Worried about Abused or Neglected Children

Parent Q&A

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  • I am posting on behalf of a friend who does not have children, who is very disturbed by the neighbor's actions and is looking for advice on how to handle the situation.  My friend did ask the police dept for guidance and was told they would knock on the door if called but basically felt my friend was overreacting. 

    "About four years ago my immediate neighbors adopted a girl who later received cochlear implants.  She also perhaps has some other minor cognitive/emotional challenges.  About a year ago the parents split up and are sharing custody of the child.   The parent who moved out is the more stable of the two IMO, the remaining neighbor seems to have a problem with alcohol and possibly other drugs.   My neighbor has gotten a housemate/girlfriend who is helping pay the bills. (I presume.) This morning at about 10:00 the housemate started screaming at the child, "Get out of my room you f*****g b***h!"  I could hear the daughter running through the house screaming.  This was followed by, "Get in here and clean this up!  There's something wrong with you!"  This was accompanied by more screaming from the child.  (The child was not screaming for help, just screaming.)  The child ran outside and then went back in the house.  The child is about nine years old.  After several minutes, the house calmed down. I initially assumed that the mother (there are two moms) was in the house.  I think that I was wrong about that and that neither parent was in the house.  There has been at least one similar instance in the past.   I continue to have a good relationship with the mom who moved; the mom who remains my neighbor has been very difficult this past year.   I would appreciate any guidance on how to help this child.  Should I tell the landlords about the situation?  Should I write to both moms and express my concerns?  PD was unconcerned and CPS seems off the table.  It was horrible hearing the screaming, I can only imagine how damaging this is to the child.  Thanks for any help."

    Please talk to the parent you are closer with and share your concerns. Please also consider talking to the neighbor parent even if you are not close. Document the instances you observe in case it does escalate and you feel CPS or the police should be involved. CPS is separate from PD so they may be worth involving to investigate since this is their domain. But I'd consider speaking directly to both parents first. 

    Thank you for thinking of this child. It's a hard situation to sort from one incident. If it were 2 or more instances of inappropriate language and screaming, I'd send notes to both mom's, expressing great concern. It sounds like it may have been the roommate who was threatening and loud? If I were a parent, I'd want to know. 

    If you feel (she feels) the child is in danger, the correct response is to make a call to the Child Abuse Hotline, and let them sort it out. (510) 259-1800  You can call anonymously if desired. If the child was actually left at home with no parental supervision, they will take the call seriously - but again, let them sort it out (verbal abuse, child screaming, left alone, etc)

    I wish I could offer professional advice or guidance but as just another parent with opinions and compassion, I wonder: is there room in your life to form a relationship with the child? Your concern has value and children need lots of positive inputs from different places. If you have the time/resources/inclination it really does take a village and just another present adult/positive role model could be helpful, even in a limited role as a neighbor friend to the child.

    Tell your friend to call the CPS hotline, that is definitely verbal abuse and police are unsurprisingly uninterested if no physical violence or dangerous neglect. Your friend can just google child welfare hotline + their county, some CPS counties allow you to consult which is describing the situation before making a report. All reporting is anonymous

    If your friend feels there is potentially an abuse situation happening next door they should report it to CPS. CPS will decide whether or not to investigate it. Calling the police because of you’ve potentially overheard verbal abuse without witnessing anything is probably not the right move, but there’s no reason to not call CPS. CPS wouldn’t tell anyone who made the call if they choose to investigate. If this sort of thing happens repeatedly it’s helpful for them to have a paper trail to go back to if they decide to remove the child or even pay a home visit.

    I do think writing both moms to express her concerns is the best start, especially if she can do it with an empathetic tone...caring for special needs children is not easy and it sounds like the housemate may have some trauma in their own upbringing, which makes it even more difficult to be put into a situation like this. She should also be keeping a written record of these incidents with dates.

    I don't see any reason to call the landlord at this time. Adding a threat of housing scarcity won't help them.

    If the police become involved in an incident involving a child, it seems likely that reports to CPS will be involved. So, I am not sure about the thinking of CPS being "off the table"? if there is abuse or neglect, that is really the official way to report this situation. In an ideal world, it would be a way of bringing in support for this family. I don't think it is a good first step, but the way that CPS tends to work is that they build a file...severe reports or multiple reports are what will lead to a case being investigated.

    The police and CPS are not going to care until that child is dead or near dead, seriously. The state is never going to protect the most vulnerable among us, including children.

    If I were your friend, I would tell the safe parent immediately. Do not engage with the abusive parent because anything you tell them will only jeapordize the child further. I am an abuse survivor from childhood and a domestic abuse survivor as an adult. I have fought tooth and nail to protect my child from his abusive parent. Family court and CPS have done nothing. 

    We have to protect the babies. We are all they have. Best wishes

    I would contact CPS, even if they’ve declined the case in the past. Multiple reports can start to show evidence of a pattern of abuse. I would also speak to the mother who does not live in the home since you have maintained good contact with her. I would definitely want to know if someone were treating my child that way.

    I'd let the other parent know right away. I'd want to know if my kid was in that situation. And if you don't think the other parent was home, I'd tell them how their friends are treating their kid. If you still hear things or if they're getting worse and the other parent doesn't intervene, I'd call child protective services. But I'd give the parents the chance to correct first before calling CPS. 

    If the question-asker still has a good relationship with the parent that moved out, and who seems to still have partial custody, I think they should directly talk to that parent. If it were me, I would hope my old neighbor would tell me what was going on with my kid before calling the police. 

    Write to both moms explaining what you saw and heard, that way both moms are on notice with the same information that this roommate did this and there is a written record for the moms to use if needed.  Frame it as "I saw this and I wanted you both to be aware of it, because I believe neither of you were there to witness it and I am concerned about your daughter"

    If there is already a neighborly connection, when things are calm, maybe approach the nieghbor and casually ask how things are going, offering to maybe give the Mother a break if she is stressed out. Maybe even comment innocently that you heard the girl screaming and were concerned, hoping all is ok. Sometimes, making these connections can let the parent know that they've got some support, even if it is for a 10 minutes time out for the parent themself.Perhaps the Mother-neighorbor isn't aware of how her housemate treats and talks to the girl. And if you can connect with the Mother who moved out, you should definitely let her know. She should be able to work on custody issues  if needed and may not be aware of of the ongoing situation for her daughter. 

    CPS should not be off the table. If you truly are worried about the child's welfare, And know that just because you call doesn't mean that they will do an assessment. They will review your concerns and determine the next step but you will have potentially helped by getting the process started to help this girl's life. CPS is not an automatic removal from the home as many fear (although there are true horror stories.)A good CPS system can go in, assess the home, and often provide much needed connections to social supports that can help everyone involved. If drugs are involved, this is dangerous for the child's welfare. Supports for the Mother could be offered.

    I would contact the other mom and tell her factually what I saw & heard.

    Not sure why CPS is "off the table" but that would be another possibility.

    I think you should contact the landlord, only, and don't attempt to say anything to the mother that still resides there.  

    If you think the mother that moved out, is more stable, then perhaps, you should address concerns with her, but be very specific.  

    OTher than that, you should stay out of it. 

    Please have your friend report this to CPS. Even though it’s hard to know what’s going on if you can’t see it, this child is especially vulnerable having been adopted and having disabilities. On its own, this situation would possibly not be investigated but the information would be kept on file for future reference if more reports come in. Also, this family may already be known to child welfare. I’m sure this is hard for your friend to overhear. She may also want to consider stopping by as a friendly neighbor. 

    I don’t understand why CPS is off the table? There is clearly concerns for the child’s well-being in this current household. A landlord or the other mom may not be in a position to change anything. CPS is the only one with authority to protect this child. 

    Why is CPS off the table? Don't overthink and complicate matters. Do the right thing and protect this child. Call CPS right away. 

  • We recently learned my son's best friend (just turned 9) is being left at home alone for extended periods of time. I've noticed him in the schoolyard after school for many hours alone and he hides. He does not attend after-school care because his mom "cannot" pay for it. I do not know much about his mother; I know she is a single and hard-working mom, who has a demanding job and teaches two night classes at the university. I know he misses his dad, who recently left his family. I say the latter because he does seem to be sad these days but I think it's more about his dad moving back to China. I don't suspect any abuse. I know that his mother is planning on taking a cruise in the near future and prepping him to stay alone for seven days. This child does very well in school and seems to be mature for his age. He also indicated he's not allowed to use the stove/oven, only microwaves and is receiving money in case he needs food. He lives in a very safe, affluent gated community, where can walk to a store. Am I to report this? Or is this just a MYOB situation? I know my mom told me stories of how she used to travel for three miles each way to and from school on a bus in the 1960s in SF and stay at home for three days at a time alone (with siblings). Is it a cultural thing? I'm not sure what to do or if I just stay clear of this one. 

    She would leave him alone 7 days? At home by himself? And to go on a cruise? Even if it was for a more legitimate motive I would find it inacceptable, but for a cruise.... If you are sure about what you say, I would start by talking to the school (teacher, principal) to see if the situation can be handled before it goes wild (social services etc). But I would surly not let the kid be left alone for 7 days. Inacceptable. You are right to step in.

    It's nice of you to be concerned, but perhaps if you don't suspect abuse and he seems to be doing okay in school, how about just offering to check in on the son while she's on a cruise, or invite him for dinner or a sleep over  with your own son so he's not lonely---rather than report it (?). I remember also being left alone as a child with siblings (one year older and another 6 years younger). Especially if they live in an affluent neighborhood, indeed it seems a bit sad, but not neglect. 

    I know this might be too much to ask but are you in a position to offer any support? Can he stay at your house for that week? Can he go home with any classmates after school to be picked up later by parent? I know it’s a sensitive subject. When I was growing up  (granted in the suburbs) there were plenty of days and nights where one of the neighbors sets of kids or myself and my siblings were passed off to the other neighbors after school or evenings because one set of parents or the other was busy or away or on vacation. We had a real village set up in our neighborhood that made it easy for parents to have a community of other parents to ask for help from. It’s so much harder now a days and especially in an urban setting to ask for help from other parents. Is there a comfortable way you or one of the other families the child is close to could offer some sort of help? It really does take a village.

    A 9-year old child left alone for 7 days is reportable to CPS - it is clearly negligent.  Could you perhaps offer to host him while his mother is gone?

    I don't even know where to start. Prepping him to stay home alone for 7 days while she goes on a cruise? But she has no money for after school care despite being a university professor and living in a gated community? Short answer, yes, get involved. If you have credible specific information I would talk to his teacher first.Teachers are mandated reporters and if they have information that a child is in danger they are required to report it to CPS. 9 is way too young to be left alone for extended periods. If she leaves him alone for 7 days something bad is going to happen. I'm sure she tells him to hide on the school grounds until she picks him up so she doesn't have to pay or make other arrangements. She has no regard for his safety. I don't know what her problem is but someone needs to step in and help this family.

    Wait what?!?! Mom can afford a cruise (that she’s planning to leave her kid alone for) and an exclusive gated community, but not aftercare!? I am all about kids having more responsibility (and MYOB), and I could see leaving a mature 9 year old at home alone for brief periods (esp if you know the neighbors who could help if needed), but I would say the authorities should be notified about a child home alone for 7 days.

    If i were in your shoes, I’d tell the school principal (or school social worker if you have one). They will know the child, the culture, and ideally will know how to outreach to the mom & tell her the laws & get the child into appropriate aftercare. School staff are also mandated reporters, so if the situation rises to the level of child neglect, they will have to tell cps. 

    Great of you to be concerned, I would be too!  Maybe offer help and see if the kid wants to come over a few days after school and that might open some conversation with his mom about the situation.  But at the very least, I'd bring it up to his teachers because a kid home alone for that long can be a dangerous situation.

    Wow, are you going to get a lot of replies. It is not OK for this boy to be alone for this much time in the afternoons, and it is definitely not OK for this kid to be home alone for seven days while his mother travels. For any reason. I would approach the school about this first. They should know, for one. They are mandated reporters, for another. They may have an after-school program and can see about financial aid if that is needed, and they might have other resources for the boy to deal with his grief. I'd reach out to the principal for a private chat and I would mention what you heard about the vacation. The principal can report it and it won't put your son in the position of being the one who told. The principal can also walk you through your options. Cultural or not, this is not how things are done here and it's definitely considered neglect here and needs to be addressed.

    This needs to be reported.  While there is no set age in the state of California regarding leaving kids home alone, leaving a 9 year old at home for that length of time seems completely unreasonable.  There also seems to be a disconnect between the parent not being able to afford after school care but going on cruises and living in a gated community.

    I think most 9-year-olds can wait in the schoolyard for awhile, be at home alone for a stretch in the afternoon, walk to school on their own, and things like that.   Seven days is another matter entirely, and I don’t think it’s okay.   Even if he could be physically safe, he would be terribly lonely.   Could you offer to have him stay at your house?   The absence is too long, but if there’s a way to intervene and address the problem without calling CPS, that might be better for him.   If his community steps in to help, an official intervention, which could also be traumatic, might not be needed.  I stayed alone too much when I was little.  The problem was less about safety than how sad and lonely and scared I felt.  Spending so much time feeling like that affected my development, my personality.  Children shouldn’t be in this position even if they won’t starve or set the house on fire.  

    As a German, I would think, this is quite a normal situation for a 9-year-old to stay by himself. Back home kid's get keys to their homes once they start school at the age of 6 or 7 and are allowed to walk home alone. When kids are about 7 years old they can stay at home for 2-3 hours without any problems, as long as the parents are somehow to reach. And depending on how responsible the kids act. Telling you this does not mean that your troubles aren't important. I am just trying to give you a different frame to compare to. Best!!! And maybe you can ask your son if he wants to bring his BFF home more often? The issue with his Dad is, of course, something else. He might need someone to talk about it. 

    California’s law is unclear regarding the starting age of when children can be left at one alone. It sounds like a terrible idea for a 9 year old to be left over night even if it’s just one night-worse if it’s longer. Maybe the child will be okay because of the familiarity of his home and regular routines; however, if anything out of the ordinary happens, he might not know how to react. What if he chokes while eating or if there’s a house fire while he’s sleeping? There are too many risks.

