Parents of Kids who Get Too Many Bruises May Be Charged with Neglect

Hi Folks — This story comes to us from Australia, where the federal government is telling child protective workers to consider — and classify  — kids who “often” hurt themselves as at a “high risk of neglect.” “Accident-prone children might be the victims of poor parental supervision,” is how AdelaideNow sums the reasoning up.  Thus, anyone treating (or seeing?) bruised or clumsy kids is told to assess the role that parental supervision — or lack thereof — played, even in minor accidents.

The theory behind this isn’t bad. It’s true that severely neglected children, especially young ones, may be hurting themselves because their parents are (as this study suggests) totally out of it, on drugs, or passed out on the couch.

But I have to think this call for scrutiny and immediate suspicion would have a chilling effect on any parents ready to let their kids have some Free-Range, old-fashioned fun and independence — like riding a bike, or climbing a tree. If a kid wipes out on his bike one week, bonks his head on a branch the next, is he a lovingly tended child with parents who believe kids can (and even should) endure a couple bruises? Or is he  a neglected child? And how can we be sure the evaluator will be able to tell the difference?

Or even believe there IS a difference?

My fear is not so much that the authorities will mistake normal childhood injuries for the negligence endured in the home of severely drug-addled parents. I fear that, increasingly, normal childhood injuries won’t be considered normal anymore, period. So any kid sustaining them will automatically be considered neglected, because why weren’t the parents right behind him on that tree, or standing under it with a safety net?

The New South Wales Children’s Commissioner quoted in the aritcle, Megan Mitchell, said, “I don’t think we can expect parents to be super-parents but they need to know what their child is doing as best they can.”

What the heck does that mean? Is it enough to know my kid is playing outside and will be home by dinner? Or should I know every activity he will be participating in from 10 a.m. till 6 on a Saturday, including that he’s going to jump off a swing at 12:16? The commissioner went on to say that she would “hope” that prosecuting parents “would be reasonably rare and that people in authority would establish a relationship with the families and then make a good judgment about whether there is a real problem or not.”

But where we see no problem, the authorities could. And the authorities have…authority. Therein lies the problem. – L.

So if he falls off his bike and gets a little banged up — say, twice or three times — are his parents “neglectful”?

Remember When We Fingerprinted CRIMINALS? Now We Fingerprint Coaches

Hi Readers: Two words — Jerry Sandusky — will be invoked for the next umpteen years to justify background checking every male who interacts with children. Let’s remind those folks that if anyone HAD background checked Jerry Sandusky he’d  have looked as trustworthy as a golden retriever. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: My hubby who has been coaching our boys hockey for 16 years just received a letter from our police to come in and submit fingerprints in order for him to continue coaching.  The new policy requires this. Fingerprinting!! Never mind that we already have ‘safeguards’ in place.  Each team has at least 3 coaches and there must always be 2 coaches present with the players at all times if parents aren’t there.  Now they have to submit to not only a background check but be fingerprinted in order to ascertain that you haven’t changed your name after a conviction.  What can you do? If you want to keep involved in your child’s sport you don’t have a choice.
Sad that volunteers are under constant suspicion and offensive to have to be treated this way. — Nathalie Delage

If you are male, you’re guilty till fingerprinted innocent.

Letter: I Was Abused as a Child and I am a Free-Range Mom

Hi Folks — Just got this stirring letter from a mom named Cathy. She was responding to a comment on the Free-Range For or Against forum by another mom, Heather, whose father was an abuser. Heather believes that an adult who doesn’t want to constantly supervise his/her kids is not only putting them in  danger, but has “issues” and needs psychological help.  – L.

@ Heather-I am so sorry for the pain and trauma and immense fear you obviously still carry around with you. I hope you are in treatment.

I am a survivor of physical abuse at the hands of my bio parents, sexual abuse at the hands of a very trusted religious leader, and rape by 3 different men during my teens and young adulthood. It took me years of treatment to be able to let go of my paranoia that everyone was out to hurt me. Becoming a mother brought back those fears some, especially since I am the mother of 2, soon to be 3, little girls!

Thankfully, my therapy worked and unlike many survivors I do not live in fear for my kids. I am watchful, yes. I am careful about who i trust them with. But i certainly don’t fear every stranger on the street or every man who might smile at my kids. In my years of treatment and using online forums I have only once or twice come across someone who was sexually abused or raped by someone they didn’t know. The idea that strangers are dangerous is what is silly. the number of people hurt by strangers is very low.

