Should I Call Child Protective Services?
September 8, 2010 12:16 PM   Subscribe

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.

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:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (79 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
She's in denial about the true severity of her child's condition/state, and she's refusing medical treatment for him. Call.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 12:24 PM on September 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Do you know if she takes her child to doctor? Do you know the name? Can you call the doctor to support your suspicions rather than CPS? The doctor won't be able to tell you anything, but the kid may already be on the radar and the doctor may be able to get the mother in with resources that CPS would get her into, too.

If you don't, then this is definitely a situation where a call is worthwhile.
posted by zizzle at 12:25 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

*report your suspicions
posted by zizzle at 12:25 PM on September 8, 2010

The child's malnourished and she refuses a feeding tube? He has "accidents"? While it's not enough proof to convict her, I'd say you have enough circumstantial evidence to look into the matter. I've no idea why a doctor hasn't done this already.

Yes, it will be unpleasant for her, but if there's no there there, then she should be able to keep the kids. Say you smell smoke and feel heat at your neighbor's house. Is there a fire? Should you call 911? Well, of course, you should! You shouldn't wait until the flames have consumed the building before taking action.
posted by inturnaround at 12:26 PM on September 8, 2010

Based on what you've said, it's likely that the health care professionals involved have already made reports, but whatever the case, CPS will perform their own investigation. They will prioritize it based on the kinds of things that you tell them and anything else in their record.

In California, CPS accepts anonymous reporting.
posted by jasper411 at 12:28 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

she takes her son to the emergency room constantly

And if those doctors thought there were any reason to suspect child abuse, they'd have called. I'm sure your heart is in the right place, but you don't seem to have all the information here.
posted by Brent Parker at 12:29 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

And if those doctors thought there were any reason to suspect child abuse, they'd have called.

That is not something you can rely on. Make the call.
posted by MustardTent at 12:31 PM on September 8, 2010 [11 favorites]

I would call. If the mom is providing a safe environment for her kid(s), that is what CPS will declare. You probably won't be able to hang out with her at play dates anymore, but this is for the best interests of the child. This is one of those situations where the potential benefit far outweighs the potential downside. I think you should call.
posted by phunniemee at 12:31 PM on September 8, 2010

Having unhealthy attitudes about food (however unfortunate) is not illegal. Having anorexia (if that is indeed the case) does not itself make her an unfit parent. Setting bad examples can be harmful to children, but does not itself count as abuse. Your opinions on her son's health do not take precedence over the mother's.

She may well be a bad parent in your eyes (and maybe in most). But I don't think anything good will come of calling CPS. There's a lot of supposition here, and even if it were all true it doesn't add up to a clear picture. I, of course, could be wrong.

I would hope that there are alternative ways to improve the situation, but I can't come up with any and am waiting to hear what others have to say.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 12:32 PM on September 8, 2010 [6 favorites]

I know that if I am wrong, that it would be life shattering.
There's no reason to think this. Call.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:33 PM on September 8, 2010

It's a tricky situation. The fact that this child has been diagnosed with malnourishment and severe anemia is a cause for serious concern - but it is the doctor who make that diagnosis who should be ordering treatment or even asking the child to be placed in the care of a child protective agency, if the mother will not comply. Perhaps it will take a more urgent medical crisis for this to happen.

One problem we have is that people are given very wide lattitude in how they raise their own children, although there are many bad parents. And there is no qualification required, other than biological maturity (as opposed to emotional maturity) to become a parent. Any lunatic can do so, and they often do. There is an epidemic of obesity in American children which is caused by ridiculous junk food diets that their parents are feeding them, but we do not take those children away from their parents to put them on better diets. Even if we wanted to, there are too many of them and social services would just be overwhelmed.

Many people are inculcated with weird religious and/or political beliefs or obsessions by their parents; children are even raised in cults, and there is seldom anything that can be done about this. Parents have the right to pass on their beliefs even when those beliefs are insane. That is part of parenthood. Tom Cruise gets to raise his daughter as a Scientologist. It's unfortunate but there is nothing we can do about it.

I don't think that you are in a good position to intervene, since you are not even a relative of this woman and her unfortunate child. If you were, for example, the child's grandmother, then I might suggest that you take action. As it is, you will just look like an interfering busybody.
posted by grizzled at 12:33 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

So, you think that your friend is abusing her son because he seems to have some undiagnosed health/behavioral problems?

And because she doesn't gain weight during pregnancy? And because he's a picky eater? That's my mom right there. I guess she should have been locked away so i could have ended up in the foster care symptoms.

"she lets him watch tv until he passes out at two or three in the morning"
Why is that even mentioned here? Good god. Who cares? I know plenty of toddlers that don't have bed times yet!

He obviously has some condition that has yet to be diagnosed. She takes him to the doctors, you said she said he has had plenty of tests done on him and that she has even been to the ER with him several times.
I'm sure if the ER and doctors have seen this child several times and thought something was horribly wrong, they probably would have called child services.

Sure, she could benefit from some parenting skills like the importance of giving the kids the right foods and which doctors to go to - but if every mother who fed their kids junk food had their kids taken away for "abuse", then over half the kids in America would be in foster homes.

You should probably make some suggestions here and there and otherwise mind your own business.

When my sister and I were young, some nosey neighbor (found out a month afterwards who it was. she had a kid that we hung around with) called Child Services on my parents because my sister had a bruise on her leg from falling off her bike and onto my bike. She also mentioned that my parents might have been neglecting my sister because she had speech issues. Yes, my sister had problems with speech until she was about 9 years old.
God, I remember the mother asking us nosey questions about our parents all the time.
Anyway, that wasn't fun and the whole neighborhood found out and we were ignored by everyone until we moved from the town.

So. Yeah. Make sure you know what you're doing.
posted by KogeLiz at 12:35 PM on September 8, 2010 [12 favorites]


Look, I've had experience with CPS in the past, and one of the things I learned was that the more sources they have, the harder they look.

