By Jen

In September I began working for the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) in Texas. I was probably a little too excited to be starting a state job. I was very enthusiastic about the training process, but I’m sure the overburdened bureaucracy will get to me sooner rather than later. For a few months now I’ve been imagining writing a piece about how child protection policies here in Texas treat mothers in cases of abuse and neglect.

One of the most striking pieces of the training was in the seemingly most mundane aspect of the job: documentation and record creation.  For today, I’ll focus on one bit policy which is assigning a “case name” for a case of abuse or neglect on a child.

The DFPS rule on giving a case a name is that the mother’s name is the default name assigned to the case. To be clear, having a case named “Jett, Joan,” for example, does not mean that the “alleged perpetrator” of the abuse in the case is going to be Ms. Jett. Using the mother’s name is one way the state attempts to distinguish one case from other cases.

During training I tried to swallow this little bit of departmental policy and chase it with a tall glass of water. Still the idea continues to nag at me as I ask the question over and over again everyday: What is the name of the mother of the child? The mother’s name may be made the official name of a case even if she is incarcerated and some other family member is caring for the child(ren).

It’s not that there aren’t exceptions to this rule. For example, the name of a case would change to a foster parent’s name if a child had been removed from a home and adopted by a new family. However, even in this case, the name of the case would Foster mother’s name. The name used to identify the case of abuse or neglect will also change if some other relative or person has gone through the process of legally obtaining guardianship of the child.

I’ve tried to see the logical side of this policy decision: the overwhelming statistical evidence of female headed, single parent households or all of the fraught history of preference of the mother in child custody warfare. And, certainly, those examples work to create the context in which the decision was made to stamp every TX Child protective Services case with “MOTHER.” But I cannot help but be bothered by the decision to take the mother’s name the distinguishing mark of the case. Shouldn’t a case number suffice?

In any case, I hope to continue to explore social and protective policy issues in future posts. I hope there’s an audience for it here!