I need parental help from Big Brother

Today I took Rocky to my WIC application appointment. They had required that I bring both Rocky and her immunization records, which I admit baffled me, considering that WIC is a food assistance program. But I brought them both.

We went through the whole rigamorole, the waiting, the paperwork, and finally got taken back to what ended up looking like a clinic. They weighed Rocky. They measured Rocky. I started getting suspicious. Then the lady said, “come sit over here, Honey,” slapped on green vinyl gloves and pulled out a finger poker. I stopped Rocky with a gentle hand on her shoulder. “What are you going to do?”

“We’ve got to check her iron levels,” she said.

“Why?”

“In order for you to get the vouchers, we need to have her iron levels.”

“No.”

“. . . um, what?”

“You can’t do that. I don’t know why you need to do all this.” Rocky, at this point, had read the woman’s intentions and began to whimper. She retreated to the other side of the room and curled up on a chair.

The woman’s supervisor came out to try to talk some sense into me. “Ma’am, we need to know how her nutrition is, so we know that she’s getting enough of everything in her diet.”

“I can assure you she is.”

“We still will need it in order for you to get the vouchers.” She then went on to explain that every three months, I’ll need to come in for a nutrition class, and every six months they’ll be testing Rocky’s blood. All required, to get $50/month food vouchers. “She’ll forget about it in five minutes!”

I looked at Rocky’s frightened face, and told them no thanks. It’s not that I’m opposed to getting Rocky tested, when we really need to. It just made me feel . . . icky inside. Like Big Brother was in the room. We walked hand in hand back to the car and drove home. I told Rukan what happened, and she said, “Hell no! Don’t go back!”

Actually, it sounds a little like the kind of Christian missionary work where you have to go to church to get clean water. No wonder I felt icky.

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7 responses to “I need parental help from Big Brother

  1. I probably would have had a similar emotional reaction, but I have mixed feelings about this kind of stuff.

    One of WIC’s main purposes is to identify those children ages 0-6 (i.e., too young for school) who are in danger of malnutrition, abuse, neglect, etc. WIC’s mission is to prevent those things by providing education and material assistance to the mothers of children who, due to a myriad of sociological factors, are most likely to need them. The only way they can do this is by assessing the relative health and happiness of every kid who walks through the door, regardless of whatever claims the accompanying parent might make.

    That said, I also understand that it is undignifying and invasive to be forced to go through information-gathering processes that are essentially designed to find out if you are a bad and/or ignorant parent, but I can think of no better way to find and assist those children who need it most. I also know, from having been on the inside, that the philosophy of WIC is to empower women who are at risk of abusing/neglecting their kids rather than to accuse or blame them. (Whether the individuals who work there actually share that philosophy and put it into practice is another matter.)

    In defense of WIC, one might say: better to wound the pride of a few good parents than leave the most vulnerable and needy children in the US to tough it out until kindergarten or die trying.

    That said, I have been on the other end of the invasive, undignifying social service “assess, intervene, and educate” philosophy and, like you, it really sticks in my craw every time. In fact, I argue vehemently every time I go to get my annual HIV test at the free clinic, because they insist on putting me in the “high risk” category. (Let me just say that I have a rule about getting tested annually, whether I’m in a monogamous relationship or not. I’ve been doing it since I was 20 and I plan to keep doing it no matter what.) So, I’m in the high risk category, permanently, because I dared to tell the truth on some damn sexual history form the first time I went to this place.

    Evidently, having protected sex for money is riskier than having unprotected sex for free. Nevermind that I know of women who’ve done whole frats without a single piece of latex. As long as they weren’t getting paid for it, they don’t get the extra special “educational” lecture at the end of their free HIV test. But if you got paid $30 for a hand job once, well, you’re high risk. (That’s not the case with me, but it illustrates my point quite well.)

    Oh, and having had sex with one openly bisexual, monogamous, and conscientious man over the period of a month, well, that was apparently much riskier than having sex with a promiscuous, deceitful, abusive, heterosexual man over the period of a year.

    I raise a stink about these things every time I get the special lectures at the end of my HIV test. The person listens to me calmly and explains that, statistically speaking, women who have exchanged sex for money at any point in their lives are more likely to contract HIV. She says that, but what she’s really saying to me between the lines is: “We don’t get many clean and sober, white, articulate women who are obviously from middle class backgrounds and have also had sex for money.”

    That’s the point when I say, “All people who have ever exchanged sex for money are high risk? So, all married women then.” To which the person laughs, uncomfortably. To which I add, “No, you’re right, I am the exception to the rule. I’m one of the few informed, conscientious, and empowered sex workers who actually admits to my profession in situations like these, which is just one of many reasons why I don’t trust your statistics.”

  2. Oh and “the kind of Christian missionary work where you have to go to church to get clean water,” that kind of thing is still going on under the radar in social service organizations of all kinds, all over the US. I raised a stink about the “spiritual assessment” portion of my clients’ incoming interviews, for which they were asked a series of questions by a Protestant pastor, all of which were decidedly biased in favor of kids with Christian backgrounds and/or beliefs, and extremely biased against anyone/everyone else. This practice was defended because “according to statistics, 80% of the population being served claimed to be Christian,” (Well gee, I wonder why? Could be due to pervasive, institutional indoctrination?) and all clients were informed in advance of their right to refuse to be spiritually assessed. Having been on both sides of that situation as well, I assure that the “population being served” is well aware that refusing to be interviewed by a member of the clergy while being “assessed” does not exactly work in their favor while they’re in treatment.

  3. Hot damn, BM. Bring it, baby!

  4. I think I write better on your blog than on mine. Why is that?

  5. I don’t know, but you can write on my blog any time.

  6. Jeez, is this a new WIC rule? We got WIC for my younger brother–big cans of Juicy Juice, boxes of Kix cereal–and they never wanted to stick him with needles. I would also be quite reluctant to subject my child to unnecessary and traumatic tests that involve needles.

    -Tree Frog

    PS Check your original post because in one instance someone’s real name was accidentally used.

  7. thanks, Tree Frog. Good catching.

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