I will give my kids freedom to play and be confident to be out without me by their side 24/7 because it’s what is best for them. Because truth is even if I try to smother them with my presence and “protect” them 24/7…it can still happen. My own (adoptive) parents were pretty overprotective of me. But that didn’t protect me. Fact is, you can’t stop bad things from happening by living in fear and paranoia of all the “what ifs” ….and i refuse to put my kids in a bubble and destroy their childhood because something *might* happen. I will teach them to be safe, teach them to trust me and come to me if anyone ever makes them uncomfortable or does anything improper. The biggest problem with children being sexually abused is that parents never want to believe it, the kids fear they won’t be believed and often aren’t… because it’s very very rarely some random old man at the park wanting to luck out with some kid they’ve never seen before. That old man is gonna go for the easier target of his grandkids, not waste time hoping to catch a kid alone at the park.

I hope very much my girls never have to experience anything like I have. I will do my best to make sure that never happens. but I will not do that by making them grow up in fear of being alone. I will teach them to be safe, not keep them oblivious and wrongfully think I can be there 24/7 to protect them. It’s impossible to be there all the time. We’ve gotta teach them to be confident, free, and knowledgeable and able to protect themselves. – Cathy

Fantastic News (About a “Child Abuser”)

Hi Readers! Let us pause to celebrate a moment of sweet sanity. Remember Anne Bruscino, the young woman was put on New York State’s Child Abuse Registry for up to 25 years for the crime of accidentally leaving a toddler at a fenced-in, security-camera-monitored, daycare center playground for less than six minutes? (Here’s the original story, as reported by the Times Union.) Well now she has been officially taken off that list! She is free to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher!

Read the tale of this fantastic turn-around, just granted by a state appellate court. As the Times Union summed it up:

The state appellate panel’s decision [to de-criminalize the woman] underscores what some critics say is an inherently rigid system that can leave a person listed on a child-abuse registry for arguably minor errors involving children.

It was not just the the idea of minor errors getting a major punishment that appalled me, it was the reasoning behind this harshness. The original judge, Susan Lyn Preston, had argued this:

Clearly, Caitlin [the girl left behind] was at imminent risk of harm in this situation. The fact that the playground was surrounded by a chain-link fence does not eliminate the risk that Caitlin could have been abducted. A person with an evil intent could have easily gotten over the fence or lured Caitlin to the fence.

Easily?! As I wrote at the time:

Let’s see. What would it actually have taken for the girl to have been spontaneously abducted in the span of five minutes, as the judge so clearly believes was a distinct possibility?

First of all, a child abductor would have had to have been passing by the center at the precise time Caitlin was unchaperoned. Since, according to FBI statistics, there are only about 115 “stereotypical” abductions in the whole country each year (that is, abductions by strangers, intending to transport the child), this already would have been SOME rotten luck.

Then, that abductor would have had to immediately scale the fence, hide from the security cameras, avoid detection on the part of  anyone glancing out the office window, and pray that the child did not utter a single peep that might call attention to the crime. He’d also have to be out of there within about a minute, climbing back over the fence again.

This time while holding a 3-year-old.

Now, I’m not saying this could NEVER happen. If all the stars aligned AND the planets AND the world’s worst luck (and best fence-climber), there’s an extremely slight chance it could. Just like there’s a slight chance of getting hit by lightning in any 5  minutes you sit on your porch. But to say the child was in “imminent risk of harm in this situation” is the equivalent of saying that no matter how many fences, monitors and safeguards we put up, every child is at risk every single second an adult isn’t serving as a physical bodyguard. That’s a perception that is very common and really off-base.

Thank goodness the appellate court panel brought this case back to reality. The only unfortunate coda? Bruscino’s lawyer,  Kevin A Luibrand,  says he has seen at least  four similar cases in the past two years!

And so we fight on, for a world that does not believe our children are in terrible danger every time they are in public without an adult, no matter how briefly, no matter what the circumstances. — Lenore

Fantastic (Under-reported) News: Child Abuse WAY DOWN!

Hi Readers — Yes, it’s true! According to this story by the Associated Press, a “massive” federal study finds that child abuse has declined a whopping 26% from 1993 to 2006. What’s more, child sexual abuse is down even more dramatically: 38%!

The reasons seem to be a combination of higher awareness of the crime, less tolerance of it, less shame in reporting it, and more professionals (cops, teachers, social workers, therapists) focused on its prevention and detection. On the perp side, more arrests for the crime seems to have helped, as have therapeutic drugs that tamp down criminal urges. (I always like to say when the criminally insane feel less insane, they become less criminal. But I’m not sure that’s PC.)

According to David Finkelhor, a guy I quote a lot in my book who is head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, “We’ve seen substantial declines over a long period and that’s tremendously encouraging.” In other words: This is not a fluke. Child abuse has been going down for a while.

