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Controlling Your Anger When Dealing With the CAS

Controlling Your Anger When Dealing With the CAS

By Andreas Solomos


When the CAS comes knocking on your door, one of the most powerful emotions you will experience is anger: anger at yourself for getting into a situation that prompted someone to notify the CAS alleging your children are abused or run the risk of suffering physical or emotional harm; angry at your spouse for causing you all that trouble; or angry at the CAS’s workers for intruding into your life and your children’s lives.

I will discuss the anger you experience toward the Children’s Aid Society or CAS and its employees, agents and associates.

In Ontario, child protection is governed by the provisions of the Child and Family Services Act (the Act). The primary purpose of the Act is to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children. However, there are five additional purposes, so long as they are consistent with the best interests, protection and well-being of children. Two of these additional purposes are,
• To recognize that while parents may need help in caring for their children, that help should give support to the autonomy and integrity of the family unit and, wherever possible, be provided on the basis of mutual consent.
• To recognize that the least disruptive course of action that is available and is appropriate in a particular case to help a child should be considered.

Responsible parents have their children’s protection and well-being at heart. However, mistakes do happen. Feeling anger is natural and understandable when the CAS intervenes. However, unleashing uncontrollable anger at the CAS workers will hinder your efforts to keep the CAS at bay or to get your children back if they had been apprehended.

Parents often call me to announce that they’d received a telephone call from the CAS agency who wants to send a child protection worker to their home to interview them about allegations of child abuse. “What should I say?” “What should I do?” “How should I handle the situation?” “Can I refuse to let them come to my home?”

There is no easy answer to these questions. Every situation is unique, and, hence, demands a unique response. However, the first thing I tell these disgruntled parents is to try to remain calm and let the CAS do its job. Preventing the agency from investigating such allegations is not a wise decision. The agency has powers to intervene with or without a warrant and with the assistance of the police.

You may wish to consult with a lawyer before agreeing to meet with the representative from the CAS, even if the allegations seem trivial to you. See the meeting as an opportunity to explain and alleviate the protection concerns. Also, use this opportunity to become a better parent. If little concerns are not addressed the situation may get out of hand later on with more drastic consequences for you and your family.

Even if the CAS decides to intervene, excessive anger can - and often does - destroy the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and to demonstrate that the ‘least disruptive’ course of action should be applied to your situation. The words you use, the subtle gestures you make when you speak and interact with the CAS workers can convey a positive or negative response.

According to case law, the CAS (also referred to as “Society”) has the following obligations:
1. To conduct a thorough investigation before acting.
2. To consider alternative measures for the protection of children before proceeding to court.
3. To continue its investigation up until the time of a final court determination in a vigorous, professional manner.
4. To treat all clients fairly and equally and with as much dignity as possible.
5. To reassess its position as more information becomes available.
6. To ensure that its workers are skilled in the performance of their roles.

Try to avoid exaggeration and insulting language. Communicating effectively with these people is a sign of competence in your abilities to properly parent your children. The opportunity to make these workers feel at ease is easily ruined when parents insult one another in the presence of the CAS workers and in the presence of the children, when they belittle one another, when they insult the workers with personal remarks, and when they harass the workers. Whenever you are forced to interact with these people, you will find yourself in a tense, uncomfortable and conflict ridden situation.

To be able to communicate effectively, you should prepare yourself before the meeting by rehearsing how you will express your thoughts, concerns, opinion, feelings and beliefs about the situation in a way that will create an opportunity for you to address the CAS concerns, learn something beneficial in the process, and hopefully prompt the CAS to close their file and leave you and your family alone. However, in situations where the evidence of abuse is very obvious, the CAS would want to remain involved for as long as it takes to ensure the protection and well-being of your children. In such situations, they bring protection proceedings, and you would have to respond to the allegations at court.     

If the CAS decides to bring protection proceedings by serving and filing a protection application and other related documents, you can continue to demonstrate confidence in your abilities as a parent to care for your children by learning to control your anger.

Parents communicate with the CAS workers and supervisors in angry ways often because they do not feel that the CAS is there to help them but rather take the children away from them. If the CAS had apprehended their children and placed them in foster homes, they become frustrated for not getting their children back soon enough. However, frustration can produce angry modes of responding.

Not every CAS employee is skillful enough at handling the frustration of an agonizing mother whose child is taken away from her.  Some CAS workers can intentionally or unintentionally agitate or provoke a vulnerable parent to become angry; then the CAS can try to justify a radical response and argue that the parent has anger management issues. The good news is that many workers are well-trained and can often help you resolve the issues between you and your children so “that help should give support to the autonomy and integrity of the family unit.”

When you as a parent convince yourself that nothing positive can come out of your interaction with the CAS, the act of releasing anger and frustration can cloud your reasoning and get you into deeper trouble. In the middle of an argument or disagreement you may conclude, “This worker is a moron, he will never understand me, my difficulties and my situation.” But this is an Anger Reinforcing Perception that will obstruct your main objective of maintaining the “autonomy and integrity of the family unit.”

If you have not put enough effort into examining the validity of your perceptions by making generalizations about the agency and its employees, you may not be able to use the opportunity to create rapport and gain empathy and understanding. Your anger may cut you off from getting the support you will need from the worker who may go out of her/his way to mention the positive points about you in her/his report to her/his supervisor.

