Monday, June 22, 2009

what would you do?

This morning Charlie and I loaded up the children and drove to Spanish Landing, which is a nice park area along the San Diego Harbor.

The purpose of this trip was so that my husband could meet with the San Diego Triathlon Club and see the course that he will be completing as part of his triathlon, a week from today.

Once Charlie had learned all there was to learn about the race course, we made our way over to a small playground that was adjacent to the parking lot. The playground was situated on the sandy beach, approximately 100 feet from the bay. As our children were set loose to climb all over the play structure, I noticed that there was a little boy, with beautiful brown curly hair, playing by himself. When he saw our tribe of children, he quickly came over to join us.

After playing for 30 minutes or so, it dawned on me that there was no one checking in on him. By this point, I knew that his name was Joshua and he was five years old. When I asked him where his mother was, he pointed to a person who was curled up under a blanket and sound asleep on the ground.

Charlie and I exchanged confused looks before I climbed off the play structure to go investigate.

There was a carriage parked about 50 feet from the play structure and directly beneath, was what appeared to be a woman, totally unconscious.

In the same general vicinity, there were two picnic tables that were occupied by what looked like one large family. I walked over to the picnic table and the people who had been gathered around, began walking towards me. I pointed to the woman laying on the ground and asked if perhaps she was with them?

They shook their heads no and said she wasn't with them, and she had been passed out for the two hours that they had been there. One of the men in the group said that he had bent down and asked her to move - before yelling that there was no loitering allowed - and she didn't budge.

When I told the people that our children were playing with what I believed to be her son, they nodded and said that they noticed that there was a little boy running around and they thought that perhaps he was her child but they weren't quite sure.

Now, I've experienced people who are too busy socializing or reading a book to pay attention to the children under their care. But I've never once seen someone who intentionally falls asleep - in a public place under a blanket - while their young child runs around.

So. I walked back to the beach area and Joshua was now playing at the water's edge with our children. While our kids were hanging back on the sand, he had walked in to the water - up to his knees - and his blue jeans, socks and shoes were soaked. I coaxed him out of the water and asked him where he lives. He said that he had lived in Canada but now he doesn't know where he lives and he'd need to ask his mom.

My mind was reeling with what to do.

There was no way I was going to leave the park without knowing that Joshua was being looked after by a conscious adult. But should I go over and try to wake the mother up? After a brief exchange with Charlie, I decided to call the police.


1) I was genuinely concerned for Joshua's welfare and in my opinion, this was a clear cut case of NEGLECT. What if he waded too deep in the water and drowned? What if someone picked him up and took off? Although there is evidence to suggest that crime rates are down, terribly bad things still happen to children.

2) So what if I woke her up? I doubted that this was the first time his mother fell asleep in a public area - and what was to stop her from doing it again?

3) What if the woman was on drugs and woke up belligerent?

While I waited for the police to show up, and Joshua's mother slept on, I struck up a conversation with the family at the picnic table. They believed that she had rolled in and noticed that there was a playground which would attract families with small children - so she decided that while she slept - other people would watch her son. Which is pretty much exactly what happened.

After 10 minutes, the police arrived. I met the officer as he walked towards us and I repeated the entire story to him. We had been there for about an hour and Joshua's mother never once woke up. I was concerned that someone could take off with him. I was concerned that he could fall in the water and drown. The officer nodded in agreement and then walked over to where Joshua's mom lay sleeping. He bent down to talk with her and she sat up and groggily rubbed her eyes.

They talked for about 15 minutes. Then, he left.

Joshua's mother pulled out a cell phone and made a call. But after a few minutes, once the police officer had driven away, she pulled the blanket over her shoulders and fell back to sleep. By this point, Joshua had attached himself to a new family and I felt like I done all that I could, or should. Since it was time for us to feed the kids lunch, we made our way back to the car.

But on the drive home I felt totally perplexed.

