CPS Social Worker “Ray” (Voted #4 ep of 2013)

CPS Social Worker “Ray” (Voted #4 ep of 2013)

What is it like to be the government agent that has to physically investigate allegations of abuse or neglect and sometimes even remove children from a home?  “Ray”, a 3rd generation social worker, former homebuilder and punk rocker opens up about his passion and struggles working for Child Protective Services.

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Episode 112, Child Protective Services Social Worker "Ray"

Welcome to episode 112, with my guest Child Protective Services worker "Ray". I'm Paul Gilmartin, this is The Mental Illness Happy Hour, 90 minutes of honesty about all the battles in our heads, from medically-diagnosed conditions and past traumas to everyday compulsive negative thinking. This show is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical counseling, it's not a doctor's office, it's more like a waiting room that doesn't suck. The website for the show is mentalpod.com, please go there, fill out the surveys, let us get to know you a little bit better, join the forum. I actually had to ban somebody from the forum this week, and I think it was the first time I had to do that, other than the spammers. It really kind of broke my heart and this person got really fucking mean and personal with me, and used every personal detail that I've revealed on the show, well, not every, but the ones that were the most difficult for me to talk about, this person used them against me in a series of emails and it was hard to remember that this person is just feeling overwhelmed by their situation and they're lashing out, because the things they were writing were the voices of doubt and self-criticism that I have in my head, and it was a pretty fucked-up couple of days. But thank God for friends that, when they asked me how I was doing, I told them how I was doing and it helped to talk about it. But I guess that's the risk you take when you podcast and you talk about your life, is that some people are going to use it against you. Um, what did I want to talk about? Let's go into some survey responses before we get to the conversation I had with Ray.

This is from the Struggle in a Sentence survey, filled out by Ellen. About her depression, she says "Realizing it's been five or six days since my last shower and still not having the energy to turn the hot water on." I don't think I've ever gone five or six; I've maybe gone three or four. But I think you could turn pro, Ellen. I think you could turn pro. About her anxiety she says "The air has been sucked out of me and the world is spinning too fast." About her alcoholism/drug addiction, she says "A sick joke. Why can't I just stop?" About being a sex crime victim "It makes me feel like a fool. It was the only time my sister was nice to me, when she was going to molest me." About living with an abuser, she writes "Walking on eggshells, wondering what the 'straw' was going to be every day, it was ever-changing. So much insecurity."

Same survey, filled out by a guy who calls himself Ether. About his depression her writes "Severe depression. At the bottom of the ocean in a sunken submarine, where even though life is somehow sustained, escape seems infinitely impossible." About his sex addiction he writes "Living a double life as a super-villain whom I despise."

Same survey, this is filled out by Adrivani, about her depression she says "Bi-polar, like going through whitewater in a raft with no paddles."

The Grim Snark, who's a male, about his depression, his dysphoria, he writes "It feels like I weigh as much as a mountain but I'm completely hollow inside." I really related to that one.

This is from the Shame and Secrets survey, filled out by Cheryl. She is straight and she's in her 30s, was raised in an environment that was pretty dysfunctional. Ever been the victim of sexual abuse? She writes "Yes, and I never reported it," and "Some stuff happened but I don't know if it counts as sexual abuse." Then, in detail about that, she writes "My father never touched me but he was inappropriate. He 'accidentally' walked in on me undressed so many times. He discussed my breast size and that of my friends and younger cousins with alarming frequency." I'm no therapist, but that is fucking sexually abusive in my book. He made you feel unsafe in your house, he objectified you, he violated your privacy and he sexualized you.

And then I wanted to read one that was kind of similar to that but this is filled out by a male who calls himself DC, and he writes "My mom was inappropriate in many ways sexually when I was growing up, especially when i started to go through puberty. Examples were asking me to take off clothes in front of her before going into the shower, grabbing my butt from behind in a flirtatious way, talking excitedly about hair growing under my arms, coming into the bathroom when I was in the shower just to see if there were any dirty clothes." I can totally relate to that one. "My parents divorced and I became my mom's husband/lover, although she would never admit this, nor would others ever point it out or affirm it. I could feel it from the start. There are most definitely other examples of sexual boundaries being violated, though there may be some blocked memories." I want to thank both of you for sharing that because I think those of us that may not have been fucked by a caregiver, something was taken from us and it fucks you up, it definitely fucks you up, and part of what really fucks you up is being able to categorize that, because there's a part of your brain that wants to tell you it doesn't even deserve a category, but then there's a pain in you that you have to deal with that doesn't give a shit about categories, and it just wants out.

This is from the Happy Moments survey, filled out by a woman who calls herself Sea. She writes "I'm graduating from college in May. I have agoraphobia and social anxiety, and 2 years ago I was sure I'd have to drop out. Every time I think about how far I've come, I'm happy. That same year, there was a weekend when all of my friends except one went on a weekend retreat. I didn't go because of my social anxiety, and to cheer me up, the friend who stayed suggested that we go to the Field Museum." That's a museum in Chicago. "We spent all day there and when we came back, we watched The Sound of Music. She doesn't really remember it now, but it was probably one of the highlights of that year because I knew my friends understood my limitations and also knew what would make me happy." That's so beautiful to me because that's such a great example of unconditional love and I have to say in the 10 years that I've been going to support groups, the most important thing that I find there, that I would have never imagined before I went to support groups, is the unconditional love. The healing quality of unconditional love is so powerful, it is so beautiful, it brings so much stuff to the surface and it becomes the template for future relationships because you demand more from relationships, from people, and you begin to see how toxic other relationships are and it helps you begin to navigate your life more cleanly. It sounds corny, but the power of love is fucking amazing. Ladies and gentlemen, Huey Lewis.


I'm here with Ray, and that's an alias we're using because he can speak more freely. He works in Child Protective Services on the East coast, and that's as specific as we're gonna get, because, as you were saying to me before we started recording, this isn't meant for you to be a representation of the department that you work in; this is just one person's experience working in protective services. How long have you worked at that job?

Ray: It's been just about five years now, and a jam-packed five years.

Paul: I bet. How old are you?

Ray: I'm 34.

Paul: And you've got a wife and two kids?

Ray: Yep.

Paul: What made you want to go into that line of work? Did you study social work in college?

Ray: It was kind of a roundabout but always close to home kind of path to how I got here. I'm a third generation social worker. I was raised by my mother and my grandmother.

Paul: So nobody's ever had money.

Ray: Never, right? Always middle class. My grandmother and my mother were both social workers, my grandmother started as a case worker in New Orleans in the 9th ward, and she was born in 1905, and started when she was 18, so she was knocking on doors and working with families before it was even something past the Welfare system. Then my mother followed in her footsteps and fell right into it, when she started at the department it was like 10 people; now, the agency I work at, there's over 100. And when I say roundabout I mean roundabout, it was just me and my mother and my grandmother, and I was a homebuilder for 15 years. I dropped out of high school when I was a junior and I moved here to California with my girlfriend at the time, no direction, just pushing back at whoever wanted to push back, and my grandmother always "If you don't know what you're gonna do, just keep going to school and taking a class here and a class there," and that's kind of what I did for a few years, just community college classes back East. Eventually I was just spinning my wheels and I had a professor for a history class, some gen ed class, he's like "I see what you're trying to do and I respect it, but you gotta make a decision here, whether you're gonna go to school and get an education and a degree, or are you just gonna kinda pitter patter for the next 20 years, 'cause I see them both." So for some reason it rang for me and I went back to school and got my associate's degree, and I was building houses and I had met my fiancée at the time, then, about eight years ago, really--

Paul: This is the woman you're married to now?

Ray: Yeah, to be married. I call her my wife, but...We own a house together, we have the kids, but who can come up with the money on my salary to have a decent wedding? And then my building partner and I went and rebuilt homes in New Orleans for two weeks, about six years ago.

Paul: What was that like?

Ray: That was pretty intense. And that's where the building and this people-person social worker that I am collided, because we were demo-ing these homes and working on them with the families that were made to leave because of the hurricane.

Paul: I can't imagine how emotional somebody must be when they're--

Ray: They're tough as nails. You couldn't even feel it with them, they were just so motivated to get their home back in order, to attempt to do so. Sometimes we were taking homes down to the bare bones and they had no promise of it's gonna be rebuilt. They're just going on whatever place funded, so they're just going as far as their support would let them go. So we're next to these people and they're like buying us lunch and treating us wonderfully and telling us their stories...

Paul: So did you feel like it stirred something in you?

Ray: Yeah, definitely. Nothing too deep or emotional, but more like 'Wow, this feels just so right.'

Paul: Like 'There's a lot of meaning in this'?

Ray: Mmm hmm, it was just when you put something in your hands, like I guess a builder puts a hammer in his hands he just feels like 'Here I am, to build.' When I was with these people I was like 'Wow.' All that stuff came to the surface and I kind of thankfully got some direction out of it and made the decision to quit the building industry because it was going nowhere and I went to school, a bachelor program in New England and got a bachelor's in social work and it's been snowballing ever since I made that decision and took the loans out which I'm--

Paul: Still paying off?

Ray: A good chunk of my check every week. Yeah, so that's kind of how I got started. And then from there it was just exponential interest and skill building. It just feels so natural.

