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to think my DNiece is being neglected and my DBro should do something?

(198 Posts)
CrocsNSocks Fri 17-May-13 21:34:05

My brother has a DD with a woman he had a brief fling with 8 years ago. He has always seen her but irregularly for much of that time as he was struggling with alcoholism and not in a good place himself. He has been sober for the last 2 years and is now engaged and settled with a steady job. I'm posting because he, while he agrees that the situation with his DD is in his words 'not ideal' he feels there's nothing to be gained by any action and I want to canvas opinions to see if I should continue to try and persuade him otherwise!

So onto the details. My DBro was quite young (19) when he met the mother (who was the same age). She lived in a caravan on a nearby new age traveller site at the time, though moved into a flat with DBro when she fell pregnant. Their DD was born after they'd only been together a year and they split when she was 18 mo though things were rocky for most of that time and they didn't live together from when she was 6 mo.

Since then the mother has returned to living on traveller sites. DBro used to travel to wherever she was staying to see DNiece but since he stopped drinking and cut association with his old friends on that scene, she has been coming to stay with him for a week a few times a year instead and so the rest of the family have finally been able to get to know her over the last two years.

DNiece lives with her mother, her mother's partner, her 2 younger siblings, and various dogs in a bus. They are living without proper running water, just a tap in the corner of a field, and with no proper toilets (hole in the ground ones shock [vom] ) and no shower/bath facilities. She is usually filthy when she arrives for visits as she goes weeks without a proper bath though her hair is looked after really well, strangely hmm and I will say in her mother's favour that she never has nits.

She does not go to school. She can read and write and do basic sums but that's because she is a bright child, not because anyone has bothered to teach her. She is quite vocal in her opinion (I say her opinion, it'll be her mothers opinion but you know what I mean!) that school is a waste of time and her mother has apparently always said that no child of hers will go to school. Fair enough. But then she needs educating, not just running wild with a pack of children day in day out with the excuse that "she is learning what she needs to know" hmm

She has no bedtime at home (the children apparently get told to come in when it gets dark), gets taken to weekend long parties frequently, her mother/mother's partner/their friends smoke weed in front of the children (according to DBro who used to see this when he visited). She really seems to love and relish the basic care she gets when visiting - bathing, hair drying, wrapping up in a towel, painting nails with my DD, choosing new socks and knickers, that sort of thing - and also the routine of 'normal life'.

DNiece is a lovely child, she has good manners and is very bright and articulate. I don't think she is being abused by any stretch, but I do think she is subject to persistent low level neglect and think my DBro should grow a backbone and talk to his ex about educating her properly, washing her, and at the very least finding somewhere to park the bus that has showers and toilets fgs. DBro thinks this would be out of order, he says he let her down and now has no right to tell her mother what to do, he also tells me that their lifestyle is different and that unless his DD is in danger he isn't going to wade in like that. I think he is being a spineless twit and it is never too late to stand up for his own child....

I think you're on very dodgy ground here. If she's bright, articulate, and knows that she's loved that's all great. The mother could up sticks and vanish if she feels like it, thus severing any contact dc has with her father. Him being around and available to his daughter, and getting on with her mother is far more likely to be of benefit than him having acrimonious relations with the mother will be. If his dd has access to her dad she can exercise her choice about her life. I have a grown up friend whose mother lived in a bus and didn't send her or siblings to school. The kids made their own choices about it, and when she was 16 she went to live with her lovely gran and is an extremely successful and normal human thesedays. Tearing a child from her mum, or even criticising the mother can be more damaging in the long run. Providing sanctuary and a line of stable contact is far better imo

barbie007 Fri 17-May-13 21:53:26

It's probably difficult for your brother to do anything about it. But I agree with you. It sounds like she's a bright , confident child but she should get some sort of education

quoteunquote Fri 17-May-13 22:00:57

and at the very least finding somewhere to park the bus that has showers and toilets fgs

You do not know what you are talking about. and if you make a fuss, the bus will move a long way away.

So you don't like the life that your niece lives, have you ever tried to find out more about it? Have spoken to the traveller liaison officer? How many legal sites are in the area?

compost loo? well it won't kill you.

Traveller education might support, but I expect the funding is cut.

Don't judge other people lifestyles until you are perfectly sure you have all the answers yourself.

to be honest I would ask MNHQ to pull your post, because it would take me , one posting of it on FB and someone would know exactly who you are talking about.

and if anyone in the very small community see this, they will mention it to the child's mother.

why not just enjoy her company when you see her, and don't make her feel uncomfortable by mentioning discrepancies in lifestyles.

