Thursday, April 26, 2007

Is This Neglect Or Not?

Sometimes it can be hard to tell whether a child is actually neglected, or whether the parents have special circumstances or just do things a little differently that most of us would. here is some information on what is, and isn't, child neglect.

1. There is a family with three young children, ages 4, 3 and 1. The father is currently unemployed, and the mother is supporting the family on a very low paying job. The family makes use of a local church's food pantry, and also uses some government assistance, but still, it is hard to make ends meet. The youngest two children wear hand-me-downs, but the parents are always worried about the older one, whose unexpected growth spurts often leave him with too-small shoes and wrists sticking out from his jacket sleeves. Sometimes towards the end of the month, right before the public aid check and the mother's pay check is due, the parents worry that they are running low on money to buy food, and they will try to ration food. The children have never gone to bed hungry, but once their parents fed them saltine crackers with catsup for dinner, because there was nothing else left.
Is this physical neglect?
No! Its poverty! The parents are trying their hardest and doing the best that they can to care for their children, and they seek help when they need it.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, there is another family with three young children, ages 4, 3 and 1. The father is unemployed, but he has given up on seeking work. The jobs he's been offered just don't seem good enough to him, and employers just don't seem to realize how smart he is! So now he mostly stays home and plays video games, while the children entertain themselves. The mother has a low paying job which gives her barely enough to cover the cost of cigarettes and beer for the week. They use the local food pantry, so there's usually some food in the house, but if the parents don't feel hungry themselves, they often forget to feed the children. The 4-year-old has figured out how to climb up onto the counter to reach the cabinet, and many times when he gets hungry enough he makes saltines with catsup on them for himself and his younger siblings. (Its the only thing he can find that he wouldn't need to use the stove to make... and once he tried to use the stove to make macaroni and cheese, but he burned his hand!) The children are rarely bathed and their clothes are rarely washed. In fact, they go for days on end without ever changing their clothes, and the youngest usually has a diaper rash from wearing a dirty diaper for too long! A neighbor told the parents about a free preschool program near by that the 4-year-old and 3-year-old would qualify for, but the parents haven't been able to motivate themselves to go enroll the kids.
Is this physical neglect?
Yes! This family lives with the same poverty the first family lives with. But unlike the first parents, these parents don't seem to be trying very hard to meet their children's needs.

2. Sarah and Jon, ages 10 and 8, don't go to school. Their parents believe that they shouldn't send their children to any sort of government-run institution, and they believe that private schools are just government-run institutions in disguise. So Sarah and Jon stay home. Their mother requires Sarah to help out around the house yet, but there is nothing much for Jon to do, so he just watches TV all day mostly. Neither Sarah nor Jon can read or do math, although they do know the alphabet and numbers from TV.
Is this educational neglect?
Yes! Parents are entitled to their beliefs, but they must somehow be providing an education for their children! Sarah and Jon are not getting any sort of adequate education at all.

Meanwhile, not far away, Jefferey and Beth don't go to school either. Their parents really don't like what the area's schools teach, and feel that they can do a better job teaching the children themselves. Every day their mother works with the children on some lessons that she planned herself. The family often goes on "field trips" to the library, museums, and local businesses. Jefferey and Beth play soccer on a local team just for homeschooled kids, Jeffrey joins boys at the neighborhood school for their Boy Scouts program, and Beth takes art classes at the community center.
Is this educational neglect?
No! These parents beliefs about organized schools are similar to the first parents' beliefs, but theee parents are making sure that their children are educated. In fact, many homeschooled children find that they are academically ahead of children their own age who go to regular schools!

3. Tommy has a very sore throat and a fever. He came to school yesterday, but when his teacher noticed that Tommy seemed miserable and had his head down on his desk, she sent him to the school nurse, who suspected that he had strep throat and called his mother to come get him. Today, Tommy came back to school,seeming to feel even worse! This time the teacher took one look at him and sent him back to the nurse. When the nurse asked if Tommy's mother had taken him to the doctor, Tommy said no. The nurse called up the mother, asking if she'd noticed that Tommy was still sick. The mother admitted that, yes, she knew Tommy was sick, but she just hasn't had time to take him to the doctor. When the nurse asked Tommy's mother why she had sent him to school, his mother replied that she had a very busy day ahead of her at the real estate agency where she works, and if she stayed home to take care of Tommy she'd get too far behind.
Is this medical neglect?
Yes! Tommy's mother has the resources to take care of Tommy, but she is not considering his needs. She neglected him first by not making the time to take him to the doctor, and second by sending him to school when he was way to sick to be there.