Paul: Take us through kind of an arc of you learning on the job about people and trauma and family dynamics and your self, and what is the general arc, and if you can kind of pepper it with real-life experiences, that would be great. So just some seminal moments that stick out to you. Maybe early on, what were some things--

Ray: It gets intense, in the beginning especially. So when I first got the job, I got hired and I was extremely excited, my son had been born, we wanted to buy a house, so this felt very adult to me. And you get this 'I got a new career,' and I had never had a career before. I had jobs where if you don't show up, if you show up late three days in a row you're gone and you hope that the sometimes scumbag guy that you're working for is gonna pay you on Friday. So you're week-to-week, no structure to your life as far as professionally.

Paul: And by the way, Ray looks like he was raised in Orange County and at 16 decided to turn punk and start his own punk band. Kind of muscular fit, looks like he's gotten some sun, and a lot of tattoos.

Ray: And I've been in a hard core band--

Paul: Have you?

Ray: --for a few years, absolutely. So I had these visions of grandeur, like, whoa, there's benefits, there's this training program that I had to go to to learn about how my job is gonna work, and I'm filling out all the paperwork and all these guarantees and life insurance and health insurance and all this stuff that felt very out of place for me but I'm going with it. And you get into it, you get a desk, you've got your unit, it's like all this stuff, it's nothing fabulous, I mean it's a state job, but for me it was a real sense of 'I'm finally here, I finally got some direction, and wow, look at the benefits that come with it.' So I was really excited. And where I work it can be urban and it can be extremely rural, like banjo-picking country, seriously, where you're like 'Wow.' I became dumbfounded about this reality that I lived in and grew up in, that veil that you and I were talking about on the phone, and then to really dig in, put your hands in the soil. So where it got very real was one afternoon on my first week, I was out with a seasoned investigator. He was this guy named Scott and he was seasoned, such a professional, eye of the tiger kind of guy. He was cool, calm, collected, making jokes as we were going to this emergency response, just him and I. And it was very rural, in a very rural town, in the middle of nowhere, no through traffic. And it was a severe case of neglect that we were going out, a case that had been ongoing and we had received a new report that was supported and screened in so we had to respond that afternoon, it was him and I. Hot day in the summer, and you're going into these towns, they're these old mill towns where they used to be booming, thriving towns but then "We don't make widgets here anymore," so they slowly close and close and close and then what you have is the aftermath and it gets really ugly.

Paul: Meth and strippers.

Ray: Not even meth out there, it's more Oxycontin, alcohol, that kind of stuff. Heroin. So we came to the home, and while I'm riding I remember feeling...I'm a little nervous, I can feel some butterflies, it was almost 'Meet you at the flagpole at 3:00 and I'm gonna kick your ass,' -type of energy in my stomach, but I was still kind of in this bubble. So we find the house, it was a triple decament and when you go around these triple decaments it's usually three levels of stairs and little balcony-type things made of wood that look like it would just fall down if you even tried to step on it, and the apartment that we wanted was on the top. So he starts barreling up there, he's not even looking like he's not worried, I see people up there looking down at us, and that's when I was like 'Alright, this is starting to like...we're going into somebody's home. We're going onto their turf.'

Paul: And you have no weapons, you have nothing.

Ray: No, nothing. We've got a cell phone with no cell service. And a police station with three police officers that are just, who knows--

Paul: Probably related to the family.

Ray: Hundred percent. That reality started to settle in. We're out here in the middle of nowhere with no friends, not a friend in sight, just me and this guy. So we start up the stairs, zigzagging back, and they're looking down "Who the fuck are you? Who the fuck are you?" And this guy Scott, all we have is a lanyard, he wears it around his neck, I had mine--because I was new--on some extending cord. "We're coming up here, we got a report, we gotta see the kids." He's just hollering up there, walking, not even looking upstairs. I'm pretty much shitting my pants at this point. And we get up--

Paul: And you're an imposing guy. You're like what, 6'3"?

Ray: Six-three, 220 pounds, and I'm scared. And I'm telling you I go out there with women who are in their 50s that are 75 pounds soaking wet, pockets full of change, and they are hard as nails, eye of the tiger. And I'm nervous, like oh man. So Scott and I get to the top and it's the women, the women are home and they're out on the deck and there's two of them and they're pissed. They know exactly who we are, where we're from, they've had plenty of dealings with us before, and they start to get into that almost animal instinct mother pose, like you're going into a bear den or something. And you can see it in their eyes and you can feel it, but you still have to address everything and you still have to talk to them. So I think it was a grandmother and the mother of these two children. Two little kids, and the kids were up there. It might have been a five-year-old and a three-year-old. And everybody's very limited. Everyone's very marginal, if you know what I mean.

Paul: Uh uh. In terms of expressing themselves?

Ray: Very low education, poverty, thick generational poverty. There's an odor the second you get up there coming out of the open sliding door that's just humanity. It's like a home brew of humanity and generational uncleanliness and poor hygiene and it's a deep, rich odor that you can't shake. And the kids are filthy. Filthy. Sweat rings of dirt, just very intense situation as far as that goes, level of living. And immediately they start in "Who the fuck do you think you are? Get the fuck out of here, you're not doing shit, you're not taking any children!" And they assume, and this is very common, they assume that you're there to remove the child first. And unfortunately sometimes it turns into that situation, depending on the information that we're provided with and the history and all sorts of stuff that plays into it.

Paul: Do you know before you head in whether or not you're gonna take the children, or is that sometimes a call that's made when you're there?

Ray: Sometimes you do, because it's a team decision. It's my supervisor, my program manager, and sometimes even the director, we sit down, you make a decision, you really comb through everything. So if we're talking about this case, this case was chronic, generational, and it was a neglect case. Neglect is really hard to put your finger on. What are we really addressing here? What can you really form into even a sentence to tell these people? But we had to.

Paul: You can't just say 'It makes me sad. I walked up to their deck and it made my heart sink.'

Ray: Yeah, absolute sadness. But they don't know that. That's me being concerned about me and what I know about life. 'Oh, that's so sad.' But this is their life, you know? The little kids are happy, they're playing around, and I don't even remember what the precise concern was, but I remember it was an intense situation, and the concern I remember wasn't to the level where we were gonna remove these children, but they took it right there, of course, because they don't know, they're just scared. Once CPS is involved, that's all they see are those three letters. It gets in the way of the work you gotta do with them, to kind of partner with these people to minimize--

Paul: You're the enemy.

Ray: Yeah, absolutely, and I get it. I get it. And for Scott, he's a 20-year veteran, this is par for the course for him so he probably doesn't even have a high heart beat or anything like that. He's just "So we're here because of this, that, the other thing," and the grandma starts corralling the children inside immediately and mom has the fingers out and she's getting ratty. She's probably got five teeth, maybe, probably 23 years old, and just really hard-up is the only thing that comes to my mind. And then she whips out her cell phone and I'm just kinda being quiet, this is my first week and I'm just shadowing, that's what they told me to do, and I'm just kinda watching and Scott's going through the concerns and she's not even listening. She's on the cell phone with dad: "Get over here right now. They're gonna take the children. You better get over here with Bobby and Jimmy and Joey quick." And I'm like 'What the fuck is she talking about?' I went into a place where it was like in my own life when you're in hairy situations, like 'This ain't cool.' I can measure all this stuff without even being a case worker. Feeling unsafe, period. And so at that point I kind of go down to one tier below, so you got stairs, little landing, stairs, little landing, deck. And he's up there and I'm down here, kind of watching. And all of the sudden around the corner I just hear "Alright." You know, she closes the cell phone and this guy closes the cell phone downstairs, and I look and there's three shirtless, jean cut-offs, big Reebok hightop-wearing hard hitters for that area. Huge mullets, maybe like a biker 'do rag, just--

Paul: I've done comedy for these people, I know.

Ray: --blue tattoos, jailhouse tattoos, and I feel bad saying it but the ignorance is just flowing off of them and I'm like 'Alright, I know we're in some shit now.' And they just proceed to start barreling up the stairs, like boom, platform, boom, platform, and right then I'm just like...I didn't know where to go. I guess I could jump off if I had to, if they pulled out a weapon or something. And they came right up to me, face to face, probably five feet away from where you and I are, and I didn't know what to say so I was like 'Hey fellas,' just like that. And they just looked right through me and walked right past me and went upstairs and actually hit my partner at the time, Scott, with their shoulder just to get by. They weren't paying attention and they went right inside, closed and locked the door. And then about five minutes later they came out and sat and stared at us. They didn't hide the children or anything, what could they have done in there? I could only think that maybe they had some drugs in there or some weapons that they wanted to hide in case we called the police. And then Scott just ran through the boilerplate questions to see what the concerns were and tempers flared and his temper didn't flare one bit. Cool as a cucumber the whole time. And then we left. We just left them with a letter. And I was just like 'Man, that was fucking intense,' when we got back to his car. And he was like "That's nothing. You better put your seatbelt on boy, because that's nothing. That's routine." And I really had to sit with that, and at that time I worked at a different office, a different area office that was an hour and a half from home, each way. And that 45 minutes on the way back I was like 'Damn. I better decide if I'm gonna do this.' And here I am.

