Every parent wants to give their children a perfect life. Talk to any mom or dad and they can tell stories about the things they have done to provide for their families – worked at jobs they hated, gave up hobbies they loved, moved to a new place, or otherwise changed their lives so they can put food on the table for their child.
Parents will move heaven and earth to make sure their kids are happy and healthy, but no parent is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes and some of us are unlucky enough to end up faced with poverty, mental illness, or other hurdles that make taking care of your children that much more difficult. In situations where our difficulties have become overwhelming it isn’t unheard of for the government to step in and remove children from the home for their own health and safety.
While most people will never experience the heartache of watching your children be taken away because your home was deemed unfit, that doesn’t mean the thought of it doesn’t keep some parents awake at night. Being declared an unfit parent is some people’s greatest nightmare, but luckily it is possible to prevent things from ever going that far.
There are some clear and obvious signs to look for that can indicate something is wrong at your house. If you don’t notice these things you can be sure that other people will and it could lead to a visit from CPS. Keep an eye out for these signals that something isn’t right:
15 Your Child Is Extremely Thin Or Extremely Heavy
Weight is a sensitive subject no matter what your age, but for children it can be especially damaging to comment about or focus on their size. Because of this most parents are careful not to comment on their kid’s waistline, which is usually a smart decision.
If your child falls on the outside of this particular bell curve, however, you cannot simply ignore it. Children who are dangerously thin or extremely heavy need to be working with a doctor and possibly other professionals to help keep them healthy.
Nobody is going to call CPS because your kid needs to gain or lose 10 lbs, but if their size is so extreme that it is impacting their daily lives and you aren’t working with a doctor or nutritionist to address it you should probably expect a visit from a social worker at some point.
14 Your Child Is Dirty Or Smells
There is no such thing as a child that doesn’t get messy. Whether they spill their milk down their shirt or smear marker all over their hands, a child is going to spend more time dirty than clean. Don’t worry, nobody is ever going to see them playing in the dirt and report you to the authorities.
However, if your child’s hair is matted or if they smell like they haven’t bathed in weeks you do need to be concerned. Children who don’t like baths can be tempted with bubbles or fun tub toys while children who are afraid of the water can take a sponge bath if all else fails. If your child shows signs of real terror when faced with a bath or shower you may need to find a medical professional that can help them with the issue.
If you aren’t able to afford to keep your water running you can find help at needhelppayingbills.com.
13 Your Child Isn't Dressed For The Weather
Keeping your child warm is one of the most basic responsibilities of parenting, but sometimes children have to learn a lesson the hard way for it to sink in, and for some children that lesson is, “Don’t forget your coat!”
A single wardrobe misstep probably isn’t going to send CPS to your door, but if your child routinely comes to school in shorts while it is snowing outside it can become a cause for concern. Dressing them properly to protect them from frostbite is an important part of taking care of your children. A child sent to school in long pants and a sweater in the summer or wearing clothes that are way too small to properly cover them might also cause some raised eyebrows.
If you can’t afford a proper coat for your child you can visit operationwarm.org.
12 Your Child Isn't Being Properly Fed
Sometimes it can be hard to put together lunch for your child in the morning. It can be exponentially harder if you can’t afford to keep the refrigerator full. If you don’t have the time or the wherewithal to assemble a healthy lunch it can seem so easy to throw a can of soda and a bag of chips into a lunch box and call it acceptable, but this can get you in serious trouble.
Not only do many schools have nutritional guidelines about what you can and cannot send for lunch with your kid, but if the nutritional quality of food drops too low teachers or other adults at the school might be required by law to report it to CPS. If you don’t have time to pack a lunch consider allowing your child to buy a school lunch instead.
If you simply can’t afford to provide a full, healthy diet for your family contact a local food bank (feedingamerica.org) for assistance.
11 Your Child Has Medical Problems That Are Being Ignored
Every kid ends up sick or injured at some point in their childhood. Don’t worry; nobody is going to report you to CPS because your kid has a bad cough for a few days.