You are right to be concerned, and you can make the call anonymously.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:38 PM on September 8, 2010 [14 favorites]

When I was about nine, my uncle's crazy girlfriend made an anonymous report to CPS and they came to visit my house. Honestly, they were more embarrassed than we were (but yeah, probably less embarrassed than my mom). They talked to us for a minute, looked at our house and then they left. It wasn't a big deal. Of course my mom was horrified because my sister and I were playing dress up that day in these ancient mumuus and looked (as she said) like "ragamuffins" but it was really okay.

I say all this to reassure you that if it's nothing, it's no big deal. And if it is, well, you'll be glad you called. Better to err on the side of caution when the safety of children is concerned, if you ask me.
posted by missjenny at 12:41 PM on September 8, 2010

In several states,it is illegal to not report suspected child abuse. Please call.

Think of it this way: If the child has problems other than abuse, reporting a problem can get the family started down the right road. They might get some help they need. I f he is being abused, you could start a process that could save a lifetime of misery for that child.

Many times, professionals never report abuse. They may not want to get involved, or there may not be enough consistency of care for anyone to notice, especially through emergency care.
posted by annsunny at 12:41 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Where is the child abuse? You start by saying you are convinced that your neighbor is abusing her child, then provide a tremendous amount of detail, none of which includes a single abuse incident. Do you mean neglect? Do you know the difference between the two?

Please read the recent FPP Reflections on Judging Mothering.
posted by The Straightener at 12:44 PM on September 8, 2010 [23 favorites]

I am in agreement with Brent Parker and RikiTikiTavi. This is some weird stuff and Mom is clearly a bit "off," but it doesn't sound like there's any abuse here.

I am (unfortunately) a habitué of the Yahoo! Answers 'Parenting' section and a horrifying number of toddlers are living off of "pizza, cookies, chocolate bars, milk shakes, and pastries." It is also oddly common for mothers to boast of achievements that are not actually achieved. I don't know if it is honest misjudgment or what, but. They announce their ten-month-olds are talking and post links to YouTubed videos of babies babbling away in baby babble as "proof" of the "talking." I can't explain it, but it is common.

How is she verbally abusing him? Mostly what is suggesting "this is not call-CPS level" is that you have mentioned a lot of irrelevant things, like padding his height, and left out the details of any verbal abuse. Calling yoghurt funny is not a great idea but really not worth telling a social worker about.

How is it that you are hanging out every week with somebody so unpleasant? I think the thing to do here is to just remove yourself from this person's unhappy life.
posted by kmennie at 12:45 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

As RikiTikiTavi says, maybe the behavior isn't illegal, but it's certainly unsettling, at best. Something is wrong in this picture. Maybe she's not deliberating doing something to hurt the child (although it sounds like she is - comments about a 2-year-old's PENIS SIZE, for God's sake?), but she could benefit from some "how to be a decent parent"-style counseling, minimum. It's not up to you to determine what needs to be done, just to go to the authorities, tell them what you know, and trust that can make the right decision for the children.

Anyway, point is - yes, call. Nothing to be lost, everything to be gained.
posted by coupdefoudre at 12:46 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Could you suggest that the two of you take a parenting class together? You could say something along the lines of, "I'm thinking of signing up for X parenting class. It would be more fun if we went together. Want to sign up with me?"

I can't tell from your question if she's abusing her son. At the very least, it sounds like terrible parenting. If you are in doubt, I think it's better to call. If she is abusing her son, then it's better for the family to get help as early as possible.
posted by parakeetdog at 12:48 PM on September 8, 2010

Mod note: From the OP:
Let me add this for those of you questioning the doctor's lack of reporting her. I know that she has had several pediatricians in two years and that she keeps switching to a new one for whatever reason. I also know that the current pediatrician is, according to her, some sort of expert on children with "eating issues" and that his general take on underweight children or children with childhood anorexia is that it's much ado about nothing and that they'll "catch up eventually." So I suspect that she's been doctor shopping. She also changes her stories about her son's habits with me all the time and I think that, if something is going on, she's smart enough to throw a few doctors off of her trail. She has a degree in early childhood development and seems to know a lot about abnormal psychology, which I think is possibly a sign.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:48 PM on September 8, 2010

I wouldn't focus on the pregnancy weight gain either. I'm 34.5 weeks pregnant right now and I've gained six total pounds but you sure wouldn't know by looking at the large basketball I seem to be smuggling around. My doctor says I'm healthy and the baby will take what he needs.
posted by chiababe at 12:51 PM on September 8, 2010

How is she verbally abusing him? Mostly what is suggesting "this is not call-CPS level" is that you have mentioned a lot of irrelevant things, like padding his height, and left out the details of any verbal abuse. Calling yoghurt funny is not a great idea but really not worth telling a social worker about.

kmennie - just want to point this out:

... 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.

Maybe still not verbal abuse (we don't have anything verbatim, so hard to know), but the OP does provide better context for verbal abuse than just "calling yoghurt funny."
posted by coupdefoudre at 12:51 PM on September 8, 2010

Sounds like a grey area. Will that kid grow up with some very messed up ideas about food? Almost undoubtedly. Is what she's doing considered neglectful or child endangerment? I have no idea. If it's possible, you might want to check on the wording of laws protecting children in your area.

In the end, this is a moral decision you'll have to make for yourself. None of us can tell through the internet whether or not she is actually abusing her kid. If it were me, I suspect I would have to call just so I could live with myself. I don't know if that's the right or 'best' answer, and I suspect it varies from person to person. I would say that a visit from CPS might make her take her child's health more seriously, but in my experience it's very hard to change a parent's mind about how to raise their child.

If you do call, though, even anonymously, be prepared to lose that friendship. Although I'm not sure if you'd want to be friends with someone who you think is abusing their kid and endangering their unborn child.
posted by Grafix at 12:57 PM on September 8, 2010

Ta. I had accidentally read the 'penis size' stuff as being comments to her husband
posted by kmennie at 1:00 PM on September 8, 2010

I won't minimize your concerns, but I do want to point out a few probable red herrings. Until you got to the growth problems, your first long paragraph (beginning wih "I noticed early on" sounded very much like my son. He wouldn't let anyone but me come near him until he was two and a half, freaked out about odd, inconsequential things, and showed very little fear of falls or other dangerous situations. His speech development was late and weird. He was also a terrible sleeper and there were many exhausted nights when I gave up on trying to get him to bed and just watched tv with him until he passed out on the couch. He's fine now at age 5. High strung, but fine. Also, if the child is in fragile general health, trips to the ER over minor illnesses might not be unwarranted.