Paul: And you decided to stick with it. So what's another seminal moment or memory or something you took away from your job?

Ray: I don't think it would be one thing, I think it would just be a cumulative deepened understanding of what people are dealing with.

Paul: Can you talk more about that?

Ray: I mean, I'm there to protect children, you know?

Paul: Right.

Ray: The agency I work for, our job is to do our best to make sure that kids are safe. But in order to do that, you have to work with the families that care for these children, right? So you're talking about everything that has to do with the human being and family in life, in trials, in successes, and illnesses and dependencies and acts of violence. Everything. I'll have 20-24 cases on my case load at any given time, so I could have one case where I have a single mom and one child, father's not involved, we don't know where he is. Maybe a grandmother and one friend as a form of support. Then I have another case where it's a mother who's my age who has seven children with six different fathers, none of which are involved, and the kids are ranging from 15 to just born. And it's mayhem, absolute mayhem. You wanna talk about parentified children?

Paul: Children raising children.

Ray: Oh yeah, and they wouldn't be able to do it any other way.

Paul: So that 15-year-old's already kind of an adult?

Ray: Well, more of an adult than I am, hundred percent, in a different way, but just a much more seasoned individual.

Paul: How often is that parent dealing with some type of addiction?

Ray: Most all the time. That particular case not at all, though.

Paul: The one with the seven kids?

Ray: Yeah, that particular case no substance abuse.

Paul: It sounds to me like she's addicted to cock.

Ray: Big time. And the woman is a large, large woman and the guys are like 90 pounds. She's big and ruthless. It's like dinner at the Nutty Professor's every time I go over there, just everyone screaming and everyone's moving around and she's got all the furniture rented from a rental center and there's a nine million inch screen TV and it's on and there's street glow underneath the couch that'll flicker with music if you want it to. It's just fucking madness.

Paul: So in that particular instance, what was the harm that was being done to the children that the issue was about?

Ray: Well, I have binders for each case, and my general case has one binder that's packed with hard material. That one has five. So you're talking about a 15-year-old going all the way down to just born a week ago, and each one of those kids have had involvement. Mom had involvement when she was a kid, so you're talking 15, 20, 25 years of involvement with the department and she's welcoming to it, she's saying "Let's do this, I need help. I need help getting daycare and I need help with services for my kids' behavioral issues at school." So it's genuine, she needs it. And she knows it.

Paul: I hope this doesn't come across as insulting to her, but was it ever suggested maybe having her tubes tied?

Ray: Just did, about a week ago.

Paul: I mean, it seems like such an obvious thing to an outsider. And not that having seven kids is irresponsible, but having seven kids when you can't handle two of them is irresponsible.

Ray: Yeah, there's certainly that judgment from my perspective that comes out a lot, and I'm challenged with that on a daily basis. What would I do?

Paul: How did she react when you suggested that?

Ray: I didn't, she did. She said "That's enough. I can't do this anymore."

Paul: That's great. So do you guys pay for that then?

Ray: No. Health insurance will pay for that. So, I know I kind of dove into that case a little bit, but I'm trying to give you an example of what it encompasses, substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse which could be physical, emotional, sexual, all sorts of things that you can think about being done to a child falls under that child protection piece of it. And you're dealing with elderly, brand new, in the middle, educated, uneducated. You're dealing with everything. Mental illness of all different kinds. And what I love about the job is that it's like the craziest fucking documentary that you've ever watched but I get to do it every day, and that's the kind of stuff that I have to hang on to, along with that I'm trying to do good here and all that stuff.

Paul: I would imagine if you didn't get some sliver of a sense that you're making a difference it would be soul crushing.

Ray: Well, I'm not saying that I do make much of a difference, and that's the sad part about it. But the flip side of that coin is that let's say there's five families that I have to visit. And four of those families we really have no business being there, it's bullshit, but for that fifth case where you've got a kid that's being sexually molested or beaten severely or watching his mom get beat up by her boyfriend every day and we intervene, that's where I see success. And I don't say this, but to the other families I would say 'Listen, I know that was inconvenient and I know you were scared, I have no idea what it's like to be in your shoes when someone comes in and starts prodding around in your life and judging your parenting, but if we're not in these homes, we're not saving people, period." It's almost like we have to take the hit for the team, but that's from my perspective. Try to convince that of a mom that just got home to her four kids and dad hasn't been around...How do you explain that? You really can't but you gotta do what you gotta do and there's the small victories in there, which is what keeps me kind of going.

Paul: So, if you can, talk about...Obviously, there's so much gray area in this and you're getting different versions of the same event from different people. What are generally some of the lines that trigger a child being removed from the home, or alarm bells going off? Can you talk about physical, emotional, sexual--

Ray: Different ends of the spectrum? Can I give you a couple of examples?

Paul: Yeah, absolutely.

Ray: I measure black and white, that's it. Concrete. 'Cause I'm not there after hours, I work from 8:45 to 5:00. I also work hotline, which is the other function where I do most of my investigations work, where I go out at 2:00, 3:00 in the morning, stuff like that. But I can only measure--

Paul: Do you get paid for that when you're overtime?

Ray: Yeah, you get paid good for that 'cause it's really risky and it's--

Paul: So you fake a phone call to yourself?

Ray: Always. I have a guy, actually. So, what was I saying?

Paul: The spectrum of...

Ray: Yeah, I can only measure what I can measure. I can't measure that you didn't get to your drug screen because you missed the bus. I can't. All I can measure is that you told me that you went to the drug screen that we're requesting and after I get that information from you, I'm gonna call the doctor or whatever the place you went to get the screen, and that person's gonna say "Yes, they did," or "No, they didn't,"; "Yes, it's clean; no, they popped for something." I can't measure anything in between and ultimately if this is a care and protection which is when we do assume custody, that's what it's called, you're gonna be measured by the judge. We're gonna do our measuring but really the axe is gonna fall when the judge measures that stuff, and they're not gonna measure 'Oh, I missed my bus.' They've got six other families waiting, and it's like "See you later, too bad. You should have had yourself backed up." But anyways, when it comes to going in there and matching information with an allegation from a report that we receive, I have to base it on reality, and I call my supervisor and I bounce it off my partner, and we really, as a team, try to see. But some--

Paul: What percentage of the calls come from inside the family, and what come from outside the family?

Ray: It's usually always outside of the family. Stuff you can measure.

Paul: So somebody will say "I saw this mom beating her kid," or "I saw this dad..."?

Ray: Or the ones you can really take seriously are from what we call a mandated reporter. A mandated reporter could be a therapist, teacher, doctor, bus driver, crossing guard, you name it. Any sort of counselor. Any function where you're responsible for the well-being of children, you're legally obligated to call and report if you hear anything that might be of concern. And then you leave it up to CPS to go out and measure, so that's where my job comes in. So let's say you get a report where child disclosed during school, let's say a 4th grader, that mommy was getting beaten up last night by her boyfriend Chris who's a real meanie and drinks beer all the time. It'll come in quite like that. I have to go out and see, and a lot of times families immediately think that you are attached to the person that made the report and that now you're being judged, when in reality what I'm trying to do is get your perspective 'cause I have to couple that with what's been reported. Would you rather that I just take it from them and we make a decision and move on it? I gotta come out here and I gotta measure; I gotta meet with you, partner with you, so we can get to the bottom of this. And that can go many different ways, depending on many different things. What's involved? Substance abuse, domestic violence? So let's say in that thing, where little Jimmy says "Mommy's boyfriend's beating her up all night and he hits me," and the reporter actually looked at the child's back and saw some bruises, so that's in the report. So now I have to go see the child, I have to observe the child, have mom show me, sometimes you have them go put on a bathing suit, but let's take a look. And I go out there and everything seems okay, but mom is timid to talk about the boyfriend, and you can feel it, it's in the room. I don't know if everyone can feel it but I'm geared like that, I can feel what people are...where's the energy. And what's mom's reaction when I'm telling her what has been reported? And, 'I need to see your child. I need to see where he sleeps, I need to look in your cupboards, your refrigerator--'

Paul: See if there's food?

Ray: --go around, and when we're talking about food, we're talking sugar water and mayonnaise sandwiches. Basic needs. It doesn't have to be anything special, as long as there's--

Paul: So that would be enough?

Ray: That would be enough, sure. Food to eat, water to drink. So 'I have to see your son, I need to look at his body, and I need you to help me.' That's really personal shit, man! If somebody came into my house and asked me to do that?? Phew.

Paul: It's scary to that kid.

Ray: Yeah. You've crossed every line, especially if it's after hours, 'cause I'm there with my partner and two police officers and it's 1:00 in the morning and we've woken this child up, woken the whole family up with a big knock at the door.

Paul: And is that child then terrified that it said something and that it's gonna get in trouble?

Ray: Everything. Every step you take, every word you use, everything will affect the way that this is gonna go.

Paul: Oh my God, it's making me so nervous!

Ray: Yeah, it's fucking nerve-wracking shit! 'So, I need you to put him in a bathing suit and I need to bring him out here because I have to look at his body to see if there's these bruises.' And when you say that, and when you ask mom, I'm telling you, even if you're not trained to, you can feel whether something's going on or not by the face she makes when you ask her, does she get right up, all sorts of little things, little cues you can pick up on. But--

Paul: Is it the sense that she's putting on an act? Or is it just--

Ray: Maybe that this is real. Maybe this is mom's first realization that this is fucking real. "I've got an animal that lives with me that's beating me up and beating up my child. And now you're here."

