How psychology works against us when a child is removed

I no longer think that I am depressed about not seeing Josh’s sister. My feelings of sadness and loss when they left at the end of their holiday were normal – I just tend to have powerful emotions. And now it is not that bad. The feelings of sadness come in waves for me, and those waves seem to be subsiding.

But in that same post, I also briefly mentioned something else, when I wrote the following:

When you don’t see someone so often, you forget. This is also something that makes my getting him back commendable. The psychology of having a child removed normally leads you to forget them, rather than make you try harder to get them back. I got him back in spite of the effect removing him had on both of us.

I was thinking about this some more. Are people genuinely unaware of this effect? Is it not obvious what will normally happen when a child is removed?

If you don’t follow me, consider this: Think about what happens when somebody you love dies. At first, it is unbearable. You are lost, and depending on who they were and how close their relationship was to you, you might feel like life is no longer worth living… Your life is over, and existence itself is unbearable without them… But then something happens. It comes down to that not complete bullshit cliché, “Time is a healer”. You forget, kind of. Not really forget, but you get used to them being gone. That’s how our brains work. Those initial feelings of loss don’t last, and forgetting those feelings is our way of coping with loss.

Unfortunately, when a child is removed, exactly the same thing happens. At first, it is devastating, almost as bad as dealing with the death of a loved one. It’s even worse in a way, because your child is still alive, but you can’t see them. But then the same thing happens as when losing a loved one. You get used to it. It doesn’t hurt forever, and this is made even worse if there are people who put steps into place to prevent you from seeing that child (which would maintain that feeling of loss and keep the motivation to get them back).

There is no point in denying this. It is absolutely natural and normal. Those same coping mechanisms that allow us to deal with the death of a loved one come into play, such that removing a child from his or her parents will naturally cause the parents to lose their interest in getting that child back, because they get used to the child not being there.

I remember a day a few years ago, where we were visited by Sandra, the social worker dealing with our case when it was still being handled by Child Welfare. She had a long chat with Megan, and Megan, in her innocence, was totally honest with Sandra. She tried to explain how she felt, using the words, “I feel like I don’t have a child”. And guess what happened?

It was used against her. The report concluded that Megan no longer wanted Josh, that it was her intention to agree to give him up. Not only the social worker, but everybody else involved held this against her. Make no mistake, there was nothing wrong with what she said. She was just being open and honest, expressing what removing him had done to her, thinking that the social worker would understand and be able to offer her advice. But rather than do that, Sandra was only there to find anything that could be used against us.

One would expect that people who work in that field would know and understand the psychology involved. They should surely know the outcome of the removal of a child, both on the child and on the parents. But they don’t. Never assume that anybody is qualified to do their job just because that’s what they do for a living.

If the objective is ultimately to return the child to his or her parents, which they state it is, then one would expect that they can ensure that the parents are equipped psychologically to be able to get their child back, not just insist that the parents stop using drugs, because that’s not enough. They should be able to recommend therapists who will be able to help the parents adjust to life without their child, and should help make sure that visitation with the child takes place, to ensure that reunification can occur, because that is in the best interests of the child. But they don’t do that.

For years afterwards, I had to hear from my brother and his ex-wife (who fostered Josh) that Megan had given up on him; abandoned him; didn’t want him anymore. And the reason for that impression was that one conversation she had with the social worker. And here’s the worst part: I felt exactly the same. I was just smart enough to shut the fuck up, and either lie or simply keep my true feelings secret. I would have coached her on what to say and what not to say to Sandra, had it been possible, but the visit took us by surprize, and she spoke to Megan first… Megan whose only mistake that day was to open up and be honest about her feelings.

After that, after her treatment by the people who were supposed to be acting in our son’s best interests, she did give up. Can you really blame her? She was in the system herself as a child. She felt like the system itself was against her. She was even suspicious of me, and to this day blames me for Josh being removed when he was eighteen months old, because it happened with my cooperation. (It needed to happen. He was unsafe when I was at work and at that time, I made sure he was removed. But from us, not her alone.) This is why, in the end, he came to me. The court placed him with me.

Edit 2017-01-05: To clarify where I mention that I cooperated with Josh’s removal from us when he was 18 months old… That was his initial removal into a private arrangement. When he was about two and a half years old at the end of 2010, he was returned to us briefly after a one-sided argument with his foster father, who was shouting at me. (“Get the fuck out of my house and take your son with you.”) This was about a month after a brief relapse of one week, but Megan and I were both clean. Only then they called Child Welfare, and that same social worker, Sandra, interviewed Megan while I was at work. Even though Megan was clean, the report concluded that she “could not make decisions on her own” and assumed, without evidence, that she was using drugs. That’s when the formal foster arrangement began. All reports about him, even when they took him to a forensic psychologist in 2015 to try preventing reunification, mentioned bizarre allegations of “abuse” by us, referring to the time in the past when we were on drugs and when he was in danger, although no abuse occurred. It never mentioned the circumstances of his actual removal, or that it happened before we returned to active addiction. After that, we were denied access to him unless we had drug tests to prove we were clean; only then were we allowed to visit. (It doesn’t work like that. You don’t lose the right to see your child, even if you are using.) The excuse used was that we were a danger to the other children. (How?) But it was just an excuse. There were always obstacles to prevent us seeing our son. If I bring these things up now, it’s always the same story from my brother. I’m told that I don’t remember it correctly, that my timelines are wrong. (So what? Why do my timelines need to be exact.) That is, he denies my reality itself. This type of manipulation is actually a kind of abuse  I’ve recently learned to be known as GasLighting.

So to reiterate, yes, I got my son back. I got him back despite the way his removal initially nearly destroyed me and then made me forget him and feel like I no longer had a son. In order to do that, at some points I had to lie, deceive and manipulate. I had to act a certain way and say certain things, deny the truth about what his removal did to me, deny the perfectly normal psychological consequences to avoid the consequences they would impose on me, for being honest. Being honest, as Megan was, would have resulted in my losing him forever.

All’s well that ends well? I suppose so, but it is difficult for me to be positive all the time. I have a lot of regret, and bitterness. I don’t have anger. As I used to say to Megan in the old days, “I’m not mad. I’m sad.”


About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
This entry was posted in Addiction, Methamphetamine, Parenting, Recovery and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to How psychology works against us when a child is removed

  1. bbnewsab says:

    Many interesting thoughts. Very well written (as usual).

    As far as I know social workers usually are very biased people. They remind me very much of religious people. That is they often have a hidden agenda. My advice to you, Jerome, is: Neither religious people nor social workers.should be trusted by you (if you don’t know their hidden agenda or goals).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jerome says:


      I just updated this post with the third-last paragraph, which mentioned when he was formally removed into foster care. It involved that same social worker, concluding that we were using drugs, without evidence at that time. In retrospect, I now think I should have fought it. I should have insisted on drug tests that day, to prove our sobriety, and not agreed to their terms.

      This event was traumatic to us, and it happened before we returned to active addiction. You can see why it is inconvenient for them that this is factual.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. bbnewsab says:

    I just want to add this: I like your “new” avatar photo, Jerome. Love is all around, so to speak.

    Liked by 1 person

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