    Since your child and the boy are best friends, it might be helpful if you  reach out to the mother and express your concerns. If you’re able to, maybe you can offer his friend to stay with you for a few days while she’s away. Even if she declines the offer, she will possibly be more aware that other people know about her situation and hopefully be less inclined to leave for that long. 

    Well, if I thought a parent was planning to leave a 9-year-old alone for a week, I would report them to CPS.  That seems like child neglect and child endangerment.

    As far as the after-school situation, I'm guessing the kid will be found out soon, it's hard to "hide" for too long.  However, I would also probably mention that to the school administrators.

    I don't know--maybe I am a busybody.  Maybe I am not sympathetic enough to a hard-working single mom with money problems.  But both of the situations you describe seem like neglect, and would make the life of a child who has just lost their father even worse.

    I was that kid! Except I had a brother, which was nice because I wasn't alone. It was before there were national stories about kids discovered left alone made news. We also lived in an area where culturally it was important to respect other families' privacy. We knew not to tell anyone at school when we were left alone. It was ok, although I would never leave my kids alone. My husband and I have been foster parents for years. I wouldn't report them to Child Protective Services. It would definitely be taken very seriously (because, to be clear it's not developmentally appropriate or reasonable). Assuming he were permitted to stay in the home, it would add a lot of stress to the family. There would be lots of social workers visiting, likely mandatory parenting classes, and the possibility of the boy being removed. If he were removed, the placement is unlikely to be awesome. It's much less likely that he'll be removed coming from a middle-class family, but it'll be very disruptive and likely traumatic. 

    In a couple of years, it will be ok for him to be alone. In the meantime, can you take him in more often? Would the mom be ok with you taking him home when you pick up your son after school? Can he stay with you while his mom is out of town? Maybe you can characterize it as his staying over for the occasional night during her absence. I hope you'll let him stay as much as he wants. I know, you didn't sign up for this, but here we are. There aren't any good answers and your son will learn some valuable lessons watching you provide support to this little guy. 

    The people who gave my brother and me support and a glimpse at a more supportive home life were invaluable to me. I was talking to girl I grew up with whose mom was the kind of person I'm encouraging you to be. She's amazing and looks back with such profound respect for her mom and the way she reached out to kids who needed more than they were getting. 

    Oh dear, sounds like a situation where you might have to MYOB since the boy seems otherwise fine alone. As a child (I'm Chinese) I was taught to be pretty self-sufficient at an early age so I was also left alone often while my parents worked. Just my opinion though.

    My two cents is that 9 is way too young to be left home alone for such extensive, perpetually extensive, time!  I'll just say it:  the mom, as overworked/stressed/financially strapped as she may be, is being negligent if continuing to leave her son alone, unsupervised, for extended periods of time.  If afterschool programs cost too much, I suggest she stretch her social resources, get to know some trusted parents (you) of her son's friends, see if she can work out afterschool care with them, or  figure out a low cost source of aftercare, share the cost with other moms?  If she can afford to go on a cruise but not aftercare for her son, something is wrong. *Seriously.*  The mom needs support, to support her son. Her son is the most important person.  Not knowing any details about the mom's situation, I realize it's easy for me to make these suggestions, but I think the mom needs someone to reach out and help her to brainstorm solutions and look deeper into resources.  Her son is too young to be so alone. If she is refusing to make some changes, I would make a phone call to someone - social serices, local police - someone to pay attention to this situation.

    Child protective services are for protecting children from abuse and neglect. You are assuming leaving a 9 year old home alone is a form of neglect. There is no law in California requiring a minimum age for leaving a child home alone. The state trusts parents to use their best judgment. You should give the benefit of the doubt that his mother is a competent parent. If you are concerned, you may talk discreetly with her to see if you can extend some help, should she want it. Maybe you can gently offer to have the child staying over your house while she is out of town because it would be a pleasure for you and your child? It takes a village to raise a child and she may not have that village. That doesn't make her a neglectful parent, but it often makes a child a responsible child.

    California has no laws about minimum age to be left alone (https://www.workingmother.com/momlife/13683509/what-age-can-a-child-sta…). Maybe offer to have him stay with you during that week? But otherwise I would stay out of it.

    Oh my goodness, she is planning on leaving the nine year old home alone for a week while she goes on a cruise?! That sounds like negligence to me and very dangerous. I understand not wanting to report her but   I don’t think you can allow that to occur. If you don’t want to involve CPS could you at least let her know that you are aware of her plans and that it’s “unfortunately” illegal in this country to leave a minor alone for that long and offer to host him for the week?  If she’s from another country it is very possible it’s a cultural difference and she doesn’t realize. I also know that sometime CPS can cause more harm then help. But under no circumstances would I let that 9 year old be home alone for a week with no one checking in on him:(

    This is neglect and should be reported to CPS. You can also talk to a teacher or counselor at school (who are mandated reporters and are required by law to report neglect and abuse) and they could report, but it is better if CPS gets the info from you. Leaving a child at home alone for days on end to go on a cruise is neglect. It is not just a "different approach to parenting", it is objectively neglectful. Report it.

    His mother is prepping him to stay at home alone for seven days while she goes on a cruise? That is patent neglect and you have an ethical obligation to report it. Please contact your school’s principal - he/she is a mandated reporter and will know what to do. Neglect is not a cultural practice, it is abuse. 

    The hanging out in the school yard after school is less egregious - depending on how safe the school yard is, that alone might not rise to the level of neglect for a nine year old (although it seems obvious it is emotionally damaging for this child). But leaving him alone for a week is outrageous. Please, please report this. 

    That is very troubling and I think would qualify as neglect - especially going on a cruise and leaving the child alone for multiple days. Is there a family resource person at your school?  I would go to that person and let them know. 

    Hello.  I am a psychotherapist and parent.  I appreciate your thoughtfulness and consideration of culture and his mother being single.  You are clearly concerned, as well as looking for the positive in this family.  It sounds like there is a lot of both!  I feel strongly that this is very serious child neglect.  Prepping to be left alone for 7 days while his mother is on a cruise is child abandonment.  It sounds like she is putting her own desires before her child's basic needs and this requires intervention unfortunately.  As sad as it seems, I would recommend calling your local Child Protective Services and reporting all of the details you've given.  You can do it anonymously if you prefer.  They won't argue with you if you decide to.  Feel free to write for further support.  I feel very concerned about this child!  Good job reaching out!   

    I will add that, while there are no minimum ages by law for a child to be left home alone while a parent works, for example, going on a cruise is another story.  

    GenXer here. Since 2nd grade I came home to an empty house. Practiced piano. Watched Star Trek. Played with neighborhood kids. 

    When my folks had to leave town for a funeral we had neighbors check in on us- or maybe we stayed with them. 

    Why not invite this BBF for the week- is that possible? Then have them over for dinner/lunch to get to know mom.

    Btw, calling CPS with incomplete information- uh, that’s cultural. Learn more first.  

    Reporting means potentially foster care and that would not be an improvement over what you describe. It is also possible that the mom doesn't trust the after school program for some reason or that he hates it - my kids were very happy to catch AC transit home alone rather than go to after school care but that was in 7th grade).  Is is possible for you to extend some support to this kid? invite him over after school? strengthen the connection between him and your son? Weekend time?

    This is your son's BFF. I'd try other approaches before reporting it.  I would definitely reach out to the mom and see if she'd be open to you having him stay with you (if you're able to accommodate) while she's gone. People in some cultures may prefer to have their kids be on their own vs. stay with a non-family member, and maybe this mom doesn't have any family around? I know, still doesn't sound right to have a kid be all alone for several days. If she doesn't want him to stay with you, then maybe you could offer to take him home each day that week and make sure he is safe and fed? 

    I definitely think it is odd that she'd be leaving him alone while she goes on a cruise (!). I'd be more understanding if it were an overnight business trip or something,but I still would find it alarming. 

    As for the daily hanging around the schoolyard, if she's ok with him being left for 7 days, why can't someone take him home so he can wait for her until she gets back? There are services that drive kids from place to place, which would be less costly than after-care. 

    Again, this is your son's BFF, so I'd be more inclined to try and be helpful to the mom. She may not realize that this would be cause for alarm and that someone would report her.

    I would suggest that you offer to take care of this kid after school. If he gets along with you son, they will have fun together, and the kid will have someone watching over him. 

    I have the impression from your post that  you may be wondering if this is a cultural issue. Many immigrant Chinese parents give a lot of responsibility and independence to their children out of necessity. But the level of isolation you describe is quite unusual.  Usually it's a case of several siblings looking after each other for a few hours, with a nearby adult family member available by phone in case of emergency.  But every Chinese family I know arranges for after-school tutoring, lessons, or extracurricular activity, even the impoverished ones.  None would leave a child alone for 7 days. I can't think of any that would think this is proper parenting. It's not active abuse, but it is neglect. However, I don't know if it meets the criteria for the legal definition of neglect. And you'd want to try every other option before you make a report.

    So there's probably something else going on. Is the mother emotionally damaged? proud? unresourceful? paranoid? won't accept help? Hard to say without knowing more. I think you are right to be concerned, and correct in wondering how best to improve the situation. From what you describe, his emotional health may be at much more risk than his physical safety. He's spending hours alone and hiding.  All that time without any stimulation, and that's time he could be spending learning, playing with other kids, or browsing in a library.  If he's grieving the absence of his father, all the more reason for him to have something to do. His mother could at the least hire someone or get a friend to drop him at the local library.

    One place to start--talk in person with a school counselor and see what they can tell you about the child, the family, resources they can offer, what's already been tried, how open the mom might be to you as parent of his best friend. Confidentiality is an issue, but facial expressions and body language may tell you those things that can't be said.

    From there you can decide on the best approach. One option is to offer to give the child a ride, or to invite the child over to your house once or twice a week after school to start.  Later, you could offer to have him stay at your house during the cruise. (Obviously that is a big offer and quite an imposition on you.)  You should only do this if it feels right to you. 

    I felt fine reading your post... until I got to the part about the cruise. Leaving a 9yo alone after school seems ok to me (the whole evening is unfortunate, but still within acceptable bounds to me). The cruise, however, is way past acceptable bounds in my mind. I would say something to the mom like “we would love to have X stay with us while you’re on the cruise. The two boys would have a blast.” But I would also follow that up with something like “I hope you’ll take me up on this, because otherwise I will feel very conflicted about how to make sure he is safe.”  If she resolutely declines your offer, I would check in on the boy daily anyway and also inform the principal. 

    Hi - this does raise concerns but before reporting a parent to CPS and sending him/them into that system, why not talk to the mom and find out what is going on. Maybe the kid’s perspective is just one piece of the picture. At the very least, and because you care, talk to the mom before taking any action based on incomplete info. Imagine how you would feel if someone saw you do/say something they didn’t approve of and decided to call CPS. 

    I am shocked at the number of respondents who suggested staying out of it. It is not OK. The friend is a child; neglectful parents leave children at home by themselves for a week, although maybe it is the natural progression of not putting a 9 year old in an afterschool program and getting away with that. However, it is not your job to determine if this obvious neglect rises to the level of abuse. That is the job of social services (CPS) - google the number for your county and call today. You can ALSO discuss it with the teacher and the principal. You can ALSO invite the child to stay at your house for a week. But there will be a next time, and a next time, and who knows how the child is really doing with all this. It is CPS' role to ascertain the real situation. Just call.

    One possibility to consider is that there may a misunderstanding about the boy being left home alone for 7 days. Unless you've heard this from mom, I wouldn't jump to conclusions too quickly.

    A report should be made to the police or CPS if you suspect child abuse. From what you said, it doesn't sound like there has been abuse.  You said he does well in school, and I am guessing he attends school regularly and isn't showing up hungry or dirty. So, there isn't cause to suspect abuse right now. It's awful that the mom might leave the boy alone for a week, but her thinking about it isn't abuse either. However, if she does end up leaving him alone for days, then that should be reported to CPS. (Are you sure there won't be a relative or family friend who will stay with the boy at night while mom is gone?) For now, I would suggest that you talk to the school principal. The principal has likely dealt with many different family situations through the years.  Maybe he/she could reach out to the boy's mom to tell her about resources available in the community, as well as make it clear that it's not okay to leave a child alone for a week. At the least, the principal should be made aware that a student is hanging out on the yard for hours after school without adult supervision. 

    It’s so kind of you to notice and care about your son’s friend.  And your intuition seems really on point - that there may be a cultural difference and the boy is mature.  Before calling on outside agencies that sometimes create more problems than help, I would reach out to the mother to share what you’ve observed, that you care and want to help, and ask for a more thorough picture. 

    I grew up with a single mother who worked multiple jobs and side first grade, I was responsible for coming home from school by myself and doing my homework alone until my mom came home in the evenings. At age 7, I was fully capable of making myself a snack or dinner sandwich and studying to stay at the top of my class. I always felt loved and cared for by my mom, whose quality time with me was more important than the quantity. She was fully present in the evenings and weekends, when she talked to me about my classes, my friends, what I learned from them, what I wanted to do differently because there was a better way, etc.

    My mom (and I) would have been devastated if someone called CPS on her because she was leaving me at home for long periods. And I would have been traumatized by being separated from my mom if CPS took me away temporarily.  My mom would have lost time at work, lost the little bit of money she earned to make ends meet, and lost the important moments of  quality time with me that we always had. If someone was concerned about me, I think we would have very much appreciated that person making an effort to reach out and talk with my mom directly rather than calling authorities on us. 

    If she teaches 2 courses at university, she's probably not a professor but an adjunct and likely makes less than 40,000$ a year. Her living and financial situation might be in flux with her husband leaving. My point is, you don't know any of this for sure and seem to get all your information from her child. If you really care, I would suggest getting to know the mum of your son's BFF and maybe learn about her situation first hand rather than making it worse. Ask her how she is doing. Please don't report a struggling single mum without even talking to her. Also, depending on the child, it is in my opinion okay to leave a 9-year-old alone for a few hours. 

