(Abused) neighbor child is opening my mail.
September 3, 2014 8:10 PM   Subscribe

The mother has previously apologized for her 13-year-old son opening my mail. I have previously reported her to Child Protective Services, after hearing her beating him through our shared apartment wall. Today my Amazon box was completely slit open. Do I call CPS again? police? landlord? Montgomery County, MD.

I live in an apartment building, and several of my walls are shared with another apartment whose door opens into the same space as mine -- i.e., they have a large welcome mat and it covers the space where I might put one. Packages are delivered into this shared area, so conceivably it could be confusing whose they are, but in my ~1.5 years here they've always been touching one door or the other. And, you know, labeled.

The neighbors are a mother and son. Since maybe summer 2013 I have periodically heard her beating him late at night, but starting this spring it became more frequent and severe. You can't make me feel any worse than I already do about not reporting it until this June, and I don't want to get sidetracked with details, but suffice it to say that it was fairly triggering for me. It was not until I made an audio recording and listened to it half a dozen times that I was sure it was bad as I thought.

Circa April of this year, the mother knocked on my door to apologize for her son "accidentally" opening my Graze box and eating one of the snacks. He seems to be home alone for a few hours unsupervised after school, and a few times before that the plastic wrappers on my Graze boxes had been broken, so I didn't believe it was an accident. Regardless, I found myself being super nice about it, as far as ending the conversation with "Have a good weekend!" -- because I did not want to listen to her beating him and feel responsible for provoking it. That reaction was a bit of a wake-up call.

So after I made the recording I took a day off work to call CPS. Before I played it over the phone the social worker was saying things like "If we accept this report..." but afterward she asked me if I had anyone to "process the situation with". She also said that based on what she heard the mother could be charged with neglect, but since spanking is legal in Maryland it would not be considered abuse unless there were bruises. She and the field case worker called back several times for more details in an attempt to track him down at school that day.

As it turned out, I made the call a few days before the end of the school year. A day or two afterward, both mother and son vanished. Two weeks later the mother returned. The son did not return until a week or two ago when school started. I have heard some yelling, but it sounds like it's coming from a room that doesn't share a wall with my space, and I can't tell if it has been accompanied by beating.

Today, I arrived home to find my Amazon box (UPS delivery) slit open, right through the string-reinforced packing tape, with bits of inflated plastic strewn around the hallway. Of course there's no proof, and there are other neighbors and children in the building, but I feel certain it was this boy. Nothing was missing, so I guess he wasn't interested in my oral care supplies or dish soap?

Anyway. I intend to report any further abuse that I hear, but in the meantime I need the interference with my mail to stop. Possible actions:

-- Talk to the mother. Normally, yes. Given the situation, NO. Although she has seemed meek when I've spoken with her in passing, the person I have heard beating her child is scary. I don't want to give her a reason to abuse him, and I can imagine myself screaming at her or punching her if we got into a discussion about the abuse.

-- Talk to the child. No. That is just way above my pay grade. I have my own issues and just cannot be any kind of resource or mentor for him. (On top of that... although he's small, the way that he looks at me... suggests that he's starting to go through puberty, and it skeeves me out beyond belief.)

-- Move. No. After the neighbor issues, my only complaint about living here is the lack of a dishwasher. The landlord/manager is great, it's cheap, it's close to work.

-- Talk to the landlord. I think that this is technically not his problem, right? But I've been thinking about giving him a heads-up anyway. He's a nice guy, and as far as I can tell manages this property (+ others?) full-time. He is extremely responsive to maintenance issues, etc. etc.

-- Not have packages delivered. Not a permanent solution. I can't have them delivered to work. Shopping online saves me from having to deal with the awful traffic around here and is a pretty important coping mechanism, especially now that my anxiety and depression are spiking from employment uncertainty.

-- Call CPS again. I'm planning to do this when they're open during business hours tomorrow. But I don't know if they'll be able to do anything. I have no new evidence of abuse, it's just that it seems like this kid still needs some kind of help, and I don't think that criminalizing him is a good solution...