What’s less encouraging is the fact that this study was not the lead story in every American news outlet. (Yoo hoo! Nancy Grace!)  If child abuse was UP 26%, I doubt it would have been buried. And certainly the story of a single, horrific case can make headlines for days, or weeks. But, as this AP article points out, it’s possible the multi-million dollar report was issued without much fanfare — not even a press release —  because dollars do not flow to problems that are decreasing. You can’t write a grant saying, “Now that there are fewer kids in danger we need more money.”

Cynically I must add that good news about kids and safety does not sell newspapers, or TV air time or parenting magazines or…anything. In fact, it is such an odd story, it violates the whole “Is you child in peril?! Stay tuned!” news template.

So let’s not minimize the problem that still exists — a 26% drop is not a 100% drop, after all. But let us celebrate some good news, even if no one else will. — Lenore

What’s Wrong with This Ad?

Take your blood pressure medicine before watching this so-called public service announcement .

The spot shows two women in a coffee shop, one of them with her kid. The three chat for about 15 seconds, the mom buys a coffee and then off the mom and child go, leaving the  other woman — for no apparent reason — with a sneaking suspicion that the mom is a child abuser.

The mom has said nothing harsh to her child. The child is communicative and bears no visible bruises. In other words, the mom and child look like me and my child, or you and your child, or any mom and any child and yet,  for some reason, that is enough for the other woman to feel the prickles of concern. And then she is urged to act: “If you even suspect abuse, call 1 800 4 A CHILD. Trust your instincts.”

Trust your instincts to what? Suspect every seemingly normal parent  is hiding a deep, dark secret? In the ad, the mom  is wearing a t-shirt that says, “CHILD ABUSER,” to show that this other woman’s instincts were right.

Too bad the Ad Council sat out the McCarthy hearings — it could have had a field day! “If you even SUSPECT your neighbor is a Communist…” And it’s really sad we didn’t have 30- second TV spots in Salem in the 1600s: “If thou even  SUSPECTETH sorcery…” 

The problem is: In our commendable desire to keep kids safe, we have gone overboard and turned into a country where all parents are suspected of not being good enough, or — now — even actively bad. Just imagine if this woman had let her kid wait in the car! — Lenore

Mom Orders Bickering Kids Out of Car — Ruining Them for Life?

Yowza. A mom fed up with her bickering daughters, age 10 and 12, ordered them out of the car in the downtown district of an upscale suburb, White Plains, New York. Then she drove off. They were three miles from home.

One kid made it home on her own. The other was picked up by a Good Samaritan who found her outside, upset. Now the mom has been arrested. There’s a temporary order of protection against her. And, of course, at least one psychologist has already been found and quoted by the press, warning of the deep and lasting scars that mom has inflicted on her kids.

 Now, listen, I have no doubt that those kids will remember this incident for the rest of their lives. I have no doubt the mom will remember it, too. But can we give kids – and parents – a little bit of credit for resilience? The idea that a bad day, even a scary awful day, means a child is scarred for life just means that every day in every way we could be ruining our kids forever. God forbid we do or say something stupid, the gig is up. Our kids are damaged goods, the human equivalent of those dented cans of pineapple you get at the 99-store. (Or at least that I get at the 99-cent store. Is this why no one comes for dinner?)

 Naturally, I do not think that this mom handled her kids in a truly optimal way. But most of us have days when we don’t. That doesn’t make us criminal parents. It makes us human parents. And kids are built to live with humans, not Robo-Mamas.

 It was not physical abuse, which I don’t condone. It was not even particularly dangerous, though parents who never let their kids out of their sight will argue otherwise. What it was was a dramatic gesture – a wigged out one, indeed – but I could see myself, some day, doing something just about as dramatic. One night I was so mad my tween-age son hadn’t taken out the garbage after being asked 18 times (at least) that I said, “I’m going to scream.” And then I did. Bloody murder.

He cried hysterically for about a half hour after that, he was so shaken. So was I.

Tonight I’m sure the White Plains mom is shaken to the core. I’m sure the kids are too, especially if they think now mommy is going to Sing Sing all because they were fighting in the back seat about who was hogging the arm rest or breathing too loud. But I’m also sure that this alone is no reason to lock the mom up. The kids will be okay after some hugs, an apology from mom and also an apology from the girls for being annoying enough to drive mom up the wall.

 I know, I know. Kids are supposed to be blameless. Parents are supposed to be in perfect control all the time. And it is so fun to point fingers when they’re not.

But let’s just say no one’s perfect, and dropping your kids off in a suburban shopping district and expecting them to deal is not the same as driving them into the Mojave and leaving them with a half-filled bottle of Vitamin Water.

We all have our moments. Let’s assume children and parents both can get over them, maybe even learn from them, and then go on to live decent lives. — Lenore