Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Why I’m Not Allowed Out In Public Much

Yesterday I took my friend Kerry to Drumheller to do a bit of site-seeing and souvenir shopping. There are a number of places worthy of note because of how unique the landscape is. When we went to the museum, of course we were going to climb up to the lookout.

Now, it was plain as day what was happening at the lookout, even before we got over there. A large group of children were at various levels on the stairs, all the way up to the lookout.

And at the bottom, across the road from where the stairs started, were three women. Gossiping.

There were no adults up with the children.

What I couldn’t be certain of was whether they were daycare or school. The kids looked 4-5 years old. Here you can start Kindergarten when you’re 4, and most daycares combine 4 and 5 year old kids.

Plus, when they got picked up, it was with a school bus. Which means nothing, because it could have been a rental – that’s what they do here. Unless the kids were picked up with a daycare vehicle with a name on it, there was no way to know for sure.

Anyway, Kerry and I are climbing up the stairs and a child is at the top, crying. Kerry automatically went to him to see what was wrong, and the boy beside him asked me to help him with his backpack. Of course, since all that separated the children from the ‘forbidden zone’ was a simple wooden fence, they were going out of bounds on the other side of the stairs and lookout area.

And the gabbing women couldn’t even see them.

Of course this raised all kinds of questions for Kerry, about ratios and what not. The kids had no ‘tag’ on them – usually, daycares will pin tags on kids to identify where they’re from in case they do get separated from the group.

So, I can’t be certain, but I think this was a school class.

Kevin knows this all too well – I see something like this I’m usually in someone’s face. This time, I was warning Kerry, because as soon as the crying child went to her for help and the other boy came to me for help with his bag, one of the three women came up to the top and then sent all the kids down.

And I had to warn Kerry about the risks of approaching a child, thinking all the while Has it really come to this in our society?

It has. Sadly, with the way that allegations are reported as fact and with the damage they can do alone, many people are reluctant to be a good Samaritan anymore, because they might get themselves into trouble. Approach a child who’s crying, what if that child had been injured? Three staff there who deserve to get their butts kicked, but if there had been an incident that caused injury (the reason for him crying) do you think they’d acknowledge not being there to see it? Kerry could have been a scapegoat – just make the accusation that this woman did something to detract from their own guilt.

Now, I’ve been on the reporting side, so I’m also aware of how little the regulating agencies typically do about even serious allegations. I once filed 28 pages of code violations against an employer of mine – as though you didn’t know it already, do NOT piss me off when it comes to the safety of kids – and the licensing board did nothing.

Pathetic. Doubly so because I had supporting witnesses.

The incident yesterday was minor. It was nothing more than a boy who’d slipped and started to cry. No serious injuries and nobody to report anything to, although I still feel like shit about that. I’ve been wondering if I called the Museum if they’d know what school group was there in the morning.

I’ve been wondering if they’d tell me.

Meanwhile, The Children's Aid Society was twice alerted to the mental problems suffered by a Barrie mother accused of killing her two preschoolers, but only removed them from her custody temporarily during hospital stays, newly released court documents show.

Now, this really breaks my heart, because of the reason for this investigation now. The mother killed her two children.

Some days, I read stuff like this and I’m really angry. Other times, I’m just depressed. We have these agencies in place in order to protect children. And there have been times they’ve gone too far, erring on the side of caution, removing a child who’d had bruises from falling off their bike, for example.

But then situations like this come up and they don’t do nearly enough. And files are getting opened.

I have a lot of friends who grew up in the system. Some of them have wanted to read their files. I personally have never thought about reading my own children’s aid file. It isn’t likely to tell me anything I don’t already know.

Still, I look at situations like this and wonder if it should be the people who’ve been through the system who should stand up and call for change. I’m always a sucker for a cause, but how do you convey to people who’ve had no direct experience with the system what the problems with the system are?

Do people only stop to care when a mother murders her one-year-old and three-year-old daughters?

It’s a source of frustration for me, and part of why I couldn’t stomach working in education anymore. So many people are just content to turn a blind eye. They don’t want to take the risk or make the effort of getting involved.

Which always ends up leaving those who are willing to stand up standing alone.

In my mind, one little incident at a museum yesterday isn’t so far removed from the grieving family who buried two children. It’s symptoms of the same problem: indifference, bred of laziness and a lack of real concern for doing the right thing instead of a willingness to do what’s convenient.


Anonymous said...

On the other side, in the US a social worker was killed by a couple because she was going to recommend that their child be removed from their home. Authorities are now looking for the couple. Think the social worker was right about the parents? What a nasty circle. norby

Sandra Ruttan said...