  • Hi, I don't know who to talk to and if i can talk to anyone about my nieces and nephew. They're 6, 3, 18 months, and 2 months, and living in their grandparents' house with their dad and uncle. Their grandparents are whorders, my 18 month old nephew seems to be on the spectrum, and he's constantly putting little objects in his mouth. My in-laws have told me that he's nearly choked a couple of times, and they leave him unsupervised for hours in front of the tv in a back room. They only get him when there's a loud bang because he's fallen off the couch and knocked a lamp over. They also fill the tub to the brim every day and put him in for hours, according to the father, and they leave him alone in there! Seriously, no one is watching him. I witnessed all of this today when we visited for Christmas. The baby 2-month-old girl is often ignored as she cries. When i picked her up, her father told me i needed to let her cry. Who lets a 2-month-old cry! They just leave her in a swing with a bottle, so she's sucking in air. I asked about that, and her dad just dismissed me and said, "yeah, she's gassy and burpy all the time anyway, so it doesn't make any difference". The little baby's head is so flat in the back too. They just leave her crying by herself in the swing or bassinett most of the time. What do I do? Is thos serious enough to call cps? The 3 and 6 year old are pretty ok, but i really worry about the babies.

    Oh, that is heartbreaking. I think that it sounds like it would be in the best interest of the two youngest children if you call CPS. And if there are neglecting the younger ones there are neglecting the older ones too. I think you should do it. Good luck!

    I’m a social worker and this sounds extremely concerning to me. I don’t specialize with CPS work but if I came across this family in my work I would have made a CPS report. Leaving a child that age unattended in the bath and the other things you mentioned need to be reported immediately for the safety of the children. 

    I'm not at all familiar with CPS; however, without a doubt, I would say yes! The unsupervised bath time and child falling over and hitting the lamp are the two biggest red flags. I cannot imagine they can ignore that. Please call. Just reading this breaks my heart! 

    Your instincts are right to reach out. None of this is OK not even for the 3 and 6 year olds, but the unsurprised babies- that makes me so upset as a mom of a 20 month old. Hoarding is a serious issue and could lead to them investing something toxic. They could drown left alone in a tub, all of this is very serious and dangerous neglect. I would call CPS now, they need to investigate. Honestly it could save one of those children’s lives. 

    yes, this is serious neglect/endangerment. A child can drown in 2 inches of water! call CPS right away. They may not do anything (be prepared). Are you able to take them into your home? Would they be willing to place them voluntarily in foster care? get them out of there!

    Thank you for caring! 

    You do not mention the Mother in your narrative.  Where is she?  If the children are in danger or neglected as you describe and you are not able to take them into your home, it's probably time to call/contact Child Protective Services to do a home visit and check on the welfare of the children.  Is the 6 year old in school yet?  Again, I think a home visit from CPS is in order to check on the kids and see what support they can provide this family.  

    You will be getting a ton of replies on this one.   Call CPS now if you have not already, and let them know all this.  Alameda County CPS intake line: 510-259-1800.  I hope the moderator can contact you before these replies go to press.  I wouldn't assume the 3 and 6 year old children are "pretty OK" either.  

    Please call CPS right now.

    Please call CPS. If something was to happen to the children think about how bad you will feel for not doing anything. Sometimes parents need to wake up!!

    I have no real authority or knowledge about CPS here, so maybe I don’t qualify to answer. However, reading your post made my heart hurt for those babies so I just wanted to respond and say if you are looking for validation about your concerns I think you are absolutely right to be worried and elevate this somehow. While it would be maybe hard to prove/justify CPS for the watching too much TV or being in their swings too long (although both make me sad to think about), leaving an 18 month old in a bath for hours (or at all?) unsupervised seems downright negligent. I’m also unclear if you are implying the 2 month old isn’t getting enough food (re: the empty bottles), but if not that is also serious. 

    If a child is being left unattended in a bath for "hours", which seems hard to believe, along with the other mind boggling descriptions of neglect, you have a legal obligation to call Child Protective Services and the police. Those children need to be removed from the abusive situation immediately. 

    I know the decision to involve CPS can be fraught as CPS involvement is likely to turn this family upside down, and may result in losing the children in the foster care system.  However, based on what you have disclosed, the children are in serious danger due to physical neglect.  I think under those circumstances, you have a moral obligation to notify the proper authorities.  Call the CPS hotline.

    Please, please report this situation.

    As you describe its awfulness there's at least 'neglect'; but leaving a young child in a tub is also endangerment. Do what you can to save these kids.  Family relations be damned!

    About 15 years ago  I  reported the mother of a 9 year old girl. (I was 'sponsoring' the "mother" in a 12 step program- and I use the term loosely since her daughter wasn't even a slight priority) I urged the mother to report her husband, but she did nothing.  She said  that her lawyer, who also knew the details, wanted to get all the ducks in a row so she could get lots of $$ once she filed for divorce-- of course, he'd get a lot of that money.

       Meanwhile, nightly the child was being molested.  Grrr!  Money be damned.  The mother never knew I reported her.  Even so, I ended our relationship.


    OMG.  You absolutely must report this to the local authorities.  Here is the link to a website with the reporting numbers for each county.  http://www.cdss.ca.gov/Reporting/Report-Abuse/Child-Protective-Services…; You do not ultimately have to decide whether this is abuse or neglect rising to a level to require intervention; the experts will evaluate the situation.  But they have to be notified.  Based on your description, I would say it is not even a close question here whether you should make the call.  Make the call.  One or both of these children is going to end up seriously injured or severely developmentally delayed due to this level of neglect, if not worse.  Please be an advocate for these children.  It takes a village.

    As the mother of a 7-month-old, reading this made me cry. Based on your description, these children are being neglected and are at risk of injury or death. Alameda County had a Child Abuse Hotline (for situations of abuse or neglect) where a Child Welfare Worker can evaluate the situation you describe and help decide what to do next. Visit https://www.alamedasocialservices.org/public/services/children_and_fami…

    If you are concerned, please call. Agents will evaluate if calls fit the guidelines and can offer assistance. 

    Here is the link with contact details: http://www.alamedasocialservices.org/public/services/children_and_famil…



    I'm a specialist who works with the emotional and psychological aftermath of neglect and abuse in children.  This is definitely reportable to CPS.  You can also make an anonymous call to CPS to consult with them about this scenario, and they'll offer you their perspective and take a report if they see fit.  CPS is about providing relevant support services to children and families.  Alameda County CPS: (510) 259-1800.  Your concern is very relevant -  thank you for attuning to the needs of these little ones who don't otherwise have much voice at their age to get what they need. In addition to the serious safety risks present in this scenario, general neglect also has significant negative impact on the emotional and psychological development of children, which will also be expressed behaviorally.  Early intervention is valuable and makes a difference!  Take good care...

    Yes - ABSOLUTELY. Call CPS immediately. These children are neglected and in danger. 

    Yes, this is serious neglect. You've mentioned a couple of scenarios here that could easily result in the death of a child by neglect--leaving a toddler: unsupervised in a tub, unsupervised with electronics, with small objects that he puts in his mouth. Please, for their safety, call child and family services. These calls do not automatically result in a child being taken from the family. Rather, the agency gathers information and if what you're telling them warrants it, they follow up by contacting the family and taking a look at the situation.  Interventions range from some basic education about how to safely care for a child to the more extreme removal of a child when the child is unsafe AND the adults display an inability to change the situation. But whatever the result of the call, the safety of these children depends on it. Please call. For Contra Costa County call 877-881-1116; Alameda County call 510-259-1800; For San Jose call 408-299-2071; for Palo Alto call 650-493-1186; for San Francisco County call 800-856-5553; for San Mateo County call 1-800-632-4615. Call the county that the child is living in.

    Anyone can call CPS. I would do so this is very scary-sounding.

    Please call CPS today. The family sounds like they needs structured support with these children and the little ones are being neglected. The goal is CPS is to keep families intact whenever possible. Here is the list of phone numbers by county: http://www.cdss.ca.gov/Reporting/Report-Abuse/Child-Protective-Services…

    Yes, call CPS immediately. If nothing is truly wrong, then they will investigate and then close the case. If things are wrong (and candidly, it sounds like they are from your description), then CPS will take action, and also may provide resources to help them raise and properly care for the children. Thank you for noticing these issues, and I do hope you contact CPS so they can also evaluate. 

    What are you waiting for? Call CPS! Those poor children are suffering and it is only a matter of time until one of them drowns or something terrible happens. It is your duty to help these children.

    To Aliceinwonderland:  Those children's lives are in grave danger and I suggest that you contact Alameda Social Services as soon as possible.  The hotline telephone number is (510) 259-1800.  What you describe is a life-threatening situation, so PLEASE ACT QUICKLY.  

    Please contact Child Protective Services about the situation. How tragic. Good luck. 

    I have worked for CPS for many years and this situation would certainly warrant an investigation in the county I work in. For you or anyone with child protection concerns, please make the call and let the intake worker tell you whether the information you’re providing is reportable. You can ask to remain anonymous if you wish. I hope your nieces and nephews are ok. 

    I think you need to call CPS (Child Protective Services) immediately if they're leaving an 18-month old unattended in a bathtub full of water, and leaving a 2-month old unattended in a swing for hours.  Both children seem to be in imminent danger of injury or death.  Please call CPS right away.

    Please please please report them to child protective services. The longer you wait the worse it will get. I am a therapist who works with children with developmental delays and I hope that you can help this family get the help they need to care for their kids. It is so important to get the kids support at a young age. Early intervention for autism is especially important, although it seems like maybe the delays you are seeing may be due to neglect which can cause children to look like they have autism. Neglect is abuse and this needs to be reported. Thank you for caring for them. You may change the whole trajectory of their lives if you can get them the help they need.

    Yes, this is serious enough. Please report to CPS right away, tell them what you wrote here. They are supposed to investigate. What you describe is absolutely neglect and is endangering these children's lives and health. You are their only voice right now. Please use it. 

    call cps.  let them assess whether or not an intervention needs to be made.  leaving a young child alone in the bathtub is cause enough. 

    if anyone else has witnessed the same concerning parenting practices, I would encourage you to encourage them to make the report to cps as well.  

    Please please call the police or CPS. !!

    Go and call/report all of this to CPS. This IS serious enough.  This is so disturbing and makes me want to scream and cry at the same time. These are babies and they need CARE.  This is not about "bad parenting."  This is about an environment that is unsafe, with caretakers who appear to be OK with allowing gross neglect and cruelty to be the norm.  Have them contact this outstanding resource:  https://bananasbunch.org/.  Seriously, there is no excuse for this ignorance!

    Call CPS. The children are in danger serious danger. 

    Hi, I do hope you will report your relatives to Child Protective Services which can help them learn the parenting skills needed here.  If the children need extra help, (and usually 18 months is too early to diagnose autism) they can get it.  Please make the call asap.  

    My heart breaks reading your post. Not only is this a neglect but also life endangerment. I can only imagine how hard it would be to report your own family but better that than a potentially seriously hurt child. It's incredibly dangerous for a little kid to be near water unsupervised  - drowning or serious brain damage are not uncommon result 


Archived Q&A and Reviews


I think my young grandkids are being abused by their 10-year-old step-sister

Oct 2014

My two grandchildren 5 (boy), 3 (girl), living with their mom and half-sister (10 y.o), and spend weekends with my son, their dad. Mom and dad are in the midst of a contentious breakup. The older sibling does not like my son, the younger kid's dad, though he tried very hard to develop a relationship with her. To illustrate this, she has a history of extreme hysteria and dramatic, screaming displays around him that are scary and dangerous to his safety and the result of nothing more, for instance, than him asking her to take a shower and get ready for bed (then demanding when she refuses) when she has been in his care (I was there, believe me that's all it was). I've also seen her battle her mother physically over not accepting being put on a time out in the past. So this is an already troubled child, IMHO.

Anyway, this past weekend, my grandson told me ''Kathy'' hit the 3 y.o. ''very hard'' with her hand, and later, hit him ''very hard'' with a stuffed toy. The older sibling regularly lashes out at them, and I've seen her do mean, subversive things, deny it and then make sarcastic apologies when prompted by the mom. Mom gave Kathy a talking to about this hitting incident, but it was troubling to my G-son. He also told me that Kathy ''doesn't like little kids'', because she told him so. I'm sure his interpretation is that she doesn't like him or his sister. I tried to to assure him that she's probably just angry at things in general, or upset about other things, but he assured me that she's not; that she is ''VERY angry''.

This may be an isolated incident, but over time, I've heard enough of these stories that I'm becoming concerned about the younger kids safety. More so, I'm concerned that the mom, who has some pretty messed up judgment in my opinion, may leave the older sibling to babysit the younger ones. This is very likely, in fact, because she feels pretty trapped by being a parent, and has complained loudly over the years for even having kids at all. Now she has a new boyfriend, and with three kids holding her captive, I have no doubt she's likely to leave the 10 year old in charge.

My question is kind of Universal: First, how does this feel to you? How does it sound? What would you do? What should I do, if anything? I do talk to my son, and he is struggling with just the dynamic of the relatively recent break-up and trying to create a home for the kids on his own, and to settle them into this new routine and new life. He has little power over what happens to them at their mother's house, obviously, and with no bruises, and no overt evident of abuse or neglect, it's difficult to do anything, really, and I'm aware of that. But is there anything I can do?

Thanks in advance for your helpful advice.

-scared Nana

This does indeed sound bad. I would try calling the hotline for the Child Protective Services office in the county your grandchildren live in and ask them for advice anonymously. Start there.

Another possibility, if your son is in a position to take a stand, is to look through this incredibly helpful page for advice on what to do as a parent who wants custody: http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/child-support.

Also, see if you can talk to your grandchildren's teachers, who are mandated reporters, and ask them to keep an eye out for signs or comments of abuse.

