Does this look familiar? Click on the comment link in any posting and leave us some feedback- we'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

When to Call Someone

Since the case of the homeschooling family in California became public, and the debate on both sides as to whether the parents were guilty of abuse and neglect or simply the victims of those who hate the things of Yahweh, I have been thinking about how I am on both sides of that fence and how one should go about determining whether or not to get authorities involved. As a foster parent, I have been ‘trained’ in how to recognize the signs, though anyone with an ounce of common sense (and especially when the Holy Spirit is their ever present guide) can recognize when things are not right. You get the feeling in the pit of your stomach and that nagging pull at your conscious. But I have also seen that what one person considers abuse is truly nothing of the sort (i.e. any of us who spank). Many people have false understandings about what is truly against the law or not, and that can also vary from state to state. This is why the system is such a mess (well, part of the reason anyway). As a homeschoolers, follower of Yahweh, and general rebel, I also understand the stress of being turned in for no good reason at all by people who simply disagree with my choices. So I am also very determined to protect the rights of parents and preserve religious freedom. How do the two mesh?

Obviously there will be much to interpret in these instances. There is not a ruler that says when a situation has gone over the line, so you really will have to weigh every encounter independently. But here are what I would suggest as guidelines:

*The Bible says that a man should not be condemned on the account of one witness alone (Deuteronomy 17:6). Whenever possible, check your suspicions with others. If it is a neighbor, ask the other neighbors in a very neutral way if they have seen anything odd or if they have any qualms. You need to be very, very careful that this does not become a situation for gossip. Also not a credible sole witness is a child. That is not to say that children are always lying, but they can often be confused or misunderstand something. That is why they are not allowed to testify in court. Too easily polluted. A good example would be the child who called 9-1-1 because his father was trying to kill his mother. Turns out they were in a very heated moment of passion and Jr opened the bedroom door. Even kids who know about where babies come from should not know what exactly that looks like in application, so he was understandably horrified and thought his father was killing his mother.

*Ask yourself if the child is really in any danger. No parent is perfect, and what you may see as ‘domineering’ is what another family has found necessary with an unruly child. Early curfews, strict rules, and general accountability are not abuse (despite what the child-led, new-age parenting experts will tell you). Not only do children really not know what they need or what is best (Proverbs 22:15), they will often become wise to the ways of the world and over-dramatize or manipulate a situation for a desired effect. We have this problem in our own home because we have such an inter-working with child services and our kids know why they came into care. They know that the world will run to the defense of a child (and rightly so) but they will abuse that protection if they think it will get them somewhere. In general, children who are truly being physically abused do not talk about it.

*Determine if there is something you can do to help the situation without involving the authorities. There are so many young girls getting pregnant on purpose because they just want someone to love them. But they are completely unprepared to raise a child. Often these girls come into foster care with their children and have to be taught the proper way to care for children (Proverbs 7:6-7). In a situation where a parent simply needs help, it is better to try and help than to make a bigger mess by turning it into a scene. When you are suspicious of something, try to make a connection with the parent. Invite them to a B-B-Q or offer a ride to the grocery store. One of the best ways to make people feel that you respect them is to ask for help yourself (Proverbs 16:9). If she has cross-stitch pictures on the wall, ask her to teach you how to do it. Even if you already know. Every soul has infinite value to Yahweh and whatever you do for the least of the brethren is a worthy investment.

*Unless there is immediate danger, keep an eye on it. Sometimes things look really bad because the person is in a bad season. If the child’s grandparent has just died, often the parents get lost in grief and forget the basics of childcare. My kids have gone for a week without a bath before when things got rough around here, and it didn’t kill them. Anyone who saw only that snippet of my life would have thought I was a horrible parent, but my husband was in the hospital and very sick and I was just not focused on washing the kids. Another thing to consider is what is real to life. I remember the caseworker taking pictures of the tiny bruises on my kids’ shins when they came into care. I thought it was ridiculous because everyone knows kids bang their legs against bicycles, trees, and each other all the time. She was just doing her job, but I would have been very upset if that had been the reason they were removed from their parents. Some kids also have dark circles under their eyes and it is completely normal. If the kid is otherwise healthy and happy, the worst thing you can do is overreact (1 Corinthians 2:15).

*Err on the side of caution. If you have prayed for guidance and you just can’t shake that feeling that something is wrong, don’t be afraid to call the child protective hotline and make a referral. There was a story in the newspaper a few years back about a lady in an apartment building in Chicago. Her neighbor was a young mother with a toddler. She hadn’t seen the mother in many days and the baby was crying almost non-stop. She felt uneasy but did nothing because she did not want to be the ‘nosy neighbor lady’. A week went by and finally the girls’ employer called the police to report her missing. They entered the apartment to find the mother dead (and decomposing) and the baby dehydrated and very weak. The baby spent another week in the hospital. Those two weeks will haunt that baby forever. I have seen just how easily a child’s emotions can be permanently derailed. Even babies, because that child was abandoned. Even when he is old enough to understand that his mother had a heart attack and never meant to leave him alone, he will subconsciously remember the feeling of crying and no one coming. And that neighbor will never forget what she could have done and didn’t (James 4:17).

When in doubt, point it out.

Situations where I would call without waiting for anything else are sexual abuse, drugs, and abandonment. These are never misconstrued or misunderstood expressions of any religious or other freedoms. These are just totally wrong and inexcusable and very, very dangerous for kids. Someone once said to me that a drug-addicted parent was probably less of a threat to a kid than a sober, angry one. But if you understand anything at all about drugs, about the effects they can have on people and the crazy things they do while intoxicated, the way they are left for babies to ingest and either die from or become addicted to, the environment that comes with drugs (either buying or selling) and the weapons that are ever-present, you can’t in your right mind say a drug-abusing parent is better than an angry one. In the same way, a 5 year old left alone is not just in danger of what he might do to himself (start a fire, play in traffic) but is MORE threatened by those who would prey on him. Pedophiles keep very good tabs on the kids in the neighborhood and they know who is well supervised and who is not.

I hope that helps to determine when a situation calls for intervention. Again, these are just my guidelines and they are very general. Remember, too, that Satan loves to attack the family. He will do whatever (and use whomever) to tear apart the institution Yahweh has blessed, and your fight is not against any person (Ephesians 6:12), but rather against Satan and his demons.

1 comment:

Swylv said...

This was very helpful. As you know the little girl behind us moved today ... we haven't seen her yet ...

but glad I'm not the only mom whose child goes a week w/o a bath on occasion and also a little assurance that everyone knows I'm mama hawk around sons outside you bet I'm close watching and listening. It's so obvious other parents see me out there and feel relieved to let their kids also come out and play.