Paul: "This isn't gonna change."

Ray: "This is fucking real." And when you're present with someone with that reaction, it's just as intense as any other intense interaction you have with a human being, and that's when stuff gets really real. Not to sound cheesy, but that's when shit just drops to a level where we're here, we're intimate. You and I are intimate right now with these two knucklehead cops and my partner. And you can tell. I've been doing it long enough where you can tell if mom's got something going on or if this was a false report. But I have to back up that...

Paul: Spidey sense?

Ray: Yeah, I have to back that up with reality.

Paul: Can you be more descriptive about what it is that you sense in that person that something is going on when you float that reason out there?

Ray: Have you ever been somewhere where you've gone too far with someone and they're about to kick your ass, or something like that? And you just know? I don't know.

Paul: You just sense that energy come over them.

Ray: Yeah, you fucking feel it like it's palpable energy that's in the room when you've gone too far. Or even like you're at a dinner table and you say the wrong joke and everyone's like "What the fuck?" You just feel it. So let's say in this particular case--

Paul: Even though you haven't gone too far 'cause you're just doing your job.

Ray: Hey, listen, I'm here 'cause I gotta be.

Paul: But in her mind you've gone too far.

Ray: Oh yeah. Way too far. So in the situation that I'm thinking about, she gave me those signs, sent that energy at me, something's fucking wrong here. We're talking 1:00 AM, Friday night, and she goes and gets the little kid in his bathing suit after I have to really encourage her to, 'cause if she doesn't then now where are we gonna go with this? Where are we gonna go with this, at 1:00 AM? I'd have to call my on-call supervisor who's covering 55 towns, three area offices, several teams that are out. She's not gonna say "Sit there and wait," or "We'll look into it tomorrow." You know what she's gonna say? "Emergency removal, period, unless mom can help us understand what's going on here." So you're really in a tight spot. I can't leave, even if I'm freaked out, I can't split. What am I walking out on? Everything. So she goes and gets the child and he's scared, he's confused, doesn't know what's going on, so you have to have it if you're gonna operate properly in this situation. And I'm in no way trying to toot my own horn or anything, but I've got it. I was made for this stuff, and I can bring my energy where it needs to be to meet with this child, and to explain to him why I'm here. And depending how old the child is, sometimes you don't have to explain anything 'cause you're dealing with a one-year-old. You just have to have some okay, welcoming energy that doesn't threaten the child. In this case I think the kid was in fourth grade, he's with it, so you explain 'My name is Ray, I'm here to make sure that kids are safe. That's my job. And I'm just trying to work with your mommy here to make sure that you're safe.' And sometimes when you just put the right energy things are relaxed, and I've already asked the police to stay out of sight in the living room. Say if the boyfriend had been there my partner would be interviewing that guy with the police while I'm with mom and the child, 'cause you have to section people off or else...If you have an abusive male in the same room as the woman when you're interviewing, he's there staring at her and she knows "If I say the wrong thing I'm fucked."

Paul: How often when you then confront the perpetrator of the domestic violence or whatever, how often do they come right out and say "Yeah, I'm..."?

Ray: Rarely, very rarely. I don't think I've ever experienced it myself.

Paul: Do they try to justify it or do they flat-out deny it?

Ray: It's a bit of flat-out denying and then projecting it onto the victim. I call it blaming the victim. And I think we should go into that, actually, at some point here about the cycle of domestic violence 'cause it's just every day for me with my clients. But so for this kid, he's sitting there, he's got his swim trunks on, it's 1:00 AM, and I have to look him over as best I can. And I look at his back and sure enough he's got some bruising on his back but there's no pattern. It's just bruising. I mean my son has bruises all over him 'cause he's tumbling everywhere and kids get bruises at school playing with their friends, that's just a reality of life. So I look at the back and I'm like 'They're bruises,' I make a note. Where'd they come from? He's got a bit of a story, nothing that sounds like it's scripted, doesn't seem like it's coming from a place of fear, "I was on the playground and I fell down the stairs." And then I asked him to lift up his shorts just a little bit up his leg, and I see a bruise that's a significant bruise, and I see there's a bit of a pattern so I had him come a little bit closer and it was a pattern that was probably 10 inches and the thickness of a pencil and it kind of swirled around and then what looked like a ping pong ball with a couple of little things coming off of it. And I'm like 'That does not look like a normal bruise that a child would just get. That looks inflicted.' And really if anyone looked at that they could see, but I'm trained to identify what bruises come from what. So I went through very boilerplate questions with him: Do you feel safe? Are you scared of anybody? Who do you go to to talk to when you're scared? Do you know about good touches, bad touches? All sorts of things. And he came eventually to tell me that he was whipped with an electrical cord by mommy's boyfriend. So he gave me that information and mom didn't say "No, that didn't happen," she didn't say it did 'cause she's afraid, very scared. So I have that information and we have this report and now we have some things to connect that we can measure. Clearly this kid's saying that we were whipped with an electrical cord and now we actually see the electrical cord imprint on this bruise. Then I don't go any further with the child at that point because it's gonna be what we call a DA referral so we're gonna report this to the District Attorney and they're gonna have what's called a sane interview with the child to get more information by someone that has a higher level of training with interviewing children. And I don't wanna go too far with him because I could just muddle things up when it comes time to go to trial in court and have a hearing. So he goes back to bed, goes in his room, and then I talk with mom and she starts to disclose. "Yeah, he came home drunk that night and hit me pretty bad," and she shows me some bruising on her ribs. And there it is. 'What can we do, mom? What can you can I do to put a plan together of safety for you and your child.' "I don't know what I'd do! What do you mean? Where am I gonna go?" 'Well, you have any family in the area?' "Just my sister, but she lives an hour and a half away! We're not very close!" So then you're just thinking like what are we gonna do? There's a batterers' intervention agency in the area that has a hotline number and shelters...'So mom, we want you to be your child's protector, and we want to protect you. Are you willing to go into the shelter?' That's a huge decision. You're talking about someone that's middle class or maybe even upper middle class saying that they're gonna go into a shelter? In that case, she did. She went into a shelter and went into hiding and it was actually her and her child were moved an hour and a half away.

Paul: Was it his place?

Ray: Her place.

Paul: It was her place? So why not just arrest him and remove him?

Ray: 'Cause sometimes that's not enough. You can't arrest him. I don't arrest people and the police have their own parameters for what's an arrest.

Paul: 'Cause somebody would have to press charges for him--?

Ray: Yeah, she would have to press charges which would expose her further and bring her into that risk area. We did request that she file for an emergency restraining order, which she did and was granted, and they got away. Where they are now I don't know because it left my desk, and I interviewed the guy and he was just kind of an unassuming individual that was scared, that didn't have much to say for himself. Didn't even really put up much of a defense, just didn't have much to say for himself.

Paul: And if you think about it, too, anybody that unleashes their anger on a child is experiencing some type of overwhelming emotion, so it's really not surprising that that person would be scared. I think that some of those guys just mask it with their anger or their bravado, but deep inside they're a little seven-year-old kid themselves.

Ray: Absolutely. I think it has to come from somewhere like that, unless it's a significant mental illness that's a nature. I'm a big nature/nurture guy.

Paul: Can you talk about that some more?

Ray: Some people are...Someone that's schizophrenic. There are schizophrenics that never ever show symptoms. Never happens for them. There are others that are nurtured to be really triggered. I don't even remember what the age is, I think it's between 17-25 is the prime age to transition into active schizophrenia. But you come to learn, not that one in particular, but other people I've worked with, men that battered women, that's all they know. That's it. Their mom was beaten up by their father on a regular basis.

Paul: So what are the criteria for removing a child from a home? Obviously it's complex and there are gray areas, but--

Ray: So I guess I'd go back to that one really quick, with the mom and the child and the electrical cord. If she hadn't said that she was willing to do that, that child would have been removed and taken into protective custody then and there.

Paul: 'Cause you had proof that he was being--

Ray: Yeah. We didn't have proof, we had enough to connect the dots to support the allegation. And if she had said "No way, I'm not going into a shelter. Leave, now.", I'd say 'Okay, can you just wait here for a couple of minutes, my partner and I have to go speak with our supervisor on the phone,' and you just get your orders and then I say 'We're just the hand that wipes the ass,' because we gotta do what we're told, at the end of the day. End of the day, this is work and I have to. The child isn't fortunate, so I hope that's not confusing, but when I have something to hang on to, then I'm good, hundred percent. But it's like that gray area you're talking about and then your boss says "No, we're not taking any chances here."

Paul: I can't imagine how...uncomfortable--I don't know what the word would be--when you have to pull the child away from its mother and the mother's unwilling to work with you.

Ray: Picture Cliffhanger, with Sylvester Stallone, and that woman is hanging over the edge, and he's holding on for dear fucking life. Sometimes I have to pull those fingers, you know what I'm saying? That's the realest my job gets. That's the part that fucks with me the most.

Paul: She's just gripping her child--

Ray: --for her life! That's how hard I would be holding my son.

