Voices of COHP
I remember when the CPS worker came to visit our property and sat on the pink stool in the yard and asked my mother, “What do you do about the sanitation?”
To this day, this may have been the most insightful and honest question you could have asked. We the children however, remained in the midst of the sanitation question. At the time I was about 7 or 8 years old, as we had moved to the one room cabin in 1980. It was an “experience” my dad insisted that we have. Complete with an outhouse that we would utilize while we hoped the coyotes stayed away.
I don’t recall seeing hide nor hair of you, or any other CPS worker for 10 years. 10 YEARS! (It is interesting to note that they visited when my father wasn’t home). When my dad discovered that “they” had visited, he was livid! Within a few days, he paid a visit to their office and told them they had no right to be on his property or interfere with the choices he was making for his family and their living arrangements. I am not sure if that is the reason we didn’t see a social worker again for another 10 years?
I am curious to know what actually happened with CPS/the sanitation/why we never saw you again? Where were you? What happened? Did you file a report? Did you find it odd that a family of 4 were living in a one room cabin? Did you care? Did your supervisor? Were we just a check mark on a form that said breathing or not breathing?
Fast forward a few years. We did actually move into the bigger house that was built on the property. I was 11 and my younger brother was 9. I recall being pretty happy about it, because it meant potentially having my own space. Right. My brother did get his own room, my parents had a pull out couch in the living room to sleep and one winter I had a cot near the door. Eventually I slept on a couch a little further back in the house. At some point I moved myself to my upstairs, unheated bedroom and FINALLY at about age 12 I claimed my room as my own. I put down a carpet remnant, had a small bed, dresser and desk. I didn’t allow anyone else’s crap to come into my space. This room became my clutter free, organized, clean refuge.
Believe it or not, sanitation did remain an issue. Running water was not a feature that survived long on that property. We flushed the toilet by dumping buckets of water down it. I washed my hair in cold water as a teen as it was a “waste” to heat water for that purpose. No running water and water conservation were a longstanding theme to be certain.
Over time, the large house became crowded with boxes, food, clothes, books and stuff. We couldn’t move the stuff, take the stuff off the property or otherwise DO anything without causing a major upset in the household. We had a countertop and place to hang our backpacks near the front door. When the entryway countertop became cluttered with stuff, I was tasked with clearing it off so that we could again use it for its intended purpose. I did clear it off and it stayed that way. For a time. Then the clutter came back and pretty much stayed there. Until Christmas time and it was decided that we could put the Christmas tree on that countertop. I want to make space for the tree and told to leave the stuff as it was. I ended up just putting the tree on top of the stuff on the countertop, because I was determined to have a Christmas tree up.
In general, clearing a space, moving a pile or otherwise disturbing the ‘stuff’ resulted in crying and screaming, arguing, and threats. Usually at that time, my dad would push to get the space cleared and my mom would get upset about that. Given what I now know about hoarding, this dynamic exists in most households where hoarding is a problem. Later however, both of my parents hoarded different things.
Also my younger brother became confined to a wheelchair and his movement was essentially limited to 3 main rooms in the house. We both struggled in school and I just can’t figure out, where CPS disappeared to?
Did teachers suspect anything when our clothes smelled? Did they wonder why we struggled so much in school? What about the bullying from our peers? Did even that raise a red flag? To ANYONE?
Since my brother was in a wheelchair and had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, he had additional assistance while at school and a social worker/case manager that was involved with getting his needs met. For whatever reason, I don’t recall CPS being involved and I am not sure we were actually living in something that would have been reportable to CPS at the time.
Off and on, we spent a lot of time at a hospital due to my brother’s medical needs. I wonder if they ever suspected anything was out of place? Amiss? I am not sure they would have known given the distance from the hospital to our house. We would get up early and drive several hours to Seattle when my brother had appointments. We would see the physical therapist and as the sibling I was able to do arts & crafts in the play area they had for kids like us. My brother had surgery in Seattle when he was 15 and that is when one of the major clean-ups occurred. You can read more about that and how it went here.