-- Call the police? I really don't know how this would go. It's certainly what I would do if an adult neighbor were messing with my mail, but I think the kid's behavior is a byproduct of the bad home situation. Also perhaps worth mentioning that the neighbors are black (I'm white), so it's hard not to wonder if police interactions might go poorly for them.

Any other ideas? Thoughts about what CPS and/or the police might be able or willing to do?
posted by ecsh to Law & Government (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Get a PO Box, and have your packages delivered there?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:17 PM on September 3, 2014 [24 favorites]

It's unclear in your question whether you want CPS to stop the abuse, stop your mail tampering or both. If it's the abuse, well you've already contacted them and are free to contact them again if you suspect the abuse is continuing. Their job is really not to stop the package tampering and AFAIK in most states it is legal for a parent to leave a 13 yo home unsupervised for a few hours. If the parent won't handle it, then the appropriate next step is either the landlord, the delivery company or both.
posted by shesbookish at 8:17 PM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know you don't want to deal with traffic, but there's no way to engineer this situation with your neighbours that doesn't put that kid at risk. There's probably somewhere relatively nearby that offers package acceptance / post office box services. Get one of those.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:20 PM on September 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Please call CPS again, and report the disappearance, and the yelling, and the fact that this child is stealing food. Because all of that, to me, says abuse and neglect (and specifically that he may not be getting enough to eat). Be specific about what you've seen and heard, and how often, and how the child reacts, and anything else you can think of. There are lots of steps they can take short of removing the child, and without stigmatizing the family, to get them help. And yes, you do have new evidence of abuse: screaming at a child is abuse. And the fact that this child is still opening packages (possibly to look for food) is evidence. Heck, just the fact that the child is back in the home is information CPS should know, because it will allow them to follow up on the previous report, which they may have put on hold when they learned that the child was no longer living there.

Please do not call the police over this except as a last resort to prevent imminent physical harm in an emergency where all other options have been exhausted. I work with children charged with crimes. He will not get meaningful help in the juvenile justice system. Depending on where you live, a young black child from an abusive home is likely to be shackled like an animal, put through some very degrading and traumatic and scary arrest procedures, and at worst, imprisoned, where he'll receive very little in the way of education or counseling. And depending on where you live, and the age of the child, he could end up charged as an adult with a serious felony and end up in adult prison before he's out of high school. Abuse of detained children is rampant, and social services are few. If you want him to get help, social services, not law enforcement, is the way to go. That happens alarmingly frequently, and in my (extremely well-informed) opinion, getting a kid arrested almost always does nothing whatsoever to help children, much less to protect the safety of society at large.
posted by decathecting at 8:23 PM on September 3, 2014 [55 favorites]

Get a PO Box, and have your packages delivered there?

You can't get non-USPS packages delivered to a Post Office box, but you can at a UPS Store or other private mailbox service.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:26 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

For non-food related packages, I would consider getting some sort of safe that could sit outside my apartment door. Something which needs a code to open it, but does not need anything to lock it. When you order packages online, put a note asking them to place the package inside the safe and shut the door.

For food-related packages, I would let them be delivered normally. If he's stealing food, let him have it. Poor kid.
posted by lollusc at 8:26 PM on September 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Definitely call CPS again and report what's going on. Now that school is back in session and the family is back from wherever they were, it will be much easier to track them down to interview them.

It is very concerning that this child seems to be stealing food and particularly that he is stealing food and not other things. Also make sure to mention anything specific you have noticed in regards to the child possibly being overly or prematurely sexual-- it's unclear exactly how old he is or what you meant by your comment, but it seems like it could be a red flag. Abuse, neglect, and sex abuse often go hand in hand.

If you still have contact information for the field worker I would suggest starting with them, because chances are this case is still open and on their caseload. If it's been closed, they can tell you how to make another report. It really shouldn't take all day at all, especially since you've already provided a great deal of information that should presumably still be saved in their systems.

Thanks for being a caring and concerned human being. Sounds like this kid deserves a lot better than what he's got at the moment.
posted by charmcityblues at 8:35 PM on September 3, 2014 [8 favorites]

As far as the packages are concerned, are you friendly with any of your neighbors who might be home during the day and willing to accept a package for you? If the landlord or apartment complex manager or even the maintenance man is onsite or if there is a central office to the complex, you might ask them to hold any packages for you with an explanation as to why you are asking for this, just to give the landlord a heads up about what is going on.