If your child needs medical care that you aren’t providing, however, you will find it is a different story. Contagious illnesses, deadly diseases, and chronic ailments cannot be ignored, so make sure you take your child to the doctor if they aren’t getting better on their own. According to the New York Post, your child can die or end up permanently handicapped from easily preventable or treatable diseases, so take this one seriously.
If you have religious beliefs that might stop you from seeking care, start looking now to find a doctor who will work with you to prescribe medication only when absolutely necessary. Don’t wait until it is literally a life or death situation.
If you cannot afford basic medical care check out programs like CHIP (healthcare.gov) that can help.
10 Your Child Is Left Unsupervised
One of the most difficult expenses for parents to cover is the cost of child care. For parents of infants and toddlers it isn’t uncommon for the cost of daycare to vastly exceed the cost of their rent or mortgage. As your child gets a little older it can be tempting to let them stay home alone after school to save money on a babysitter, but most states have laws about how old a child must be to stay home alone.
Children are inquisitive, impulsive, and unable to think through the consequences of their actions. Because of these qualities it can be dangerous to leave children without a caregiver. Knives, matches, gas stoves, and a number of other common household items can easily destroy your home or harm your child, so don’t risk leaving them without an adult in charge.
If you can’t afford to hire a babysitter, visit benefits.org for assistance.
9 Your Child Lashes Out/Abuses Other Children
You know the phrase, “Monkey see, monkey do?” Given their predilection for repeating what they see and hear at home it should actually be, “Toddler see, toddler do!” When you hear a kid on the street use a swear word you can be pretty sure where they learned it, which is why kids who are abusive to other kids are likely to get a visit from CPS.
While it isn’t quite a universal truth, kids beyond the age of two who hit, scream, threaten, and grab other people usually do so because that is how they are treated at home. There are exceptions, of course, but this is a pretty good indicator of a child who is being abused.
If you notice yourself abusing your child or see your child imitating your abusive behavior, find an anger management course or look into therapy. Your family will thank you for it!
8 Your Child Is Frequently Absent
Nobody expects every child in a school to have perfect attendance, but there comes a point when a kid goes from a reasonable number of absences to a sign of neglect. Truant officers don’t just want your child in school because it is the law, they want to make sure a child hasn’t been left without proper care, developed an untreated injury or illness, or suffered from severe abuse.
Keeping a child home from school to prevent teachers from seeing signs of abuse is an unfortunately common tactic, while children who are victims of neglect often don’t have a responsible adult around to get them on the school bus in the morning. Missing school is a huge red flag that the law simply cannot ignore, so make every effort to get your kids to school every day.
There are programs available to you if you are having trouble getting your child to and from school (governmentgrants.com).
7 Your Child Tells Someone They Are Being Abused
This one seems obvious, but you will absolutely get a visit from CPS if your child tells a concerned adult that they are being abused or neglected. This is tricky, especially with younger kids; if a 3-year-old tells you they haven’t eaten in two days are they really starving or do they simply have no sense of time? Either way, if your child says this to a mandated reporter, the odds are good they will tell CPS about the complaint.
While it can be nerve wracking to think that something your child says could be enough to get the authorities involved in your life, just take a deep breath and remember that this is really a good thing. Having responsible people in their lives who will make sure they are properly cared for is a blessing, not a curse. Just do the best you can, take good care of your children and reach out for help if you need it so this doesn’t keep you awake at night.
6 Your Child Is Constantly Tired
Part of taking proper care of your children is making sure they are getting plenty of sleep at night. All parents deal with children being awake at weird hours. Being woken up at 3 a.m. by a tiny person shoving their whole fist in your mouth is not out of the ordinary for people with toddlers, after all. However, if a child is constantly exhausted this is a sign that something is wrong; this could be anything from a medical issue that is preventing them from sleeping or fear and anxiety caused by some sort of trauma.