FJL203 Fri 17-May-13 22:05:15

Unless she's "under the radar" and the local LA don't know she exists the child's mother will have needed to prove to them that she's being educated. And, with HE, "education" can mean many things, it doesn't have to revolve around traditional learning or a curriculum. In respect to that I think you've answered your own queries - "DNiece is a lovely child, she has good manners and is very bright and articulate.". Verbal learning is as important as written education at this age. In fact, many HE-ers believe that it's more so.

The only thing I'd be throwing a fit at is the weed smoking. The bedtime - hell, she doesn't need it, she doesn't have to conform to a school timetable so if her mother's happy to have her up and she's getting enough sleep what's the big deal? Likewise the living arrangements - they may not be to your taste or mine but that's not necessarily neglect, there are plenty of kids out there living a traveller lifestyle.

It's very dodgy ground. If you or DB are concerned you'd do better helping than commenting, which may be perceived as interfering, imho. How about supplementing the lass's education with a trip to the zoo, for example - something where she'll learn without even realising it?

Tooearlyintheday Fri 17-May-13 22:08:33

To be honest I don't understand how an expectation of a child's level of care can vary so wildly. I mean if non travelling children were not attending school, were frequently filthy, were wandering the streets til all hours and were witness to adults taking drugs then surely it would be a straightforward contact social services answer?

musicposy Fri 17-May-13 22:12:28

I think her lifestyle is just different tbh.
We're in the home ed community and know lots of children like this. Many, many, cannot read write or do basic sums at all at 8, so she's ahead of the game. DD2's friends were all like this and I was a little smug that she was so much further ahead than them academically blush.

Fast forward and they are all 13 now or thereabouts. They can all miraculously read, write and spell better than DD2 who was so able in school for years. I wonder why I wasted DD2's time with all the formal education. Her friends all had endless fun and yet are easily as ahead as her. It sounds like a great life to me. We're used to education looking a certain way because we're so indoctrinated into the school system, but it's not the only way by far, and I would argue possibly not the most efficient either.

I'd be concerned about the weed smoking in front of the DCs, but that is all.

Finola1step Fri 17-May-13 22:12:42

I can understand your concern but you may be putting your brother in a very difficult position. The details you give in your OP would be enough to identify your niece and her family within the very small community in which they live (small in number rather than geography IYSWIM).

Tooearly sadly there are inner city areas where this type of thing does go on. Ss are not able to help a lot of these kids. Even if the parents are weed smoking with the kids. I am speaking from personal knowledge here (not my kids to be clear!)

She doesn't sound neglected, to be honest. It's certainly not the 'norm', but it sounds like a pretty good childhood to me- I bet there's a lot of kids growing up in antiseptic, boring 'perfect' homes that would relish a bit of dirt and freedom to be honest. And while I disagree with smoking pot in front of kids, there are worse things for a child to witness in life.

You sound really judgemental to me. Sorry.

FJL203 Fri 17-May-13 22:15:55

You'd contact SS because a child was receiving a "free range" home education, Tooearly?

Tooearlyintheday Fri 17-May-13 22:18:19

No I'd contact them if a child wasn't have his or her basic hygiene needs met, was roaming the streets unsupervised, was watching their parents taking drugs and wasn't receiving any kind of education. Is that not what we're supposed to do?

Oh, and I agree with musicposy. I know of a wee boy from a similar background who started at school full time at around 10 and within a year had helped a small team from his rural school win a major UK competition in design/engineering.

Slambang Fri 17-May-13 22:23:14

I don't think from what you've said she's being neglected. Dirt doesn't necessarily mean neglect unless her health is at risk. Is she well fed? Does she have games and toys? Does she feel loved and wanted?, You say she's learnt to read but noone's taught her. Really? People tend not to learn to read unless somebody spends a bit of time showing them how but many people do home educate in unorthodox ways.

She sounds bright, happy and well adjusted to me.What effect would your brother have if he comes in heavy handed? (If he starts making noises about neglect he's very likely to alienate her mum and not to see his dd again. I doubt very much that SS would be interested.)

quesadilla Fri 17-May-13 22:24:22

I'm on the fence about this. I think depriving a child of a formal education - unless there are mitigating circumstances like home schooling for SEN - in this country does come pretty close to neglect actually. It's the mother imposing a minority worldview which has the potential to massively disadvantage a child on the child who is going to grow up in a world where not having an education essentially condemns you to poverty. It may stop short of neglect but its bloody selfish.

On the other hand you do run a major risk that the mother will just do one if you or your brother report her.

The other problem, I suppose, is that the kid is so indoctrinated she probably thinks she doesn't want to go to school without ever having been given a chance to make up her own mind.

No answers, I'm afraid.

stargirl1701 Fri 17-May-13 22:26:36

It's not how I would choose to raise my child but it doesn't seem neglectful to me. She is loved, happy and learning. It just doesn't conform to the modern norm. 100 years ago, most children would've been like this.

