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The Competent Parent: Children running amok

Headshot2011Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Children Running Amok

Dear Dr. Debbie,

Three siblings from a neighboring community have been running amok in ours. They tease other children and vandalize property. They appear to range from ages 4 to 11 years old. Some neighbors have said they live with an older woman – maybe a grandmother. Wondering what is the right thing to do here?

Keeping Tabs on My Own



Click here to read last week’s column about sharing mom.

Dear Keeping Tabs,

The right thing to do is to pull in an authority on loose children. That would be Child Protective Services. In Anne Arundel County call: 410-421-8400, to describe what you have seen. Give as much information as you know – especially the family’s address. The CPS office will decide how to follow up.

Maryland’s law defines child neglect as: an intentional failure to provide for the physical needs or mental health of a minor that creates a substantial risk of harm. A conviction can result in a five year sentence and a $5,000 fine. But more importantly, it may take a concerned neighbor’s call for outside help to get this family to provide the children with a well-nurtured childhood.

When a child is well taken care of, he learns he is worthy of care. Gradually, by example and as the by-product of a positive self-image, he learns how to take good care of himself.

Child neglect is a serious situation. Children need the supervision, guidance, and protection of a responsible adult. The children you are concerned about have already gained a negative reputation among the children and adults in your community. They are not welcome, yet they persist in coming for the reward of negative attention. For them it’s better than no attention. Going unsupervised, unfortunately, can have perilous consequences beyond becoming social outcasts, including being hit by a car. In the long run, children who lack attentive monitoring by a responsive adult will show cognitive delays, emotional difficulties, depression, anxiety, and high-risk behaviors. It appears this little troupe is already headed toward careers in juvenile delinquency.

If the “older woman” does not have legal custody, the authorities can help with that, too. The parents may be struggling with a myriad of difficulties such that there is no option but to have left the children. If they’re not getting help, your phone call could start a chain of positive actions. Legal custody, for one, is necessary for “Grandma” to access health services as well as to address the children’s needs at school. There may be other benefits she can be directed to such as free school lunches and food stamps. There are many community resources – most of them free – to help families to do a good job of raising their children. This is a much better alternative for everyone than jailing the irresponsible parties for child neglect.

If you need further coercion to do the right thing, please listen to Adam Rosenberg, director of Baltimore’s Child Abuse Center:

“We’re only as successful as people who report abuse,” says Rosenberg. “We’re not going to find this on our own. And, this battle against child abuse and neglect is something that folks like me and you in our private lives need to be able to take a stand, and pick up a phone and report that they see something.”

Do the right thing.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com.

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