That said, if you believe this little boy is malnourished, based on your own observations (not on what this obviously unreliable mom tells you about feeding tubes or doctors), you should call. Nothing you described in the mom's behavior sounds like anything that crosses the line from bad parenting to abusive, but if you are seeing physical signs of neglect, that's all the information you need to get someone else involved. There's not much you can do about a bad parent passing on her issues to her child, but a child that is in a situation that endangers his life needs help.
posted by Dojie at 1:02 PM on September 8, 2010

Someone called CPS on my parents (this was in California, mid-80s) because they were older and had a very young daughter (my sister, 20 years younger than me, the eldest).

Apparently CPS looked around, asked some questions, and decided there was no problem. My folks never did find out who reported them.

I don't think you want to call CPS too readily since they are understaffed and overworked and they do important work. However, I wouldn't be afraid of calling them either.
posted by elmay at 1:11 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know if she is or not, but there's enough really strange red flags in your story for me to think that calling CPS would not be overreacting. At the very least, they can determine for sure/better than you can. But odds are, you see more of this woman and her kid than the doctors do to pick up on her craziness.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:11 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

MustardTent: ">>And if those doctors thought there were any reason to suspect child abuse, they'd have called.

>That is not something you can rely on. Make the call.

She may be going to emergency rooms rather than a pediatrician for some of these incidents because the child will be seen by a number of people and no single person will see enough of them to realize there's something very wrong.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 1:14 PM on September 8, 2010 [9 favorites]

There is an archaic British phrase "curtain twitcher" applied to people who take an interest in the affairs of their neighbours by peering at them from behind closed curtains, often going "tut, tut". It is not a term of endearment.

If you knew something bad was happening you'd report it without hesitation. As it is, you seem to want vindication for an act of denunciation which could - probably will - destroy people's lives.

Only you can decide, we cannot even sensibly offer an opinion without being in possession of the facts and we are not in possession of the facts, just whatever carefully selected version of events you have chosen to write here.

All I can suggest is talking it over anonymously with a member of CPS not identifying these people but telling what you know, let CPS ask whatever questions they wish. At the conclusion ask CPS if they believe this merits investigation and why they believe this, ensure you ask them lots of questions to make sure they are acting in the best interests of all concerned. At the end of all this identify the family if you feel you must or get CPS to tell you how to find out more. If you do identify the family have the guts to tell them what you did and why.
posted by epo at 1:16 PM on September 8, 2010 [6 favorites]

In NY at least, when you call CPS your name is never given out to the parent(s). If you're the only one who would know sufficient details there is the obvious possibility this woman will figure it was you who called but they will never get that information from CPS. Do it.
posted by tommasz at 1:20 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

While parts of her story and behavior sound absolutely worrying, I should point out that some of the odd behaviors and symptoms her son is showing are not only real, but very likely connected to one another. It sounds like her son has Sensory Processing Disorder, also known as Sensory Integration Disorder (see Wikipedia). Specifically, he sounds like he has problems with his visual system and his tactile system. He freaks out at items on the ground because he can't tell what they are in his field of view (leaf? bug? aaaaah!) and he probably falls down the stairs because the sheer number of horizontal lines in a staircase (is that an edge or a joint?) makes it impossible to see what the heck he's stepping on. Same for the dive off the couch-- it's possible he couldn't actually see the coffee table as a 3D object capable of hurting him, depending on what it looked like to him. And as for tactile problems, that covers both his food texture aversions and his oversensitivity to touch, which when overwhelmed lead him to either vomit or scream or both. Seriously, spend five minutes on Google looking up parents' reports of their children's SPD/SID symptoms and behaviors and you'll find many matching stories, especially about staircases or touch sensitivity. Luckily, this kind of thing is treatable and many kids grow out of it.

Childhood sensory disorders run in my husband's family, including in our son (who had proprioception and tactile issues, but who has somewhat outgrown them with twice-weekly occupational therapy), and my husband and his first cousin (who both had auditory issues for years -- hated loud noises/environments and threw sudden tantrums). For example, our son would eat cheddar cheese but not American cheese. It turned out that it wasn't a matter of taste but of texture -- he hated touching anything slimy or gross (including "normal" childhood items like play dough and paint), and so he wouldn't eat the American cheese simply because he could not bear to touch the slice to pick it up, whereas the cheddar cheese was a much drier cube and he could physically handle that. The proprioception part meant that he could not quite tell where his body was in space, and as a result would often accidentally whack his head as he ran around, cutting too close to doorways and corners. He still can't jump with both feet off the ground, and not for lack of strength or height, but because it's still too scary for him, physically. Anyway, this is just to say that yes, I'm sure this kind of thing sounds weird to outsiders, but it's real, not woo-woo stuff.

In any case, it definitely sounds like your friend's little boy also has some kind of sensory processing issues, probably in combination with developmental delays like a speech delay. (Yep, my son has that too -- his MERLD symptoms sounded just like that boy's symptoms.) But the "failure to thrive" diagnosis is really worrying, as is the inability to provide a structured, safe, consistent environment for her son. Kids with special needs need consistency most of all.

So, one fundamental issue here is that it sounds like she's just not getting her son evaluated properly, with the right kinds of specialists (and not just a regular pediatrician or ER doc), and/or she's deeply in denial about his problems. She needs to hook up with a good developmental pediatrician, someone who specializes in developmental delays and autism spectrum diagnoses, who can do a longer first-hand observation of him, and in turn hook him up with a licensed speech therapist, an audiologist, an occupational therapist, possibly ABA "play therapy"/"floortime", and so on. Early intervention is key to getting these things sorted out while the child is still young, but that's not going to happen if she's in denial about her son's problems.