If your child can’t sleep or is showing signs of severe exhaustion you may need to schedule a visit to the pediatrician to make sure they don’t have any medical issues keeping them awake. If there is nothing medically wrong consider scheduling an appointment with a mental health professional. There are many mental health issues that can interfere with sleep patterns, preventing your child from getting the rest they need.
5 Your Child Needs A Rehab Center At A Young Age
This one is kind of a no-brainer. If your child is using drugs or alcohol this is a clear indication that something is wrong at home. If your child is relatively young this means one of the adults responsible for them is giving them drugs or booze, which obviously needs to be stopped right away. An older child or teen might be getting their own illicit substances, but if they are abusing them so badly that it is noticeable to teachers or other adults it can be a sign of parental negligence.
If you have an addiction issue that is causing problems for you as a parent, you can seek help through a rehab program. This is especially important if your substance abuse issues are giving your child access to drugs and alcohol. If your teen has developed an addiction issue there are rehab facilities available for them as well.
4 Your Child Is Suicidal
According to the Jason Foundation, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24, making this a very serious issue for parents. Children and teens who are bullied or abused are especially prone to thoughts of suicide, which means that not only is talking about suicide a sign your child is in danger of self-harm, but also that there is a good chance that your child has other problems that are not being addressed.
If your child is showing signs of depression it is always a good idea to take them to see a mental health professional. If you think your child is being bullied at school you may need to take some drastic steps to prevent it, whether that means having them switched to a different class or even moved to a new school altogether. If your child attempts suicide or talks about committing suicide and you don't help them, don’t be surprised if CPS gets involved for their safety.
If you are suicidal or you think your child is considering suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for help.
3 Your Child Is Constantly Injured
Some people are just innately klutzy, tripping over their own feet and developing unexplained bruises out of nowhere. This applies to kids just as much as adults, but with kids it is more than just a silly quirk. For concerned adults and mandated reporters, how are they to know whether a kid who had a bruised face last week, burns on their arm this week, and a broken wrist next week is just a klutz or is being abused? Eventually, constant injuries go from being a sign of a kid who is just prone to hurting themselves to something more and CPS will end up getting called.
If you have a klutzy kid and you want to keep them from hurting themselves you can make some simple changes around the house, like removing rugs and other tripping hazards from the floor, to prevent injuries. If you’ve noticed that you tend to punish by hitting, you can find other alternatives that will keep you from harming your child.
2 Your Child Doesn't Want To Go Home
When you show up to pick up your child from school it can be normal for them to be disappointed about leaving once and a while, especially if they are playing a game or working on an exciting project with their friends. What isn’t normal, however, is if your child seems scared or ill at the thought of going home.
If your house doesn’t meet their basic needs (dry, warm, etc.) or they know bad things will happen at home (they won’t be fed, there will be screaming and fighting, etc.) kids can become afraid of going home at the end of the day. If this continues for too long it can be a valid reason for someone to call CPS.
There are places that can help if you can’t afford to heat your home or feed your family. If all of your family’s basic needs are being met and your child still doesn’t want to go home, ask them why they are afraid. There may be a situation you are not aware of that needs to be addressed.
1 Your Child Has Extremely Low Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem can be common in children, especially when they start showing interest in having a boyfriend or girlfriend. Nobody is going to call CPS because your child doesn’t think their love interest will like them, but there are some instances where low self-esteem can be a sign of abuse.
When a child believes they are worthless, that everything is their fault, or doesn’t think they are ever good at anything, it can be a sign that they are being emotionally abused. A child who has been told since they were a baby that they are insignificant and that they should never have been born will internalize that message, eventually developing low self-esteem because of it.
Low self-esteem can also be a sign of depression, and if you notice your child behaving in this way it would be a good idea to find a mental health provider who can help them through it. If you think your child needs a mental health provider you can find one here. If you believe you might be abusing your child you can find help to stop your behavior.
Sources: prp.jasonfoundation.com, PositiveParenting.com, Benefits.gov, Communities.qld.gov.au, NBCNews.com, NYPost.com, MayoClinic.com