Was I interfering? Was it my place to get involved? Did I do the right thing? If I did the right thing, why did the police turn their back and leave? What classifies neglect? And at what point should the authorities step in to make sure that a child is safe?

What would you have done?


  1. Jenn,
    I lurk but don't usually comment on your blog, but... wow just wow! I would have done the same thing. With the exception that after the police left I would have woken the woman's ass up again and told her that she was being a neglectful bitch and that she needed to look after her child!
    That poor child. I wonder if they were homeless or if he was hungry and thirsty.This kind of stuff just makes me so flippin mad! I can't understand why the police were so nonchalant about the whole thing.

  2. You did exactly what I would have done, which is all you can do. It's not like we can call CPS and they come like the police.

    It sucks parents are allowed to treat children like this. It sucks even more as an infertile knowing how hard you fight to have kids only to watch others go all willy nilly without a care in the world.

  3. I would have done the same thing.

    I was driving today along a busy road near O'hare airport in Chicago. There are some pretty creepy looking motels along this road. As I was driving I noticed a little girl, no more than 5, out front of the motel near the curb, barefoot. She started going into the road. I honked my horn to try to get other drivers attention so no one would hit her.

    The car behind me got out and went to assist her. I turned the corner and called the cops. I don't care what the reason is- she could have been killed. I couldn't stick around, but I drove by again 20 minutes later cause I could not get her off my mind- and she was no where in sight- I even circled the motel.

    As a mother to my twins, I could not just leave and not call the cops. If I ever, ever neglected my kids, I hope someone calls the cops on me, because my kids do not deserve to be neglected.

  4. OMG I would have done the same as you, I can't believe what you just wrote....I bet you worried yourself sick about that little fella.

  5. Yes, you absolutely did the right thing. I'm afraid I might have confronted the mom directly, and I might not have been very nice about it, either. Your way was much safer and more practical.

  6. I'm appalled that the police officer just left. What a situation! I think I would have done the same things you did, and would have been tempted to call the police again, after the first one left and she went back to sleep. These types of stories just make me feel so sad and so mad too. Wow.

  7. What a truly sad situation. I had to make a call recently on a similar thing, and what finally got me to dial the phone was the thought that this might not be a one-time event, that the child might be neglected or worse at home. For all I knew, the police already had a long list of warnings and needed one more to rescue the child. You did the right thing by calling the police. It's their job to straighten something like this out---not likely the woman would've said, "Oh, you're so right, I shouldn't have slept, thank goodness a wiser mom pointed this out to me." What is surprising is the officer's leaving before he saw some kind of resolution, like the woman getting up and leaving with her son. Monday quarterbacking here, but I would have called the cops a second time and let them know that she waited till the cop left then went right back to sleep. She probably told him, "Silly me, I fell asleep." Tough call. You probably did all you could; it's not like the boy was some stray puppy you can take home. Maybe some other commenter has some other ideas that we can store in our brain pan for similar situations.

  8. Oh Wow! I think you did the right thing. Definately get involved.

    However, I am shocked that the law enforcement let this child down. Unfortunately, there are a lot of homeless in San Diego as we noticed and talked about when we were visiting - and I'm sure the police see a different story it everyday but for the Love of God and safety of all children - they walked away????

    I don't get it. And your taxes pay that guys salary? I don't get it. Marg.

    Praying for Joshua (and his Mom)

  9. I was also going to add, it's so hard to know how to handle a situation like that, especially when your own kids are around. I think you did all you could. I also wonder WHY the cop didn't do more and just left. Arghhhhhh . . . . .

  10. Okay, that hurts my head. I think you did the right thing. But I that the other family should have made an effort and not just ignored the situation that was right in front of them. Like you said the kid could have been taken by someone or drowned.