But the other fundamental issue is that she sounds overwhelmed and possibly mentally unbalanced. And I don't know what to recommend for that kind of problem. Can you sit her down, maybe, and say "I found some information on the Internet about SPD/SID/MERLD/developmental-delay-of-your-choice here, and it sounds a lot like how [son's name] acts. Have you considered starting him in twice-a-week speech therapy or occupational therapy?" Her reaction to that kind of honest discussion should give you more clues as to what's going on with her. If she has a background in childhood development, she may blame herself somehow for his issues. If she has a history of anorexia/perfectionism, that probably just makes it that much worse to her.

Finally, don't discount the fact that you have a (presumably) normal, healthy child running around and that every time she sees you and your child, it is a crack in her denial dam, and a painful reminder that all is not well with her own child. She's probably not going to want to discuss her emotional issues and her own son's problems while simultaneously being blatantly reminded of how easy you have it. She may think that you just can't understand. Sometimes the well-meaning but incessant questions from "normal" kids' parents can be so draining to deal with because, well, they don't understand.

Your friend and her son need help, but I don't know CPS is the right venue for providing it. Start with a more overtly sympathetic ear and try to get developmental specialists involved; perhaps as the boy's behavior starts to regulate itself better, hers will too.
posted by Asparagirl at 1:22 PM on September 8, 2010 [16 favorites]

The fact that this child has been diagnosed with malnourishment and severe anemia is a cause for serious concern - but it is the doctor who make that diagnosis who should be ordering treatment or even asking the child to be placed in the care of a child protective agency, if the mother will not comply.

My question to the OP is, do you know for a fact that she has actually been taking him to doctors, or are you just going by what she tells you? All of the things that she has told you that "the doctor says" could just be part of an elaborate story to cover up whatever is really going on.

Better safe than sorry. I would call.
posted by MexicanYenta at 1:26 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds like her son has Sensory Processing Disorder, also known as Sensory Integration Disorder (see Wikipedia).

Why would you make such a medical diagnosis without being a doctor or even having even met the child in question?
posted by The Straightener at 1:33 PM on September 8, 2010 [23 favorites]

It sounds like gray area stuff to me, too--she may be screwed up about eating, but I'm not sure that constitutes abuse. Some of the things you've said could apply to me and my kids, if you looked at us through an uncharitable lens. I'm almost 45 and have never been able to stand the taste and texture of green vegetables; one of my three kids is the same, and you could accuse me of "feeding him only junk." One of my kids also used to be a night owl and regularly stay up until 11, 12, 1 or 2 in the morning. My 3-year-old weighs only 24 pounds. I gained very little weight during my first pregnancy, during which I was able to eat very little other than peppermint stick ice cream and Cheetos. Etc. And yet I'm pretty sure I am not abusing my children.

Ideally, CPS are the perfect people to deal with gray area stuff. But the system as it works is far from ideal: This recent MetaFilter conversation and the article linked to give some perspective. After having CPS called on me a couple of times, and after a friend's children were removed from her home illegally by CPS, I would hesitate to call unless I thought the children were in imminent danger of harm. There are so many parents I know who I think are harming their children in various ways (screwing them up psychologically about food is a common one, as is excessive control, lack of trust, low levels of supervision that make me nervous...). Likewise I know lots of people who regularly say critical things about their children or partners where the kids can hear ("If I die early, it will be his fault...he's my troublemaker."). I think that kind of thing is shitty but don't think it rises to the level of needing state interference.

The risks to children if their families end up "in the system" can be big, and it's worth weighing those risks against the risk to the child in his current circumstance. I understand the fear of being one of the people who didn't step in when a child needed help, and I understand how agonizing it is to be unsure what to do--I was just about in a panic when a neighbor child showed up at my door a few months ago, announcing that his mother had "forgotten" to take him to school before she went to work, and could he come hang out with us? I called a friend who told me that, when they had neighbors they thought were neglecting their children and punishing them in ways that really pushed the "abuse" line, their response had been to befriend the family and offer support rather than involve CPS. That was very thought-provoking to me, since my impulse when I don't like the way someone is treating their children is to withdraw.

All that said: If, for your own ability to sleep at night you need to call CPS, then call. If there's no problem, they'll figure that out quickly--this was what happened when someone called CPS on me. I do think it's in the grey areas where CPS also has the hardest time figuring out the right call (my friend's case is in this zone, I think), but that's their job, and it is 100% OK to make the call and let them do it.
posted by not that girl at 1:33 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

She has a degree in early childhood development

Sure she does.

and seems to know a lot about abnormal psychology, which I think is possibly a sign.

She sounds like a pathological liar and batshit crazy.

Remember the rule of dealing with pathological liars: do not begin to believe anything they say unless you see corroborating evidence, or hear it from a third party. Is there any real evidence (other than her stories) that her son has ever seen a doctor?

At least if you call CPS she'll be out of your life soon enough.
posted by benzenedream at 1:33 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know that she has had several pediatricians in two years and that she keeps switching to a new one for whatever reason...."
"So I suspect that she's been doctor shopping. She also changes her stories about her son's habits with me all the time and I think that, if something is going on, she's smart enough to throw a few doctors off of her trail.

Or she could be equally frustrated with the lack of sensible diagnosis that she receives from doctors.
I, myself, went to about 6 or 7 doctors in a three year period until I was finally properly diagnosed with a medical condition. It's a somewhat rare condition, so not many doctors know much about it - hence why I was diagnosed with silly things or nothing at all.

She also might not want to confide personal information to you about her son and may be worried or even in denial about what some of the doctors have said. Which is fine. not all doctors are 100% correct in their judgement. And not all people want to discuss personal health information about their child who has abnormal conditions.
She might even be lying to you about what her son has because she doesn't want to deal with the conversation that would ensue.
posted by KogeLiz at 1:36 PM on September 8, 2010

To me, there is no question here. The child is not just a picky eater, but malnourished and delayed, the mother is doctor swapping and refusing treatments including a feeding tube - that looks like neglect if not abuse to me.

