When my children were very young, I used to worry that some rather innocent parental choice might cause us to lose custody of them. There was a memorable episode of The Simpsons – LINK>Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily – the third episode of the seventh season. Homer and Marge lose custody of their children to the state. The kids end up in foster care at Ned and Maude Flanders’ house. Marge and Homer were spending the day at a spa, while the children were in school. Baby Maggie was left in the care of her elderly grandfather, Abe Simpson. This caused the parents to be accused of negligence after Bart was sent home from school with head lice and Lisa was found shoe less. Child Protective Services agents arrived at the Simpson house and judged it to be under incompetent care.
This was much less likely when I was growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I do remember getting in trouble for going too far from home on my bicycle. I also remember wandering in wild and remote spaces and never feeling concern from my parents, though in adulthood I learned they weren’t aware of the extent of my journeys LOL.
We never left our two sons alone and never even employed their grandparents (who lived next door) as overnight babysitters. I suppose we have been overprotective but they are still alive and have not gotten into any serious youthful trouble. They’ve been allowed to develop their own character absent being overly influenced by peers. So often I read in adoption related spaces how easily children have been removed from their natural parents for no more than poverty, which this country does pitifully little to address and probably will do even less in the next 2 years with extremist Republicans in charge of the federal government.
Two recent events have gotten my attention. This country has a serious double standard depending on one’s race and class status. One event is alluded to in the image I chose for today’s blog (more on that below). The other I just read about in The Huffington Post – LINK>What Is Child Endangerment? When Leaving Your Child Alone Becomes A Crime. I remember hearing a similar story from my own mother. She left two of us alone to run to the grocery store, I believe. We were discovered by a neighbor. My mom learned her lesson and the police and/or Child Protective Services were never involved.
The Huffington Post story was about two children, ages 2 years and 5 months, who were left alone in a New York City hotel room, sleeping and under camera surveillance, so that their parents could go out to dinner about a block and a half away. Life is what happens next. The father had a sudden heart attack at the restaurant and was rushed by ambulance to the hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. The mother accompanied her husband in the ambulance. In the midst of this crisis, she asked both a close friend and her parents to rush to her children’s hotel room and attend to them (as she continued to monitor them by camera). However, the hotel denied entry to her friend (which actually is policy, I remember being with my dad but in a separate room in a hotel and he asked the front desk what room I was in and they would not tell him). In the case of these children, the hotel called NYPD.
The issue of a double standard comes up in this case, though the mother does face two counts of “acting in a manner injurious to a child” and is scheduled to appear in Manhattan criminal court on Thursday. One commenter noted – “If she was a poor woman in an inner city she would’ve been arrested.” In fact, some children are left alone in inadequate circumstances by single mothers due to a lack of affordable child care options, while that mother must work to feed, house and clothe her children. Any individual can make a call to the police or to Child Protective Services, triggering a process leading to state involvement, which can include the parent’s loss of custody. New York’s juvenile court has defined such neglect with this example – “A child of 12 might be fine alone for two hours in an afternoon. Yet, the same child may be incapable of responsibly caring for a 5-year-old for that same period of time.”
This case gets attention because the parents are wealthy and well-known. As I have already noted – most other cases involve disproportionately poor and working-class parents who leave children alone when faced with a need to go to work or on a job interview, when they don’t have accessible, affordable child care. Families living in poverty or near poverty are judged far more harshly than wealthy parents. Parents who are taken to family court are at very high risk of having their children removed from their custody and placed in foster care. More often than you may think possible, this leads to the permanent termination of their parental rights.
The Guardian had an update this morning, LINK>No fight or warning before six-year-old boy shot teacher, say Virginia police, regarding the case of the Virginia teacher who was shot by a 6 year old who brought a loaded handgun to school. The 9mm handgun used by the boy was bought legally by his mother and kept in the family’s home. It remains unclear whether the mother will face any legal charges. Virginia does not have a law that requires unattended guns to be stored in a particular way or a law that requires gun owners to affirmatively lock their weapons. The issue will be whether it can be proven that the mother’s actions violated a Virginia law that prohibits anyone from recklessly leaving a loaded, unsecured gun in a manner that endangers the life or limb of children under 14. It could be argued by gun advocates that the child was never in danger – but certainly his teacher was.