Sunday, October 23, 2005

When You See a Child in Danger, What Would You Do?

By Christina VanGinkel

I am on several message boards online whose focus is parenting, and this morning there was a discussion going on about a young mother who is being charged with child endangerment because she left her infant son home alone for several weeks! She apparently left him in a playpen with a few bottles and off she went to party. She had lost one child to social services a few years past, and is pregnant as this is going on. How the baby was discovered, no one was positive, but it did state that several friends of hers knew she regularly left the child alone at night to go to clubs. Why no one had turned her in for those occurrences was under great discussion.. That he was still alive was a small miracle in itself out of the completely tragic ordeal that he had experienced. The discussion online turned to when would one of us, as a parent or grandparent, step in and call social services on a neighbor or acquaintance.

I had no definitive answer, other than if I saw something that bothered me, I would call or tell someone that I felt would have the authority to deal with it. I have been known to say things directly to mothers or fathers in public, which I never had met before the incident in question, and to talk to parent I knew. This may not be the best approach, but when an infant is in obvious danger, it is hard for me to not open my mouth. I once watched a young mother leave an infant in a car seat in a vehicle, crack the window a tiny bit, and head into a store. I could not in all good conscious let her leave an infant unattended and I spoke up and told her exactly what ran through my imagination when I realized what she was about to do. That a car can heat up quickly, even with a window cracked. That someone wanting an infant would not be deterred by a simple car door that was locked, especially when they had just watched the adult who should have been in charge walk away. What did she do? She actually thanked me and took her infant into the store with her. She replied that the baby had been fussy for days on end and she was finally asleep. She made a rash decision to leave her sleep instead of risk waking her up. She went on to say that, she had never done it before, and would never do it again. I honestly have no way of knowing if this was truthful, though it seemed to be. Another friend later told me I should have called 911 and let the police deal with it. In retrospect, that would have been the best approach. I had no way of knowing if the mother would respond as she did, or become violent for me 'butting in'.

Older children that are in as obvious neglect from the adults in charge leave me just as opened mouthed. When I had to run into the school that my son attends to pick up his homework as he had been out sick for the last two days, I passed a boy who was sitting in the back of the parking lot smoking a cigarette. The boy was in elementary school, and I knew his parents were separated and he was one of several children his mother was trying her best to raise. I called her upon arriving back home that morning and told her exactly where I saw her son, and what he was up to. I knew the mother though, and knew if she found out later that I saw him, and did not tell her, she would have been upset.

Parents make tough decisions all of the time, and as a parent, those decisions do not always directly reflect our own children. What will I do the next time I see a child being neglected or in obvious danger? Speak up to someone in charge. I could do no less and sleep with a good conscious.

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