I personally wouldn't hesitate to call because a) you have a valid concern, and b) calling CPS is not calling in the Gestapo. They will not sweep in and take the children. They will conduct an investigation; taking the kids is only one of many possible outcomes if they find reason to take any action at all.

Ignoring this on the basis that a doctor or other party would have called if there was really a problem is bogus. Doctors, teachers and other people with a duty of care fail in that duty on a daily basis because they are human and busy and because there are professional ramifications for them if they're wrong and a whole lot of paperwork regardless.

Just call.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:37 PM on September 8, 2010 [8 favorites]

I agree with Asparagirl and the Straightener offer. She could probably use some direction looking into Early Intervention. So much of what you've described here reminds me of my child's early years, and I was a b-a-s-k-e-t-c-a-s-e; depressed, confounded, lost & lonely. She could probably use your help, but it doesn't seem like there are any instances of abuse.
posted by maloon at 1:39 PM on September 8, 2010

and good for you for looking out for them!
posted by maloon at 1:40 PM on September 8, 2010

Doctors, teachers and other people with a duty of care fail in that duty on a daily basis because they are human and busy and because there are professional ramifications for them if they're wrong and a whole lot of paperwork regardless.

Doctors and teachers are mandatory reporters, there are consequences if they don't report, not because they reported and the report turned out to be unfounded.
posted by The Straightener at 1:47 PM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

You know this situation better than us. Look at it this way - if you don't call and something does happen to this child, how will you feel?

You're admitting you're not an expert, but calling in the experts does seem like the right thing to do if you do have a suspicion, that's why they investigate first before taking any kind of action. It's the process and the only way for it to work is to get the ball rolling.

As a teacher in the state of PA, I know I am obligated to report any kind of suspected abuse or neglect and if I had knowledge and didn't report it, I will be in a lot of trouble. I don't know the laws in your state, but you should check them out.

If they investigate and don't find anything, then at least you know that did what you felt was the best thing to do at the time and can rest easy knowing you tried to do something to help this little guy.
posted by NoraCharles at 1:51 PM on September 8, 2010

I've been on parenting forums where I've felt like the voice of reason when threads complaining about someone else's parenting come up. Usually they consist of, "My Mom says she lets her kid stay up late and they don't have an actual bassinet and her kid throws tantrums," and the like.

But I do think there are causes for concern here. First, the son weighing so little and the Mom refusing a feeding tube--that's serious stuff. Doctors don't recommend feeding tubes for children who are just underweight. And "failure to thrive" is a seriously scary thing, which *should* have her scrambling to do whatever it takes.

Add to that the (I really can't believe this) comments on her toddler's penis size, and the WTF factor has me thinking that you at least need to discuss your concerns with someone more knowledgeable than I am.

So, if I were you, I would call CPS, tell them your specific concerns--and here I would stick to actual measurable facts: the child's age,weight, height--and your concerns that he may be verbally abused as well. And then let them make the call.
posted by misha at 1:54 PM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

This: 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.

Does not seem to match the expected outcome of this: And she only feeds her son junk food. Literally. His entire diet consists of pizza, cookies, chocolate bars, milk shakes, and pastries.

Why is he not gaining weight if he's on a constant diet of junk? Something is odd here.

That plus this: 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.

Strongly suggests that this situation might improve with someone outside reviewing all the facts and putting them together. It may be that mom is in severe denial over a valid and untreatable medical condition, it may be that she's a terrible parent. It's impossible for me to know. That the kid has a severe condition and supposedly doesn't have a single pediatrician who's been following the case raises red flags too.

Together, all of these flags suggest that someone else should take an interest in the child's well being, if only to make sure nothing's amiss that could be improved. Best case: kid's life turns around for the good and mom gets help that she needs. Worst case: Mom is inconvenienced and maybe you lose a friend.

Also, do you ever babysit this child? How does he respond to offers of food or other things when you're the only adult around? You may be able to improve the kid's life by offering to babysit him even once a week.
posted by zippy at 2:01 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I thought Asparagirl's comment was insightful and helpful. Please don't chastise her for taking the time to offer valuable information. Clearly the mother would need to go to a doctor for a real diagnosis, but it does no harm to gain additional insight into unusual conditions that doctors might miss.

For the original poster: it sounds to me like you are getting worked up over a few coincidences. Does she physically abuse her children in front of you? Does she refuse them food or medical care? It just sounds like she has a big mouth, a bad marriage, and a child with some issues that she's working on. (At least she takes the kid to the doctor at all!) You would really do more harm than good here, I think.
posted by metametababe at 2:07 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

There are really only three things I'm basing my advice on, and I'm ignoring the rest:

1. The child seems prone to accidents, which I assume you have not witnessed (by all means, if you saw him fall down the stairs and not try to stop himself, and dive off the chair into the table, please say so!)

2. The child's behavior suggests that something is wrong, although we don't know if it's neurological, environmental, physical or what, that is hampering his development

3. The child does not have a consistent pediatrician or other external caregiver who is in a position to spot trends in the child's difficulties or inconsistencies in what the primary caregiver is saying.

Because of those three things, I'd call if it were me, after getting a sanity check from someone else. If you come back and say you've seen his propensity to hurt himself first-hand, then I might volunteer to babysit (at my house, with my kids and at least one more adult around) several times, just to see if he'll eat veggies that I put down in front of him and if he's really as adept at injuring himself as he says.

Note that the jumping around from doctor to doctor doesn't bother me, provided there is also a single pediatrician who has long-term experience with the child. Which does not seem to be the case here.
posted by davejay at 2:19 PM on September 8, 2010

Er, sorry, if you've seen his propensity to injure himself first-hand, the babysitting idea is about foods and general temperament (is he happier without his mother around?), not about whether he's adept at injury (you already know that, if you've seen it.)
posted by davejay at 2:23 PM on September 8, 2010

Plus, maybe she's overwhelmed with his issues and needs a break. Even good parents can be bad if they need a break.
posted by davejay at 2:24 PM on September 8, 2010

the number of family and adult friends of family who said "i just knew something wasn't right" to me after the news of my abuse became public is staggering.

just make the call.
posted by nadawi at 2:28 PM on September 8, 2010 [11 favorites]

Mod note: Folks, take it to email or Metatalk but please cut out the side argument in here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:29 PM on September 8, 2010

There aren't any consequences, because the laws are not enforced. How many mandated reporters were prosecuted or defrocked/disbarred/whatever in the last ten years for failure to report?