As far as the child is concerned, I'd follow decathecting's advice to report the disappearance/reappearance and package opening to look for food to CPS. My next response would be to talk directly to the child in a very firm way only about the packages. I know you don't want to open yourself up to him, but better to nip his behavior in the bud without putting him at risk for further beatings by talking to his mother.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 8:39 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get a mailbox service as suggested. That's cheaper than having to move and easier all round. Also, get your door locks checked and add a keypad lock if that makes you feel safer.

I know you don't want to get involved with the kid, but you might be able to do two things for him and your own peace of mind, maybe - and I would totally get not being able to do this and I think you're already stepping up as it is:

1. Keep calling CPS. Get a name for the social worker you spoke to and be the squeaky wheel. Make sure your anonymity is protected.

2. Look up Big Brother or other similar services and call them and say you'd like the brochures and stuff mailed to you, and give your neighbour's name and address.

I also get not wanting to be seen as a source of food for him, but a hungry kid is hard. The school is probably feeding him, and it might be more complicated with health issues. Are there other tenants or people like the landlord who you can say "Hey, the kid in Apartment 12B is hungry all the time, can you check on him?" What you need is a bossy grandma-type or a quiet big dude who can step up without getting blowback, but this is definitely above your pay grade. Poor kid.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:41 PM on September 3, 2014

Get some food and leave it out there in the Amazon box, un-taped or lightly-taped. Leave a note inside that says: "stop opening my other packages, but here's some snacks." Leave food out in a similar already-open Amazon box 2-3 times a week. Nothing fancy. Granola bars.
posted by amaire at 9:04 PM on September 3, 2014 [16 favorites]

Leave a note inside that says...

You're assuming the kid is literate. I wouldn't make that assumption.
posted by zadcat at 9:11 PM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't leave out food. The kid could have allergies or intolerance problems or just get sick from something, and that's a whole other set of problems.

I think the best bet is to have deliveries go elsewhere or do more of the errands yourself rather than ordering online.

Do you have something like Fresh Direct where they need you to be home to deliver? That's what I do for food delivery.
posted by sweetkid at 9:13 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

He thought it was a Graze box. He thought he would open the box to find food.

Maybe you can give him a "Welcome back!" or "Back to School!" kit, complete with food. Include a notebook. In the notebook, you can deliver a note that says "Hey, if you ever need food, I can give you that if you stick a note under my door. But my packages are private and it's not OK to go through them."
posted by samthemander at 9:14 PM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also: You didn't ask for to be responsible for his well-being. It's better for EVERYONE (him included) if you set healthy boundaries with how you respond to his actions. Take care of yourself.
posted by samthemander at 9:15 PM on September 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

If clarification is needed: Yes, any suggestions for stopping the abuse, bring them on!

In the meantime the package thing is still an issue for me... but much less so if he's specifically looking for food. I completely had not made that connection and thought that the snack-stealing was random 13-year-old mischief, since food is the only thing I'd order that a boy might be interested in, but I think you guys are spot on. See also, May-ish: kid throws his wet shoes into the dryer that I was about to put my clothes in, then asks me for $1.50, then never turns the dryer on...

I had felt that the package thing and the abuse were interwoven, but I think that highlighting the connection with food will be much more likely to get the attention of CPS. Thanks.
posted by ecsh at 9:16 PM on September 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

There are 2 separate issues. If you are aware of abuse and/or neglect, report it. It's the job of CPS to decide if they will investigate. In Maine, at least, many reports don't get investigated due to lack of time/ staff. You can't control the world, but you can call CPS.

If the child seems skinny and hungry, call CPS. A 13 year old at home alone after school is probably bored, and may like the treats you get better than a peanut butter sandwich at home, or he may be hungry. Can you not have food delivered for a while? If you think he's hungry, and you can afford it, maybe leave a box with some combination of apples, graham crackers, peanut butter, crackers, cereal or other snacks that are reasonably nutritious, and do this on some periodic basis.