  11. I think you did the right thing, I think the officer dropped the ball when he left. I think I would have made another phone call to the police. It is so pitiful to think how some children live, it just breaks my heart:(

  12. i'm kindof sick to my stomach after reading that. you totally did the right thing. That mom is a total selfish &^%$#F@F. Who knows what their circumstances were, but that is just awful. Like you, I would have had a hard time sitting there and doing nothing.

  13. Oh my God! I would have done the same thing. I think if you don't get involved then who will....Did you think of Joshua all night?

    Do you think they where homeless??

  14. PS ~ Happy Father's Day to Charlie...

  15. I would have done exactly what you did - call the police. It's frustrating that even the police coming didn't seem to have any effect. I'm not sure what you could have done at that point.

  16. I think you did exactly the right thing... I only wish the police would have done their job and did more than just talk to her. I feel sorry for that poor little boy. :(

  17. You did the right thing. And I am very frustrated that the police officer walked away so soon and without any further investigation...
    You are a good person!

  18. I would've done the same exact thing (calling the police). I, too, am perplexed why the cop just left. You did all that you could and I can't understand why the cop didn't come back to talk to you....

  19. You did all you could do. She was obviously homeless and that's probably how the child lives. When we owned our business, we were adjacent to a park where entire families were being raised outside. It was awful. But the police NEVER did anything about it, even though I'm certain there is an entire tape of me somewhere on 911.

    I watched one lady when she was pregnant. Then I watched her breastfeed and do drugs. By the time we sold our business, her kid was around four. Seriously, there's a whole nuther world out there. Those kids essentially raise themselves and try to stay alive. My hope was at least they would get him in school and then he'd have somewhere to go during the day.

  20. The police officer talked to her and just left? I'm pretty surprised. But I would have exactly what you did. Waited. Watched. And then took action. You did the right thing. I hope that little boy stays safe.

  21. I've been in that situation before. Okay, not a sleeping mother, but one who's checking on her child infrequently enough that the child thinks she's lost. I did call the police. And, when the child came to crying AGAIN after the police left, I returned her to other adults in the mom's group.

    When I told my husband about it, he asked what it would take to adopt the little girl!

    I wonder about her all the time... and about all the other children who don't get the attention you and I give our kids.

    I guess what we can start with is to never become that parent ourselves.

  22. The police failed that child. Our society is failing that child. You did the correct thing. This makes me sick...and sad.

  23. I don’t usually comment, but this post has been absolutely plaguing me today! Wow, that is such a tough call and such a terrible situation. Unfortunately, it does sound like the little boy and his mom are homeless. Yes, his mom’s behavior is inexcusable, but really, none of us know the details of her situation and I can’t help but think, “but for the grace of God, go I”. Perhaps she’s on drugs, perhaps she’s very sick, perhaps she just left an abusive husband and drove a thousand miles from Canada and hasn’t slept in days…we just don’t know. It’s unfortunate that the police officer could not do any more than what he did, but I think you totally did the right thing in calling the police. As for what to do after the police came and went, I can only say that if I were in that situation, I would try to make that child’s life as pleasant as possible for that moment in time. Yes, I would like to scoop him up and rescue him from that situation, even adopt him, but that’s just not possible. However, by inviting Joshua into your family for that moment in time, you were making a difference in his life. I might have just had my husband pick up a picnic lunch as well, and have Joshua join us for the picnic. Other than that, there’s not much more you can do. I was once in Toys R Us when a father was yelling absurdities at his 5 or 6-year-old daughter. I was so afraid he would begin to hit her as well. I briefly contemplated calling the police (and certainly would have if he had laid a hand on her), but I figured that having the police arrive would have just angered him even more and led to abuse at home outside the watchful eyes of other shoppers. Therefore, with my heart beating out of my chest, I just approached the dad and mentioned that I know just how frustrating it can be to shop with young children. And since my young children were all at home napping with their father right then, I would certainly be happy to watch his little girl and let her look at the toys while he picked up what he needed to from the store. He obliged, and calmed down, and I kept his daughter by my side for the next 20 minutes or so. I like to think that for just that 20 minutes, I made a difference in her life. But sometimes all we can do for these little children is pray, and make a difference in that moment.