I honestly don't know the answer to that, but in high profile enough cases I am certain there have at least been licenses pulled and jobs lost. But who knows, child welfare is so messed up in general, maybe not. In the local case of Charlenni Ferreira the child had contact both with a school nurse and a non-child welfare affiliated doctor, both of whom deemed her physically fit and able to return to school despite the fact that she had a hip that had been broken for so long the bones were fusing in a way that caused her an extreme limp, massive head injuries and obvious signs of repeated rapes. I keep checking the paper for a follow up to see if they were ever prosecuted or at least lost their jobs but the papers kind of let the story die. In fact, when the papers first covered it they lauded the school nurse with taking the girl to a doctor, as if this was some heroic effort to save her. The reporters didn't understand that not contacting child welfare allowed the girl to be seen by a doctor in the company of her parents, who likely coached her through the visit under threat of further abuse. Though, how the doctor could also not report in that instance is beyond me. I probably doesn't matter because she had previous contact with child welfare, who closed her case despite the fact that she was clearly being steadily beaten to death. Anyway, if neither the doctor or nurse get prosecuted or has their license pulled or some other sort of consequence for that, it doesn't mean anything other than this is yet another part of the child welfare system that is totally busted.
posted by The Straightener at 2:35 PM on September 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Please call. Anecdata in support of my position: I broke both my arms within 18 months when I was 2/3, and my father was reported to CPS. It caused no lingering problems for my family, because the accidents were easily (and truthfully) explained as such. In this case, it sounds to me as though the mother could certainly use some parenting skills, if nothing else. Please report the family and let a trained assessor decide what to do next; you shouldn't have to bear the burden of your worries alone.
posted by epj at 2:39 PM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

The "S" is CPS stands for "services." Remember that. CPS may be able to help this family with proactive assistance, and not necessarily need to escalate to actions that would be construed by the parents as "punishment." Do as much research as you can to figure out how well-run your local child welfare agency is, and then call them to describe your concerns. You might be able to glean some insight from the child-welfare professional you speak to *before* making a formal report (with name and address of your friend).

Here's an example description of how the reporting process works in Massachusetts. Try to find a similar explanation for your jurisdiction. It may comfort you to know that generally there are many possible outcomes between "nothing" and "kid gets sent to foster care."

Another option, based on what you've described, would be to contact an "early intervention" office in your area. Again, here's an example of how this works in Massachusetts. Not only do these programs address exactly the development issues that are worrying you, but in most states they operate under a Department of Health and Human Services that also oversees the child welfare agency. This *should* mean that if the developmental problems are rooted in abuse problems, the professionals will recognize it and report it quickly and with minimal red tape.
posted by celilo at 2:42 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Reporting concerns about neglect/abuse does not result in children being wrenched from their homes. It results in investigation by usually very caring social workers who want to find a resolution that keeps families intact and children safe. It's usually a deeply flawed system, but also usually better than depicted.
posted by theora55 at 2:46 PM on September 8, 2010

I just wanted to stop in with another CPS story.

Somebody called CPS on me when my oldest two were two and four. I was never told who called because they asked to remain anonymous.

Obviously they found no grounds and a month later I got a letter saying that my case was closed. It's been over 5 years and there have never been any negative consequences.

At first I was royally pissed that somebody would call CPS on me and risk me losing my kids. Then I realized that CPS would only take them if there was a real reason and it would be in the best interest of my child. It takes guts to care enough for a child's well being to do something like that.

I say call, ask to remain anonymous, and be safe rather than sorry. If they think your information is bunk they'll ignore you otherwise they'll check things out. Just be prepared to hear all about it from your irate friend.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:52 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

You see a child who seems to be suffering as an apparent result of his mother's poor and erratic parenting choices. The mother needs help--education, support, counseling? If your conversations with her have not been able to convince her that something is wrong, why wouldn't you call CPS and ask what they can do?

Look up the website for your state's CPS office. You'll find information like this (Wisconsin's) that outlines what CPS does, how to report suspected abuse or neglect, and what happens to your information once you call it in. Nowhere on the Wisconsin site--and I suspect this holds true for all states--does it say that you may not call in without sufficient evidence to prove there is abuse. Moreover, the bulk of the resources they mention are oriented towards helping the family stay together in a healthy way.

On preview, celilo beat me to it.
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:57 PM on September 8, 2010

posted by Vindaloo at 3:32 PM on September 8, 2010

Call call call. The worst thing that happens if you make an accusation that doesn't go anywhere is that she will be inconvenienced and, if she figure out it was you, and stop being your friend.

The worst thing that will happen if you don't call and her neglect continues is that her child will stay malnourished and will never develop properly.

CPS will gather evidence and they won't do anything extreme without it. But they can't do their jobs without people sharing their suspicions.

This is a no-brainer. Please please please call.
posted by mai at 3:51 PM on September 8, 2010

Report. I wish someone had back in the day.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:57 PM on September 8, 2010

So all of this stuff is happening when she has an audience.

What happens when you're not watching? Do you think it's likely to be better, or worse? I don't know. Sometimes people do sick things to try to impress other people because they don't know better; some people are on their best behavior but the sick things slip out sometimes anyway.

The multiple injuries, the malnourishment--those seem really abnormal. If she is getting him medical care, then I don't think that would be difficult for her to demonstrate to CPS. If he's been to the doctor multiple times, there will be a record of it.

If he is not being fed and/or his medical treatment is being neglected, then someone needs to intervene.


The verbal abuse I think is horrific but I don't know how "actionable" it is or how other people feel about it. I was surprised to see multiple people in this post skip over it.

So maybe focus on your suspicion that his medical care is being neglected and/or that he is not being fed adequately.

