Little ones in danger: Whose responsibility?
Most of those who read my column work: Paid employment, volunteer work, tasks around the house and yardwork, if left undone, would create serious problems. Some of us juggle all three types of work.
When we pick up our local paper and glance at the front page, we note — again — that a baby or a toddler has been shaken, burned or thrown against a wall.
And we are outraged, and we express that to anyone who is within earshot, “How could he do something like that? Is she mentally ill or under the influence of drugs or alcohol? Why did she leave her baby with her live-in boyfriend while she went to work? Didn’t she know he couldn’t be trusted? People like this should never be allowed to have children.”
Caring for little ones requires that we be at our absolute best: They are hungry or they need their diaper changed. Or they are teething or tired or sick. They don’t understand their pain or their discomfort. They can’t tell us what’s wrong, and their frustration — and ours — builds.
We, however, are the adults, so we control our impatience and ascertain what we need to do to calm the situation. We may make a quick call to a trusted relative or neighbor or friend to seek advice or to ask her to bring us a package of diapers or a snack or to just listen. We might call our pediatrician. In other words, most of us have resources.
All who are charged with caring for little ones are not so lucky, and quality childcare — or any childcare at all — is expensive, and absolutely not possible for those persons making $12 an hour.
Do we have a responsibility to do something other than wring our hands and rant about the behavior of all those who don’t deserve to have children?
I’d like to see a simple solution put into place: Time out for Caregivers.
With a 911 call, a parent could arrange to either bring a baby/toddler to a site or have law enforcement come get the child. Of course, this puts a burden on our officers, but I would venture to say they would prefer this to domestic violence calls or calls where they find a lifeless infant or calls where adults in the house are behaving irrationally because of a mental illness or because they are under the influence of drugs/alcohol while a child is somewhere in the house, hungry and lying in its own feces.
The child could then be taken to a safe place, a facility or facilities to be defined and staffed by volunteers who are willing to be on call. Even individual homes could be approved for such safety nets for our youngest.
I know that interventions already exist which result in parents going to court, being issued fines, and having their children put in foster care. I’m not referring to punitive measures.
I realize that my suggestion is complex and would require a comprehensive plan so that all the legal, personnel and logistical matters are identified and addressed.
And you, the reader, might have a much better partial solution short of screening persons who want to have children, making birth control mandatory, requiring women who are pregnant to attend parenting classes or engaging in other practices that would probably be declared illegal.
We do, of course, want to educate our citizenry about the responsibilities and challenges of parenthood, make birth control readily available and give support to new parents.
In the end, however, are we our brother’s keeper? Does it take a village? Would Christ have approved such a plan? I say , “yes” to all three questions, and I ask you for your opinion. Or perhaps you have a solution you would be willing to share?
Dr. Vivian Blevins is a Harlan County native. She has taught undergraduate and graduate students as well as prison inmates, and now teaches communication and American literature classes at Edison State Community College in Ohio. Reach her at email@example.com.