Give the worker a chance to work with you. The moment you engage the worker in a hostile and critical way, you destroy whatever opportunity exists for you to build a better relationship that would ultimately yield to the desired outcome.

Many child welfare cases can be resolved by learning to master human interactions. Antagonizing the CAS workers will seldom yield a beneficial outcome. There are times, however, that you must stand your ground and fight for your legal rights; if the worker distorts the facts, uses innuendos, exaggerates, refers to your comments without the contexts, and looks for every opportunity to make you look a bad parent, you have every right to be angry. However, even in these situations, it will serve your cause to remain calm and collected. The times when consequences are the greatest are the times when the stakes are high and you lose control of yourself. Dealing with court and legal difficulties requires that you learn to be “cool under pressure.” Going to court takes you out of your natural environment and places you in a position of helplessness and lack of control.

Here are some “Don’ts” for controlling anger during these tough situations that you have to go to court to answer to allegations of child abuse:
• Do not criticize the judge or the process you are in.
• Do not give the CAS workers the impression that you think they are idiots. Everyone who does something ten times a day will have an advantage over someone who is doing it for the first time. Be polite to them even if they are nasty to you. It makes better impression on anyone and will almost take some of the wind out of their sails.
• Do not let the CAS workers and those who work for the CAS know which buttons they can push, because they can wear those buttons out at every opportunity.
• Do not express instant hatred for the CAS investigators and other workers. Chances are if you make it personal, they will too. I have seen workers and lawyers who often look for reasons to close the case. If you get up in their face and imply that they are morons, all you are doing is giving them motivation to find something to make you look bad.
• Do not get frustrated or angry if the CAS workers cannot see how good a parent you are. As long as you influence things as positively as you can, in the end it does not matter.
•  Do not lie. Credibility is a crucial element in all child welfare cases. Lying will cause more trouble than it will ward off.
• Do not allow the CAS and its workers to assume “superhuman powers.”  Just because they became involved in your life and are scrutinizing you doesn’t mean they have unfettered power to make you look bad. If you give them that power, you will have more reason to behave defensively.
• Do not allow yourself to be totally consumed by your situation.
• Do not assume the Society’s worker or the foster parent can be your friend with whom you can discuss secrets, personal matters and confide inner fears.  Anything you say can be used against you.
• Do not harass the CAS lawyer or workers. Why would you want to increase anyone’s motivation to make your life miserable?
• Do not imply that anyone in authority doesn’t know what they are talking about or does not have the experience to judge you.
• Do not use sarcasm. Sarcastic comments and condescending attitude toward authority are unwise strategies.
• Do not use sentences such as, “That’s a lie?” If you disagree, do so by acknowledging what the opposing person had said and state politely “but I’m sorry I cannot agree.”
• Do not give answers to questions with questions of your own. That tactic seldom works with judges.
• Do not evade answering the question asked of you.
• Do not use the expressions, “To tell you the truth,” or “I swear on my children’s lives, and so on.” Such statements may be seen as “oversell” by people who are questioning you.
• Do not interrupt someone when they are speaking.

Here are some important “Do’s” when dealing with the CAS investigations or testifying in court:
1. Remain polite, cordial and respectful because it is in your best interests to remain so.
2. Remain pleasant.
3. Give the impression that the process going around you is uncomfortable but you understand the necessity and importance of it.
4. Keep a low profile.
5. Address people in authority with the proper terminology.
6. Admit your mistakes. Admitting to some mistakes is often seen as a positive.
7. Limit your range of emotional expression; do not explode in laughter or in anger. Smile when you are pleased. Remain neutral when you are displeased.
8. Listen. Pause before responding to allegations. Respond in your head first and then review what you would like to say.
9. Practice sitting still and quiet your body. Relax the muscles of your face.
10. Choose your words carefully.
11. Speak when you are spoken to and use “Sir”, “Mr.”, “Ms.” “Ma’am” or “Your Honour” or whatever title they go by.
12. Watch your body language, your side comments and the sounds you make under your breath.
13. In court let your lawyer speak for you and do your best to be quiet.
14. If the judge asks you to speak, speak loud enough so that others can hear you.
15. Do use the words, “Please” and “Thank you”.
16. Answer the question asked of you without digressing.

Dealing with the CAS is not easy. Try to use affirmations that fight your anger reinforcing perceptions. For example, try using the following affirmations:
• “Ruminating over the CAS vengeance will not make things any better. I have to try my best to get my life back on track”.
• “The CAS and its workers may seem as though they are set up to destroy my family. I can control a lot of what steps I will take to maintain the unity of my family, and with my actions (such as counseling, etc.), I can influence the outcome.”
• “Dealing with difficult CAS workers is always a pain in the ass; however, I am going to try my best to control the situation around these difficult people, and I must interact with if for no other reason than to keep my children.”
• “The least I can do to myself is to not let difficult people employed by the Children’s Aid Society have the satisfaction of getting under my skin.”

Controlling your anger when dealing with the CAS has practical benefits. There is little to be gained by having angry interactions with the agency.  The important point is to disengage from angry interactions so that they do not escalate into problems that will negatively affect your efforts to keep your children or get your children back if the agency had taken them away from your care and custody.       

Andreas Solomos, BBM; J.D. is a practising lawyer helping families handle CAS allegations of child abuse. He represented hundreds of parents in courts for over 28 years.
© 2014. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or distributed without the permission of the writer. This article is not deemed to be legal advice.  

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