Paul: But she can't see that...That's the thing, too, about mental illness and addiction and the cycle of being abused, is it warps your reality. It absolutely warps your reality.

Ray: It happens in very micro-examples for us. Let's say I haven't taken a shower in three days. You don't really notice that you haven't taken a shower in three days until you're in that hot shower and you're like 'Oh, fuck!' Or you get out and you're clean. Obviously the comparison doesn't really match up, but that person is in this life and doing the best that they can, and then someone comes in and throws a fucking wrench into it and says "No, sorry." And these people, before when I said 'generational', this is normal. "This is cruising altitude, this is the good life, this is the life we lead. This is how we raise our kids and feed our kids and live our life and we're happy," and they are. They're having Thanksgiving dinners and they're having this stuff. It's like when I walk into someone's house and start telling them that--and I don't tell people this but it must feel like this--that 'That's wrong and that's wrong and why'd you do that?' it's just like, for them, if someone came to my house and I had just finished cleaning up after dinner and my kids were there and someone came in and just started saying "No, that's wrong, that's wrong," judging you.

Paul: "And I'm here from the government."

Ray: I'd be like 'Get the fuck out of here, right now!' And I'm not even saying that I would be right, but now you're in my home, this is in our DNA, this is primal stuff. You're in my home. So it gets very real, and when I have to remove a child, if it was just a mother and a kid my job would be pretty easy. But it's not always like that. Sometimes you have mom, three kids, boyfriend, boyfriend's friends, everyone's fucking drunk, it's 2:00 in the morning, you're there with two cops, mom's fucking ripping the apartment to pieces holding one kid as hard as she can, screaming that she's gonna kill herself. And sometimes you're there with a librarian-looking woman and a cop that it's his first day and then another cop that's just a jock asshole, and then there you are and you have to take these three kids and you're talking about maybe a 10-year-old who's telling you to fuck off and then a nine-year-old and a three-year-old. And then the friends are all drunk and maybe they've had experience with you before or the agency, and they're like "Fuck you, motherfucker!" What's gonna happen here, and how far am I willing to go to really protect these kids without putting myself in jeopardy, because I've gotta go home.

Paul: Have you ever had to back down because you were just outnumbered or out-muscled?

Ray:   Uh uh. No. That's when you have to use your de-escalation skills. You have to be like Samuel L. Jackson negotiator, you gotta find it quick. And if you can't, you have to move quick. And when I say move quick I'm like this cop get him, get him, get him, and when they're distracted I'll run over and I'll grab your kid and I'll run to my car as fast as I can, even if he's just in his underwear, stick him in my car and drive away as fast as I can. I'm not kidding. Is that better, or is it better for these kids to linger in these situations where the pressure is starting to rise and the risk level for something really bad to happen in front of these kids. It's a catch-22, you're fucked if you do, you're fucked if you don't, one hundred percent. So you've given these people the opportunity to partner with you, and that's a very fluffy term, but it's real, to partner with you to the best of their ability. So 'Let's get a bag together, let's get your son's blanket, let's get his GameBoy. Help me do these things because I have to remove your children and place them in foster care right now. Can you do that?' And there's a million different things that can in the way of mom or dad or anyone helping you do that. So then you have to use your better judgment to move quick, minimize the amount of trauma that this kid is gonna experience in this situation because we're talking about trauma. We're talking about nature/nurture. Remember when I sent you that email, I said I'm the boots on the ground? Nature/nurture. Child is alive, child has now been watching mom get beat up for the last six weeks. There it is.

Paul: Can you talk about a case where there was no physical or sexual abuse but it was emotional abuse? That's gotta be a really difficult one.

Ray: It's categorized as neglect, emotional abuse is way too hard to measure. So what's emotional abuse to you?

Paul: What is it to me? I know it when I feel it but it's the most difficult thing. I would say somebody denigrating who you are as a human being, consistently invalidating and humiliating.

Ray: Yeah. Can I measure it? Is it gonna be exposed to me?

Paul: Probably not, 'cause that's the easiest one to hide 'cause it doesn't leave any visible marks, the person is generally someone that can present a different face to the outside world.

Ray: I've heard you and other people that you've interviewed here say "I wish they'd just beat me up. I wish they would have hit me." And for me, in my job, sometimes that would be easier for me so I could measure it, and hopefully put in place the appropriate intervention followed by the appropriate supportive service to try and help. It's as simple as that, but just like anything else in life it's a million things that can get in the way of that, roadblocks. I've got one partner I work with who laughs at me every time 'cause of these metaphors I use. I use them over and over again, you develop this kind of tool belt of these terms that you use with people based on their level of understanding. So even if it's where I don't remove a child and it's a really tough situation and mom or dad or whoever is starting to escalate, and I'll say something like 'This is a bump in the road. Let's not turn it into a roadblock. Let's you and I work to sort this out. And your perspective is as important as my perspective and the person that reported.' You have to create some common ground and you have to communicate to these people that you view them as a human being with rights and feelings and everything. And if you can manage that, you're much better off. But that's a perfect situation; that's happened to me maybe five times. 'Cause if you have someone that's been nodding off on heroin the last six hours and they need to fix and then you come in, it's really tough.

Paul: So the majority of the neglect cases, it's fair to say the parent is wrapped up in some type of addiction.

Ray: A lot of times, sure. And substance abusers are master manipulators, it's their job to survive. They have to survive to the point where denial is so thick they can't even identify it. They just can't. And it becomes so mechanical, it's not conscious.

Paul: I know, I'm a recovering addict/alcoholic, and when I got sober it was such news to me, my patterns of behavior. You feel so dead inside that the thing that makes you not feel dead inside becomes your god, the most important thing in the world that you will do anything to protect and get enough of to feel alive, that all your justifications begin to be around that. Everything's the flow chart from that. It's not the flow chart from what is good? What is moral? Who's the person I wanna be? It's how do I not feel dead today?

Ray: Right. And all I can do, even having this conversation with you and listening to you and listening to the show and working with my clients, all I can do is exercise empathy with that, because I have no sympathy. I don't know. I'm not an addict. I was addicted to cigarettes for a long time, but I've never been addicted to a drug, I've never been physically abused, I've never been sexually abused, I've never been in a relationship of domestic violence, I'm a white, American middle-class man. What have I experienced to put me on a level playing field with a lot of the people I work with? In our society here in America, that's top of the food chain, man. Just put me in the upper class and I'd be skyrocketed, you know? And I have shame, I'm not proud of that reality but it's the reality I've got, and I am proud of it to some degree. But I have to work with these people and I have to enlist their help to help me understand. I'm trained, of course, and you can read all the training books and listen to all the Power Point presentations, but you gotta work with these people for a long time to really understand.

Paul: Talk about the gray area of sexual abuse and how you deal with that when it's not cut and dried, and what are some examples of something where...

Ray: That needs to be very cut and dried. You need a disclosure on some level, or a doctor that has observed a wound on a child's private parts. I had a case just a couple weeks ago, single father, 12-year-old daughter, middle-class, lived across the street from a school. We had had a small amount of involvement in the past but nothing that was supported, no allegations that were supported. And the--

Paul: Allegations by who?

Ray: I don't know in that case. All I know is I reviewed the records and there was nothing, but you just look. So the report came in that the child had stated that she had seen her father's penis and that it was wrinkly, and that her father had licked her breasts. So that's a report that comes in from a mandated reporter. That's pretty legit. When I got the orders to respond, it was right after work, I was on hot line, we're pretty sure that we're gonna be removing this kid right off the bat because that's some pretty serious stuff. So we go, knock on the door, it's like 6:00, it's a quaint little ranch house, everything seems beautiful, and dad answers the door and there we are, two police because that's protocol after hours, you always come with the police or--

Paul: That's gotta feel good knowing you've got that.

Ray: To a degree.

Paul: I mean, even though it freaks the people out and is certainly bad for the kids--

Ray: Sometimes it can make things go backwards, depending on the police officer you get, 'cause sometimes they can start being rude. Sometimes they're just gorillas that just don't give a shit. They're not trained to--

Paul: Maybe I'm just such a pussy, I picture myself not having somebody to be there with physical force if people get violent.

Ray: No, it's good, definitely it feels good sometimes, but sometimes it can escalate things, and sometimes all they're focusing on is "Why is the police here?"   And in this case the guy did. He was like "What the f...?" He was in the middle of making a stir-fry, it smelled good in there, it was an average day in America after school. And there we are, now there's four people in his living room, two of which are police officers with guns and batons and the whole nine yards. So I had to go into the kitchen with this guy while my partner went and met with the girl, and he's "Why are you here? What is going on?", no room for anything else. There's no small talk here. "Why are you here?" 'Well, I'm here because we received a report alleging possible sexual abuse from you to your daughter.' So there's that layer that we have to cut through, just mind-boggling. "Well, what did they say?" 'Well, the report stated that your daughter stated that she recently saw your wrinkly penis and that you licked her breast.' And even saying it now--

Paul: Oh, it's so uncomfortable.