The thing is, at 13, a kid opening your packages is going to keep it up. Some time you'll order something expensive, it'll get swiped, and everyone will be unhappier.

Is it possible to have special delivery instructions of 'after 5' or Saturday delivery? Maybe talk to the landlord and ask if it would be possible to have packages delivered to a locked area via a 1 - way chute or locked cabinet. Many apartments have this, for this exact reason. You don't have to bust the kid, just state that you don't feel comfortable having packages sit outside your door.

Sorry you have to deal with this. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 9:23 PM on September 3, 2014

I'm a CPS consultant. Call them and let them know the family is back-if they weren't able to find them before they weren't able to complete their assessment and they may be still trying to find them. And call every time you hear something new.

CPS isn't going to be able to do anything about your UPS packages. I think assuming he's breaking into them because he's hungry is a stretch-yeah, that might be true-but physical abuse does not go hand in hand with neglect every time or even most the time. He could be hungry, he could be stealing, it could even not be him this time. So I suggest dealing with these two things as unrelated issues. Make your CPS reports and make a different plan for package delivery. Thanks for looking out for this kiddo!
posted by purenitrous at 9:25 PM on September 3, 2014 [12 favorites]

It kind of depends on what you're ordering (i.e. the boxes can't be too big or too heavy) but maybe there's an Amazon locker location near you?
posted by sevenless at 9:32 PM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is there a main office for the apartment complex? If so. Could the packages be delivered there and held for you?

Do whatever you can for this kid while staying safe yourself. I'd call CPS again and give the landlord a heads up. Also, consider calling the school if you know where he attends? Do you have anyone in your life who is a mandatory reporter who could advise you? Take care.
posted by futz at 9:49 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was an abused child. I prayed for intervention that never came. Here's what I would want....

I would want to be kept safe.

As an adult who has dealt with neighbor issues in this serious-type wheelhouse....

I think you should continue to make recordings. When you have enough compelling & indisputable evidence, take it to the relevant agency in your jurisdiction that will do him the most good and report the abuse to them.

You say this is "triggering" for you?

I say this is a complete GIFT You've been given in your life.

Use it.

posted by jbenben at 11:28 PM on September 3, 2014 [13 favorites]

I have packages sent to a UPS or Fedex location when I can and then I pick them up. It's a weekend errand, but for some items I'm not OK with them sitting out all day. If your apartment is the kind with a main leasing office, they can be delivered there for you.

I would definitely look for a new apartment. I understand this place is cheap, close to work, etc. But I would start keeping an eye out for other places that are cheap, close to work, etc. Living next to a woman who abuses her kid is more than I would want to deal with, not from a hassle standpoint but from an emotional mental well-being and burden standpoint.

All that being said, it sounds like this is a bad situation and you should continue sharing things you hear and observe with CPS. I'd contact them again and have them discuss when you should report things to them or what else you can do. I think the food thing is a stretch too. I think this is a kid who clearly comes from a shitty background and may be just acting out.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:34 AM on September 4, 2014

Ask the landlord to set up a locking mailbox system. They make locking mailboxes. There are various options, so don't necessarily assume it's impossible just because you have a narrow entry area. They could set up mailboxes outside your unit. I've seen it where there is one or two package-sized mailboxes for the whole complex, and when you get a package, they leave a key for that mailbox in your mail slot, and you return it after you pick up the package.

I'd think carefully about how you ask the landlord. Will they turn around and call the mom? Will they start trying to figure out how to evict the family (thinking "abuse and theft... sounds like a lot of risk")? Maybe someone else should ask so that it doesn't immediately point to your neighbor?

And yeah, keep doing everything you can to address the abuse and potential hunger issues via CPS, etc. I hope this child gets whatever help possible.
posted by salvia at 12:43 AM on September 4, 2014

I get most of my packages sent to my workplace - is this an option for you? How about an Amazon Locker?

(I do hope you call CPS. Sounds like a horrible situation.)
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:00 AM on September 4, 2014

A day or two afterward, both mother and son vanished. Two weeks later the mother returned. The son did not return until a week or two ago when school started

You say vanished but going away for 2 weeks in the summer holidays is surely not that unusual? The son could have spent the rest of the summer at camp or with his father.

