The Hernandez Family
Juan Hernandez (27) and Elena Hernandez (25) are a married Latino couple who were referred to the New York City Administration for Children Services (ACS) for abuse allegations. They have an 8-year-old son, Juan Jr., and a 6-year-old son, Alberto. They were married 7 years ago, soon after Juan Jr. was born. Juan and Elena were both born in Puerto Rico and raised in Queens, New York. They rent a two-bedroom apartment in an apartment complex where they have lived for 7 years. Elena works as babysitter for a family that lives nearby, and Juan works at the airport in the baggage department. Overall, their physical health is good, although Elena was diagnosed with diabetes this past year and Juan has some lower back issues from loading and unloading bags. Both drink socially with friends and family. Juan goes out with friends on the weekends sometimes to blow off steam, having six to eight beers, and Elena drinks sparingly, only one or two drinks a month. Both deny any drug use at all. While they do not , both identify as being Catholic and observe all religious holidays. Juan was arrested once as a juvenile for petty theft, but that has been expunged from his file. Elena has no criminal history. They have a large support network of friends and family who live nearby, and both Elenas and Juans parents live within blocks of their apartment and visit frequently. Juan and Elena both enjoy playing cards with family and friends on the weekends and taking the boys out to the park and beach near their home.
ACS was contacted by the school social worker from Juan Jr.s school after he described a punishment his parents used when he talked back to them. He told her that his parents made him kneel for hours while holding two encyclopedias (one in each hand) and that this was a punishment used on multiple occasions. The ACS worker deemed this a credible concern and made a visit to the home. During the visit, the parents admitted to using this particular form of punishment with their children when they misbehaved. In turn, the social worker from ACS mandated the family to attend weekly family sessions and complete a parenting group at their local community . In her report sent to the mental health agency, the ACS social worker indicated that the form of punishment used by the parents was deemed abusive and that the parents needed to learn new and appropriate parenting skills. She also suggested they receive education about child development because she believed they had unrealistic expectations of how children at their developmental stage should behave. This was a particular concern with Juan Sr., who repeatedly stated that if the boys listened, stayed quiet, and followed all of their rules they would not be punished. There was a sense from the ACS worker that Juan Sr. treated his sons, especially Juan Jr., as adults and not as children. This was exhibited, she believed, by a clear lack of patience and understanding on his part when the boys did not follow all of his directions perfectly or when they played in the home. She mandated family sessions along with the parenting classes to address these issues.
During the intake session, when I met the family for the first time, both Juan and Elena were clearly angry that they had been referred to parenting classes and family sessions. They both felt they had done nothing wrong, and they stated that they were only punishing their children as they were punished as children in Puerto Rico. They said that their parents made them hold heavy books or other objects as they kneeled and they both stressed that at times the consequences for not behaving had been much worse. Both Juan and Elena were beaten (their term) by their parents. Elenas parents used a switch, and Juans parents used a belt. As a result, they feel they are actually quite lenient with their children, and they said they never hit them and they never would. Both stated that they love their children very much and struggle to give them a good life. They both stated that the boys are very active and dont always follow the rules and the kneeling punishment is the only thing that works when they dont want to listen.
They both admitted that they made the boys hold two large encyclopedias for up to two hours while kneeling when they did something wrong. They stated the boys are hyperactive and need a lot of attention. They said they punish Juan Jr. more often because he is particularly defiant and does not listen and also because he is older and should know better. They see him as a role model for his younger brother and feel he should take that responsibility to heart. His misbehavior indicates to them that he is not taking that duty seriously and therefore he should be punished, both to learn
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