Wednesday, October 03, 2007


While waiting for the muse to strike me with another story, here's a strange and sad and true tale. While we don't live in the upscale burg of La Canada, Wonderboy and I travel there all week long for his school, for church, for my haircuts, groceries and all sorts of daily life requirements.

La Canada is adjacent to Alta Dena and Pasadena. Foothill Boulevard is a main drag. It stretches west into the more middle class La Crescenta. Then, traveling eastward again, it goes into disguise through Alta Dena, then picks up again in Pasadena. All the way to a pretty little town called Sierra Madre. The distance from La Canada to Sierra Madre is easily more than 10 miles. One way.

Every single day, at some point during the day, you will see a young, blond, skeletal woman in shorts, tank top, baseball cap, pushing a red double wide stroller as she jogs first one side of Foothill all the way into La Crescenta to the west and then back on the other side, heading back to Sierra Madre in the east. She jogs over 20 miles a day. She has been doing this for so long that when you are directly behind her you will hear that she is not even winded. Wonderboy calls her Mrs. Skeleton.

The scuttlebutt from local shopkeepers is that she is the wife of a successful doctor and the family is very wealthy. They say that her schoolage children are also malnourished and very skinny. Their teachers will bring food for them to eat when they are at school because they do not get fed at home. Complaints have been made to Child Protective Services. But, it is said that because the family is wealthy, it has been impossible to remove the children from the home.

Now, I will wager that if this woman was the wife of a blue collar worker and the family was not wealthy, those children would be in foster homes immediately enjoying mac 'n cheese, with apples and carrots and milk. Not to mention breakfast and lunch. Every day. But the husband is a rich doctor. Now I don't know for a fact that this is the reason the complaints filed by teachers and neighbors have been unsuccessful. But I suspect it is true.

What do you think? Do you believe that our legal system panders to the wealthy even on this level? Even to allowing the continued endangerment of children? What do you think any of us might be able to do about this? I know there have been other tragic stories involving the neglect, abuse and hurting of children in "ordinary" or even "priveleged" neighborhoods. Do you think this is now an epidemic? Or is it just because our population has burgeoned so large that the numbers are still, percentage wise, proportional to, say 1960?

The pastors at my church will say to those with family problems, "Well, you better not tell me about any of it because you know I am a mandated reporter". So if this jogger was a member of my church, her children would likely not be helped there either. Do you feel it is the church's place to help in situations like this, if possible? What would your church do?

Meanwhile, this sad woman who no one, including myself, knows how to help, will get up tomorrow, send her schoolage children out without breakfast, then put her preschool children into the red double wide, and spend the entire day running the more than 20 miles, while none of them get anything to eat. Well maybe except for the dad.


Quotidian Grace said...

Many years ago when I prosecuted child abuse cases as a young lawyer, I heard more than one judge comment that child protective services concentrated on the poor and that child abuse in privileged families was never reported. This was before the laws mandating reporting by medical personnel, teachers, pastors, etc were enacted.

I'm sure that even with these laws in place, abuse in wealthy families is still underreported--unless you have a divorce and custody fight going on.

We don't know all the facts here, but I can tell you that it is very difficult to remove children from any home in most states without a showing that they are in immediate physical danger. This is because there is a legal presumption that children should be with their parents AND because child protective services agencies are woefully underfunded and understaffed.

It's possible that if reports have been made that there has been some intervention by authorities short of removing the children--like requiring counseling and checking on the children by social workers. But its also likely that a well-to-do family such as this one intimidates the agency with their attorneys.

What should the church do? I'm not sure your pastors are right about the extent to which they are required to report. I thought these laws required reporting when you observed signs of abuse, not when someone else other than the child, reported it--but perhaps that's not correct. Maybe a good continuing ed class for pastors would be a seminar on the subject of required reporting conducted by a prosecutor and a defense attorney.

Sorry this is so lengthy--you obviously hit one of my buttons with this post!

Presbyterian Gal said...

QG, Don't be at all sorry. The actual legal issues and the realities of the systems are important to know. And I don't know them all. So thanks for your comment.

