Whenever I visit Ethan's house he says, "I want gum!"
About six months ago he discovered that I stash gum in my glove compartment. Now when Ethan and his younger brother see my car pull up in front of their house they come running!
Ethan's brother shouts, "Me want gum!"
Ethan is five, but Ethan isn't his real name. I've changed his name to protect his identity. Please don't assume who Ethan is or discuss the specifics of his story with anyone.
A few months ago I began to suspect that Ethan and his brother were being neglected. Although I couldn't really prove it, I had a gut feeling that their daily physical needs (food, clothing, proper sleeping conditions) weren't being met.
According to a Statistics Canada Family Violence in Canada report:
* Among substantiated child maltreatment cases, neglect was the most common form of child abuse (30 per cent), followed by exposure to domestic violence (28 per cent), physical abuse (24 per cent), emotional maltreatment (15 per cent) and sexual abuse (3 per cent).
* Behavioural or emotional problems were among the most commonly noted functioning problems among maltreated children (27 per cent), followed by depression or anxiety (17 per cent) and learning disabilities (15 per cent).
Ethan has been mistreated before. He even spent time in foster care about two years ago.
Back in the summer Ethan started asking me to "stay until it's dark"
whenever I was about to leave his house. Usually I was visiting his family in the afternoon and I knew it was impossible to grant his request.
I began wondering why Ethan wanted me to stay. Perhaps he wanted me to stick around so he could scam more gum from me! Or was he afraid of something that happened when it got dark?
There is a doctrine that requires social service agencies to make "reasonable efforts" to keep or reunite abused and neglected children with their biological parents. It can also be traced to the larger ideology behind "reasonable efforts," the sacrosanct belief that children always (or nearly always) are better off with their biological parents.
The Book of David by Richard J. Gelles
Two weeks ago Ethan started asking me for something else before I left."I want a hundred hugs!"
So I would pick him up and start giving him hugs, counting 1, 2, 3... then counting so fast you couldn't hear the numbers until I would get to the last few, speaking them as if I was out of breath! "...98, 99, 100!"
By that point Ethan would be laughing so hard he couldn't contain himself. It felt good to grant his request and see his joy.
Last night the local children's agency apprehended Ethan and his brother. He will remain in foster care for at least three months while they investigate reports of neglect and abuse. While he is in care his mother is required to attend parenting classes, anger management and submit weekly drug tests to verify that she isn't drinking alcohol.
In his book
Richard Geller illustrates the flaws of the current child welfare system. And he believes that, often, preserving families can cost children their lives.
I'm not sure what I believe about that.
I don't know where Ethan is tonight, but I hope to find out and visit him soon. And I hope that I'll have the opportunity to give him a hundred hugs
when I leave.