- "My daughter-in-law refuses to make her children wear undershirts. Yes, they wear clothes, but not undershirts (long underwear/ heavy socks/ galoshes)."
- "My son and his wife have decided we can't see the kids. Well, I suppose they're OK. Yes, good grades. No, my son won't lay a finger on them. But they won't let me see the babies! And you can't tell what that woman and my idiot son will do next. Yes, he 's the branch manager at First Bank. Why, she just stays at home. But they won't let us see them!"
- "But Mitzy wants a new car for her 16th birthday, and my daughter won't let me buy it for her!"
- "She leaves them at home alone. They come into the empty apartment while she works, after school. Well, the older one is 16. What difference does that make?"
- "My ex-wife is not giving me visitation. Well, yes, we have a court order. But it's not convenient for me to come then!"
Digging for evidence of neglect is harder. Neglectful parents don't want people to know they are being neglectful. They will not invite the relatives over on a whim. They might shield all but necessary relatives from the kids' lives, and not because Grandma can't keep her trap shut because Mitzy wants a new car or the kids wear Polartec instead of heavy-duty down jackets.
The first line of defense in proving neglect is actually offense: If you suspect neglect, until you have proof, don't alienate your adult child or other relative. Be friendly. Pick your battles. Drop in for a visit, especially if you are the co-signer or co-tenant on a lease. Offer to take the kids out for an hour or two. And take notes. The kids will blab certain things if they are comfortable with you. Note the time and date and write it down, if your little Mimsie acts odd, has slurred speech, or acts uncoordinated. Adults should be relatively sober in the day time..
The second line of defense in proving neglect is child care providers and schools. No matter what some people say about schools minding their own business and just teaching the 3Rs, it's mighty hard to do when a child is in the class who is constantly hungry, tired, wearing clothing inappropriate to the season, without homework, without lunch, has a "junk food" lunch, or acting up for attention. Child care providers have a bit more flexibility, but more than a few notice when the baby comes with diaper rash, without bottles or diapers, when the parent can't stay to make sure the toddler is settled, when Baby or Toddler cries from hunger as soon as he or she is dropped off.
If you happen to deliver or pick the children up at school or the sitter's, strike up a friendly relationship with teachers, staff and providers. Odds are good they know more about what's going on in your adult child's household than you do. Ask about lunches. Very often, neglected kids don't bring a lunch, or don't bring a nutritious lunch. Ask Gemma and Randy what they had for lunch. Look in the lunch bag in front of staff. If it's not nutritious (One Twinkie in a normal lunch doesn't count), then supply ready lunch money or offer to make the kids something better. Ask the kids where they left their coats. Take stock of the baby's diaper bag in front of the sitter. Ask about homework, PTA meetings, recitals, school plays. Attend these functions, even your adult child does not.
If given the opportunity to view your adult child's abode without them, especially if you are the co-tenant or co-signer, do so. Insist upon a key and access if you participated in any way in the financial end of this residence- and co-signing is indeed participation. Make friends with the management staff or landlord. Go when you know your child will not be home, and bring a camera or two and today's newspaper in case your suspicions are confirmed. You are not looking for a couple dishes in the sink, or the Playdough the kids ground into the rug. You are looking for slime in the sink from loads of dishes. You are looking for plates left out on the table growing fuzz. You are looking for used sanitary napkins strewn about the bathroom and master bedroom. You are looking for large amounts of animal feces. You are looking for lack of nutritious food in favor of candy, cookies and cakes. You are looking for prescription drugs within easy reach of small children. You are looking for more than a well-stocked bar. You are looking instead for hidden bottles of usually the same spirit.
How you play this after gathering your evidence is as individual as your circumstances. Know that if you report this neglect to child protective services, and you might be bound by law to do so, there will be an opportunity for your adult child to clean up his or her act, and residence. This means the children will probably go back at least once to your adult child, and being able to visit is going to be harder. Fortunately, it will also mean that your adult child has been marked as "indicated" of child neglect. The next time you report neglect, if you must do so again, you will be taken more seriously.
The parent or other relative of an adult neglectful of his or her children really needs to assess the situation and see if there is a better path. Strengths for the grandparent, aunt or uncle include contact with school staff and/ or care providers, being the co-signer or co-tenant on the lease, and having photos is going to make your case not only stronger in court, but stronger in the mind of your adult child. It might be in the children's best interest for you to tell you adult child, "This ends today. They will stay with me until you have things together. You have thirty days to clean up that pigsty, or I am going to revoke the lease. I've already spoken with the management." Be warned! You will be called every name in the book, and this person who can't afford his or her own apartment will claim to be searching for a lawyer to sue you into next week. Don't believe it. It might happen, but it is doubtful.
At this point, it is better to have the adult child sign a temporary power of attorney. Within the time prescribed, hire a good attorney. When the thirty days are up, if there is no change, make good on your threat. Your grandchildren deserve better.