Some years ago in Southern California, a 400-pound lesbian decided that life with her 300-pound partner and their three adopted children wasn’t worth living, so she drove into a semi truck, crushing her legs and hips and leaving her in the hospital for months. When she got out, she weighed just 90 pounds, but she was meaner than ever, a tweaker hooked on pain pills who took out her misery on the kids. One day, the youngest had to be airlifted out of the home with a knife in her chest.
“Her story on that changed many times,” an old acquaintance of mine, a lawyer who deals with these kinds of things, wrote me in an email. “The children say tweaker stabbed her. Tweaker says she fell running up the stairs. No CPS problem.” That’s CPS, as in Child Protective Services.
Since the late ’70s, the debate over child protective services has been driven by horror stories that have become a meta-narrative: social workers screw up by missing the telltale signs of abuse, kids get hurt, laws are reformed, and thus more at-risk children are taken out of their homes and given to loving adoptive families.