Where Were The Parents? While writing yesterday’s post I imagined readers thinking, “But where were the parents when their daughters’ were violated?” Those of us who raise children with disabilities know that providing 24/7 supervision is an enormous challenge. When our daughter went off to a boarding school at age 16, this pressure was lifted most of the year. With paid staff and liability issues to worry about, supervision was not left to beleaguered moms and dads who had more than their share of demands on them. Staffing ratios met the requirements that individual families find at best daunting and at worse, impossible.
The Variables: It is not so easy making sure that any child is safe 24 hours a day. Every parent knows that. You turn away for a second, and someone has unlocked the front door, a skill they developed two minutes before the turn of the lock, and decided to tour the neighborhood. You answer the phone, or diaper the baby, and their sibling has managed to dislodge the electrical outlet cover and stick a scissor in it. Where did that scissor come from and when did he learn to remove the outlet cover? Children with challenges mature too and parents assess throughout their child’s development when it is safe to leave the child in a room alone, to take a shower by themselves, or stay in the house while the mom runs an errand. Emergency education is de rigor for all our children and is practiced over and over again with special needs kids. Cell phones have added some level of reassurance. Yet, that judgement piece introduces an element of risk that cannot be totally eliminated.
Finances: Financial constraints are a big part of the equation. No one but the parent pays for the continuing care of a challenged child who lives at home. Though some agencies provide “respite” funding, unless that child is severely disabled, those funds afford infrequent coverage. And if both parents work or have other children to drive somewhere, help with homework or run to the doctor, the judgement calls that are made, even Solomon himself would be stumped.
Muffins Explode in a Microwave and Someone Flips Out of Control: Bathroom doors get stuck while bath water is running and a sixteen year old sitter is left with a melting down 18-year-old; a little technological know-how can lead to a horrific sexual violation: a neighbor’s son in a nano second shifts from benign friend to predator, even while a brother is only a room away. Much can and does go awry when significant cognitive deficits are in play.
A Work In Progress: Assessing the vulnerability and capability of children is a parent’s job. It is a work in progress, changing week to week, month or year. The majority of us are pretty conscientious and try to err on the side of caution. Where are the parents? Most of the time they are there. But the life of a family with a challenged child tips a bit more toward fallibility perhaps than one without that child. Yet we all know that it is a precarious business, raising our children, in any case, and a bit of luck or an evil dash of unluck can make all the difference.
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2011