I have a reasonable suspicion that a friend is abusing her two-year-old son. This same friend is also pregnant with her second child. I have been observing her behavior for several months now and I am as sure as I can be without direct proof that she is harming both of her children. I know that calling Child Protective Services is a HUGE deal, but I am generally very concerned about the health and safety of these kids. Please help me make the most difficult decision of my life thus far. Should I call Child Protective Services? Yes, I am a parent myself and so yes, I know that if I am wrong, that it would be life shattering.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (79 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Here’s the (very long and detailed) background:
I met this friend while at one of my child’s weekly activities, which she was at with her son. She approached me and struck up a conversation about how our kids seemed to behave similarly in the group—both are reserved, observant and cautious. She told me that her son, who was only 18 months at the time, was non-verbal but could read about twenty words. I remember thinking that this was odd (how could anyone know this if he was non-verbal? And is he some sort of savant?) but I went with it. After talking for awhile, we exchanged numbers and began to hang out about once a week.
I noticed early on that her son wasn’t just quiet and reserved, but that he has some serious behavioral/ emotional/ physical issues. He shrieks uncontrollably when anyone touches him other than his mother. He absolutely panics if there is a leaf or rock on the ground in his path because it may be an insect. He remained non-verbal until about 26 months and even now he still babbles almost all of his communications. He seems to have little or no self-protective instinct; for example, for as long as I’ve known him, he has pretty frequently done things like swan dive off of the sofa onto the coffee table, resulting in stitches in the ER, and buckling his legs on the stairs and just falling and not even trying to catch himself with his arms (this could be neurological I suppose). And, perhaps most worrying, he will not eat. He is now 27 months old and he weighs just under 22 pounds. Maybe even less. He has been diagnosed as “failure to thrive.” He is also very short for his age, under the 5th percentile I think, but has a very large head circumference, in the 95th percentile. His mom will not have him tested for dwarfism but it is suspected. But, despite all of these things, she continues to tell me that he has been through a battery of tests and that he is advanced in areas in which he is clearly behind, like gross motor skills and verbal skills. She tells me that he is inches taller than he actually is. To be fair, there are several areas in which his development seems normal, too. His fine motor skills seem completely fine and he plays with my son reasonably well although he is prone to aggression at times, but nothing out of ordinary for a toddler. He just seems unhappy and out of sorts most of the time.
His mother’s behavior coupled with the son’s issues is what has led me to suspect that there is a serious problem in their household. She has told me that she was abused as a child and I know she was given over to the foster care system by her parents. Over time, she has revealed more and more facts about herself that have made me concerned. She first told me that she only gained 15 pounds during her first pregnancy. Later, she told me that she “used to be anorexic” and weighed 90 pounds (at 5’6”) throughout high school. I have noticed during this current pregnancy that she does not eat, and she has bragged to me about losing 15-20 pounds since she has been pregnant. She claims to have morning sickness, but other times she has slipped and told me that she’s glad to no longer have morning sickness. I have also noticed, on several occasions, her standing over her son and telling him that his food is gross, or weird, and she talks to me in front of him often about how yogurt feels funny, or green vegetables are weird. These comments are always about food that is healthy. And she only feeds her son junk food. Literally. His entire diet consists of pizza, cookies, chocolate bars, milk shakes, and pastries. No exaggeration. She says it’s because he has “tactile issues” and that he will vomit if vegetables or meat are even set in front of him. And she says this right in front of him, too. The doctor has pushed a feeding tube for her son’s condition since he is clearly malnourished and has been underweight since birth, and she refuses. She also doesn’t put her son to bed—she lets him watch tv until he passes out at two or three in the morning, and she tells me he only sleeps four or five hours a night and doesn’t nap. And she takes her son to the emergency room constantly, over minor non-emergencies like a cold. No doctor has ever found anything wrong with him other than malnourishment and pretty severe anemia.
She also constantly derides her son’s father (who lives in the house but is electively absent 90% of the time) in front of him and says a lot of very negative, disrespectful and hurtful things to her son as well—comments about his penis size, insinuations that he’s dumb or that he makes her unhappy, and outright mocking when he’s whining.
The conclusion that I have come to is that she starves herself during pregnancy and this leads to all sorts of physical/ emotional problems for the children, and that she is transferring her anorexia to them through her conversation and attitude about food, and that she is also verbally abusive. I have even wondered if maybe she is not feeding the little boy and if she has Munchausen’s by proxy, but I am not a doctor or a psychiatrist. I am just a very concerned person trying to make the right call here, especially since there is another baby on the way. I feel so responsible that I hesitate to separate myself from this individual until I have made a clear decision. I’m just very worried for these kids and I feel would feels guilty just walking away. I'm obviously leaving some details out of this very long explanation, but you can email me with any questions or clarifications. Thanks all.
Throwaway email: firstname.lastname@example.org