See what these three things net you and if that doesn't solve things, you can consult an attorney on your own for an hour for more specific advice about what to do next (look for nonprofit agencies offering legal aid if you can't afford it). I do think you should stay involved, stay supportive of your son and grandchildren, and don't lose hope if this problem takes a while to resolve. I had to watch domestic violence/abuse of children for a while from the sidelines before CPS took definitive action and while I am sorry I didn't push harder earlier, I'm not sorry I kept pushing. good luck and be persistent

Hi there, It sounds like the 10 year old is acting out her (normal) anger/fear/etc about her family changes. From what you described, it doesn't seem dangerous to the younger ones. Tantrums, regression are pretty normal in this situation. It's so sad though. Perhaps you can gently encourage the adults to get a counselor for this girl (it helped my daughter tremendously). Or offer to take all the kids for an afternoon each week ... or take the little ones for an afternoon so the ten yo and her mom can get 1:1 time... The adults are probably feeling overwhelmed and grieving, and it's hard to make things right for your child when you're in the midst of it. Been there, sadly

Is your relationship with Mom good enough that you could offer to babysit? Maybe you could say something like, I know this is a hard time, and I know solo parenting must be hard work. Can I help you get a break by taking all three kids every Thursday evening (or Saturday morning or whatever)?

That way at least you could be closer and monitor the situation. (And maybe in the process send a message to the 10 year-old that she is lovable and you want to be around her too even as her family is dissolving)?

You could also work with the little ones on self-protection, safety, how to stand up to bullies, etc. Maybe you could take them to a KidPower workshop and start a conversation that way? They give you comic books to take home so that you can sit down and read/talk with the kids about how to protect themselves. It doesn't have to be specifically about their older sister - just good training for life in school.

You have my sympathy. It sounds like a difficult situation all around. Sympathetic

While I can understand that you are concerned about the safety of the kids, I notice that you are furthering an us vs them ideology that is not helpful. There are 3 children here and they are siblings. It does nothing good to imagine that the 10 year old is some kind of evil endangering the younger kids. If your son and his partner recently split, the 10 year old is also being subjected to a lot of disruption that could be impacting her negatively. If the younger kids are going on weekends to their father and she is not b/c he is not her father, this could also be very hurtful or disturbing to her. Kids overall will be adjusting to circumstances where partners split up and if there is a new boyfriend already too, then that is even more for a child to deal with. Please find your empathy for all 3 children, not just the ones biologically related to you. If you want to make a positive impact, I'd suggest seeing how you might lift some of the burden of this hard time. Can you help by having the kids to play at your place, can you keep a positive relationship with the kids mom, can you help support the relationship between the 3 kids by taking them all to do something and give the mom a rest? This 10 year old is a child impacted by adult decisions too. Sibs often fight, argue, say mean things and even hurt younger sibs and they do it more when they are in pain and have no control over their lives changing. These kids will be sibs forever-how can you help them be good sibs, all of them? change your frame

I'll keep this short:

If you are on good terms and your son would be ok with it, you can offer to babysit anytime she needs it..even for short periods and with little notice. That might cut back the times she leaves them alone. If you do this you must deal with your dislike of the girl and come to see life thru her eyes a bit more/sympathize with her/like her! You should also have some tools/plan in place for what to do for not-ok behaviors pre-agreed on with the mom.

Or you can offer to pay for a sitter( she picks the sitter) whenever she needs one for whatever reason.

Or you can offer to pay for therapy for the girl who's obviously having feelings about how her life is going and all the disruption and losses. J

What are the chances of getting a child out of an abusive home if you report it?

July 2013

Looking for resources and advice re: options for protecting children when you suspect abuse, or rather, when you know for sure that there is abuse going on, particularly when it comes to severe psychological abuse (not in a ''they yell at their kids over every little thing'' kind of way, but when it is severe degradation that is clearly damaging the child in obvious ways and where you are sure that even living in foster care as a ward of the state would be better than where they currently are living). I know it is VERY difficult to get a child removed from their mother's care. The handful of people that I personally know who tried to stand up for an abused child were retaliated against by the custodial parent and basically never allowed to see the child again once allegations were made, and ultimately the child never was removed from the abusive environment(despite CPS reports, etc). I only know stories of lose-lose situations where the child wasn't actually protected once people spoke out, then was isolated further and the only advocates in their lives are systematically shut out and unable to protect them.

Here are some questions I'm hoping to get answers to, but I don't expect BPN to answer these - it's more that I'm looking for resources: What are the actual standards, processes, chances of getting a child out of an abusive home? Are there websites that walk you through the process and tell you what to expect and how to start? How many witnesses of the abuse do you need? How many events need to be documented? Does it matter one way or the other if there are/aren't relatives willing to take in the child? Are there additional regulations if the child has special needs? Does the child's age play into any factors? Can you make a CPS call if you haven't personally witnessed abuse (but multiple people without ulterior motives have told you they have seen atrocious things)? If there is more than one child in the home but only one child is being abused, are both kids removed and kept together? Anon

First, I want to say that you can call CPS anonymously and tell them your concerns and ask questions about the process. They are helpful. It's a tough decision.

Years ago I called CPS about my niece (then a toddler) and her parents, and they investigated but did not act. And you're right, the parents cut me out of my niece's life for several years and never trusted me again. When they did eventually permit contact, I secretly resolved to refrain from calling unless I was sure there would be action; better to keep any eye on those kids, I thought. Neighbors called CPS too, but it wasn't until more than 10 years that a dramatic event caused the kids to be removed from custody.

By then there were three kids and they all went into foster care with strangers (and then bounced from home to home every month) while family arrangements were sorted out, which took six months because none of us could take all three kids, and at first state wouldn't split them up. It was terrible for the kids, and eventually the parents got the kids back by taking classes, drug tests, counseling, AA, and so on. They were forced to get their act slightly more together, and it made it harder to hide.

Here in CA anyway, the foster system wants to keep siblings together, prefers placing them with relatives and asks that such relatives be willing to permanently adopt the kids, should parental rights be terminated (a process that is decided over 12-18 months).

You can get advice too from an attorney experienced in these cases. Tim Fricker in Oakland is a good one. 510-663-8484. Good luck! Auntie

Your concerns and thoughts are important. I am pleased to suggest you contact a local Agency that has been serving our communities for decades assisting Parents and making safer communities for children. Family Paths' hotline service would provide you with an anonymous way to discuss your concerns and identify your options. http://www.familypaths.org/ 800-829-3777 Jim K

I understand where you're coming from, as I too have witnessed poor response by CPS that resulted in no improvement in the situation.

I think your best bet is to call the CPS hotline in your county and ask them the questions you posted here. You will get a sense by their response whether or not you want to officially report abuse. That's what I did for kids I knew. I spent about 45 minutes on the phone with them, starting out by saying I was not making a report yet but wanted information. I detailed what I knew and their answers satisfied me. In my case, I wanted to know if the kids (12 and 16) were old enough to choose not to go home. I was satisfied with the answers--not just the ''facts'' as presented, which can vary depending on which worker you talk to, but the overall feel of the conversation and how seriously CPS would take things, plus the fact that yet, the kids were old enough to refuse to go back. Previous times, the kids had been sent back (which by the way, I think was considered as it was all in the file). I then conferred with the kids and then called back and made an official report.

In my case, I was willing to take the kids, and when no family members could do so, I was chosen. Are YOU willing to take them, or at least to advocate for them, to insist on showing up at decision making meetings for them, etc.? I personally think those things are a help, although they are not a deciding factor. No one knew that I'd be willing to take the kids at the time I made the call.

I know what you're going through. I watched these kids suffer for a long time as family members just sort of ignored it, covered it up, or tried to help but then dropped out.

BTW, if you don't like how the case is handled, call the agency and ask for the number of the ombudsman. I did that in another situation and they did admit they'd handled it improperly. Don't think it helped that kid, but it may have helped the next one in a similar situation.

I have some inside familiarity with CPS and related agencies, as well as now being a foster parent. Feel free to ask the moderator for my email. I can help you further research before you decide. a lot of experience now

Call CPS-they can answer all these questions. anon

I recommend calling Legal Services for Children in San Francisco. They should be able to answer your questions or refer you to someone in your jurisdiction who could. The attorneys and social workers there represent children in the SF foster care system and in guardianships both in San Francisco and the immediate surroundings. Their number is 415-863-3762. Their website is www.lsc-sf.org. Sarah

Should I call Child Protective Services about neighbor kids?

July 2010

The children next door to me seen to live hellish lives. The older one is about 10 and is constantly in charge of her sister, age about 3 or 4. They are out at all times of the day and night. The older child seems to be constantly tormenting the younger, who screams incessantly. The mother is in the house ignoring all of this. The mother is - to put it delicately - a difficult neighbor. Speaking to her would cause an outburst of rage. If I speak to them the mother calls them inside. Don't suggest things to say to her because I really do not dare open a conversation. Should I report this? What do I report - kid tormenting sister? It sounds so small. But the screaming and crying is escalating and I know summer will mean longer hours of them at home in their terrible lives. troubled

Yes - you should call CPS immediately. CPS is in the position to evaluate the family and to either (1) hook the family up with services (childcare, mental health assistance, drug counseling, etc.) that will help resolve the problems or (2) get those kids out of the home if necessary. Taking kids away from their parents is not what CPS ''wants'' to do (never the first choice), but sometimes there is no safe alternative. Don't delude yourself that it isn't any of your business - we are all responsible when it comes to kids in need. Kids can be injured in a variety of ways, some injuries are clearly visible, but some remain hidden. Please give these kids a chance at an improved situation - it will benefit them and our society. A Friend

You can always call CPS, and explain your concerns. There is no harm in doing this. Please know that it is not your job to decide whether the kids next door to you are being abused or neglected - you would be calling only to report concern, and it is the job of the CPS agency to determine if they should send a worker out or not. You are NOT a ''mandated reporter'' which means that you can make the call anonymously, and your neighbor would not know it's you that called. Sometimes CPS won't send out a worker, but if they get enough calls then that creates a track record and they may be more inclined to send out a worker the second or third call they get - it really all depends on the county policy, and how concerning the allegations seem to be. Hope this advice was useful. Gina

Trust your instincts! I'd call, but I'm a total busybody! (we have kids in our neighborhood who run a bit loose, but they're basically happy and there seem to be semi-responsible adults at call in emergencies. Running around... no big deal!) But it sounds like the mom may have issues - addiction, depression, or just garden-variety shame. Is there a partner or extended family in the picture at all?)

Call CPS, describe the situation, and let them make the call. They may decide not to act on it... but then they may be familiar with this family from another setting, or they may see a red flag. If they don't act now, but an incident happens down the line, your comment in the record may give them background as to the situation.

and, worst case scenario, if something really bad does happen... you'll know you tried.

In short, yes.

You say that they're out at all times of the day or night, the older sister (who's only 10) torments the younger one (who's ridiculously young to be parented by a 10 year-old), and the mother does nothing. This last is a classic sign of maternal neglect (usually associated with drug use). Her ''difficulty'' and rageful reaction is also neglectful and maybe be indicative of verbal abusiveness to the children. It's certainly also implies drug usage. Similarly, the fact that she calls them inside if you try to engage them is a bad sign -- she has something to hide.

CPS has investigators who who will take a report from you and make a preliminary decision how to proceed. They can come out and see what the situation is and decide how or whether to proceed. You can ask that your name be kept confidential, but if you think the mother can figure out your identity, you should consider your feelings about that.

For context, I am an attorney who worked with Alameda County doing these types of cases for over 10 years. I feel so strongly about protecting our kids. . . Good luck! Laurel

YES ! ! ! YES ! ! ! YES ! ! ! YES ! ! ! YES ! ! ! YES ! ! ! YES ! ! ! YES ! ! ! YES ! ! !

Please, call ASAP ! ! ! These children need you to protect them NOW ! ! !

Today, I ask you to call for protection for these children after years as a court-appointed advocate for children

You can certainly call the Child Abuse Hotline but they can only ''open a case'' if there is suspicion of imminent danger. I am not aware of the exact laws in California but certainly, leaving a 10 yo to supervise two toddlers for many hours and late into the evening, outside, may qualify. Mentioning the screaming and crying and general lack of supervision and perceived neglect (are the kids dirty? Do they go many hours outside without eating or checks by the parent?) may be important information as well. Remind the worker that you are happy to speak with the assigned social worker but that you would like to remain anonymous to the family. Even if what you have witnessed does not, technically, qualify there may have been prior calls from others or school and together, this may compel DCFS to investigate and, ultimately, provide some support services. CSH

Call. I was in a similar situation to yours a few months ago. Though the actual circumstances with the child were different, those parents would've also been difficult to talk to about it. I agonized for many weeks over whether to make The Call. Ultimately, I decided that if something awful were to happen to the child, I would've always wondered if my call the CPS could've prevented it. Call. I didn't live next door to the situation and seeing such bad behavior every day must be difficult. I'd advise you to continue to keep your distance from the parents and the children. Be cordial, but little more. Call. I did, spending only about 10 minutes on the phone with CPS (they couldn't do anything because though the behavior was uncommon, it wasn't dangerous, violent, or illegal). However, it wasn't a total loss because after calling I did feel better knowing that, as a member of the ''village'', I spoke up. If CPS can't get involved, they'll tell you. They'll also be able to guide you on when escalation of the current behavior would allow them to intervene. Maybe you're not the only neighbor who thinks the situation needs attention. Maybe you are. And if you are the only one, so what? Call. Just think of all the news stories where neighbors thought something was amiss but didn't do or say anything, and things ended tragically. Call. Janne

I would go with your gut and call. It sounds like you can report your concerns under ''general neglect.'' While I do not believe that California has a legal age minimum to babysit, the National Safekids Campaign recommends that 12 is the youngest to be left home alone (http://www.latchkey-kids.com/latchkey-kids-age-limits.htm).

General Neglect Info: ''Section 11165.2(b) defines general neglect as the negligent failure of a person having the care or custody of a child to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision where no physical injury to the child has occurred.'' www.ocde.us/downloads/legal/ChildAbuseReportingQA.pdf Bridget

Reading your post, it sounds like you sent this in before BPN went on summer break. I hope that you've been able to do something about this. My opinion: definitely call CPS! No 10-yr old should be in charge of a young sibling all the time. Period! That's what CPS is there for. joj

I say go with your gut and call. Instead of reporting ''kid tormenting sister'' I would report ''possible neglect''. Just tell them what you've seen and they will determine if there is a problem. The consequence of not calling and there really being a problem way overshadows the risk of calling in a ''false alarm''. The mother clearly has issues and may really just need some help/support that they can hopefully supply. anon

Yes, you should call child protective services. Your call is anonymous. They will ask you lots of questions, and will determine if it's something they will get involved with.