For what it's worth from someone who has been around kids with various issues (including children with autism spectrum disorders), the food stuff seems annoying but not abnormal. In fact, a milkshake is a really good way to get a lot of calories (and a few nutrients, too) so the junk food thing seems particularly unproblematic.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:09 PM on September 8, 2010

The child may have developmental issues. The mother may be anorexic. The mom may be utterly delusional and starving the child. Or the child, mom, or both may have serious medical issues that are indeed under treatment. Maybe the inconsistencies are because she's embarrassed to explain the real issue. Maybe it's a great deal worse than you think. We could come up with a thousand theories, and the truth may be stranger or a great deal more mundane than anyone would guess. But I would caution you against developing too elaborate of a diagnosis in your head, if for no other reason than your own sanity. You may never find out the truth.

However, as you are worried about the child's health and well-being based on your own observations, I think you should call CPS. They should send someone out to investigate. If the child is being abused, or even if the mom is just overwhelmed, this gives the kid one more fighting chance to be evaluated.
posted by desuetude at 4:11 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Go ahead and call; the services CPS can provide might do a lot of good. But nothing you've described here falls into the category of "abuse." Sadly, it isn't illegal to be a shitty parent.

My daughter was diagnosed "failure to thrive" twice, once at 9 months and once at 15 months. She was tiny, too; 17 pounds at 1 year, 21 pounds at 2 years, 25 pounds at 3 years. Extensive testing showed that there was nothing wrong with her whatsoever, but despite my efforts to shove food down her throat, she just wouldn't gain weight. Now she's a 31 pound nearly-four-year-old, skinny as hell, sharp as a tack, and as stubborn as a thirsty mule. While this child shows other problems -- developmental delays that my daughter never showed -- I just want to make the point that "failure to thrive" only means "has crossed one or more standard deviation lines within X period of time on the US growth curves," and has no more sinister meaning than that.
posted by KathrynT at 4:20 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

A woman in my city was arrested last year for poisoning her child's IV line with the child's own feces in the hospital. The child (who was born premature and had a slew of other health problems) had been in and out of the hospital, staying for months at a time because of bacterial infections. They finally had to plant a camera in the hospital room in order to catch the woman. She was by all accounts a very doting mother, but she was very obsessive and protective of her kids. She blogged about her child's illnesses daily. It took all those months (maybe even a year) for her to be caught.

I think there are enough red flags for you to call CPS. Their job is to investigate. Enough kids fall through the cracks even with CPS checking up on them (like the kids who are found terribly injured/ill or even dead of abuse or neglect even though CPS had checked on the family before), you don't want to wish you had called if something goes worse for this kid and it turns out it's the mom's neglect or action.
posted by elpea at 4:31 PM on September 8, 2010

The point of my anecdote about the woman poisoning her kid is just to illustrate that going to the doctor or the ER isn't going to necessarily mean she will be reported. This kid was living in the hospital for months before they finally were able to stop the mother.
posted by elpea at 4:32 PM on September 8, 2010

If you are wrong, it will not be life shattering. Plenty of people are reported to CPS and their cases are not substantiated. Life goes on. Make the call and let the authorities investigate. In my state, anyone can make an anonymous report, so it doesn't have to come back to you. (And it doesn't matter if you know the difference between abuse or neglect - that's for the CPS workers to figure out, if this falls into either of those categories, which I suspect it would).
posted by kirst27 at 4:44 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

At the very least, this mother is guilty of neglect. At the worst, she's abusing her son. I worry that if her motherly tendencies are so bad before her baby gets here, once the baby is born, one or both of those kids will be subject to further neglect.

Please call. I have no experience or anecdata with CPS, but it does seem like the initial CPS visit is not a big deal. If calling CPS on her even serves to scare her into some sort behavioral change towards her son, you've done right by that child.
posted by Everydayville at 5:06 PM on September 8, 2010

I don't know if she's abusing or neglecting this child, if she's unfit due to mental illness, or what. But I do know that in your shoes, I'd call CPS and report the disturbing observations you've made, and what she has said to you that makes you concerned about abuse or neglect. At worst, they will find the report "unfounded" and you will know she passed muster with the folks whose profession is child welfare. At best, you will save this child who cannot save himself.
posted by bearwife at 5:12 PM on September 8, 2010

Call. Malnourishment + multiple injuries + no input by the other parent spell trouble to me. And honestly, if it's just you calling, with the story you report, there may not be much in the way of an investigation. But if one of those pediatricians she's been shopping, or the ER where she has been taking her son, also called, your additional call could mean a lot.
posted by palliser at 5:19 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, you say she's been going to doctors, the ER, etc., but have you actually seen the doctor's reports? It's possible she's making up some of this stuff. Does the child have supplements or other medication he needs to take? It might be likely that a diagnosis of failure to thrive would indicate some kind of prescription.

Again, I don't have kids so I'm not too intuitive about this stuff.
posted by Everydayville at 5:27 PM on September 8, 2010


On the note of things you could do together that might be supportive to her and her children in other ways- something like baby college (though rare) sounds appropriate.
posted by lab.beetle at 6:22 PM on September 8, 2010

I want to note that children with chronic health problems, physical or developmental disabilities, emotional disturbances, or who differ from the norm in any significant way are more likely to be abused/neglected by the people around them.

It’s not an either/or scenario. Disability and parental mistreatment are very complicated issues in and of themselves that often do exist separately--many abused children are not documented as having pre-existing disabilities, and most parents with disabled children don't abuse them--but the two also have a strong tendency to occur together, and when that happens, they go on to complicate the hell out of each other.

Let me put it like this: I did not learn how the system works in one region because I chose to work with child survivors of abuse/neglect. I learned about it because I specifically chose to work with children with disabilities, and in so doing, ended up working with a significant population of abused/neglected children.

posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 6:22 PM on September 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

Call. I'd like to stress something people have mentioned here already - they come out and do an investigation. You're not ruining anyone's life, you're not convicting anyone of anything, and you're not telling the state to take the kids away.

They'll come out, and even if there is neglect or abuse, they may not take the kids away. They'll do so if the kid is in serious serious danger. Otherwise they might just as likely connect the family to services that are designed to make them better and more capable parents. (This all depends on the location to some extent, but this type of thing is the foundation of modern child welfare services.)