Since Tommy was at school with a sore throat, his classmate, Angie, caught it! Angie's mother is a single parent who works as a waitress. Her job does not offer her health insurance. She has applied for programs like Medicaid, and also Kid Care, but was told that her income was just slightly too high for her to qualify for either program. There is a free clinic in town, but again, Angie's mother's income is just slightly too high for her to qualify to use the clinic! Yet Angie's mother cannot afford to pay for her own insurance. When Angie first complained of a sore throat, her mother just crossed her fingers and sent her to school anyway, not wanting to take a day off of work if she didn't need to. She didn't get paid sick days, and she knew every day she missed would basically mean taking food out of her daughter's mouth! However, when the school nurse called and asked Angie's mother to come pick her up, Angie's mother came right away. Now, Angie is at home sleeping. Angie's mother is hoping and praying the sore throat will go away by itself, because she really has no way to take Angie to the doctor! She figures if the sore throat doesn't go away in the next day or two, she'll take Angie to the emergency room. She'll have a lot of bills to deal with later, but at least at the emergency room she won't have to pay up front for the visit... although she'll still have to come up with some money for the prescription!
Is this neglect?
No! Angie's mother is trying very hard to make ends meet. She's in a bad position because she cannot afford insurance, is not offered it at work, and doesn't qualify for free healthcare programs. However, when it comes right down to it, Angie's mother is willing to do whatever she needs to do to help Angie get well.

Another boy in Tommy and Angie's class, Alex, also caught a sore throat! Alex's family practice a religion that doesn't believe in going to doctors or using medicine. They believe that with enough love and prayer, God will heal all illnesses! When Alex became sick, he and his family prayed hard, and Alex's parents asked the people from their church to pray for Alex also.
Is this medical neglect?
No. Because it goes against Alex's family's religion to seek medical attention, so far it is not neglect.

Alex has missed two weeks of school already. The teacher asks Angie (who did end up going to the emergency room and getting a prescription for strep throat) to bring Alex's homework to him along with some "get well soon" cards from the classmates. Angie's mother takes Angie to the house. When they get there, Alex's parents inform them that Alex is still very, very sick. Angie's mother asks to see Alex, and she can tell from looking at him that he is in bad shape. She suggests that the parents take him to the hospital, but they explain that it is against their religion. Fearing for Alex's life, Angie's mother calls 9-1-1 from her cell phone. Now Alex is at the hospital, but although the doctors have explained that Alex has a strep infection that is spreading through his body and might kill him, his family has been adnament that Alex recieve no medical care.
Is this medical neglect?
Possibly! In some states, doctors can ask for an emergency court order to override the family's wishes and give a child medical care to try to save his life.

4. Baby Jessica, 7 months old, is the youngest in a family with two working parents, five children under the age of ten. Jessica's parents feel bad that they don't spend as much time with her as they'd like. Jessica and and two of her siblings go to day care during the day, while the other two siblings are in school. In the evening Jessica's mother picks her and the other children up, rushes home to make dinner and feed the children, and then it is already time to put Jessica to bed! With Mom and Dad busy helping the older kids with their homework and giving the two toddlers their bath, even Jessica's bed time routine is pretty rushed! Baby Jessica has adapted to the bustling household pretty well, though. She loves watching her big brothers and sisters play, and coos happily when her oldest brother and sister pick her up! Mom and Dad joke that they're lucky their youngest turned out to be such an easy-to-please baby!
Is this emotional neglect?
No! Baby Jessica is happy and healthy, and seems to manage to get plenty of love and attention from her busy family!

