The picture below was taken by Heather Whitten in 2014. Her son had been sick with Salmonella, so her husband took the feverish, vomiting, diarrhea-suffering boy into the shower with him and there they sat for three hours as all the crap washed out of the boy, over them both, and down into the drain. Overwhelmed by the bonding before her, Heather, a documentary photographer, took the photo and posted it to Facebook.
Facebook took it down but Heather reposted it several times, including the story behind it, and Facebook reversed itself and said fine. It went viral, naturally evoking lots of controversy along the way. Eventually, one person complained to the authorities. But of course, that’s all it takes. Now Heather is being investigated by Arizona’s Department of Child Safety.
You may recall it was Arizona where a family was put through hell when the parents had their kids-taking-a-bath photos developed at Walmart. An employee saw the pix and rather than thinking, “How cute!” thought, “Child porn!” The children, 5, 4 and 1, were taken away from the parents for a month.
So now, according to Heather in this article, while the police dropped all claims against her, the DCS is not letting it go:
“… The only claim [the investigator] is able to suggest be substantiated against me was that I neglected to supervise our children by allowing the images to be online and so put them at an unreasonable risk of harm,” Heather says.
“Later she made it clear that she was basing most of her opinions on me because I breastfed one of my twins throughout the whole interview, without covering myself or my child. Of course, she couldn’t take action against us for any of these things … they were either complete reaches or in the case of me breastfeeding, normal and protected by law.”
To me, a million miles away, not there, not knowing the people, etc. etc. etc., it just sounds like a clash of cultures: On the one side, a mom who posts slightly envelope-pushing pictures online and breastfeeds in the middle of an interview that could determine her future. Nothing wrong with either of those things. Just that they could be provocative. And sitting across from her is a child protective services worker who possibly feels uncomfortable with both, and holds all the cards.
That’s the problem: One anonymous person’s call to CPS is allowed to trigger a potentially family-destroying investigation that may come down to a culture clash. Since no one on earth agrees on the best way to raise kids, the state should not be allowed to take any action unless a child is in immediate, obvious, egregious and statistically likely danger.
Whether or not you’d share this photo on Facebook doesn’t matter. What does matter is that this is a mom who now faces being placed on the Arizona child abuse registry, which would prevent her from working with kids, or adopting again. All because she has a different set of aesthetics and boundaries, not because she is a threat to children. – L.