Indeed Norby. That's horrid.

Lyman said...

There is a fine line between protecting our children and violating a person's civil rights. Though this was a minor incident it did give me cause to think about how far security concerns have entered our lives. I was stopped by a police officer recently because I had a slack tire. The first question he asked was to my sons. "Are you boys ok?" When they said yes, he asked them who I was. They replied I was their dad. This was before he even asked for my license and registration. Don't get me wrong, vigilance is good, but in the very least he could have run my license before questioning whether my children, (the oldest of which looks strikingly like me. Poor kid) who were buckled and the youngest in a car seat, were actually mine.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Lyman, that's the other extreme. It seems there's either too much vigilence - as in your case, or the case of the child removed because of bruises from falling off their bicycle - or not nearly enough.


JamesO said...

There was a bittersweet story on the local news yesterday here about a couple who have finally been reunited with their children after two years fighting to prove their innocence (

The sad thing is that the parents had called the police in the first place, because a friend of their elder child had been acting inappropriately with their younger one.

Mind you, Britain is the country where an angry mob almost killed a paediatrician after one of our noble, upstanding tabloid newspapers decided it was a good idea to stoke up moral outrage against child abuse. Yes, there are people in Portsmouth so stupid that they think a paedophile would have an office, and a brass plaque on the wall outside advertising the fact...

But you touched on the real reason for the problem you identify in your post, Sandra. The main reason why people don't intervene and don't help is because they are terrified of being misunderstood and labelled as some kind of sicko. Or worse, arrested and thrown in jail for it.

If a couple can have their children taken from them, even though they themselves have called the police to investigate an incident, is it any wonder we are all a bit wary of getting involved?

Sandra Ruttan said...

You're right James.

It still leaves the question of what to do when the people paid to get involved don't. I expect people will lose their jobs over this situation with the two murdered girls. But is that even enough? Will it prevent the same thing from happening again?

Hard to say...

angie said...

The systems for protecting children are broken. Yes, there are problems of going too far and not far enough. There are horror stories on either side, but the point I took away from your post had less to do with social service systems than with personal responsibility and involvement. It's not always easy to do the right thing, or even know if stepping up is going to cause you more of a headache than you think it might be worth. Then again, we all know what happens when no one steps up. Reason number 463 why I got out of the behavioral health biz.

Bill Cameron said...

I used to do volunteer work with a teen group. Almost ten years in various roles. One of the reasons I quit (about five years ago) is I decided the risk wasn't worth it. Despite years of Risk Management training, great support from the organization, there were too many near misses that had nothing to do with me at all.

It's a shame when someone busts there hump to support or serve and feels like they have to worry constantly that someone will misinterpret their actions or motives. When someone said to my face, "You must just like hanging around high school girls," I said, "I'm done." The fact that there were high school boys, plus a team of adults, both male and female working with the kids, and one of our policies (strictly enforced) was to always have at least two adults, one of each gender, at every event and meeting, wasn't the point. I just "liked hanging around high school girls."


Sandra Ruttan said...

Angie, that is the dilemma. No easy answers there, either. Lots of potential for headache and regret, though.

Bill, I don't blame you at all. Unfortunate that some idiots actually prevent people from helping others.

Eileen said...

This kind of thing just breaks my heart.

Anonymous said...

Sandra, I used to live in Barrie and was a Barrie cop at one time. I dealt with their CAS on several cases and was unsuccessful in getting them to remove children from homes that were filthy from neglect, feces, no food, etc. I live in another province now, but was so sorry to see the story about that poor mother who murdered her two children. Obviously, her friends and family stood by and did nothing. Not only did CAS fail at their job, but these people are guilty as well for abandoning her when she needed help in her depression. It's treatable. As for your post, it seems it's either one extreme or the other - I've been questioned in stores as to whether I'm the mother of my children who have special needs - but speaking for the cop who didn't run Lyman's plates, child abductions are so common (custodial etc.)that he erred on the side of caution and better that than not. What if your children were ever abducted? Wouldn't you rather the cop was on the bit, rather then wasting time running a guy's plates? I was asked in the store for the same reason. I'd rather people be proactive, than apathetic. Just my 0.2 cents!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Laurie, it's discouraging to hear this is an ongoing problem.

I would tend to agree with you - better to be proactive than apathetic. Unfortunately, as Lyman points out, it can be a fine line.

What's sad is that child abuse is so prevalent that people are put in the position of making that decision at all.