Ray: And there's two cops that are sitting there and he's sitting there in his kitchen, and I can only imagine what's running through his head. So then he's like "What are you talking about? That never happened! It's just me and her and I don't connect the best with her when it comes to coming of age and stuff like that with being a girl, I let the women in the family do that," being that paternal grandmother and another sister or something like that. But while I'm talking to this guy I'm measuring him, I'm not just letting him talk, I'm seeing where he's going with this, what's adding up, and what he was saying was adding up. Then he discloses to me that he was molested as a child, and he had never told anyone that before, he had never told us, and he said he had never told anyone. So he goes into this with me and I'm really trying to measure, and there's no stop-and-go, there's no nervousness, there's just surprise, concern. So I didn't really get anything from him and then I talk to my partner, and she had interviewed the child and didn't get anything from her. She reviewed the report to some degree with the child and the child said "Well, I remember that another kid I go to school with said that his mom sucks on his pee-pee, and I said 'Yuck, that'd be gross if I'd seen my dad's penis or if he'd touched my boob, that'd be gross,' so maybe someone overheard us say something like that." So we didn't have anything, and I said to my supervisor 'We just don't have anything concrete to really intervene by removing this child or anything like that. I think we need to do some more follow-up phone calls with the providers and collaterals the next day,' which I did, and it turned out that that report had come to a school adjustment counselor from a mother of another nine-year-old kid who had heard this from another nine-year-old kid, so then we go back to like this is just a game of telephone between kids, and then to the mother who reported to the counselor who just...Because I'm not gonna let any of that kind of stuff, I'm not the one that's gonna measure that, report it. And then here we are cracking this guy's life open like you wouldn't believe, disrupting his whole day, and he was very angry with me, very angry with the department. I like to say they're never angry with me, I'm just an instrument here--

Paul: Angry at the process.

Ray: Angry at the process, rightfully so--

Paul: But isn't it good that that process is there and that it's--

Ray: And he actually said that to me the next day, which never happens. I know people that have been working this job for 30 years and that's never happened. He said "It's terrible, but man, you hear that kind of stuff and I guess you gotta look into it, right?" And I said 'Yeah, absolutely.' And he has a therapist, so he called his therapist right after we left and agreed that his daughter needed therapy and started to engage her, and then we said goodbye.

Paul: That's like the best case scenario.

Ray: Best case scenario, can't even believe it happened, because 90% of them is nothing you can really gauge and it's usually gray-area stuff that you can't measure and you have to say goodbye with no real feeling at all that this was false. Where in this case I actually had something to hold on to, to say that this wasn't something that we can support.

Paul: So there's times you walk away from it and go 'Yeah, we had to walk away but I'm not convinced that there still wasn't something, we just don't have enough evidence,' which has gotta be a terrible feeling.

Ray: It's horrible. Sometimes on Friday you leave and you hope that you made the right call by leaving a kid in a home.

Paul: How do you not ruminate about that in your head and beat yourself up and go 'If I were a smarter, more observant person I might have been able to find an answer.'

Ray: Constant. I have friends who are like "Anyone hiring there? I need a job." And I'm like 'You're fucking out of your mind.' This isn't a job where you hang your coat up and you leave it there. Aspects of it, yes. But this job is with you in the shower, this job is with you at dinner, and like I said I've left homes on Friday where I've been like 'This is really at the threshold here.' And I'll get on the phone with my supervisor and we'll conference the situation and develop some sort of a threshold for us, communicate that to the parents, they're willing to work with us, and so we have some level of an agreement where 'I'm kind of concerned, you're a little stressed out right now, but I need to check in with you on Monday, I'm gonna call you Monday morning and we're gonna just check in and make sure everything went well.' So in between that conversation, me leaving, and the Monday morning call, there it is, right in the back of my mind the whole weekend. I could be playing with my children, I could be doing anything but it's right there. 'Is that kid okay? Fuck, I hope he's okay.' And then that phone call "Yeah, he's in daycare." I call the daycare "Yeah, he's here, he's happy." That's relief. I feel it right now, how relieving that is.

Paul: We ought to have a national therapist and social worker celebration day, 'cause--

Ray: Thankless jobs of America!

Paul: Even to the people that like to think of life just broken down in terms of monetary success, the efficiency that healthy people help a country run, when you can help people with addiction and abuse and getting out of their head and being present, everything runs so much better, it's such an important resource, yet people think of it as less important than going to the doctor because your arm hurts or something else. Yet your arm hurting will probably never lose as many man hours as having an untreated mental illness or being a tyrant and not getting anger management and raising kids who are then fucking juvenile delinquents or whatever. But for some reason we don't elevate it to the importance that it needs.

Ray: That speaks directly to micro is directly related to macro. It's top down. 'Cause I make a decent living with good benefits, I'm gonna have a pension, I have a home with my kids and everything. I mean it's nothing glorious but I love it, it provides such security. But we're understaffed. Just think, if there was more money coming down from the government, having this as a priority to address these issues with people, if they could even give us enough money to shave four cases off of my case load, that would be that much more time for me to work with these people. Because as it is right now, you're doing the best that you can with a 40-hour week and sometimes, and it can last for months on end, all you're doing is triage. That's it. Which fire's burning the brightest? And I just have to get that down to hot coals while that one's on fire again so I gotta go over here. So sometimes you're not really even engaged, you're just monitoring, which sucks. I don't wanna just monitor you, I wanna try and empower you. I wanna try to help you develop the skills to use the tools that are going to improve your live and your kids' life. So you have a mom that has postpartum depression, has no idea what it is, no one's ever told her what it is. Maybe a doctor told her but she's not listening, she's a new mom.

Paul: She thinks it's reality.

Ray: Yeah, she's not listening, she's a new mom trying to learn how to be a mom real quick. She's 19, her mom's gone, whoever was the father is gone, no support, and she's just there. And you go and meet with her, try to help her understand that 'Maybe I'm wrong, but maybe something's here that can be addressed and maybe you can improve.' And that sounds very special when I'm saying it, but it's much different when I'm sitting there with the person. But let's just say that they say "Okay, fine." Even if they're like "Fuck you, but fine," and they sign a service plan. And then they sit down for one session. 'Cause I'll say that to them, I'll say 'I'm not saying that I think that you should see a therapist for the rest of your life. I am recommending that you sit down with someone and tell them how the last three months of your life have been. That's it. Will you do that for me?' And many times they will, even if it's just to get me out of their hair and leave them alone. And then there are some times when the mother is like "Yeah, there was something really wrong with me and I didn't know what it was." Success. Small victory.

Paul: I can't tell you how many times people fill out a survey, and I think there was two of them last night, I usually go through the surveys at night and read what people have written, and there was two of them last night where the person had had an epiphany while filling out the survey. Well, if you can imagine the epiphany you're having just doing that, if you're talking to a trained professional every week, the kind of insight and help you're going to get. But people want to be able to predict how things are going to go before they jump into it and--

Ray: That's like the next couple of chapters, but I'm talking about...What if no one had called and reported that they were concerned about this mom and no one ever went and she got another boyfriend and moved on? That moment, that little thing would just grow and grow, and that's where that boots on the ground thing comes in for me 'cause I'm right there when that needs to happen. It's super rare and I don't know the next time I'll see it, but I remember that case. She only went twice and found out something was up, and now her child and her other son, maybe their lives are better, maybe she's a better mom, a more present mom now that she's got that stuff out of the way. Sometimes you compare depression to just being under that cloak--

Paul: The gray blanket.

Ray: Yeah. Maybe that just lifted it a little bit, maybe she stuck her eyeball out and saw something else there. Who knows. And me, I need to be thankless, and I think social workers know what I mean, is now it's her that needs to be thanked because it's really her work. Self-determination is a bitch. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. I can sit down here with anybody and show them. 'First you're gonna go to the emergency room and you're gonna say that you have a problem with heroin. Then they're gonna take you to a nice cozy...' I could lay it all out for you, show how you might improve, but it's really your work. At the end of the day I have a function and if you're not gonna do it, you're not gonna do it. What can I do? And then if I do remove your child, that's when the shit really gets long-term shitty.

Paul: There's several groups of people that help make towns and cities and countries work, that when we're driving away from something horrible, they're the ones driving to it and I just wanna thank you for being one of those people that does the complicated, emotionally-taxing thing day in and day out. And I know you get paid to do it, but you're obviously not doing it for the money and just sitting here talking to you, the energy that you communicate with, you clearly have a gift for putting people at ease and I would imagine getting results of making people not feel threatened and making them realize 'We're here, we're not your enemy, we want everybody to be happy but we have to do what's best for the kids.' And I just think it's awesome, and I want to thank you for doing what you do, and other people like you that do the jobs that are just fucking unpleasant.

Ray: I work with people who have been there since I was in Kindergarten doing this work.

Paul: Do they still have joy in their lives?

Ray: It's ground down to a small nub but I think it still exists. That was kind of a joke, but I remember the first guy I worked was this investigator named Mike, and he's still a close friend of mine, but he's been there at that desk as an investigator since 1983. He's retiring in a couple of months. Thirty years, man. Thirty years of doing this shit. It'll wear on you. When Policeman Andy, that secondary trauma piece, you have to address it. I feel an obligation to myself, to my family, and to my clients, really.

Paul: To keep yourself healthy?