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

my understanding is the same as QG re: pastor's are obligated to report if we ourselves see signs of abuse. We can't operate with 'hear says'... or truly we'd have no time for anything, and i mean anything else all day long.

regarding the story... first i don't think the running is strange at all. I am married to someone who runs that much and i can't keep enough food in the house. 20 mls/day sounds strange to us... to a runner it is like oxygen. is she in incredible physical shape? she must be to run that...

it's hard to know truly if the children are abused here... or if the parents just are super-healthy freaky... prayer. i highly recommend it in all cases when i know not what to do. (and sometimes even when i do... which once including watching CPS remove a child from a home.) never again do i wish to witness such a thing.

Linda McMillan said...

I've got an example from this very week, PG. I wasn't paying attention so I can't link the stories but I heard about a Mexican family who accidentally left their children in a hot car. They are being charged with something bad and were hauled off to jail. Another family, two doctors, very white, did the same thing. It's being lamented as an unfortunate accident. No charges were filed. Obviously I don't have all the facts but it seems like a pretty glaring example of how the system favors the elite.

Linda McMillan said...

The poor brown family.

The rich white family.

MayB MayB Not said...

We have so many broken systems, and so many abused and neglected children ... unfortunately the church is one of those ... if we could just hold ourselves to be accountable to be a responsible supportive village to the kids in our own communities it would be a huge step in the right direction... IMHO.

Presbyterian Gal said...

HCL: If you saw this woman in person, you would know this is not fitness. She is not in incredible shape. She is skeletal. Plus, she takes her preschool children all day, every day to ride in the double wide stroller without interaction, without activity, without contact. This is not going to bode well for their development.

Presbyterian Gal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BookGal said...

I drive that route all the time and I've never seen her. Just to add to the discussion, teachers are also mandated reporters. However, we are taught to report only observed abuse i.e. bruises, burns, etc. We are also told not to report simply based on a child's story. Our job is to report to an administrator who then makes the decision whether or not to call CPS.

My church is run by a former police officer and our associate is a former child welfare worker. I'm pretty sure they would intervene and report if they thought a child was at risk.

Mother Laura said...

This is a scary story.

I am horrified that your pastors don't seem to want to help children (or wives) who might be in danger but would rather "hear no evil"....

I thought as clergy we were required to report also if someone admitted to abusing a child or elder or handicapped person (except, for those of us with sacramental confession, if it was disclosed under the seal. In that case I would make the penance reporting oneself, hand the cell phone to the person so they did it, and refuse absolution if they wouldn't....).

Jodie said...

I don't know...

First of all you don't know if any of this is true.

Second, well, do you want to intervene with parents of kids who are too fat as well? The ones who let their kids sit in front of the TV set all day eating junk food?

Or has that become normal enough that it doesn't need intervention?

You are skating on pretty thin ice, me thinks...

Presbyterian Gal said...


First of all, I have seen the woman with my own eyes. I've been right behind her and seen her ribs and back bones jutting out of her skin. I've seen her double carriage with the children, silent, inside. And talked to those who've spoken with the teachers of her school age children. The teachers who brought them food at school. So I can induce the likely paradigm behind these observatons.

Second, I personally don't want to intervene with anybody. Like you and the majority of our society, I much prefer to do absolutely nothing about it. Because, of course it is personally none of my business in her case or in any fat family's case. And second, I just don't have that kind of time. Plus that much activism isn't my skill set.

I was just asking some questions using this woman and her status in society as an example. I've observed a disparity in our society's systems of welfare and child protection in general. And a total ignoring of both by the church.

So, Jodie, do you believe our legal system panders to the wealthy on this or any other issue that ultimately endangers children? What do you think might, if anything, be done about this? And do you think the church should respond to any of these issues? What would your church do?

That's all I'm doing. Is asking those questions. If that puts me on thin ice, then I'll triple salchow my way over to the cocoa hut.

Jodie said...

OK, there is more info here. At first you said "they say".

Sure seems weird. But its not illegal to be weird. Are you sure she is rich?

You can call Child Protective Services yourself. They are required to look into any reports of possible child endangerment and one more call at least adds to the dossier if others have already made their calls.

To answer your question, the rich are more likely to have knowledge of their rights and the means to defend them than do the poor. But even the rich can run afoul of the law and the system, and often do.

If, hypothetically, a person is a member of your church, it is entirely appropriate for a deacon to pay a visit to see how things are going, see if a family has any needs, and to judge discreetly if there is something dangerous enough going on to take it to the next level. Its called looking out for each other. Happens all the time. Sometimes you just have to let things play out before you can intervene.

Presbyterian Gal said...


Good points. You got me elaborating here