports were for domestic violence and an older sibling being grabbed by the father. The father how has a protective order against him and the kids reside with the mom.

14)  2-year-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by mom. Mother left a bag of suboxone and other medication out on a table while she went to help her other child get ready for school. Baby ate numerous pills and was given Narcan 2 times for survival. Baby was returned home with a safety plan, which mom violated. Kids were sent to an aunt’s house and then to their father. Dad had a prior PFA and was ordered in-home services and batterer’s therapy. Mom awaits trial.

       History of CYS – 3 GPS reports in 2015 for physical maltreatment and housing issues.

Beaver County:

15)  2-year-old male near fatality due to physical abuse by mother. 1 week prior, GPS was made for deplorable housing, little food in the home, and mom was suspected of using heroin and pain pills. Multiple reports were made that the child had bruising on his face and was locked in a room. Police and CYS brought the child to the doctor and he had burn marks on his skin, scratches, bruises, and internal bleeding. Mother admitted to abusing him and he was placed with his grandparents.

       History of CYS involvement due to drug use and not caring for the child – the child had a prior skull fracture and torn frenulum in his mouth. CYS followed up for 6 months at the home and then closed the case.

16)  3-month old female near fatality due to physical abuse by mom and dad. Baby had a skull fracture, hemorrhages, cerebral edema, acute AND healing rib fractures, fractures to both legs, and retinal hemorrhages. These then led to seizures and deep vein thrombosis. She was sent to her grandparent. Mother admitted to shaking the baby while mad at the baby’s dad. Dad didn’t intervene to stop her. Mom was arrested and awaits trial. Dad was not arrested.

       History of CYS involvement for physical abuse of her older 6-year-old child.

Lawrence County:

17)  2-month-old female died due to physical abuse by mom’s boyfriend. Baby had cardiac arrest due to blunt force trauma to the skull. Boyfriend was arrested and awaits trial and the sibling is with the mother.

       History of CYS with the family from 2010-2016 – 3 GPS reports and 1 CPS report for inappropriate discipline, substance abuse, deplorable housing, and physical abuse by mom and boyfriend. Mental health evaluations and parenting instructions were offered.

18)  2-year-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by dad. He said the toddler fell down the stairs while mom was at work but the doctors reported that the injuries couldn’t possibly have occurred from that. The baby had hematomas, an inflamed colon, abnormal liver enzymes, retinal hemorrhages, and left arm fracture due to violent shaking. Mom supported dad’s story. The investigation continues.

       Prior CYS history for parental drug and alcohol abuse, poor home conditions, lack of supervision and limited food. This was not substantiated, however.

My Observations:

1)   Most accounts of fatalities and near fatalities occurred with families known to the CYS workers and were getting services, had been successfully closed out, or abuse couldn’t be substantiated.

Birth parents are given so much leeway that kids are dying or being severely injured while they “work to get themselves together”.

The “services provided” to these families are obviously proving ineffective. (By the way, services are often recommended but cannot be mandated unless the case proceeds to court, which is avoided at all costs, leaving treatment up to the choice of the perpetrator!)

Prior CYS involvement and multiple GPS/CPS reports are being ignored until children die.

2)    When children and families change counties or states, cases are often closed and not transferred.

3)    Almost all fatalities and near fatalities are by parents.

Therefore, parenting classes and evaluations are not working.

4)    Drugs and Alcohol abuse are the highest leading contributor in validated GPS reports (twice the percentage of the next highest contributing factor)!

Drug and alcohol evaluations and classes (again, if they are even mandated) are also not working.

5)    The way the state determines successful permanency is through adoption or reunification.

Reunification can be done quickly, but adoption usually takes well over a year.

Statistics from the previous year determine the funds for the coming year.

Caseworkers are told to reunify instead of placing children in foster care or adoption at all costs to show a higher success rate of permanency for the year.

This leads to increased CYS funding instead of a decrease in funds for the following year.

6)    Why are so many cases not assessed or screened out since most of the calls are made by mandated reporters who are trained to know the signs of childhood abuse and neglect?

Are these weeded out so that hard cases don’t effect funding?

7)    Since many of these death and near death rates can be proven inaccurate (on the low end) by local newspapers and police reports, I would question the integrity of the agencies and workers writing up reports, filing reports, and completing the annual documentation.

And now that you know, what are you going to do about it?