FJL203 Fri 17-May-13 22:26:37

Tooearly, there's nothing to tell me in this OP that the child is not receiving any education. All the OP has told me is that the child is not receiving a school education. Good manners, bright, articulate does not suggest lacking an education and in terms of HE this situation suggests a child led, verbally-based education where written learning can come later.

AnnaFiveTowns Fri 17-May-13 22:28:10

If she's 8 and can read, write and do sums then somebody clearly is educating her. I'll bet she's getting a better, more rounded education than most kids in "normal" schools. What's "normal" anyway? Drilling kids for SATs at age 7 and switching most of them off learning for life.

As a previous poster said, my only concern would be the smoking pot thing. But then, is it really any worse than parents drinking alcohol in front of kids?

Really don' t think SS would have any concerns based on what you've said. What's important is the quality of the relationship beween the parent and child. Most of the other stuff (not showering every day etc) is superficial. It's all personal opinion. I, personally, don't like to see parents painting little girls' nails. I find that more distasteful than seeing a grubby kid. But that's me.

Tooearlyintheday Fri 17-May-13 22:31:19

And I have no issue with that FJL, if that's what is happening, I know Home Eders who do similar but the combination of that with the child being filthy, unsupervised at age 7 while out until sunset and witnessing her parents taking drugs would warrant a call to SS in my mind.

honeytea Fri 17-May-13 22:33:37

I think yabu, have you visited the bus? I lived in a caravan (an old gypsy one with a horse to pull it) when I was a child and it was fine.

Your db's ex sounds like she has very different priorities to yours, You saying that painting nails is "basic care" worries me, I think I would prefere to have no bedtime and limited access to a shower than have a parent who thinks that the basic care of a 8 year old girl involves painting their nails.

Does your db give his dd's mother regular payments?

Smoking pot isn't really that shocking to me, I don't think that smoking around children is great but I don't see much difference between smoking pot and having a fag and glass of wine around kids. I was around casual drug taking as a child but choose not to take drugs myself.

5madthings Fri 17-May-13 22:34:15

I think your brother is actually being very wise, he knows HE screwed up and let his daughter down. He now has a good relationship with her and he accepts his daughters mother is raising her in a different lifestyle, not abusive or neglectful but different.

He is right to not do anything especially if it may jeopordise the good relationship he has with his daughter.

Is he supporting her financially?

FJL203 Fri 17-May-13 22:35:02

Agreed, Anna. "Normal" to me isn't putting your child in with a single adult and up to 30 people of his or her age. Real life isn't like that. You don't go to work and find yourself in an office where the workers are all deliberately chosen because they were born within a single 12 month period.

The pot smoking is just plain wrong, in front of the child or otherwise. The rest of it? She sounds like a happy child to me. I'm sure she does enjoy going to the OP's house and doing things which she doesn't normally do, just as my children enjoyed living rough in a caravan for a week or two, getting filthy, climbing trees, mixing with different people - we all enjoy a break, it doesn't mean that we abhor the day to day.

gordyslovesheep Fri 17-May-13 22:44:22

I am not sure she is being neglected from your description OP - is the child fed, clothed, warm, has a place to sleep, has loving parents, is not being physically or sexually abused, is being given an education...

Being mucky can;t be nice but do they strip wash etc - most travellers I knew did

Cloverer Fri 17-May-13 22:44:30

I think she sounds ok too.

Being dirty so long as she is healthy and appropriately dressed for the weather isn't the worst thing ever. If she was infested with nits and scabies it would be a different matter.

Playing out til it's dark and going to bed when she's tired is also not the end of the world.

Weed smoking - again, less than ideal. But unlikely to be hugely damaging imo.

If she can read, write and do some maths, then someone is educating her. When she is older she can catch up herself if she wants to. Lots of children leave the school system barely literate.

It's great that she enjoys the change of pace with her dad, and can see what the lifestyle alternate is. I think he is being sensible.

Nimthenamechanger Fri 17-May-13 22:58:36

YABVU. You should 100% keep out of this. Your DB sounds like he has got a good relationship with his ex and DD, which is not worth jeopardising because they don't live according to your norms. I don't think it's possible that she has learnt to read and do basic maths with no teaching input. If you are concerned about her education, can you foster a love of books? Maybe look at the kids bestsellers charts and pick things out for her.
The only thing I'd take issue with is the drug use, but they aren't exactly shooting up in front of her, are they? Plenty of middle-class parents get far more sloshed than is wise at your average barbecue, but nobody suggests telling SS.
Perhaps your DB could mention that he would rather she didn't see that in future?
I would honestly just keep enjoying her visits and don't worry any more about this. She sounds like a great kid, well loved and happy and I think it would be wrong to interfere.

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