I had to call on a neighbor and felt so relieved afterward. I hated doing it, but felt that there was no other way I could help. The CPS representative was very caring and thorough, even as I sobbed through the entire conversation. I'm so glad that I made the call.

Please, for the sake of all the children, call now. concerned

Yes! I would also notify the school principal at the child's school. Anne B

If you feel that these children are leading a troubled life or may be abused (doesn't have to be physical), you owe it to them to call protective services. You can remain annonymous, but it will be checked out. I think you'll feel better if you do. Kathy

You can make an anonymous report to CPS. Don't worry about how to characterize it - no-one will ask you to justify your call; just tell the person taking the report what you have observed (seen, heard) and your concerns, what you think is going on. It sounds like a neglect situation at the least. If you observe something requiring more urgent response, you can call the police. Ilene D

It sounds like a very imperfect home to grow up in, but do you feel there is legitimate *abuse* going on? I personally wouldn't call if there isn't abuse because honestly, as unfortunate of a home that is, it's better than an orphanage or an abusive foster home. Best of luck. Suruchi

Hi, I would recommend that you call CPS. You can talk with someone there who can help you with this. They can help make the decision as to whether they should intervene or not, or possibly offer the family voluntary help from an agency outside of CPS. Child / Family Advocate

Living in a racially and culturally diverse community has its challenges. This parent communicates differently and parents differently than you. Is she a bad parent? I have no idea. A 10-year-old caring for a 3-4 year-old? Doesn't sound ideal to me but hardly sounds abusive. My advice: 1. check your cultural lens and your racism/classism. 2. Mind your business . . . why are you talking to her kids anyway unless it's to say good morning and how's school going? I'm sure the mom has probably figured out that you're the ''quick-to-call-cps-type'' and hates you already. 3. Be nice and stop being judgmental. You don't walk in this woman's shoes. Perhaps she's ''checked out'' due to depression or a difficult employment situation or PTSD. Maybe she senses that you're scared of her or judgmental of her or people like you have mistreated her in the past and she has a wall up. Consistently be an authentically kind person and worry about raising your own kids. don't call

As a teacher who's made MANY CPS calls, I would say do it but don't expect anything to happen. They are so overwhelmed that if a child isn't in great danger, nothing will happen. What will happen, however, is that they will then have a paper trail in case something bad does happen. Just make sure you tell them that you must remain anonymous - they are required to take anonymous reports. teacher

You should call CPS and run the situation by a screening social worker. They will take a report if they see fit. They may already have records/investigations regarding this family. Be prepared to provide as many specific examples as you can. For example, what do you mean by torment? Is the older child hurting the younger children physically? You also need to provide address, names, ages, other identifying information. CPS SW

Often times, CPS can be *very* helpful to parents who really need help and don't know how to get it. It sounds like you have tried to talk to the mom and see/offer help (?) and have not been successful.

I guess you have to really consider if calling CPS will help this family or not. It sounds as though it would--at least the mom would have to clean up her act and provide food, etc. There might be a resource that the mom could use. CPS is not just about ''taking the kids away.'' They can be very helpful.

Please note that if you think the kids are in danger, call the police (CPS can sometimes be slow). I would report general neglect: stick to the facts, the kids are out at all hours, there is constant distress sounds coming from their house.

Are the kids dirty? Do they have changes of clothing? Do they seem fed? Do the right thing

Child protective services is for situations where there is abuse or neglect (eg. hunger, children not going to school, children living in insanitary situations). You should go see a counsellor to work out whether what you see is abuse. Once you call child protective services, they are compelled to investigate, which includes calling the police. You need to be sure that the mother next door is more than an annoying neighbor and an inconsiderate mother. There is no license given out for good parenting. There are many bad parents. But not all of them warrant investigation by the police. I am glad you are looking out for the interests of the kids next door. But be very careful before you make this kind of very, very serious allegation. concerned

Just remember that the foster care system is not always better or safer than the home, imperfect though that home be. Offer a friendly hand before involving authorities in a situation you know little about? Mothling

I would call CPS with your concerns. This has nothing to do with race or culture. My SIL called CPS on another family member because of a situation that she felt was out of control. I have no contact ever with that family member and I was not aware of the bad family situation or I would have called myself. Long story short my niece is now being raised by my mother and is no longer in a neglectful household. Also as a best friend to one of the most AMAZING foster parents I can say in my friends case she is the most loving parental stand in that anyone could ask for. While there are horror stories out there remember that the first job of CPS is to help the whole family. Even in the cases where the children don't live at home the foster families are also trying to help the parents be reunited with the children. So go with your gut feelings and call. Bobbie Jo

Please remeber: More than once, a ''meddlesome neighbor'' has saved a child's life !

One post suggested that you might have a ''class'' or ''cultural'' bias: If these kids seem to be neglected or abused, neither ''class'' or ''culture'' is an acceptable excuse. Many now-adults grew up in a home with limited resources and prospered / excelled (one example among many: President Obama), but limited resources is different from neglect and abuse. If the ''hair on the back of your neck'' informs you this situation might be neglectful or abusive, CALL !

One of the responses gave misinformation: Calling CPS does not automatically link to the police.

One post told you that CSP is imperfect: That's true, but social workers and staff at CSP do what they can, and, short of calling the police (which you should do if you witness hitting or hurting or other abuse by any adult or by any child: witness = see or hear), calling CPS is what you can do to help in our society as our society is, now. CALL !

Court advocate for children

Fighting CPS

Sept 2009

I need help urgently! I have been fighting a CPS case for 20 months and am now at the point where my 3 yr. old son will be adopted out by the foster mom in the next 2 months. I have a court appointed attorney that has done absolutely nothing for me. My son was taken 1/4/08 he had a temper tantrum on a BART train, and I was accused of shaking him (I didn't). I was taken off the train, I was upset and angry, I cursed, kicked, and screamed. I was sent to a mental hospital for 2 days, then jail for a week. My son was first in foster care in Richmond, and he got his leg broken, there were numerous accusations from the foster mom and the agency she was with while I visited with my son, all of which were false. My son was only removed from her home when she refused to transport him to appointments. There were again accusations against me from the new foster mom in San Leandro, and injuries with him in her care, but injuries and charges are always attributed to me. I am not completely innocent during this time. I have missed appointments and been late, I have used poor judgement at times, I left him alone one time at night to go get him something to eat, and I did go with him closer to a moving train to see it up close. I do have a past, with suicide attempts in my youth and I have been very upset and angry with the attempts and tactics that have been used to legally kidnap my son from me.

I am not now nor have I ever harmed my son. I am a single parent with life issues. I am poor and feel that and the fact that I've already been judged for my life choices, is what is being used to seize my child from me. I love my son and have always wanted and intend to make a better life for him. I want to be able to make major life decisions for my son's health and well being. I want to regain my life with my son so we can go on with our lives together, as a family. My son is my life and my whole world. I want my son now, and wanted him when I gave birth to him. I don't want my son to grow up thinking that he was adopted because he was unwanted or unloved. I want to raise my son and let him no he has a mother that loves him to no end and is fighting for him.

I am seeking your help and assistance because I am out numbered, out matched and can no longer fight this battle alone.

I am really sorry to hear about your situation. It must feel really terrible to not be allowed to parent your son who you love so much. Having been an adoption social worker, I cannot give you any advice really on fighting CPS or getting your son back in your custody. Really in order to do that, you must follow the conditions set for you by the court and your social worker. You must be very consistent and diligent in meeting their conditions. However, if it is too late to do this, which it may be, if you behave in a way that is very non-threatening, you may be able to convince your social worker and the foster parents to have a meeting with the foster family. You could then ask them to maintain a level of contact with you, and perhaps allow you to maintain a relationship with your son as well. The foster family who is potentially adopting your son will have the right to choose exactly who is in his life if your rights are terminated and they adopt him, but I have seen many very wonderful relationships between birth parents and foster/adoptive parents where a relationship with the child can be continued. Sometimes this involves face-to-face contact, sometimes phone contact, sometimes just letters, or sometimes the adoptive parent not allowing direct contact with your child, but sending you photos and keeping you up to date. Again, for you to have the chance to build that relationship, I would make every effort to meet the conditions that have been set forth for you. I would also try to be as kind, understanding, not demanding, and non-threatening as possible. Good luck to you. Are you in therapy? This is a big loss for you to not have your son with you for 20 months, and a therapist may also be able to help you. Anna

It is clear that you want very much to be a mother to your son. I don't have any direct experience with CPS; there are people on the list who will be much more competent to respond to your questions about the bureaucratic aspects of your struggle with that agency. But I do feel that I can respond to your heartfelt letter. You acknowledge that you have made some poor choices, and when you told about the episode when your child was actually removed from your custody (on the train), I could see that you have a violent temper. Kicking and cursing are not behaviors that are going to accomplish what you want: getting custody of your son. This is not to say that you were treated fairly in terms of the charge made against you, but from what you yourself say about your behavior, I think it possible that people sitting near you were struck by the intensity with which you treated your son (leading them to say that you shook him). Obviously (unless they are personal enemies of yours trying to sabotage you) these people saw something on the train that alarmed them severely. Repeated statements from others about your behavior (the foster parents) and your own admission that you do not always make good choices lead me to wonder: maybe you do need to get your life and your emotions in order before you are really ready to take care of your son. You may not, in other words, always have a very clear picture of how you are behaving and why that behavior might be seen by others as unacceptable in a mother.

Unless I am very mistaken, the aim of the system will be to return your son to you when you demonstrate that you are ready. If you can ask for help in getting into an anger management class, behavioral/emotional therapy, and vocational counseling, maybe you can use this time for self-exploration and self-development. Try to think of it as a kind of (unwelcome) gift -- you now have time to get yourself together and make yourself into the mother you truly want to be. The battle you fight, I think, should be less with CPS and more with the demons of your past and present. I wish you good luck in getting to a good place in your life. concerned

I am so sorry for your situation. CPS is a total nightmare, in every county in the state. I worked for a CPS office for 9 weeks because I was unemployed and needed the job. It was so awful that I quit without another job lined up.

I don't know what more you can do with only two months left. Some thoughts I have all require access to the Internet; if you don't have that at home, you may use the public libraries.

Contact Legal Services of Northern California immediately. They offer low-cost legal services to those who qualify. They have one office in Sacramento, but I am pretty sure they are throughout the state. Call the Sacramento office if you have to.

Contact your local Commission on the Status of Women (county). Also try contacting the state Commission (women.ca.gov). The state's top priority this year is to get CPS to change its practices, so they may have some local resources for you, including maybe a lawyer who can take your case. Be persistent; remember that these offices are experiencing budget cuts like none in recent memory, so they may not want to take the time to help you.

If you have anyone at all from whom you can borrow money, hire a private attorney. Be sure that they are someone who has worked with your local CPS in the past. It is its own little circus. Go into deep(er) debt and take out a cash advance on a credit card if you have to/can.

Above all, in the courtroom, remain calm, be respectful, do not speak unless spoken to.

Very best of luck. I will keep you in my thoughts. anon


OK sister, if you're serious, I'll give it to you straight.....Own that you've made mistakes, show up for all meetings on time, be clean, polite and agreeable no matter what, take the suggestions they make and follow them TO THE LETTER. They'll probably want you to take an anger management class, a parenting class, maybe have your own psychiatric and therapeutic treatment, stay sober if that's one of your issues. Even if they don't suggest these things, they're a good idea for you to do independently, and report that you've done them. Join AA or NA if that's one of your issues, join a dialectical behavioral therapy group to learn to manage your emotions better and to get support for your strong feelings. And when you do have child visits, be focused on your child's feelings and wishes, not your own. Have a stable living situation and job life. No random loser partners. Be a ''square''. And SHOW UP to court with what you've accomplished and the feelings for your child that you express so well here. They may allow you to ''stay'' the 18-month reunification clock so you can keep working on healing yourself while you stay involved in your child's life, even though it's less likely that they'll let you live with your kid right away.

Wishing you well

Your post was very sad. It is clear you love your son.

When I was reading your post I heard loud and clear that you love your son and that you have made mistakes. What I did not hear you say, not even once, is that you wanted what was best for your son. Does he have someone who wants to be a stable permanent parent to your son? Is there someone who consistently talks to him, plays with him, is consistent with him?

I ask these questions because I know without a doubt that my mother loved me BUT she could not and did not take care of me. My education was inconsistent because she couldn't get me to school on time or at all. Although we had medical insurance, she would not take me to the doctor or dentist regularly and I often had ear infections that were not taken care of and cavities that were not filled. I had pain and now have permanent hearing loss and a mouth full of silver fillings. I would have been better off living with my grandmother who wanted me and who could and was willing to set her life aside to take care of me. But my mom loved me and wanted me with her; I struggled through childhood and struggled in early adulthood because our life was about what she wanted and needed, not what I wanted and needed.

I did not hear you talk about taking any child development classes to know how to care for your son properly. These classes are absolutely free. Would you be willing to completely stop going out to have your son? Would you be willing not to have a boyfriend until your son is an adult if you knew it was best for him? Would you be willing to have someone stay for several hours per day giving you parenting suggestions if it was the best thing for your son?

It will be very, very difficult, but my suggestion is that for one entire day, you do not think of what you want or don't want but you think only of your child. You think about what you want for him when he is an adult, then you think about what skills he would need to learn to be that person you want him to be as an adult, then you think about whether you can really do those things he needs to have done to become the the adult you want him to be. If you can think only of him in your response, you will end the day knowing what is best for your son. It may be living with you, or the greatest gift you can give him is to show up at the final hearing with a letter telling him how much you love him which is why you had to say goodbye.

Love is important, but it does not make a person a good parent

4-year-old visiting constantly, may be abused?