Meanwhile, Baby Daniel, a seven-month-old who goes to the same daycare as Jessica, is an only child. His parents describe themselves as not very touchy-feely people at all. The last thing they want is a clingy, sticky toddler chasing them all the time! They've decided to start early in teaching Daniel not to be clingy or needy. They do this by having as little physical contact with Daniel as possible. When they bathe or dress Daniel, or change his diaper, they do it as quickly as possible, without talking to him or looking at him any more than necessary. They've even figured out a way to feed Daniel without touching him... they sit him in his bouncy seat and prop his bottle up on a rolled-up blanket. When Daniel is home with him, they leave him in his bouncy seat or his walker or his crib. They know Daniel's day care center has a policy of spending a lot of "floor time" interacting with babies, but they don't want Daniel getting spoiled there, so they've asked the staff at the day care center to leave Daniel in his crib unless they are feeding him or changing his diaper.
Is this emotional neglect?
Yes! Babies need and crave physical contact, eye contact, and interaction... as much as they need other things, like food, sleep, baths, etc. Babies who do not get enough physical contact, eye contact and interaction, can develop failure to thrive, and can even die!

5. When Anthony was a child, hsi parents didn't have much interest in him... he was just a little kid, and couldn't do much besides play silly kid games, and whine, and cry, and eat too much! But now Anthony is 15, and starting to get interested in things like drinking, going to parties, driving, and girls. His parents think Anthony is turning out to be pretty cool, and he reminds them of themselves when they were in high school! Anthony is allowed to help himself to their beer. He doesn't have a curfew, and a few times when he's stumbled home in the wee hours of the morning, reeking of alcohol, his parents have just laughed knowingly. They let him borrow the car, although he can't even legally drive for another year! They even helped Anthony's girlfriend figure out a way to sneak out of her house at night, so she can come to their house and sleep with Anthony without her parents knowing. Anthony is glad that his parents are finally starting to enjoy having him around!
Is this emotional neglect?
Yes! Although Anthony's parents are finally starting to take an interest in him, they don't seem to be interested in him in a parental kind of way. Instead of offering him guidance, they are encouraging him to do dangerous things!

Anthony's girlfriend, Gloria, is also fifteen. Like Anthony, she also is starting to get interested in things like drinking, going to parties, driving, and boys! Her parents have tried to set some limits for her, but they are at their wits end with her! They gave her a curfew, and she's repeatedly broken it. They've grounded her, but somehow she figured out a way to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night! A few times she's even come home reeking of alcohol! But although they grounded her those times, they knew it was useless... Gloria would figure out a way to do what she wanted to do.
Is this emotional neglect?
Probably not... Gloria's parents are trying to provide guidance for her, but Gloria seems determined to do what she wants. However, if Gloria's behavior continues to be out of control, and her parents don't seek some sort of help to keep her safe, that might be considered emotional neglect.

6. Jane is thirteen years old. Her sister, Mary, is eight. Jane's parents go out for dinner together about once a week, and they require Jane to stay home and babysit Mary on those nights. They either give the kids dinner before they leave, or put out something like sandwich meat for the kids to make themselves for dinner. They are always home before Jane needs to go to bed.
Is this neglect?
No! If Jane's parents think Jane is mature enough to handle the responsibility of babysitting for a few hours each week, it is not neglect.

Jane's best friend, Darlene, is also thirteen years old. Darlene's brother Pete is seven. They live with their father, a single paren, who works the evening shift as a security guard at a near by office building. Darlene's junor high school gets out half an hour later than Pete's elementary school, and usually when Darlene gets home, Pete is already home watching TV by himself. Darlene is responsible for babysitting Pete, helping him with his homework, making him dinner, and putting him to bed. Their dad gets off of work at ten-thirty, but some nights he goes out with friends after work. He usually calls to let Darlene know that he won't be home until later. On those nights, Darlene locks up the house and goes to bed, but she doesn't sleep much... she is afraid of being home alone all night. What if someone breaks into the house? What if Pete gets sick and Darlene doesn't know how to help him? What if there is a fire? What if their dad gets into a car accident and nobody knows to call her? Her worries keep her up, and it is very hard for her to get up for school on the mornings after those nights. Darlene has never told anyone this, but a few times she woke up in the morning and her dad still hadn't come home! On those mornings, Darlene woke Pete up and got him ready for school, made him a sack lunch, put him on the bus and got on her own bus, but all day long she couldn't concentrate in school, because she was so worried about her dad!
Is this neglect?
Yes! A thirteen-year-old should not have to be responsible for taking care of a younger sibling well into the night, every night. And the children should not be left alone so late at night, especially since Darlene is afraid at night. And being left alone all night and into the morning is definitely unacceptable!

There is often a fine line between what is neglect, and what is either difficult circumstances or a different parenting style. Hopefully by reading these vignettes, you've gotten a better sense of what is and isn't child neglect!

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