I recently found myself in a position that I really didn't want to be in. A friend of mine had told me about some rather serious issues involving the neglect of some children of a mutual friend. This woman had gone from being a very tolerant Catholic to one who was extremely dogmatic in her beliefs after a family tragedy. Her husband was going off the rails in his own way. (Possibly due to the scary economy of the last few years-- a lot of people don't seem to be quite logical as far as who they blame.)
As I said, the mother is a woman I consider a friend. I'm very worried about her, and scared that something very bad will happen to her (like death in childbirth, and I have reason to worry about that), and now I'm also worried about her kids. But this information was now in my hands. And the first friend, although scared and worried, was not quite willing to report to the proper authorities.
What is a person supposed to do, when he or she has information that might be the difference between a happy well-adjusted life, or one that is not, or-- possibly-- no life at all, should the right (or wrong) circumstances come together in a certain way? What would you, my readers, do?
Keep in mind, I had been worried about what was going on with these children for a while. One of them is a friend of my daughter, and, I think, potentially gifted. Yet she is isolated, far from any outside influence, and is being home-schooled by a mother who has very little formal education herself. This child has also made several decidedly odd statements over the last couple of years to me as well as others that honestly have me quite worried about her state of mind. Obviously, the home schooling is perfectly within the rights of her parents: anyone who wants to can home school their children in this country, and although I sometimes have reservations, I would agree that many home schoolers do a pretty good job. A fellow mother at Natalie's dance school home schools her children, and the older son is doing amazingly well, to the point that he is planning to start college courses a year or two early!
The problem is: I know as a teacher in training that this child would, if she were in a regular public school, or a private or parochial school; first, be exposed to other, saner, points of view besides those of her parents, and would also be flagged by school authorities as a child whose family circumstances needed investigation. The same goes for the second child in the family, also school age. Because they are home schooled, they fly under the radar of the authorities.
My first friend was frightened to contact child welfare. She had merely shared second hand information with me and one other person. I had independent information: it wasn't very new, but that, plus what my friend had told me convinced me that the children were in danger, both psychological and physical (from neglect-- NOT abuse: these are parents who love their children and, I'm convinced, wouldn't knowing hurt them). I made a call to child welfare.
Ultimately, I think that children must be kept safe; and that even if one is not their parent, and their parents are someone one considers friends, it's important to do what's necessary to protect the child, or children. I hope no one else who reads this is ever put in a situation where it's necessary to call the county; where a conversation (or ten) with one or both of the parents or another relative is enough to resolve the situation. That wasn't the case here. I may have blown up a friendship I valued-- and I still hope that my friend goes back to being the person I used to know-- but I think that I did what needed to be done, and I hope that those children are rescued from their situation.