Oct 2008

New neighbors moved in next to us, nice single family home, owner occupied neighborhood. Wonderful! they have a 4 year old child, we have a 3.75 yo... They've been here 3 months or so now. There are multiple issues which make me feel like a prisoner in my home. one, the child has few social skills and invites herself over constantly. hearing no often results in a screaming fit or pouting. rarely does a parent accompany her. I find myself at a loss - should I return the child home or do I have no responsibility for her safety since she comes/goes by herself? two, my husband saw one parent hit the child. prior to that the child cringed when I needed to physically restrain her after asking her to stop destructive behavior so I already suspected physical abuse. how much do I MYOB? three, relatedly, my child wants to play with her ''new friend'' and doesn't observe the negative issues we do. How do I communicate to my child the desire to limit interaction without the ever talkative preschool newswire sharing information? I've adjusted our schedule to be more unavailable but it is limiting and annoying to feel I need to hide from a 4 yo child. The child surely needs positive interaction but I don't want my child(ren) to be her training ground. Obviously the child's behavior is resultant from the parents' behavior (it appears they barely talk/listen to her, she is starved for attention), so I don't think talking to them will be the solution but I'm open to hearing suggestions. I did point to a local inexpensive preschool but I don't think they explored it. wanting peace again

YOU sound EXACTLY like my next door neighbors. My son is 4. Their kids are 5 and 3. If it were up to the kids, they would be playing together 24/7. I have to make up 1000 excuses not to allow my son to go next door to bug them. Their kids are always asking but rarely allowed to come to my home, then their mom limits the playtime to 10-15 minutes. I cannot stand this. It is uncomfortable and just wrong. They have no animals and we have 2 large dogs and a kitten. Our house looks like we actually live there and their house looks like a model home out of a magazine. Their kids hardly have any toys because that would create clutter. Our kids have TOO many toys. They have a maid and nanny, I don't have a maid and I don't need a nanny because I don't leave my kids. Kids are kids. If your child wants to play with this other child, why are YOU getting in the middle? Your child will be raised by your morals and values, so if this child has issues, it will not affect her. Why not participate in the playtime? Teach them a game or play house with them? As for the other mom, why not invite her over for coffee instead of assuming she is an evil bad parent. She could end up being your best friend! You never know - she just may be shy or afraid you won't like her. Invite their whole family out for pizza. Take the high road and be the better person.

First, it is your responsibility as a PARENT to protect your child, and it is your responsibility as a PARENT to protect the peacefulness of your home. Second, it is your responsibility to YOURSELF is to protect yourself from frustrations and exhaustion. Third, as a member of a MORAL COMMUNITY, it IS your job to send a certified letter to the city in which you live (your letter must be sent by certified mail) clearly outlining your fears. Please state your fears as just such, not as ''facts'' except where you have actually seen certain actions. No one spoke up when I was abused !

the hitting-- and even more so the cringing disturbs me. If I were you I'd call CPS and tell them exactly what you said in your post: here are the facts, I'm not sure how serious it is, what do you think? --That is what they are here for. a little concerned

You saw the kid being hit already ? And you didn't call the police ? Why not ? A four year-old who cringes at his parents ? This is not MYOB, this is CPS (Child Protective Services). Anon.

Here is a child just steps from your door who needs help Forgive the parents manners for the moment and think about the child. This is an opportunity for you to ''create a village'' to help this child and her family if you choose. Do not judge, just support the child. Her/his family could be going through some crazy (private) issues - just open your heart and give what you can. another mom

Please, please, please report the family to child protective services. If you saw a parent hit a child, that is enough to go on. The child is asking you for help. Even if you can't let her into your home, you can help her by giving her living situation a wake-up call. What if they really hurt her? Could you live with yourself if you did nothing? anon

When I was growing up, I had a neighbor like yours. She was 4 and I was 5 when we moved into our respective houses. She was my friend, and she was at our place constantly. Her hair was never brushed. The most horrible sounds of fighting came from her house. Her mother was abusive, an alcoholic, and her father left and either could not or would not take her and her sister away. (This was in the 1960s; men were not given custody back then.) No wonder she came to our house; it was a refuge. My father hated having her around, and she was scared to death of him; she would flee when she heard his car in the driveway. My mother welcomed her always -- brushed her hair in the morning before school, gave her breakfast, helped her with homework. My mother is a key reason this girl survived a horrific childhood. She is about to turn 50, is still my friend, and is a warm and functional person -- an OB nurse, married to a great guy, mom of three good kids.

I tell you this because as hard as it is to open your family to this girl, it may be her salvation. If she is being abused, you should report the parents to Child Protective Services. If it is not to that level, consider welcoming her -- making and enforcing clear rules, of course. It might just save a life. Dara's friend

You posted that you wanted to limit your child's interaction, but it may be good to invite the whole family over for a get together to show them how you all interact. There are a couple reasons for this: 1) Your neighbors' child will have a neutral ground 2) Your neighbors will see how your family interacts and it just might rub off 3) You'll gain some insight into their family dynamics - which will be very beneficial to your next steps on what to do. Sometimes we find ourselves being in a position of bringing about a greater good...you may be in that position now and I know that you will take the right action. Concerned

When neighborhood kids come to my house, I lay down the ''house'' rules. I make it clear that, if my rules are violated, the visitor will be asked to leave. (My son also has to follow the rules, or his friends will be asked to leave.) I once asked a 4 year old to leave my house. He was very unhappy about it, but that was the consequence to violating my house rules, and I stuck to it. I allowed the boy to return after that incident (it took him a while to work up the courage to return to my house and apologize), and his behavior significantly improved. Be firm and consistent, and I am certain you will see a change: either (1) the kid will modify her behavior, or (2) she will not want to return to your home, since you are the ''mean'' mom. Either result will give you the relief you are seeking.

I really can't comment on the hitting, since I am not certain to what degree the hitting occurred. There are no laws that say parents can't hit their kids; so, I suspect that the police or CPS may not do anything about one instance of spanking or even others, unless it was extreme. You need to check this out with CPS, if you can. the sometimes ''mean'' mom

This is a tough one. The way I see it you have two ways to go. You can either try to help this poor child out by letting her come over on occasion and guiding her behavior as best as you can. She obviously needs a loving and stable parental figure. If you don't have the time/energy/ etc (no judgement here,,,you have your own life) for the first suggestion, here is my other one. Go to the next door neighbor's house. Talk quietly to the parents and mention that their daughter is at your house too much and when she is there, she is disruptive. Let them know that you expect one of the parents to call you first, and find out if the time is ok for the daughter to come over. Tell them kindly that if their daughter comes over unannounced, you will walk her immediately back home.

I feel for you, but really I feel for this family. Perhaps someone is ill (physically or mentally) or having a crisis. Compassion with firm limits is all you can do. good luck! anon

I think your anger is geared toward the wrong person. You are acting passive/aggressive in that you're taking the child in but you're being aggressive in that you don't want the child to interact with your children because of her behavior but at the same time you're putting up with it by inviting it by not speaking to the parents. If it bothers you so much, you must have enough courage to nip it in the bud and go directly to the parents and be upfront about the situation and the nuisance it's become to you in a face-to-face discussion and be clear as to how it makes you feel. You say you are in a prison in your own home but at the same time you have created the prison by letting this child come INTO your home. You can always turn her away and tell her to go home. If you want to get out of this situation, then you must speak up and make it happen. If I had a child that was treated by a neighbor like you and was then told that my child was not welcome in your home, believe me, I wouldn't want my child anywhere near you. I'm sure the parents if they're intelligent enough, will get the message. I feel for the little girl and I also feel for your children. What a tragedy. anon

before responding to the ''should i call the authorities'' part of the question, i was wondering how exactly the parent hit the child. anon

The poor child is not getting consistent limits or attention. You can't fix this alone, but if you're the only adult in the situation, you need to set limits with the PARENTS. That will provide a structure and in the long run will probably lower the girl's anxiety so she is a more pleasant guest.

How? Pay a visit and let the parents know, pleasantly, [1] that she can only come over if one of them accompanies her (otherwise you will bring her home) [2] that they need to CALL FIRST first to see if a visit is convenient, and [3] that if she has a temper tantrum you will be calling them to come pick her up IMMEDIATELY. Otherwise, bring the girl back yourself. All you need to say, pleasantly, is that a visit is ''not convenient'' or that you think the girl will calm down better at home. If the parents can't follow through on all that, you will need to entirely discourage visits.

Set up play dates with other children and activities that keep your daughter occupied (so she doesn't miss her friend so much), and accept visits from the neighbor child in more limited doses. I wouldn't go into a lot of explanation with your daughter, she will probably interpret your concerns as criticism of her beloved friend and be hurt.

Abused? If you've had to restrain her physically, maybe the parents have as well. If you start setting limits with the parents, I think this issue will probably make itself more obvious, in which case you can anonymously call Social Services. I don't recommend you accuse them directly, they are probably very insecure people who love their daughter but who have no idea how to parent her. A judge could mandate parenting glasses, but advice from you on that score would probably make them hostile and defensive, not open. --since you asked, my 2 cents

Perhaps you could try by showing some compassion? If the child is neglected and in need of attention.... Secondly, if you honestly suspect child abuse then you should contact child services and report the abuse. I also have to question your need to ''physically restrain'' the child? Really? Was the child hurting you, herself or your child? I think if I was 4 years old and another adult ''physically restrained'' me I would not react very well either. I feel very sorry for this child for many reasons... anon

Worried about neighbor's baby

Sept 2007

My residential home is next to a small apartment. When I'm in my sons' room, I can hear the new tenant (only because she's yelling at the top of her lungs) during the day verbally abusing her toddler in Spanish. She has two little boys, and from what I can tell when I'm home (I work part time) (one goes to the local elementary and one is home during the day) I have heard her husband too verbally abuse the children calling them mean names in Spanish only because they yell it's hard not to miss. I speak Spanish so I understand what they're saying and they're not saying nice words. I don't get involved with the neighbors and I've only noticed this situation because they've made it so obvious. I'm worried for her toddler and I wince when I hear the toddler crying out loud on and on during the day as she's verbally abusing him. I'm the mother of three sons and I have a toddler myself. I don't know if I should call CPS on her or simply mind my own business. I see the baby in the morning and in the afternoon (when I'm home but I'm not home during the day everyday) as they walk past in front of my house and the baby has no physical marks on him but I know he's being verbally abused. It's such an extremely sensitive issue and I'm just torn. I don't know the woman and she doesn't seem too receptive to being my friend as she always stoops her head low if she sees me in front of my house. Like I stated, I'm a mother myself and I know kids can cry on and on or maybe (as I try to give her the benefit of the doubt) the toddler is teething with his molars and she feels exasperated. I just don't know what to do. Should I just mind my own business? I don't mean to pry but it's so loud I am really worried for her baby. Please, any advice. Thank you. worried neighbor

If you feel that a child ''MAY'' be in danger/ being abused, then yes make the call. It is the duty of the CPS worker to investigate and determine if the child is at risk. Thanks for caring! shira

By no means do I mean to sound like verbal abuse of a toddler is okay. That said, I would SERIOUSLY discourage you from calling CPS. Once a child is in the child welfare system, the life of that family is no longer their own. While there are lots of loving foster families out there, the likelihood is that the child will end up in a situation that causes far more emotional damage than the present one.

If you fear for this child and his parents, then I suggest you reach out them. It will probably take time and may not be well-received, but that is the neighborly thing to do. Offer to go to the park with her one afternoon. Once you get to know one another make overtures to babysit so the mom and dad can have some down time. Eventually, you may become close enough to offer her some advice on parenting classes. You can offer to attend with her so she she doesn't feel like you think she's a bad mom. If you don't want to go this route, then slip some materials in Spanish on parenting classes at Bananas or someplace else under their door or mail them to the family. Try to identify inexpensive child care so they can take a break and secretly pass that information on to the family.

My point is, even though you live next door you don't know this family's full story and calling CPS into their lives is probably going to create more drama and stress for the kids than you can imagine. Study after study show that even kids who come from the most abusive of homes, where removal is warranted, still want to have a relationship with their families. It's not your place to make such a monumental choice for these kids based on what you hear through the window. another concerned mother

I agree that you have a right to be concerned for the kids, but you need to decide how serious the situation really is. I'm sure that the parent really do love them, despite the bad parenting. Maybe continue to keep an eye on the situation and keep remembering that some people have VERY different methods of parenting than you or I might. Verbal abuse is bad and can sometimes indicate something deeper, so I don't think you should ignore it entirely, but be very, very careful and know what actions CPS would take to resolve such a issue. Verbal abuse might also just be verbal abuse. I grew up in some rough places and it was not uncommon for parents to verbally abuse and swear at their kids. Okay, not a good thing, but as many of those kids turned out just was well as in any other demographic. Would the CPS's actions be beneficial? Would it be better for those kids to be with someone who did not love them as deeply as their parents, but who didn't verbally abuse them? I think sometimes we undervalue the importance of familial bonds. Even if some people are terrible parents, they often end up raising healthy kids. Also, watch the kids - do they seem unhappy and nonresponsive. One can always misunderstand a situation. Remain concerned, but be careful about how you react. anon

Call CPS and let them evaluate the situation. Trust your instincts. Even verbal abuse is abuse and this family might benefit from some intervention. Anon

You have an innocent and vunerable child in an abusive situation. Call both the police and child protective services, and do in ANONYMOUSLY so you and your family do not get hurt. If we have illegal aliens, also call the Dept of Homeland Security. Be brave and... Good luck! anon

Call CPS. You can do it anonymously, and there are often bilingual social workers who help families like this change their behavior. Anon

If you think they are being abused, call CPS. That simple. Sadly (in my opinion), verbal abuse is unlikely to get much CPS response, and probably won't get them any services, but in the best world, CPS would hook them up with some support services/parenting classes, etc. But even if you think your call won't go anywhere, it does serve a purpose. It has to be logged. That's valuable because if the abuse escalates into something worse in the future, there will be some history in the records should it ever come to CPS again. That history could mean the difference between CPS intervening or not. anon

You referred to the younger neighbor child as a ''baby,'' I'm wondering how old the child is and what he is being called. Is he six months old? Is he five years old? It makes a difference. I'm a CPS social worker and I recommend making a call to your county's CPS hotline. They'll ask you several questions to determine whether a report is warranted. Make sure you're specific about what you're hearing and how often it occurs. Provide as much information as you can gather: names, address, phone #. Make sure you tell them that the family is Spanish speaking. You can remain anonymous. Concerned too

My first instinct would be like yours: to get to know her. what about taking food over, like brownies, under the guise of getting to know the neighbors? I would also head over with parenting resorces. Check out bananas (heard good things) and also Talk Line. I love this place--volunteered there for 5 years talking to stressed out parents on the phone. That said, this kid's esteem and welfare hangs in the balance. I think where children are concerned, we can never be too nosy. Call CPS and make an anonymous report. Her kids wont get taken away and we probably wouldnt want that anyhow but it might be the only way she gets to the (mandatory) parenting classes she needs. The more reports, I think, the more likely the family'll get checked out.

