My question involves child abuse or neglect in the State of: Mississippi
I have a newborn baby and was at home with her and my three year-old daughter last Wednesday. My husband had taken our 6 year old son to day camp on his way to work. Of course I have not been getting a lot of sleep with a 2 month old breastfeeding baby. At 8 am, my 3 year-old was in front of the TV closed in my room with a show while I was sitting on the bed nursing the baby. I nodded off and awoke at 9am to find the patio door in my room hanging open. It is blocked off in a corner behind a play yard and we never use it. I was horrified, to say the least, not to see my daughter anywhere and feel the unnatural quiet. I quickly dashed around the house and looked on the back patio that the door opens onto and did not see her there or anywhere in the backyard. We have had a mama cat and her kittens hanging out on the patio and they weren't there, and I knew she must have gone looking for them. We have no fence. I was going to glance in the front yard before I grabbed my shoes and started looking outside for her. I opened the front door to find a police car with her in the front seat. A neighbor from 2 doors down came out and said she'd seen her running full speed down the street; she was found around the corner on a small but busy street by a couple of repo men. I was beyond relieved, the cops left and that was the end of it. I spent the rest of the day telling her it was very dangerous, to never go outside by herself, that she could be hurt, that I was very afraid.
Until...the next day, when she did it again. That was Thursday. We hadn't put any chain locks on the door because our bank account happened to be overdrawn until Friday. We had the plastic doorknobbers on the doors until a few months ago, when she learned to pop them off. I even tried duct taping them on and she just peeled the tape off. She has never tried anything like this before, nor has she ever been allowed outside alone. I wish to god we had thought to put heavy furniture--sofas--in front of the doors like we did later that night. My husband left at 7:14 that morning; I know because he came in and told me he was leaving and that the escape artist was still asleep. The baby had woken at 4:45 or so and been awake for about an hour; I fell asleep feeding her again. At about 7:55 I opened my eyes to see a police officer standing in my bedroom doorway, who told me she got out again. I am still in shock. He said the front door was wide open, and this time, she was all the way across the busy street and further down, so it had nothing to do with the cats this time; she apparently just thought it would be fun to go running around the neighborhood while it was drizzling, barefoot and in her jammmies again. I still can't believe it. The cops told me they had to charge me with misdemeanor child neglect because if she got out again and something happened to her, they'd be blamed for not doing anything. But "It's nice in here" and "I'm not even going to take pictures." Later on, he called me and asked for my daughter's name and DOB.
He had me come the next day to be booked and was very apologetic and understanding, did not treat me like a criminal at all. I had to have a mug shot taken and be fingerprinted but at least I didn't have to ride there in handcuffs. I have a court date next Tuesday and he said he would not ask for any harsh punishment, etc.; my case was nothing like others he had recently dealt with so no arrest or CPS for the children at the time of the offense. He did mention probation, which did not occur to me. I am really hoping the case will be dismissed. I have never been in any trouble with the law other than traffic violations (last 12 years ago). Thursday night, tornadoes hit our town and kept us from going to the hardware store even if we had been able to find money for chain locks; my husband went out first thing Friday morning and bought and installed them at the top of all the exterior doors. We don't let her out of our sight now.
All of this was pretty horrible but something that was ultimately the price I had to pay, I thought, until Friday evening. I was out with the baby when my husband called to say that CPS had paid a surprise visit. I guess it was required by the charge. I am not getting a good idea of how this meeting went except that the case worker was African or Carribbean and my husband could barely understand her. He said she is coming back this Tuesday and we all need to be here and she wants to talk to all of us. He just now mentioned a couple hours ago that she is bringing her supervisor with her and that has freaked me out because "I am coming back with my supervisor" sounds pretty bad and then I got on here and the advice is to have an attorney present and that they will want to search our house and interview my children has me terrified. I don't even want my six year-old, who was not involved in this, to know what is going on, and now they are going to ask him all kinds of strange questions and want to search his room? Even if he doesn't get it now, someday he will and then how can I possibly have any weight as a mother when I have brought CPS on my family?? I am horrified at the neighbors or people at the school finding out about this, or my friends and family. I am a stay-at-home home. This is my job, and this has just shaken my world to the foundations to be charged as a negligent mother. Our family has been tainted enough by this happening; even if the charge is dropped and the record expunged, it still happened and let's face it, my family, and me in particular, would be looked down on by anyone who ever found out. I have always been terrified by the idea that anyone could just call CPS and you would have a file on you forever even if you were totally innocent; now it's actually happened and it's based on a crime. But it could get even worse. Way worse.
I don't have a card or anything from this caseworker, just a safety checklist with her illegible signature, a rights and responsibilites form, a blank formal grievance form, and a request for TANF funds form. I had to google just to find the name of the agency. I felt like this was kind of a formality before; now it feels like my whole life could come unravelled tomorrow. My son has Asperger's Syndrome and has had a rough summer, discipline-wise, hence the day camps. I am afraid what will happen if he tells the case worker he was yelled at or spanked for his behavior which, in fact, contributed to his sister's behavior. Also, the three year-old has 2 fresh scars on her face. She was in the ER 3 times in 24 hours last month, for slipping off a footstool, hitting her chin on the counter, and biting clean through her lip, getting bit on the cheek my my parents' dog, and then peeling the Dermabond off the first wound. She's like a danger magnet this summer and it looks bad. Never been to the ER before all that.
So here are my questions and sorry this was so long:
Should I try and get a hold of these people to postpone the meeting until I can get a lawyer and clean my house better?
How scared should I be?? Could they take my children away from me?
Is this SOP for CPS, to come back with a supervisor?
What legal penalties am I facing as a result of the neglect charge?
What if I get probation and want to work with children someday as a teacher, etc.?
How do I get a public defender?