The little girl who lives upstairs is subjected to frequent verbal abuse, drug use, and occasional physical violence, though she's not being physically or verbally abused herself. How should I help her?
posted by anonymous to human relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Our upstairs neighbors have an eight-year-old girl — I'll call her Elizabeth — who is curious, intelligent, and funny. We've got to know her better than any other person in this tiny Nova Scotia town, which is a mark of her outgoing character, since it's unusual to elicit a return wave from anyone else in her family or people on the street.
And the rest of her family is the problem. This community almost died fifteen years ago when the fishing stocks dried up and times have been hard for locals ever since. Accordingly, lifelong residents have taken up some of the habits that desperate people fall into. Her mother can't communicate displeasure to anyone without screaming and peppering her speech with expletives (Elizabeth isn't spared, and is often present during her parents' screaming fights). Her father is friends with some shady characters, one of whom we know to be a sexual predator (not of children), another a drug dealer (who the mother suspects is also a murderer).
Then there's Elizabeth's older half-brother, who doesn't live there but visits every few weeks with his girlfriend. Elizabeth has described some of his antics to us: breaking school windows, starting fires, street fights, and the like. Over the three years we've been here, I've only actually seen him for about 20 minutes (though I've heard him and his drunken friends for hours), but I've observed him violently push his girlfriend twice, and have overheard screaming fights a number of times.
On the other hand, Elizabeth's older sister, who does live upstairs, is occasionally friendly, works full time as a waitress, and will be the first person in her family to attend university this Fall.
What's pushed me to write tonight, though, is the fact that I was just sitting on our deck (from where I overhear all of their business; not eavesdropping, I always let them know I'm there), and the drug dealer, Elizabeth's father and brother are upstairs now smoking what smells to be a potent joint, hacking phlegm as you do, and laughing at Elizabeth's imitations of doing the same. The three men laughed and one of them reminded her that she couldn't tell anyone, especially not her mother, who is working tonight, as she does most nights.
And this is where my biggest problem lies: I absolutely hate that it's being put on an eight-year-old's shoulders to keep her parents' secrets. I have no problem with parents blowing off steam— it's a hard job— and especially in these circumstances, where the father hasn't had any work this summer. But in my opinion, there's no excuse to smoke up when your kid is in the room, and there's no excuse for weighing her down with that kind of responsibility: "If you tell anyone, we could all get in trouble, maybe even go to jail." (I've run into this situation before in my own family, and it didn't end well.)
So, I'm wondering: should I call child protective services? I certainly don't think Elizabeth should be removed from the home. Her parents love her very much, and she adores them. And the parents can't be that terrible at their jobs, because despite the brother's failures, the sister has succeeded so far. And if Elizabeth has difficult circumstances to overcome later in life, she is clearly strong enough to do it.
And, perhaps most importantly, I don't know whether what happens upstairs really constitutes abuse. Right now, I'd describe her as at risk.
But it seems as though the situation is deteriorating. Their finances are getting worse, which means the fights are getting worse and more frequent, as are visits from the drug dealing friend. I think just a visit from a social worker would help get the father back on track, but I don't want them to suspect that I'm involved at all (and no other neighbors are near enough to share suspicion. If either the brother or mother suspected I had called social services, I'd wind up with fewer teeth in short order.
So what action should I take? Should I take any at all? I'm hoping the hive mind can help me here; I've been wrestling with it for months.