Go ahead and call CPS-- they will know what to do. It's okay that you don't know what to do, they will assess the situation and act appropriately. Maybe the family needs help,m aybe this is something they need to work through-- by calling CPS you are not 'taking the child away' from the family, you are making sure someonw is watching out for the best interests of the child-- which is what you seem to want to do, but don't know how to do. Call CPS, they will know what to do. Mandated reporter

You can call child protection. They are the ones who deal with this. They will decide to investigate it or not. They (hopefully) know what they are doing. You can be anonymous. better safe than sorry

I'm a Marriage Family Therapist and have worked with many families who are being monitored through CPS and I've also had to report families to CPS myself. In my profession I'm a mandated reporter, but if I put myself in your place I believe I would make the call-better to call and report than perhaps one day regret the fact that I didn't report (if something happened to that baby). In my experience CPS doesn't just swoop in and take children away from their parents. I've had cases that appear to have been much more serious and CPS assessed, mandated counseling, provided in-home family counseling and can also provide/refer bilingual services and referrals. They also provide follow up care/visits, etc. This does not have to be a ''report OR reach out'' decision. You can report and be kind to the family if you feel safe doing so. Good luck and thanks for caring. a local Marriage Family therapist

My step-kids' mother is abusing the kids when they visit her

Jan 2005

Hi there, I am a full time step mother of 2 kids (6 and 8.5) , they live with my husband and i and usually see their mom every other weekend. I say usually because sometimes she misses visits or they dont want to go for various reasons. In general she is very absent from their lives, and when she is present, she is either neglectfull or abusive. That being said, here is the current situation that we need some advise on: My step daughter came back from her visit with her mother this past weekend saying that she had been spanked and that her mother had layed on her and squeezed her mouth shut to get her to stop crying. She said that her brother had been smacked on the back of the head and that They has been cussed at, being called f**kers. ( earlier this year she called Ana (8.5 years old) a bitch.) This is not the first time something like this has happened, though the time my husband and i called CPS we were told that things like this were considered a parenting style and not abuse. That abuse was somehow measured by the marks left, is this true?

We have communicated to her that we are NOT ok with any of these methods of parenting, and either have gotten the response of ''they are my kids i will disipline them how i want'', or, ''Ana is lieing'' ( she said that when Ana called afraid because her mom had gone next door to watch a movie at night and left them home alone). Most of the time though our e-mails get no response when dealing with this issue. Jason, their father has full legal and phyical custody. So, we dont know what to do. If we did something legal what would we do? We dont think that her not seeing them is good for them either, though, we cant stand by and let these things happen to the kids. We also cant afford a lawyer. We also worry that when she is angry at us,like when we bring these issues to her attention, that she takes it out on the kids.

We would love advise on any aspect of this situation, from legal to emotional...... thanks cris

That definitely sounds like abuse to me. If the mother wishes to continue to see the children, your husband should only allow her to have short, supervised visits -- in other words, he should be there as well. Horrible for him, I'm sure, but he HAS to protect his kids. I am no lawyer, so I won't pretend to give advice on that front ... but isn't there a Legal Aid or something like that in this area? Good luck. Your instincts are right on. Protect the kids!!! Sara

I spoke with my boyfriend who is a counselor with an agency that that works with CPS. He says that first of all, if you have to ask, it's abuse. Second, you have to keep calling, it's the accumulation of calls that will get CPS to investigate. Third, if you need to, get pictures of physical evidence. If you have any more questions, email me. lenamari

I trained as a Marriage & Family Therapist and I can share the situations from your description which would have been reportable as suspicion of child abuse. CPS then makes the decision what to do, if anything, but at minimum they should take a report and start a ''paper trail,'' i.e. if they get enough reasonable reports on the person they are likely to follow up on it. Firstly leaving a 6 and 8 y.o. alone at night sounds like possible grounds for child neglect, which is a type of abuse(how long? did they have access to food? their feeling scared/ unsafe are important factors.) Secondly, yes marks left are considered proof of physical abuse and CPS takes it very seriously but as a step/parent you are entitled to report the ''hearsay'' without marks; in your situation it actually sounds like concern for emotional abuse(another form of child abuse, harder to ''prove'' but CPS should hear your concerns and hopefully offer the mother some sort of support/ parenting class) even more so than physical abuse- the nature of the name-calling, the hitting and squeezing the mouth to stop her from crying may hurt their self- esteem and feeling of basic safety enough to be considered ''officially'' emotional abuse. I really feel for your dilemma- not having contact with their mother could be emotionally devastating for them, yet there are some real concerns for their well-being in her care, however infrequent it may be. You can't force her into therapy or parenting classes, but I personally would be remiss to let the children be around her if she doesn't get some help. I do think the current situation is abusive and emotionally damaging. The children are very lucky to have such a caring step-mother and father and they will still have to contend with the person their mother is. I hope you can all get lots of support whenever you need it. anon

Consider monitored visiting rights only. That way a social worker will watch the interaction and the mother won't lose all connections with her children. But, if the father has full custody he should play his toughest cards. It sounds like mom doesn't have any real interest in mothering except for the fact that she's trying to create waves by throwing her weight around as the biological mother. Also, consider apply for full guardianship/adoptive mother. That way you and your husband can fully protect the rights of those children. Keep a very precise journal of all phone conversations, times and dates, email interactions, marks or bruises, schedules of the kids, the words their mom chose when approaching you, anything the kids say that the mom said to them...EVERYTHING..All this information compiled is a great way to keep your story straight and clear. Good luck to you and your husband! Concerned For You

The verbal put-downs and cursing is emotional and verbal abuse. CPS is not likely to intervene but they will take a written report and keep it on file if you insist. The holding down and holding mouth shut should be considered physical abuse. There do not have to be marks, depending on what is occurring. Whether or not CPS intervenes depends on a number of factors - they will have to tell you what other considerations there may be. BUT, you should always call CPS unders these circumstances and insist they take a report. Even if they don't assign a social worker to investigate, that report will be on file. In essence you are ''building a case,'' so if further incidents occur, or if it becomes more serious, CPS now has a history and a better sense of the level of concern and need for intervention. In the meantime, educate your children about how to seek help - to always tell you or a teacher or other person of authority if they have been hurt in any way. And, teach your children how to protect themselves in more dangerous situations. (E.g. call 911 if they think they are in physcical danger.) Encourage your children NOT to exaggerate or embellish, or make anything up. If this happens, credibility can be lost and it can be harder to receive necessary help if ever needed. (I speak as a practicing child/family psychologist (Ph.D.) and mom!) Deb K.

Aside from the fact that this woman, your stepchildren's ''mother'' calls them names and hits them (which is reason enough to not let her see them, in my opinion) leaving them alone in the house is reason for anyone around them to call Child Protective Services. I have only one question for you. Why do you think it's not good for them to NOT see her? If this were an aunt or uncle would you put up with it? It seems to me if your husband has full legal and physical custody, there is no lawyer needed here. Just stop the visits. Sure she'll be pissed off, at first. But it sounds to me like she'll get over, based on what you describe of her. Just because she's their biological parent doesn't make her their ''mother''. Sounds like you and your husband are their true parents. I say stop the abuse (yes, it is already) before it gets worse and something more serious happens to them. anon

This is a very sad situation. To answer your question re ''abuse,'' the problem, in my understanding, is that an agency would have a very hard time making the allegation of abuse stick unless there was incontrovertible ''evidence'' such as bruising or scratches. Thus, the agency cannot address it as ''abuse.'' That said, it IS abusive, and something needs to be done about it. If they were my children, I would use whatever money is necessary to go back into court, armed with a document listing specific dates and complaints reported by the children, and ask the court to order supervised visition. I would also ask for an order barring overnight visitations with her until the abusive behaviors are stopped. This means that she would have to pay someone to supervise all her visits with the children, which should curtail at least some of the abuse (and you would have a witness if the abuse continued, which would be helpful in bringing charges). In my early childhood I had similar experiences. I am now 62 and want you to know that I am very grateful my father sought to protect me and allow me to have a more normal life. Ilene

I don't think your husband should allow the children to visit with their mother unchaparoned. She is doing damage to them whether the State thinks it is child abuse or not. Your husband holds all the cards since he has legal and physical custody of the children. I was in a similar situation with my ex-husband when my children were your children's ages. I had physical custody of the children. My ex was an alcoholic and I would not allow my children to visit him unless they were chaparoned by his sister or mother. His family promised me they would let me know if he started drinking during a visit so that I could come and pick-up my children. It turned out that my chaparones weren't always informing me when my ex was drinking and my children were too young to be able to associate changes in behavior to drinking. My daughter came home very upset one day by the things her drunk daddy told her. I told her that her father was sick and that she wasn't going to visit with him until he got some help and got better. I told my ex the same thing - I wasn't going to allow my children to visit with him until he got sober. The good news is he finally got sober and has been in recovery for many years now. Had he not, I would not have let my children see him again. The psychological damage and hurt that he was unintentionally inflicting on my children was unacceptable to me. Now that my children are in their late teens, they have told me more horror stories about their visits with their father when he was still drinking. They were happy I ''saved'' them even though they couldn't articulate that feeling when they were younger. been there

I would be very concerned about the mother's interactions with her children. I see restraining a child by laying on them and holding their mouth closed as physical abuse. If I were in your position, I would find a family law attorney immediately. There are places that provide free legal advice (for example in Contra Costa County such free sessions are held a few times a year. Call your county bar association for information about such services in your area.) Dealing with a non-custodial parent whose behavior is irresponsible is very difficult and painful for the parent who is truly concerned about the welfare of their children. I have had a similar experience and I found that documenting everything is very helpful; keep good records of what the children report and what you know of the mother's behavior, activities, track record. If you know that the non- custodial parent demonstrates irresponsibility by perhaps disappearing (no communication), doesn't hold a job, etc., these things may be helpful in demonstrating to the court that this person is not responsible enough to have unsupervised visits. The court can require that the visits with their mother be supervised by another family member or friend that you trust. Without getting legal help, you are on your own dealing with a person who may have mental health problems or worse. It sounds like she makes things up in an attempt to cover her own bad parenting. These types are very slippery and hard to pin down, especially if the abuse is viewed as ''minimal'' (how can abuse be minimal?!) or hard to document. Good luck. Been there

I am unclear as to what these children are getting out of a relationship with an abusive parent. Maybe CPS would not define it as abuse, but I am guessing if you spoke with a therapist who deals with children & abuse, he/she would say its abusive. Perhaps no overnight visits? Perhaps supervised visits by a safe but neutral thrid party? Tc

Hi! I am not an attorney, but I used to work as a paralegal for a family law attorney who did custody work, mainly for dads seeking custody of their kids. It sounds like the answer to your problem is right there in your question- their dad has full legal custody! There is no way to undo the harm that their Mom has already created, but the kids' Dad can take immediate action to protect them from further abuse, and it is definitely abuse no matter what CPS says (CPS is totally overwhelmed and understaffed). It sounds like the kids are put in some pretty dangerous situations by their Mom, let alone the psychological stuff that is going on. The kids don't need to be totally cut off from her, just protected from her- and this will allow them to have a better relationship with her anyway. As long as there are no visitation terms in his custody agreement, it is up to him to set the parameters of how much involvement the Mom has. So, never, never let the kids stay at her home again- that sounds way too dangerous for the kids! He can make sure that when she visits them, its in a public space, or in the Dad's home or Dad's relative's home. If the Mom has a trusted family member who would agree to supervise her visit in their home, that would work. But usually, an abusive parent has bad parenting skills because most likely, they were an abused or neglected child themselves so their relatives are usually of little help when it comes to good parenting. The children are still young and vulnerable enough to be hurt by their Mom's neglect and abuse- don't wait until something really bad happens- protect your kids, get tough and lay down some rules. Trust your instincts, act on them. When the kids are a little older, it will be different, but they need your protection now! all for being a proactive parent

What can I do to help abused children?

June 2002

I've read too many articles and seen too many news stories of children being abused and eventually killed. It's time to do something about it. I mean REALLY do something. But WHAT? Volunteering is an obvious answer and something that I can do immediately - but where? It seems that an overloaded child & welfare system is often (as reported by the media) unable to protect the children. Surely this isn't always the case. How can I get involved in the system? Can I volunteer? I may eventually go back to school for a Masters in Social Work. If anyone is in this line of work who can give me some meaningful direction I sure would appreciate it. Thank You. Amy

Your desire to do somthing to help abused children is truly commendable. Please let me refer you to a wonderful organization that can give you many opportunities to really make a difference in the lives of children. The organization is called Parental Stress Service and you can learn all about them on the web at www.psshelps.org

PSS is a full-service agency dedicated to strengthening families and preventing child abuse in Alameda County. They have many programs to helps kids and parents, including a 24-hour hotline, parent education classes, and counseling services. It is small, responsive agency that can really use dedicated volunteers and community donations.

There are many ways that you can support PSS and provide support to abused children. They have a variety of volunteering opportunities, including hotline telephone counseling (training provided). If you have room in your home, you could become a Respite Childcare Provider by providing temporary (3-72 hours) foster care to children whose parents are experiencing stress and need a break from parenting. PSS also has openings on its Board of Directors.

In additon to volunteers, PSS also needs financial resources. The website accepts online donations and gives information about how you can help PSS by joining the Charity Phone Program or donating a used vehicle.