  24. Grannie kathleen6/22/09, 11:14 AM

    My heart breaks for little Joshua. Another innocent child who will suffer. In our Buddhist philosphy we are all connected. I am his mother, his aunt, his grandmother....his caregiver. Yes, I would have called the police. I have done this in the past a few times as I have lived alot at 65 with lots of grandchildren.
    I waited for the results from the police. One time CPS was called by them as I would not go away! A newborn and a little boy with a mother who was mentally ill and just left them at Walmart!
    I would have called the police again, and again and again until I knew what was going on and to protect Joshua. You are known to be like a bee stuck on honey, too. Pray for him and his mother every night.
    Our grandchildren will never know this neglect from you and Charlie....only wish you could, or we could, have scooped Joshua up and taken him home. Stray dogs get more attention than he did!
    Grannie Kathleen and Poppa Alex

  25. I'm absolutely OUTRAGED that the police left her. I would have gotten back on my phone and called them back and told them that she just went back to sleep again and that I expected DHS to be there imediately.

    In our town there is a mobile crisis team that goes out to situations like this and imediately either takes the child in or at the very lease does a more through assessment of the situation.

    Maybe you should have taken him to the police station yourself. Then maybe they would have taken notice if you said he was wondering alone!!


  26. Cry... I would have cried. I can't even imagine stumbling upon a situation like that. I would have done the same thing you did... call the police and hope they help. And unfortunately, even though they did nothing... that's the way it has to be. I wish for that little boy that something else could be done but there is only so much an outsider can do... heartbreaking... just heartbreaking.

  27. Wow. I know in my heart my husband would not have walked away--he's encountered it a lot in his job. She probably lied to him. So sad.

    On another note, I wondered if you had made your blog private or something! I couldn't get on! So glad to be back.

  28. I think you did exactly the right thing...and when the officer drove away I would have called again. This is clearly neglect. I have no idea why they did not respond differently...

  29. I would have called the police, too. I'm not sure why the officer left but I'm hoping he stopped by a little while later to check up on Joshua. Perhaps if the mother was sleeping again and Joshua was just hanging out, the officer could haul the mother's sorry @$$ off to jail and have Joshua put in protective care. Such a sad story.

  30. I like to think that I would have done what you had done! Sometimes calling the police is so intimidating, but I think it is our job as mothers and concerned citizens to call the authorities when the need arises.

    One day, when I was very young, my mother and I witnessed a woman hauling her 2-3 year old daughter out of the grocery store by the arm, and after looing around to see if anyone was looking (how she missed my mom and 3 kids I don't know), she took of her thick-soled sandle and started beating her daughter. It was over very quickly, but my mom packed us three kids and the groceries into the car, and we followed the lady home. Mom wrote down her address and called CPS. I was so proud of my mom!

    I think the hard part is knowing when to involve yourself and when not to. My mom spanked us, and so she was easily able to ascertain the difference between a firm correction and abusive beating. But what about the verbal abuse? I was in target yesterday and a woman was SCREAMING at her 2 year old to sit down and just being awful to her. However, she was with another woman, and I thought that the other ladie's presence was probably going to keep her from going too far.

    One of my twins was very upset (she always is when she hears another child crying) and so I told her when we hear a child crying, we should pray for them. So that is what we did. We prayed for peace and calm for the mother, and for the little girl not to be sad or afraid.

    Prayer is powerful. It didn't take long at all for the mom to calm down.

  31. Oh Jen, I can't even believe that. I mean I can believe it, but I don't want to! I think you did exactly what I would have done. What shocks me is why didn't the police do more??? That poor little guy, so very sad all the way around.