Ray: Yeah, if I don't process and if I don't exercise or if I just don't address this nightmare shit that's in my head sometimes....it comes out in so many ways. With my family it'll come out with me, I become guarded. My fiancée, she can feel it when I'm there. And with my clients, if I'm not processing with my supervisor or my colleagues and sometimes a therapist, then you know what countertransference is?

Paul: Uh uh.

Ray: Transference is if you're projecting onto me.

Paul: That I've heard of before.

Ray: Countertransference is me projecting to you, my client. So, you're a dad and you've just beat your child up, or you left and you're not there, hey. Phew. My father walked out on me, now I'm triggered. Now I'm starting to operate from that place as opposed to my just professional role. So I'll feel it if I'm talking to a father who's getting agitated with me, defensive about stuff that I know he's lying about, what do I do?

Paul: You'll blurt out "You never fucking loved me!"?

Ray: Inside, sure. But I'll give him a rash of shit, I won't have the same tone with him that I would with someone else, which I don't see as a success from my end. I'll get off the phone with someone and be like 'Fuck.'

Paul: But the fact that you see it, isn't that at least the beginning?

Ray: Yeah. Hey, I was raised by two social workers, let's not forget. I'm over-processed. So I identify it and address it, and that's what people need to do. You talk to any social worker, we have our units, so there's six people in each unit, and it's luck of the draw sometimes. You have the craziest case load, a good case load is no C and Ps, care and protection, when you remove a child. So now you're doing supervised visitation, you're transporting the child from the foster home, wherever the hell that might be, to a room sometimes this big and you're sitting there watching a mom and the child interact, and sometimes you have to intervene because there's uncomfortable stuff, then you have to bring the child back. If there's a dental appointment, doctor appointment, you're transporting that child. Now you gotta go to court all the time to deal with this case, and the workload increases tenfold. So right now I've got two and they're really low level, I've got 'em pretty managed. But this woman I work with, she's got six on her case load of 20 cases to begin with. She has kids placed all over the place from an hour away to 15 minutes, she has supervised visits where she has four children that she has to get there for an hour, and they're an hour away. It's madness. And she does hot line three days a week, too, where she's working through the clock, and she's got a home and kids and you just know that she's got a lot going on and could certainly benefit from a little processing. But how do you say 'You should stop and slow down, maybe talk to someone.' And you have opportunities with each other to process on the fly, which is important too. I could go on and on.

Paul: Well, Ray, I wanna thank you so much. You definitely illuminated a lot of things for me about what is it that you guys do and what it feels like to do what you do. So thank you for that, and thank you for doing what you do, you and people like you.

Ray: I say I'm a third generation social worker, I wish I was a third generation business tycoon, or something lavish. But no, thank you, I appreciate it, and to all the social workers out there, thank you.

Paul: Many thanks to Ray for really illuminating you guys, but I definitely know I was illuminated. So much of that job, I had no idea. It was really cool to listen to. Before I take it out with some surveys, I wanna remind you guys that there are a couple of ways to support the show if you feel so inclined. You can support us financially by going to the website, mentalpod.com, that's also the Twitter name you can follow me at. Go to the website and you can make a one-time PayPal donation, or, my favorite, sign up for a recurring monthly donation. You only have to sign up once, and then as long as your credit card is valid or you don't cancel it, it'll just take whatever amount you want every month and lay it in my greasy palms. You can donate as little as five bucks a month, or up to I think we've raised the limit to $50. We're daring somebody to be a $50/month donor. I know there's somebody out there. You can also support us financially by shopping through our Amazon portal, it's on our home page. The next time you're gonna buy something at Amazon, just enter through that little portal on our home page, on the right side about halfway down, and Amazon will give us a couple of nickels and it doesn't cost you anything. You can support us non-financially by going to iTunes, giving us a good rating, writing something nice about it if you feel so inclined, and spreading the word through social media. Those all really help grow the show and brings me closer to my dream of being able to support myself doing this show, and I have to say bit by bit we're inching closer to that and I can see a day when I will be able to call this my job. I mean, I do consider it my job because let's be honest, I don't do anything except nap and do this and stare at the wall and wonder what might have been. Wouldn't it be great if you could get paid to wonder what might have been? Holy fuck, I would have some beachfront property. Let's get to some surveys.

This is from the Struggle in a Sentence survey, from Amanda, about her dysthymia, she says "It feels like I'm in a dark room but I can hear the party going on outside the room." I couldn't have read that any more clunkily. I like that word clunkily, though. Let's get that into our everyday vernacular. Clunkily.

Same survey, filled out by Jill, writes about her depression "A really bad friend whose place you still set at the table every day." Wow, that's such a good one. About her anxiety she says "The voices of the popular kids are still stuck in your head." That one is genius. I love when you guys fill out a survey and it just cuts right through me. I either feel this rush of empathy for you or like you are my long, lost twin. Either one makes me feel like I'm not alone and I love it.

Same survey, filled out Mrs. C, straight off the set of Happy Days, she writes "I am afraid that I am exceedingly boring, which doesn't seem possible, but the only way I can explain my 'acting out' is that I'm trying to be less bland by sitting on more dicks this week than any other. Lame." Well, I would say it's not lame. My guess is that people don't act out because they're trying to be less boring, it's because they're trying to avoid feelings that are overwhelming and I would take that seriously. If you're engaging in behavior that brings you shame and remorse on a consistent basis, I would talk to somebody about that. There's a lot of qualified therapists and support groups that you can go to for that.

This is from the Shame and Secrets survey, filled out by a woman who calls herself Stuffy Stuff. She's straight, in her 20s, was raised in a stable and safe environment. Ever been the victim of sexual abuse? "Some stuff happened but I don't know if it counts as sexual abuse. He made me give him a hand job." Yeah, I'd say any time he forces you to do something sexually, that's abusive. Deepest, darkest thoughts: "Sometimes I want my child to die. It's so hard to be a young mom." Deepest, darkest secrets: "My ex-husband said terrible things to me. They scare me, even though I can't always remember them. But I believed him. I tried to rip up his flesh once because I was so so so sick of him hitting me." That breaks my heart. Sexual fantasies most powerful to you? "Being raped publicly." Would you ever consider telling a partner or close friend? "Maybe." Do these secrets and thoughts generate any particular feelings towards yourself? "Sometimes I'm a little proud that I have such feelings at all." I love that she's owning what she's feeling. If only the rest of us could just embrace what we feel and not beat ourselves up for it, as long as we're not hurting other people.

This is also from the Shame and Secrets survey, filled out by a guy who calls himself mushroom. He's straight, in his 20s, grew up in a stable and safe environment, though he qualifies "Grew up in a religious town. It's safe and stable but horrifically oppressive." I would say that cancels out safe, in terms of crime safe, but emotionally unsafe. Ever been the victim of sexual abuse? "No, I've never been sexually abused." Deepest, darkest thoughts: "I sometimes casually think about suicide, jumping off of high places or out of cars on the highway. When it hits me hard and I feel my worthlessness creep up on me, getting its claws deep in me, I fantasize about jabbing my throat with knives. I think about how much I suck at the things I choose to do." Deepest, darkest secrets: "Nothing much, just nothing. That's the secret, that I'm doing nothing. I pretend I'm doing good in school, that I'm doing the work I'm supposed to do but in reality all I'm doing is nothing." Dude, I just wanna give you a hug 'cause you are just so hard on yourself. Sexual fantasies most powerful to you, he writes "I fantasize about giants. Either me being tiny or her being huge. There's a lot of porn that focuses on giantesses being violent and murderous but that doesn't do it for me except when it does. Mostly it's a comforting and coddling giantess or playful. Usually very take charge, sexually. Sometimes she's fat which usually means she's a bit meaner and more aggressive and sometimes she's muscular where she's usually kinder and more innocent. When she's more 'standard' her temperament can be anywhere on the scale. In any case she has absolute power in my fantasies and does with me as she pleases. Sometimes I'll fantasize about my penis being huge enough to please her but not usually." Would you ever consider telling a partner or close friend? He writes "Never had a partner. I don't have any partner or a friend I would call close. I don't predict I will have either of those in the future." Don't ever rule that out. Do these secrets and thoughts generate any particular feelings towards yourself? He writes "All I can think about is being coddled and not having to do anything while all of my friends drift away because I am incapable of being anything more than that guy people sometimes spend time with in a group and never talk to on his own and then everybody just stops wasting their time getting me involved." He says "I'm in a dark place right now." Well, it sounds like it, it sounds like you're really hurting. And even though the temptation is to pull further away from people when we're hurting, sometimes it's the thing that just drives us further. I just urge you to talk to somebody, maybe a therapist would be a good place to start, or a support group. I hope I don't sound like a broken record always saying that, but I get such beautiful letters from people who have taken the jump and gotten into therapy or support groups, and it's just amazing. And I would be dead if I hadn't gone to support groups or therapy, absolutely would be dead. And there's a guy that used to be in our forum that that would be fine with him.