I worked at Parental Stress Service for three years in an administrative position, and I can honestly say that the people there are incredibly hard-working, caring individuals who are doing a fantastic job helping families and children. Please consider this important agency in your search to make a difference. You can contact them at (510) 893-9230 Tara

If becoming a foster parent is not in the cards (a HUGE commitment) you might consider becoming a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), a non-professional volunteer who serves as the special buddy of a foster child (playdates, etc) and advocates for him or her in court. Cristin

My charity of choice is the Bay Area Crisis Nursery in Concord. I have never found anything like it - it is a truly amazing place for children who have been abused or are in danger of being abused. From their site:

''The purpose of the Bay Area Crisis Nursery is to prevent abuse and neglect of children by providing support to families who are in stress or crisis. Our primary service is providing a warm, loving, homelike environment for children birth through five years of age by offering 24 hour residential care. Our services are free, confidential and voluntary.'' http://www.bacn.jkmas.com/

I know that they are always in need of donations and volunteers to work with the kids. Jaime

One place that works with children to prevent abuse and neglect is the Bay Area Crisis Nursery. They take care of kids for parents who are in crisis, and usually the children go back to them after the crisis is past. They are located in Concord and frequently need help with childcare or fundraising activities. This is a particularly wonderful organization because it allows parents to solve problems while knowing their children are cared for well, so the children don't become involved. http://www.bacn.jkmas.com/start.html is their website

Another great organization is Parental Stress Services, which is often looking for phone counsellors. Here's their contact information:

Parental Stress Service
1727 Martin Luther King Way #109
Oakland CA 94612
510. 893-9230 (Office)
510. 893-5444 (Crisis Line)

I've seen postings on Craigslist recently recruiting. Oakland Mom

Neighbor screaming at her kids - emotional abuse?

Sept 1998

I wanted to share with others in the group a moral dilemma I am faced with and get their suggestions, since I think a group of other parents is an ideal group to consult.

My family has rented a small house in a nice neighborhood in the Kensington hills, and we live next door to an affluent family with a beautiful house and yard, and two beautiful children, a 10 year old girl, and an 8 year old boy. The dilemma is that almost every morning of a school day for the past year, this woman screams at her children from around 6:30am till 7:15am. The children scream back, sob, and wail. Some of it seems to revolve around piano practice (they practice every morning starting at 7am). The problem isn't so much the noise (it is a horrible way to wake up, however). The problem is that I feel I should do something to stop the emotional abuse of these children.

I have heard from a neighbor that a previous tenant some years ago left, complaining that she couldn't take the woman's screaming at her children; at the time, the children were preschooler/toddler age. This neighbor also told me that she has heard the father being very cruel to the mother.

I don't have any evidence that anyone is physically abusing the children. And to be frank, I am afraid of the family. I don't want to talk to them about it because I am afraid of what they might do to us. The mother is obviously emotionally unstable. And they live next door to us. I realize I am being a coward.

I think it is great that in America people have personal freedom, but I don't think they should have the freedom to emotionally abuse their kids. Can someone think of a safe way to help these children?

Thanks for listening.

I feel sorry for the screaming in the morning mother--it seems like getting kids off to school in the morning brings out the worst in many of us, and adding piano practice to the melange can only be symptomatic of masochism. I myself had a little hissy fit this morning because at the last minute I couldn't find my car keys.... Lynn

Re: screaming neighbor. Make friends with the kids and let them know that what their mother is doing is wrong. Many successful people who had abusive, physically and/or emotionally, childhoods have been asked how they could overcome that feeling of worthlessness that abuse engenders in a child. These folks stated that there was always at least one important adult in their life that confirmed their own feelings about how badly, how wrongly they were being treated by their mother or father (or both, sadly, in some cases). This validating adult thus helped to prevent the child from internalizing the abuse, and thinking that they deserved it. It kept the abusive behavior external, and a situation that the child could look forward to getting out of someday. Good luck, Dianna

RE: Diana's comment on how to help the children of the abusive neighbors: She stated:Many successful people who had abusive, physically and/or emotionally, childhoods have been asked how they could overcome that feeling of worthlessness that abuse engenders in a child. These folks stated that there was always at least one important adult in their life that confirmed their own feelings about how badly, how wrongly they were being treated by their mother or father (or both, sadly, in some cases). This validating adult thus helped to prevent the child from internalizing the abuse, and thinking that they deserved it. It kept the abusive behavior external, and a situation that the child could look forward to getting out of someday.

I couldn't agree with her more. My father came from an overly strict, abusive background and perpetuated it in the house especially on me, the only daughter. My mother was just the opposite, determined to let me be what I wanted to be, as she came from a background all too similar to my dad's. I was a total rebel. When I was 12 my mom took me to her therapist once. The therapist told me in no uncertain terms that if I wanted to be me I should move away from my house as soon as possible forever, as my parents meant well but were too damaged to ever change the behavior/situation in a way that wouldn't crush my identity. I took as many units as possible through high school and went to summer school and graduated at 15, went away to college 200 miles away on scholarship, graduated at 18 and moved 3,000 miles away. Eventually we reconciled, with my core identity intact. The therapist's intervention bolstered my self-esteem enormously and gave me direction.

A Mom

I can very well imagine how you feel. We encountered a situation a bit worse a few years back living in another town where a nearby divorced, single mom verbally abused her elementary school child maybe once a week or more in the most ugliest screaming attacks - she would call her c---, useless b---- and more insults you ever want to hear (or she had ever been called?). We had just moved there and I was boiling so hot when we could hear her one evening across the neighborhood with our windows closed, that I was ready to jump up and shut her up for good. How to deal with that anger and the helplessness I felt? I was certainly not equipped to judge if this child would be better off without father and mother, nor did I want to be part of this mess. I was able to shut her up completely for about two weeks (I guess that is the standard length for any temporary improvement) with a typed note I slipped into her mailbox that night that read something like If we ever, ever hear you screaming at your child again like you did tonight, we will have social services investigate your behavior. Be aware - the neighborhood is watching you! I thought it would be more effective in her case to be permanently patrolled by an unknown force than giving her a chance to simply make a personal enemy. (Don't underestimate the kind of friends some people have). It never got to the point again where I felt I had to call an agency, but of course, I couldn't save the child from all the past abuse and the future misery (and that would be impossible anyhow). What I had to do was to respond in some way. I just couldn't be passive. Realizing what is within your control and what is beyond, thinking through risks and consequences is what you can do, then take action. I'm posting this anonymously because this mother got a job at UCB and who knows - if she's still around after these years - she might be reading this message. Your case does not seem that bad, but I have occasionally asked neighbors in our new neighborhood to keep to wake up after settling down for the night - and they were very responsive to that. Unless they are totally obnoxious or undesirable, I actually recommend frequent communication with your neighbors about meaningless and nice things. Then, when you have a concern, they are more apt to cooperate and it won't dominate/overshadow the entire relationship. Six nice exchanges balance one critical exchange. From: sara

Personally, I think that something has to be done to protect the emotional safety of the children who live next door to you and who start their day like this year after year.

Personal liberty of the parent does not include torturing children. I don't care if there is no physical abuse--emotional abuse can be a lot worse than physical abuse, especially since it has been an ongoing problem. It needs to be reported to a social service agency as soon as possible. It is appalling that the children have suffered this for so long, and I understand your desire not to poke your nose in someone else's business and your inner conflict caused by your concern for the children.

I don't want to sound excessively melodramatic, but I want to remind people that many of us were severely abused as children and that the hands-off attitude of the adults around them has done a lot of harm. A good high school friend of mine was raped daily by her father from the age of five until the age of 19, when she moved out of the house and eventually reported the crime to a therapist in the interest of protecting her 12-year-old sister. Our teachers had suspected the abuse, and not even the doctor who had prescribed birth control pills for her when she was a shy and nervous preteen acted on his suspicions. I hope that more and more people will do something to help victims who are too young and afraid to protect themselves. It has nothing to do with the invasion of your neighbors' privacy. It sounds as though the mother also could use some help.

Another Mom

Your situation sounds very unpleasant, but it isn't necessarily child abuse. In the first place, some families just yell at each other as a way of communicating, which can be pretty shocking if you come from a quieter family, but it isn't necessarily harming anyone. I have screamed at my kids loudly enough for the neighbors to hear, I admit it. Not often though. Growing up, my family viewed a big noisy argument now and then as a way to clear the air, and now that we are adults, we siblings still enjoy doing it occasionally. We are a big family, and we're close, but we are loud bordering on obnoxious. I'm notsaying yelling is for everyone - don't get me wrong - but for some people, that's just the way they operate.

It does sound like your neighbors are an unhappy bunch, but the question is whether the kids are being hurt to the point where someone outside the family needs to intervene. Just based on what you've written, I'd say no, but I don't have the whole story. If you think intervention is called for, you can set things in motion anonymously. But, if you feel pretty sure that no one is being hurt, then your main problem is the noise. I think I'd write a note to the neighbor saying something like you know that mornings are a really stressful time for families with kids, but the noise is carrying over to your house, and starting to bother you, and could they please try to be a little quieter? I don't think I would mind if someone wrote me a polite note like that. I would be embarrassed, but I'd be glad they told me instead of passing it around to all the other neighbors!

Here's a suggestion for the parent concerned about the screaming neighbors. At the Solano Stroll on Sunday, I picked up a pamphlet from Parental Stress Service, Inc, and although I haven't used their service yet, they have a 7days a week/24 hr. a day hotline:

Parental Stress Service, Inc. for Alameda County 1-800-829-3777 or (510) 893-5444.

One idea would be to have them send you a brochure you could leave anonymously in the screaming neighbor's mailbox with a note saying, Thought you could use this--a concerned neighbor, thereby informing them that you're aware of the situation without identifying yourself. Also, the hotline might be useful for you, too, as they could help you identify what else might be done, and what legally constitutes abuse (or perhaps direct you to someone who can help). They also offer short-term crisis childcare for up to 72 hours, and volunteer training. I asked what type of parents call; they said all income levels and types. I've located their card next to my phone--I'm sure I'll use them on one of those bad days, sometime! (My four year old has asked 'Why?' too many time today!) It's great to know there's help a phone call away.

Best of luck, and I feel for you. It must be hard to hear that every morning. I think you're doing the right thing to look into what can be done. --Roxane

Screaming, as well as physical actions, can be considered abusive and can be reported to Child Protective Services. - anonymous

To Dilemma--- I can think of a few ways in which you can help:

1. You could find out where the children attend school and go there to speak with a counselor about your concerns. This option of course would be reported, however, the children will be able to speak with a counselor first...and possibly the truths about the situation will be brought out. Appropriate help can be gotten from there.

2. You could make an anonymous call to the child protection agency. They keep track of how many calls they receive about a family, and act in a manner to protect the children. Contrary to what you might think, they really do try to help families stay together and work together.

3. You could talk with a family counselor, they may have some ideas or be able to intervene in some way.

I hope this helps...good luck to you and those children. B.

If there is no direct action to be taken, one thing you might try is to sign these neighbors up for information from various centers that specialize in domestic and child abuse -- several of them. It may be that the neighbors will be annoyed at the influx of rather pointed junk mail, but it's also possible that one of them may pick up a pamphlet and actually read it some afternoon. Certainly, if it isn't already obvious to them, they will realize that whatever is going on over there is making an impression on the people who live around them. You are clearly not the only neighbor aware of the problem! You're right to feel that _something_ should be done. Otherwise, by the time the children make the home situation known to their schools, it will probably be too late to do them much good (that seems to be the way it goes -- the truth comes out, but often not until high school and serious acting out on the part of the children, and psychological problems it will take them many years to work through). On the other hand, it doesn't sound like a situation in which the state should come take them away -- i.e. they seem to be better off than in a state home or other institution/foster setting. Great opportunity for whole-family therapy, if the parents can just see that something like that NEEDS to be done, ASAP.

Good luck, please keep us posted (otherwise, we'll worry!)

Re: the poster whose neighbor screams at her children every single morning ... I think raised voices once in awhile is not necessarily a bad thing ... but every morning IS problematic. It is also problematic to know how to approach a parent like that (even if the poster WAS willing to talk to her) without causing more anger to be (mis)directed at the kids.

What about slipping some very short, well-written literature under her front door? Perhaps if she knows she can be heard by the neighbors, she'll at least tone it down. (She probably doesn't realize other adults can hear her.)

Alternately .. or in addition ...what about calling the counselor at the kid's school ... and asking if they can provide any support to the kids? Those kids are old enough now that the caring intervention/support of a teacher or counselor might help them keep their self-esteem intact even if their mom doesn't change. (Presumably such a call could be made without giving one's name.)

Finally, I'd suggest that the person who posted to this net go to one of the very good free UCB counselors, both for support around the stress of having such a neighbor, AND for practical, professional help in strategizing how to safely protect these kids. I think some professional advice might be helpful here. -- Mary Carol

In regard to the abusive neighbor. I am concerned about all the comment about calling Child Protective Services and other intervention services. I personally would be very careful with this route. To say that one can surmise the situation inside a family by listening from outside is stretching it. What is actually happening may be very different that what we may think or guess. I think the best neighbors are those who tend their own garden and don't interfere until they know, really, what the facts are. Child Protective Service is hardly a panacea. They also can be abusive and very bureaucratic.

a Dad

After reading the feedback from other members on the list, I want to put in my evaluation of the situation. A report made to Social Services of Child Protective Services is not in any way a terrible stigma against the parents or a threat to family stability. Rather, it is the first step in a (much-needed) evaluation of whether the family needs help. My heart goes out to mothers who are so troubled that they scream every day. However, if I may use a medical metaphor, it is a symptom of a complicated family illness. Ideally, outside involvement will help this disease from being passed on to subsequent generations. The fact that the screaming has gone on for several years is an indicator of a high possibility of trauma to the children as well as a likely witness to the trauma the parent has herself undergone and is channeling out in a very disturbing fashion. Keeping in mind that the mother is probably suffering much emotional pain herself, it seems fair to take steps to ensure that she, as well as her children, receive counseling. The first step needn't be a state agency, but it should be clear that involvement from neighbors, potentially extending to county and state involvement, would reflect in this instance a desire to break a cycle of family suffering.