CPS somehow magically reappeared at the high school one day when I was a junior. I was called to the office and met with a CPS worker that wanted to talk about the conditions. They asked if I wanted to leave the home. I was told it was likely my brother and I would be separated due to his physical needs. I was 17, so my brother was 15. I told them I wouldn’t leave the home. They let me/us be. To this day I don’t know HOW CPS became involved at that point.
Given my age, I believe that is why I was asked if I wanted to leave/move. I was technically considered a “minor” but for whatever reason I was given a choice. Today I am not sure I would have been given that same choice. In a way, I don’t think CPS saw our living situation as neglect or abuse, after all, we were in school and didn’t have any signs of physical abuse. But what astounds me is the fact that the psychological neglect wasn’t really taken into account as an issue.
Was that a wise choice? The best choice? On the surface it may have seemed stupid, why would I STAY when I finally had a chance to LEAVE? I refused to enter the unknown. I had read far too many books about what happens in foster care. There was no way I was voluntarily taking that risk on. Plus, I saw how kids in foster care were treated within the social hierarchy at the high school. I was dealing with enough perceived judgment already!!
Personally I don’t think CPS/Social Workers/Case Managers have the awareness of what hoarding is, how damaging it can be or that living in this type of environment is actually and technically abuse. They along with a multitude of other professionals, Doctors/Nurses/Mental Health Professionals/Code Enforcement/Youth Leaders and so forth don’t know how to recognize hoarding, address it or want to even step into that chaotic situation.
Perhaps my brother and I were allowed to stay because we didn’t complain and when asked, we didn’t want to leave. Why rock the apple cart? Why put two more minors into an already overloaded foster care system? It wasn’t “that bad,” right?
There are few things that folks working in child protective roles should know about hoarding:
1. If you don’t know what hoarding is, that is the first place to begin. You may have not learned much about it in your educational pursuits or employer required training. The Mayo Clinic is a good resource that provides an overview of what hoarding actually is and you can find that information here.
2. You should also know what hoarding looks like, how to intervene and what steps you can take to bring about positive change in the situation. If you walk into a situation and see excessive amounts of clutter, or rotting food or no place for a kid to eat/sleep/play, it’s a problem. Knowing what hoarding actually looks like can be really helpful and the Clutter Image Rating is a really useful tool.
3. Also you need to know how to begin the conversation with the parent or caretaker that hoards.
4. You need to know how to talk to the youth and minors living in the hoard.
5. You need to know that hoarding is ABUSE.
6. Know that collaborative solutions and intervention based tactics are more effective than threats.
7. Understand that the parent or caregiver that hoards NEEDS mandatory therapy in order to work on their underlying issues. They will also need assistance to clean the house, learn how to actually clean a home properly as well as ongoing assistance to maintain the household.
8. Be aware that the child, MLITH/YLITH also needs individual therapy separate and apart from the parent or caretaker.
9. Recognize that Hoarding is just as detrimental as alcohol, drug, or sexual abuse. It commonly involves physical and psychological abuse. In fact, many of these other issues co-exist within the hoarding situation.
10. Also KNOW that you can shine a light and provide hope to kids and families. You can assure them there are solutions and that other kids have also moved on and created successful lives.
Tammi Moses is the founder and Chief Encouragement Officer of Homes Are For Living, LLC which is a Veteran Woman Owned & Operated business located in Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island, WA. Tammi also provides consultations, assessments and workshops on the issue of hoarding. She has lived experience growing up in a hoarded home and as the adult kid of parents that hoard. She knows the challenges and heartache involved with hoarding first hand. She believes in empowering others to take their adversity and use it for the greater good. She is the voice of #AKOPTH-Adult Kids of Parents That Hoard and an advocate for #YLITH-Youth Living in The Hoard.
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