  32. Yes! You recognized it! It is the old Bob Jones Farm...I like it too. Thanks!

    and yes again.....Boy, was that post hard to write. It weighted on me for a long time. I wanted to do something special for fathers day but had such a hard time with it all....and then finally I just sat down and cried and wrote and cried some more. Ann's post tore me up too! Between you, me, my mom's comment, Margaret and Ann today I think we are all a big pile of warm jello, mush...

    Thanks for Happy Birthday wishes ~ I had a great day yesterday. And don't worry about wishing birthday wishes today....I accept birthday wishes, card and presents all week

    ~ It is just my personal birthday policy. :-) ~ I highly recommend it!


  33. You did the right thing! Unfortunately there is not more that can be done.

    My opinion: she doesn't sound homeless. Just lazy. Mostly b/c of the cell phone call she made.

  34. I'd have done the same thing. I have Child Protective Services toll free number stored in my phone. You can find your local number at the State of CA web page:

    They will actually do something when the cops won't.

    I just got a new foster kiddo placed in my care due to neglect. It's a shame when the system fails the little ones, but awesome when people care enough to do something.

  35. You did the right thing. It sounds like the police didn't do much exploring. Did anyone check the stroller to see if there was a baby in there?? Gosh, what a situation to be in. I would say the police failed to follow through!

  36. Jenn,

    This story haunts me because of the young homeless child in Arizona that was killed by his mother on a playground about a month ago.

    You probably did everything you could legally by calling the police and it boggles my mind why they would walk away.

    The only thing I can think you could do differently, would be to offer him a meal and find out if there are other things he needs.

    If the child is truly homeless and is being neglected, he is likely hungry and needing other necessities. Just my thoughts.

  37. I really liked JulieG's response.

    I DO think you did the right thing. You did what you could to help the little boy. It's too bad the police officer left without seeing her get up and look after her son.

    I do want to say though, we don't know what was said between the mother and the police officer. It is so easy to assume things, and easy to judge. I do think the mother was being neglectful, but why? There is a reason as to why. As much as we can blame her, she obviously has her own issues.

    As someone who works with the homeless I probably would have approached her. Just to chat with her and see if she was ok, see if she needed anything. But that's within my comfort zone.

    But once again, I totally think you did the right thing.

  38. What a tough situation for both you and the little boy. I probably would have kept calling the police until there was appropriate action. I, too, wonder if the family was homeless. If so, at least the mother was thoughtful enough to be at a park where other mothers could watch over him.

    Don't beat yourself up over this, though. Hindsight is 20/20 and although you may wish you had done something else, you did the best that you could do at the time. Hopefully the little boy is just tine.

    Good for you for calling the police though. The family (families?) before you obviously hadn't done that (yet). You took the first step. Good job!

    --Laura from IN

  39. Hi Jen, I can't find a contact for you so I'll let you know here that I received the CPR anytime kit today! Thank you, I'm excited and I can't wait to try it out and share it!

  40. Such a disturbing situation Jen....I would have done the same thing that you did. That poor kid...I hope he will be okay because he has a dope for a mother.


  41. I think you did the right thing. We are our brothers keeper.

  42. Wow, that is incredibly heartbreaking. You did the right thing to call the authorities, absolutely.

    As an educator, it's part of my code of ethics now that if I see any form of abuse, neglect, etc... at any time, I am required to phone my local Children's Aid Society to file a report - whether I have an inkling something is happening to a student in my classroom OR to a child out in public. It's now a part of my life as I take on this career and belong to the Ontario College of Teachers.

    I'm proud of you for looking after Joshua and for calling the police, whether the cop did their job or not. Poor little child, my heart really does break for him. Whenever I'm out in public and I see a child who looks like he isn't being watched too well, I also sort of take them under my wing.. because I know that *I'm* a good person, so if no one else is watching them, at least one good person is.

  43. I totally agree with the course of action you took. What I'm wondering is, how did you talk about it with your kids, after the face? Did they have questions for you about what they saw?