I need some guidance about an annoying neighbor—and it’s not what one might think. This neighbor is all of 4 years old and cute as a button, but is constantly ringing my doorbell to see if my 5-year-old wants to play. She is always outside unsupervised, riding her bike in the street (and I’ve seen a few close calls). In addition to not wanting my child to be hanging out with her, because I am not a fan, I also find it dangerous that she is outside for hours at a time unattended. I already spoke to the mom about her playing in the street, and the mom didn’t seem to register what the issue is. The child is also very unkempt and it doesn’t look like she gets bathed too often.
How do I handle this frustrating situation without packing up my family and moving? (Clearly not an option!) Thanks!
-Nay to Neighbor
Dear Nay to Neighbor,
Ok, so this is actually more complicated than simply keeping this young neighbor from bothering you. There may be a much bigger issue here, and it may be a sad one. It sounds like this kid may be a bit (or more) neglected, and that is a very big deal.
We don’t know for sure, and there is only one way to find out.
The first step is something that you have done already: Talk to the mother. I suggest you revisit this one final time, and tell the mother about the close call that you witnessed. If you do not see lasting improvement, it is time to do something uncomfortable.
It’s time to report this to your state’s child protective service. I don’t know what state you live in, but in certain states, ALL people are mandated reporters for abuse and neglect, not just licensed professionals. It’s possible, though not certain, that you would remain anonymous
Either way, I would say that you should make the call.
Now, making the call doesn’t mean that this child will be ripped from her home and put straight into foster care. It is a process and involves follow-up visits from the agency to see if the situation is improving or not. Many times official involvement helps motivate the parents to seek out the help they need to better parent. Sometimes it is not.
If the child will have to be removed from her parent’s home, you will likely have mixed feelings. There is no doubt that a transition like that can be traumatic for a child. However, I do want to shed some light on the other end of things. I have had many adult clients who, as children were either abused or neglected. Many tried reaching out to a teacher or a neighbor, but nothing was done. Some didn’t reach out because they didn’t know anything other than the abuse or neglect of their world. Some grew to become victims of sexual abuse due to the absence of parental supervision and care, or due to the fact that they were so thirsty for love and attention that they welcomed it from any source, even a predator. Others have permanent physical and neurological ailments due to beatings from their parents.
In this case that you bring, the signs point more to neglect than abuse, however it is still extremely serious and needs to be addressed.
Here are some other tips:
Do not try to fix the situation by supervising her regularly or bathing her, etc. This can cause problems by diluting the severity of the possible neglect. You will help make a possibly bad situation look better, without addressing the core problem. It will only put a band-aid on it and this temporary fix can even exacerbate the larger problem. How? Well, if you swoop in on a regular basis, this child (and her mom) will start to rely on you. That, in itself is not so bad, so long as you are able to maintain it. But what about when you go away or have other responsibilities that come first? Then this child would be left leaning on you when you are not there and then she can end up falling much harder. So the best way to contribute is in a way that is not set in stone or part of a schedule. (“Hi, I have a ton of leftovers from a get-together. Would you like some?”) Of course this doesn’t mean that when you see her riding in the street you shouldn’t guide her to the sidewalk. The basic rule of thumb is if you are aware of a clear and present danger, like the street riding, you should intervene in the moment. But don’t become part of the system that makes sure she is protected and cared for overall.
There is already an official system in place in your state that is trained to do that. Use it.
And it can’t hurt to reach out to the mom as a friend, but don’t feel obligated if it will overwhelm you.