What do you care about more? The packages or the boy? Other than not having packages delivered to your home, anything else you attempt (including giving him snacks) could lead to the mother beating him more. Call CPS every time you hear her beating him and keep recording it.
posted by missmagenta at 3:20 AM on September 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

1. Have packages delivered to a relative, friend, or work colleague who can bring them to you or who can call you to come and get them.

2. Get to know the mother and kid and see if there's anything you can do for them. Don't trust either of them too much, though, at least until you can be sure they can be trusted.

The kid might have problems the mother doesn't know how to deal with, so he does shit that drives her crazy and she beats the shit out of him. Or maybe just the mother has problems and takes them out on the kid. Who knows? But you might see a way out of this mess for them if you get to know them. Maybe he or she needs something you can tell them how to get.
posted by pracowity at 4:52 AM on September 4, 2014

I think you need to separate the package thing from the abuse. While it's certainly possible the kid doesn't get enough to eat, I don't think he's opening your packages looking for food. He's looking for things to steal. (And it sounds like mom went on a two week vacation, and then son stayed with a relative for the summer or went to camp. So they may not be that poor.)

Follow the advice about continuing to contact CPS about the abuse. And sure, mention he's stolen food from you and may be hungry.

I think you could also call the police just to ask for advice. Explain the situation, and stress that you don't want to press charges and you think the kid needs help. They may or may not be helpful.

As for the packages, if you don't just have them sent elsewhere, I would talk to the kid. Personally, I'd try to scare him straight, as it were. Say you know he's been opening your packages, you have a record that he's already stolen something from one of them. Tell him it's a federal offense, blah blah blah, and if he does it again you'll have him arrested. He doesn't know you don't mean it, and that may deter him from messing with your stuff.

It's not your obligation to save this kid, or even be nice to him. Calling CPS is all you can do, and it's enough.
posted by catatethebird at 5:35 AM on September 4, 2014

Nthing the suggestion to talk to the manager about the package tampering issue. Don't link it to this kid in particular, but just tell him that your packages are getting opened and you'd like to be able to have stuff delivered to a more secure location.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:22 AM on September 4, 2014

Get a mailbox at a The UPS Store, because a PO Box can't accept non-USPS packages. Inform your landlord of the situation (saying only that your packages are often being opened/tampered with and stolen); request that packages be delivered to a central location to be signed for (this is how it works at many, but not all, apartment complexes I've lived in). Keep your UPS Store box until you see that packages are being delivered to a central location in your building.

Continue to make recordings of what you hear. Call CPS again.
posted by tckma at 7:34 AM on September 4, 2014

Some people don't seem to be connecting the dots, so I'll spell it out: The kid may be stealing food because he is bored. He may be stealing food because he is hungry because his family is too poor to afford enough food. OR he may be stealing food because he is hungry because his parent is withholding food as part of the abuse.
posted by bq at 8:22 AM on September 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

Call CPS at every. single. new. event. They keep records so it adds up and they will eventually investigate just to get you to stop calling. Sadly this is sometimes how CPS works.

However factors like the child's willingness to corporate may hinder a investigation. It isn't that the kid wants to be abused is that children will choose the option that feels the safest. Sometimes people choose the known over the unknown and will undermine help.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:59 AM on September 4, 2014

Here in WNY, the Post Office has just begun to accept UPS packages for delivery to post office box holders.
posted by Riverine at 11:46 AM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

This reminds me of a story a young mother told me once. Her son was coming home from school saying an older boy was stealing his lunch every day. She was a little ghetto & said she went to his bus stop the next day, planning to kick the kid's butt.

When she got on the bus & saw the kid, she felt so bad for him, she ended up making two lunches every day for the rest of the year just so the thief could get at least one meal. I don't have any advice for you, you're in a tough spot...

We had a creepy neighbor who I was sure was sexually abusing a little boy. I never made any calls for that kid, felt that I had nothing other than to say he was creepy. That kid is now a very creepy young adult now, I wish I had dome something.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 1:27 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

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