Here are some solutions! First of all, we have to start with our local politicians. Commissioners oversee Children and Youth Services (CYS) and yet they are never notified of these issues. Following up with local DA's (District Attorneys) and the Attorney General are next. Working with your state legislative office to help promote new laws to protect children or change existing laws - and on the state level, we have to find a way to get the state treasurers to re-quantify how "success" is determined for the counties. If we take away the burden of finding permanency for a removed child within the same year, CYS can actually focus more on adoption as an option. But right now, adoptions take longer than a year and reunification doesn't - so they reunify or don't remove children at all in order to not lose their budget (and hence, their jobs) the following year. We also have the option of raising awareness via the news, protests, and getting national attention from sources willing to take on causes like this.

(These reports were divided into 4 quarters over the 2016 year.)


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The Heartbreak of Living

            I would say that my heart breaks on an average of 25 times a day. Some days, some months, that number is significantly more. I think that’s the price we pay for loving people. Honestly, I can’t think of any relationship or situation I’ve been in where there hasn’t been a time of heartbreak. Sometimes I’m even the one doing the breaking. But at the end of the day, the only way to avoid this pain is to hide away and ignore the world entirely – not look at the news, not read social media, not have a family or friends, not leave the house. In a sense, to avoid heartbreak, you can’t actually live.

            However, since I’ve chosen life, I’ve consequently chosen some pain. And true to form, when it rains, it pours. In the midst of grieving a dear friend’s illness, I’ve continued to hear horrendous reports on our little Isaac’s situation. My heart breaks continuously for these two situations alone. Then I’ve had to deal with a personal ordeal that has left me devastated and questioning things about myself that I haven’t felt in a long time – feelings of insecurity and vulnerability – things that have reignited my panic attacks with a vengeance. And then I read the 2016 and what is to date of the 2017 Child Protective Services Annual Reports, only to find that the PA fatality and near fatality rates have more than doubled in this year alone… and we still have 6 months to go! So, my heart broke significantly more, not just for my own situations, but for the hurting children all around me.

            Naturally, in the middle of all of this, my own children decide to let their RAD hang out all over the place. It was only 9:30 am yesterday when I thought I was going to have to admit my oldest to the hospital for his rage (which the poor fellas doing construction on our new house had the privy of hearing). He was told “No”… that was it. That was the “big trigger”. The mooing cries started. The punching his head came next, followed by screaming at a pitch that would compete with a dog whistle. (Obviously I was to blame because I couldn’t understand what he was saying.) As he picked up a toy and cocked his arm, ready to bust out the window in our toy room (it took him over 6 months to save up to get his bedroom window fixed, by the way), I saw my toddler standing in his direct aim. We’d already been to the hospital twice within a week and I instantly feared that my youngest was going to be next.

            Jumping in front of him as quickly as I could, Cameron screamed that he hated me. That I’m a child abuser. That I always blame him for everything. That I’m the worst mother in the world. And when I told him that I was calling the police if he didn’t calm down immediately, he screamed some more and went upstairs to flip his bed. This happened 10 minutes before I had to leave and take Taylor to camp. Knowing that Cameron was hoping his sister would have to miss for the day, I was going to move the earth to make sure she made it, even if she was late!

Thankfully, my pastor’s wife jumped in her car and came to sit at my house while I got my daughter to camp, our builder was ready to step in and assist if needed, and a good friend picked my daughter up from camp, keeping her for a few hours while Cameron eventually calmed in his room.

            That same daughter, however, got mad at Wyatt only a few hours later, shoving him off her tall bed! I went running into the room upon hearing my toddler wailing in a heap on the floor while my daughter tried telling me the most physically impossible stories about what “could have happened” in order to avoid getting in trouble. There was no remorse when I told her that he could have been severely hurt. No. She cried when I told her she was in her room for the night and would miss choir practice.

I screamed like a lunatic for the hundredth time that day, ensuring my craziness to our neighbors. I sobbed, I slammed my door a few times, and I did a whole lot of hyperventilating! To sum things up, I was the perfect picture of an untherapeutic disaster, but I couldn’t have cared less. All I wanted to do was be by myself and sleep for a super long time.

But that’s the thing with choosing to live… you don’t get to step away from hard parenting moments. You don’t get to heal your friends or stop child abuse, fix broken hearts or save the world. What you get instead is an infinite amount of opportunities to be loved. Prayers from a parent, encouraging texts from fellow mothers, a pastor’s wife who will drop what she’s doing to step into your craziness, friends who will listen to your prattling daughter when you just can’t, children who eventually apologize (sometimes), and a God who is bigger than all of your heart breaks.

As always, I blog to process and to heal. My only hope is that someone out there who is also going through heart break will realize that it’s just the cost of living and loving deeply. Look for those moments to be loved back and wrap yourself up tightly in them… even if it’s just a little love from a blogger out in Western Pennsylvania. My heart is with yours.


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