And if the kid's in serious danger? You may have just saved a life.

Again, call.
posted by kensington314 at 6:31 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

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.

Wrong about the "abuse"? Or wrong about not knowing your own boundaries? Would you have some other neighbor report you because you fed your kids things they didn't approve of or bring them up like they'd approve of?

You are playing parent police.
posted by xm at 6:33 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am not a developmental disorders professional skilled in diagnosis, but as a professional who works with children with autism, I wonder, like several other posters, if developmental delay explains some of this. This set of traits - late-onset expressive language, atypical expressive language usage, preference for one and only one person (that you see), highly selective food preference, "little or no self-protective instinct" - independent of the other observations you describe - fit some of the diagnostic criteria of pervasive developmental disorders (e.g., autism, PDD-NOS). How does he interact with other kids? Maybe you can gently relate your observations to mom and suggest developmental delay diagnostics (e.g., PDD assessment, language assessment)?

This is not to say that prenatal or parenting behaviors of the mother that you have observed are not risky or cause for concern. It's totally possible that multiple variables or something else entirely is the reason for the child's behavior. Whatever is going on, I hope that a solution is reached quickly to address the situation for the kid's sake, and that he (and mom?) get the help he/they need ASAP.

[P.S., for something completely different: as someone who's nearsighted, I'm wondering if the diving off of objects and leaf vs. bug hullaballoo could be related to nearsightedness? If he's able to read words, maybe not - but how close is he to the text when he's reading? My vision started deteriorating around age 4 or 5. Today, without contacts or glasses, a leaf and a large bug might look very similar from a toddler's height, and distance/perspective decisions are pretty much a no-go.]
posted by shortskirtlongjacket at 6:39 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Whether or not there is a real abuse issue, you're concerned and it may make sense to call. If you describe something that doesn't sound to them like abuse they will likely just note it or maybe drop by to check in with the family. Its not likely that one phone call is going to result in her child being taken away when its not necessary. Most states work very hard to keep children with their families and reunify if they have to be temporarily separated. And maybe even if there is no overt neglect going on, they can hook her up with some services for parents and children that would be helpful. I tend to err on the side of reporting and let the people who are experts decide. I'd rather be the person who calls than the person who later regrets saying nothing. A lot of areas allow anonymous calls, and some might even allow you to ask about a "hypothetical" situation as well.
posted by gilsonal at 6:42 PM on September 8, 2010

Familiarize yourself with your state's process. I can say that in my state and my experience, for a kid to be taken away, there needs to be documented abuse or neglect, followed by lengthy court proceedings which include court-appointed lawyers for everyone. The majority of investigations are closed as unfounded.

I also know that if a parent needs resources to better care for a child -- especially one with developmental difficulties -- social services can open doors that are life changing and sanity saving.

The system both underinvestigates and overinvestigates. I've seen parents who've had to go through hoops to prove that they're taking care of their kids.

I think what tips it for me is that I work with a lot of parents that have been investigated by social services. In one case, the investigation consisted of one phone call. Many people have experienced the home visit. Some people have expressed feelings of being persecuted during the investigation.

But every good parent I worked with recognized that the point of the whole thing was the safety of their child. Even if the reporter was a vindictive ex, the parent would rather have had social services check out a concern than leave their precious child to suffer or be neglected.

You do not have proof of abuse or neglect, but you see this child regularly, and far more often than any doctor. You may assume or suspect that a doctor or other professional has seen enough to be concerned and has appropriately reported that concern, but you do not know. You do not mention whether this child is in daycare, or whether grandparents or others are in the picture. You may have more regular contact with this child than any other non-parent adult.

Do your research, know what the process may involve. Then call.
posted by freshwater at 8:35 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would maybe use the word "neglect" instead of "abuse." Just my two cents.
posted by radioamy at 9:43 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your opinions on her son's health do not take precedence over the mother's.

One of the higher profile cases of apalling abuse in my country in the last few years involved a three year old who died after spending her whole little life being tortured to death by her family. She was spun on washing life until she passed out, thrown in a dryer, and finally beaten to death. The grandmother and mother offered that their behavior was because the child was "stupid and ugly".

Becfore that it was the mother who hid her child for years to avoid him receiving chemotherapy for a cacnerous bone tumour, prefering a magic crystal box. He died, unsurprisingly, of cancer.

There are no shortage of mothers whose opinions could very profitably be ignored, nay, hurled aside with great force.

She may well be a bad parent in your eyes (and maybe in most). But I don't think anything good will come of calling CPS.

The local child protection people save a lot of kids from appalling situations. Sometimes they do that with th blunt instrument of relocating the children. More often they help families who are in a bad way avoid something worse happen.

A friend of mine got a visit from CYPFS (our CPS) because her son kept showing up at the doctors with bad bruising, usually to his head. As it happens, he's a clumsy kid. My friend was upset, as you would be, but it didn't take them long to establish that his family don't show any signs of abusive or neglectful behaviour, there was never any question or threat of intervention beyond the visit, and all is well. My friend is of the opinion she'd rather have had an unpleasant experience if that reporting/check-in regime stops people from doing terrible things to their children.

Make the call.
posted by rodgerd at 1:59 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

The penis size thing alone will haunt him for life. Call now while there's a chance he might not remember it.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 2:45 AM on September 9, 2010

Why is he not gaining weight if he's on a constant diet of junk? Something is odd here.

Nutrient malabsorption sounds like the issue here. As a child I was very gaunt on a diet of junk food. As an adult I was diagnosed with severe gut problems and was able to gain weight (perhaps too much) with proper medication and the elimination of foods that caused the gut damage.

The nutrient problems also caused me to bruise really badly.

We did have some dealings with CPS with my brother, who had similar issues. It did NOT ruin our lives and in fact probably helped because it spurred my parents to work harder diagnosing the problem in order to clear us. As a result my brother got treatment earlier and probably will have a much easier time in school than I did.
posted by melissam at 6:02 AM on September 9, 2010

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