This is from the Shame and Secrets survey, filled out by a guy who calls himself scooter, he's straight and in his 20s, was raised in a slightly dysfunctional environment. Never been sexually abused. Deepest, darkest thoughts "Constantly thinking about what people would show up at my funeral, how people would react if something happened to me, and how many Facebook statuses would be posted in my honor. I'm ashamed at how hollow that is." Dude, I totally get that. We all wanna know that we're special, we all wanna know that we've left this earth not being forgettable. I think that's one of the most human things that you can have. Deepest, darkest secrets "Tried on my sister's underwear and masturbated while wearing it." Well, to make you feel a little bit less bad about that, one time I was drunk in college and we had done that stupid frat boy thing where you go to a sorority and you steal their underwear and everybody's screaming and acting like it's a big surprise, even though everybody knew that this thing was gonna happen. So we go back to where we lived and we had these girls' underwear and some of these girls were over and everybody was pretty drunk, and I thought it would be hilarious to put on a pair of these women's underwear and just jump out in the hall and let them see that I had these on and then jump back in to my room. Well, as soon as I jump out in the hall, my friends grab me, push me down, grab me by my ankles and drag me the length of the hall in girl's underwear with my sack hanging halfway out. Pretty hard to look those girls in the eye after that. And I won't lie, I won't say it didn't feel bad having girl's underwear on, there was something that kind of turned me on about knowing that I was wearing underwear that she wore. Wow, I need to shut up right now. Sexual fantasies most powerful to you "Public sex and domination. Ideally I would somewhere semi-public, an area where you can get caught but it's out in the open at a park, for example. I would basically be in control of the woman, instructing her in all the ways/having my way with her. No whips, chains, or public humiliation, but I am controlling the situation. There is also minor masochism, in the form of hard slaps, hair pulling, etc." Would you ever consider telling a partner? "Yes, I have told my partner." Do these secrets and thoughts generate any particular feelings towards yourself? "I feel shameful that part of my fantasy essentially involves abusing a woman." Not if she gives her consent, I don't think that's abuse. I think if you're both into it, that might even bring you closer together as long as that's not what your sex is just about. If it's the side dish and not the main dish, if the intimacy is just the main dish. What if every other show from here on out all I used was restaurant metaphors? How long until I had only one listener left? I'm gonna say two weeks.

This is from the Shame and Secrets survey, filled out by a woman who calls herself ashamed, so you know it's gonna be brimming with positivity, she is bi-sexual, in her 20s, was raised in a stable and safe environment. Was the victim of sexual abuse and reported it. Deepest, darkest thoughts "I think about having sex with my dad on occasion. It is a thought I have revisited many times over the past ten years since I was about 12, when I first started having dreams about it. I was so ashamed at the time, and had difficulty maintaining a relationship with my dad even though he never sexually abused me in any way. I finally told my mom about it, and she talked to him about it. He was so horrified, but after talking about it we overcame it and it didn't bother me as much. Since then I have explored it further in my dreams, and wonder why it is such a recurring thought. I have sometimes fantasized about it when I masturbate, usually only when I am drunk. I feel like when I self-mutilate I am a failure because the pain keeps me from cutting very deep. I am jealous of the scars I have seen on some of my friends who engaged in serious self-mutilation, and feel like I am not strong enough because I can't do that." I hope you hear how unhealthy that sounds. I hear that with people that have eating disorders, that feel like they've failed at an eating disorder because they don't do it enough, or do it. And I'm not judging you, I just hope you can see that, like all of us, you need help. She also writes "I also feel ashamed because I haven't actually attempted suicide. I always stop at the last second, and I feel like my problems aren't 'real' if I can't even actually make a serious attempt at suicide." Deepest, darkest secrets "I once cut the Japanese symbol for 'rape' into my side. Over the past couple of weeks since I broke up with my boyfriend I have started making myself throw up to lose weight as well as restricting my food consumption." God, I hope you go see somebody, you deserve it. Sexual fantasies most powerful to you "Generally I give up control in my fantasies. I fantasize about getting raped and beaten up on occasion. Usually I try to fantasize about healthy situations because I feel ashamed when I fantasize about unhealthy things. I also fantasize about incest involving fictional characters, i.e. erotica. I sometimes masturbate to animated porn of women getting raped, and I have also fantasized about and watched bestiality situations. I am only interested in those in which the female is the human being penetrated by the animal. I sometimes watch porn involving women masturbating using very large objects. I think it might be the inherent violence and objectification of all those scenarios that is appealing to me because it reminds me of the many, many times where I felt completely powerless in sexual situations. I literally felt like a blow up doll or fuck toy, and pornography depicting situations like that brings me back to it." Would you ever consider telling a partner or close friend your fantasies? "Yes, but I would need to be very close to them. I think it will be imperative that I do tell at least some of my thoughts to a future partner for them to really understand the depth of my emotional and sexual issues." Do these secrets and thoughts generate any particular feelings towards yourself? "I feel like my mind is a huge tangle of barbed wire that I need to sift through, although it seems insurmountable sometimes considering how many issues I have and how interconnected they all are. Whenever I figure one thing out, it seems to surface five new issues." Any comments to make the podcast better? "Nope, it is wonderful. I have been listening to it very often in this period after my breakdown, and it feels good to write down all these dark thoughts." I wanna thank you for doing that and I just wanna send you a big, big hug and a lot of love.

We're almost done, for the imaginary foot-tapping I'm hearing. This is an email I got from a listener. I always talk about support groups, and she writes "Never in a million years did I ever think I'd say 'Hi, my name is KJ and my partner has bi-polar disorder. And no, it's not the bi-polar partner part that surprises me. It's that I would share this information with a bunch of strangers in a support group. How did I get here? I struggle with what to tell, if anything, of my partner's story because it's not mine to tell, but her story is why I sought support so I think it's important to share some of it. My girlfriend told me early into our relationship that she is bi-polar. She asked if we could have a cocktail before giving me all the gory details, and they were gory. Seven years ago she slipped way, way down into a dark place and did the unthinkable, took a bunch of pills, slit her wrists, and tried to stab herself in the heart. She got as close to death as you can get. Thankfully, she survived. The doctors patched up her severed mammary artery and re-worked her med plan. She describes it as a detachment where she wasn't herself. She wasn't in control. That part terrifies me. I'm planning on a life with this woman. What if it happens again? What if I don't see it coming? I don't wanna burden my friends with these horrific details and she understandably doesn't wanna rehash it, so where do I go to discuss my fears? Where can I go and not be judged for loving her completely? Say it with me, kids, a support group. I signed up for the NAMI family-to-family class a few months ago, it's a 12-week course where we go through every mental illness, its symptoms and treatments, and share personal experiences and advice. My goal was to learn more about bi-polar disorder and hopefully meet some more people who are dealing with similar issues. I've spent my fair share of time in therapy but never considered anything outside of 1:1 help until now. The first couple of times I went to class I felt like I was intruding. My situation isn't that extreme so I didn't think I deserved to be there. I don't have a son who's schizophrenic and have to manage calls from the police on a regular basis; I don't have a sister who refuses to take her meds and has lost her job, her home, and her touch with reality; I don't have terrible firsthand experience to share. What I do have is fear of the unknown and a struggle to rectify that horrible image from that horrible day. I know what is possible, and I never want to see it. Regardless, I stuck with the group and came to realize that just being there lightens the load a little, like magic. It's amazing to be in a circle of acceptance and unconditional support. There is no judgment and I am welcome. I'm also reminded of how well my girlfriend manages her illness. I hope I never need a shoulder to cry on but I'm glad to know it's there. I'm also happy to know I can provide one, too. Every member of that group wrestles with the stigma of mental illness. If she was in a ghastly car accident or had battled cancer, nobody would question my desire for a future with her. But add a mental illness into the mix and your friends might be a little more concerned. My best friend asked if I was sure I wanted to go down this road. I told her that I had dated a lot of crazy girls, at least this one's got a diagnosis and medication. And honestly, she's amazing. She has that light in her eye and love of life that is infectious. Everybody loves her, you would never guess she's bi-polar. I'm doing my part to make sure she's safe, loved, and supported no matter what and this means learning the warning signs, keeping notes, knowing what's necessary for her to be healthy. Fortunately she is incredibly self-aware and is able to catch herself when she's drifting up or down. Her disorder is hardly an issue in our lives. I am grateful she's so on top of it. On the other hand, she has the scars to remind us both of what can go horribly wrong. She fell into the pit at 21, then deeper near the point of no return at 31. I'm a little worried about what 41 has in store for us, and if the shit does hit the fan, at least I know I won't be alone." Thank you for that, KJ. That was beautiful.

And I wanna take it out with a Happy Moments survey, filled out by CC, she's 17, and she writes "I once had someone tell me that in order to form strong memories, you have to be mostly happy. That makes a great deal of sense to me because a lot of my life is a dark, anxious blur. A lot of the points I can pick out are bittersweet. I have a memory of being with my mom while we were on a family vacation. I must have been pretty young, maybe six or eight, and at that time my mother worked as much as possible in order to avoid my father. But here, it was just my mom and I, sitting on the hotel bed and hugging. I don't remember the context of why we were hugging at all; I just remember praying as hard as I could that time would freeze and I could stay like that forever. I felt loved and protected, and I didn't want to lose that feeling." What a beautiful moment to go out on, thank you for sharing that. And thank you guys for listening, thanks to Ray, and just remember if you're feeling stuck there is hope if you're willing to get out of your comfort zone and try a new way of living and ask for help. And you are not alone. Thanks for listening.

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