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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....

Goldmandra Sat 18-May-13 00:10:45

Her hair is clean.

She has not chronic health conditions or signs of physical neglect.

All of her physical and emotional needs are being met.

She is receiving an education and appropriate social interaction.

She is confident and resilient enough to step into a different culture and find it a positive experience.

You mention no record of health or social care child protection concerns being raised about her.

She has good manners and is bright and articulate.

Her life is very different from that of my children but I see nothing in your post that causes me concern. I wouldn't allow anyone to smoke weed in front of my children but there seems to be no evidence that she is being put at risk and you don't know that all the adults are smoking together. Perhaps they take it in turns to abstain in order to keep the children safe.

She sounds happy and loved and like she is developing normally. I don't think she needs anyone to intervene on her behalf.

OhLori Sat 18-May-13 00:13:46

Well I sort of beg to disagree. Neglect can be a strong word/feeling, even if we can't quite explain it.

Either way, OP's brother could really play a positive part here. If he is not in a good place himself, then that may not be possible/desirable, but I think its nice of OP to care.

quesadilla Sat 18-May-13 07:42:01

Hold on a minute: everyone is bring very complementary about "home education" but lets be honest, this isn't a structured program of schooling, the mum has said "she will learn what she needs to learn" or whatever.
In other words she will learn skills appropriate to that life but precious little else. The mum, by the sound of it, is giving her an absolutely minimal education. Yes, she sounds bright and may be able up read and write and if she is basically happy with the traveller lifestyle will be fine, but if she decides she wants to re-enter mainstream society later her mum has made it infinitely harder for her to do this.
How many of you would honestly be able to do this for your kids?

AmberSocks Sat 18-May-13 08:30:06

the only thing i dont like the sound of from the op is the smoking round the kids,apart from that i dont see what the problem is.

AmberSocks Sat 18-May-13 08:30:59

Also to the person who said about the LA,you ar eincorrect,if shes never been to school then she wont be in touch with the lamost likely,and even if they have theres no legal reason for contact.

CrocsNSocks Sat 18-May-13 09:39:07

Okay I am now back. Apologies for posting and running, I have a child with suspected measles who woke up hoooooowwwwling.

DNiece is certainly loved, that's not in question at all. Her mother, whilst I don't get on with her (yes, we've met, I was polite but she made it pretty clear she disliked me) clearly adores her and she seems to have a good relationship with the step dad (for want of a better word).

And I hold my hands up and admit to being utterly ignorant about their lifestyle choice - mea culpa. How do I educate myself better then? I am not likely to be welcome where DNiece lives and it is too far for me to visit anyway really. And just to clear up - they are not Travellers as in BFGW, they are what used to be called new age travellers though I never hear that used anymore, I just don't know a better way to describe them!

I just feel like this wouldn't be acceptable in any other situation - a child on my street being cared for like that would be cause for concern I think hmm

Oh and yes DBro sends money regularly now he is working, and does zoo/museum visits etc when she is here and always sends her home with a parcel of new books. He just seems so resigned to the idea that he has no say in how his DD lives and is cared for sad

juneau Sat 18-May-13 09:48:30

Some of the replies on this thread are so eager to be 'right on' and non-judgemental that they're utterly absurd. Yes, this child is loved and cared for, but I have every sympathy with the OP's position. I'd be worried if my niece or nephew was receiving no proper education and growing up in a muddy field too. The fact that this child seems to relish 'normal life' seems to indicate that she's not wholly happy with the hippie lifestyle her mother chooses to live and as for smoking dope in front of kids - do you all really think that's okay? Really????

As for this little girl being 'home-educated', the OP says she's not being educated at all - that's rather different. Her mother is preparing her for life as a hippie living in a bus in a muddy field, which isn't exactly giving her choices. HE may be more flexible than standard school, but I suspect it doesn't include staying up all night and watching adults get stoned. OP, I'm not sure what you can or should do, but I understand your concerns.

Dawndonna Sat 18-May-13 09:50:42

Is he resigned, or is he patiently waiting until his dd makes her own decision about lifestyle choices. Sounds to me, by not pressuring but by demonstrating an alternative lifestyle to the one she has, as soon as she is capable she'll make her own decisions.

LIZS Sat 18-May-13 09:55:54

I think you are making a lot of assumptions about the lifestyle and what your niece is being exposed to . There will be a Travellers' Liaison officer at the council, it may be that a local Children's Centre covers the site (some send staff onto the site in a mobile unit to offer services such as learning through play sessions, hv/parenting support, benefits advice etc). Priorities may differ but that doesn't make you right and them wrong.

IneedAsockamnesty Sat 18-May-13 09:58:06

Home education does not have to be structured many people who home educate believe a none structured approach works better.

I personally wouldn't home educate my children because in my situation it would be isolating and my own limitations would make it difficult but if I didn't have those concerns I would go for a unstructured approach.

My sister was educated like that she's now a barrister and very much living and working in mainstream society.

AmberLeaf Sat 18-May-13 10:05:18

YABU and I think your brother is right.

But then I would quite like to live that way anyway so I cant get my judgy pants hoiked.

IneedAsockamnesty Sat 18-May-13 10:05:40


The child can read and write well she is bright articulate has good social skills and can do basic maths, she's also only 7 or 8.

There is not a chance that someone has not taught her these skills this knowledge does not just happen by magic fair enough it may be done in such a way that the child herself has no idea she's being taught but being taught she is.

maddening Sat 18-May-13 10:19:47

She must be receiving some home education if she can read and do maths - she must have been taught this - I doubt anyone accidentally learns maths no matter how bright they are.

Your dbro could support the decision to home school by supplying learning supplies and aids possibly - that might be acceptable from the mother's pov. He can certainly enquire about the education his daughter is receiving in order to see where he can support her more.

Lonecatwithkitten Sat 18-May-13 10:24:32

I suspect this all falls under a category my Dad has as a family court magistrate with 25 years worth of experience of "it's not what we would do, but that doesn't mean it's wrong". Yes it is outside the vast majorities norm, but she is happy loved and developing normally.
Smoking weed might just be an area of concern, but probably not significant enough.

5madthings Sat 18-May-13 10:27:25

What socking said.

Also yes she enjoys spending time with her father and getting new stuff and going to museums etc what kid doesnt?!! Her enjoying the time with her father and the things they do together has no baring on if she is happy with her life. You cannot extrapolate that a 7/8yr okd enjoys the more 'conventional'lifestyle when she visits her dad...therefore she doesnt like/isnt happy with the lifestyle she has the majority of the time.

And the reality is that the ops brother has not had massive involvement for the majority of this childs life, so he sees her a few weeks a year now and is now providing financially and buying books etc thats nice and lovely but he is right to say he has no right to tell her mother what to do.

The rights that are important are the childs, she needs love and security and a relationship with both parents. Your brother is now stepping up and trying to have a good relationship with his daughter. Do the right thing and support him in that.

And as for the girls education, for 7/8yrs old she sounds like she is doing fine and is obviously parented if she is polite etc. The reality is the op and her brother are not there the majority of the time so.they dont know what happens day in, day out, the child is quite clearly learning. It may not be conventional or what others would choose but it is what this mother has chosen as she has every right to do and it is what the girl is used to and seems to be working for them as a family.

CalamityKate Sat 18-May-13 10:33:37

Of course it isn't right. If it were a child living in a house you'd get very different responses but because its travellers its different and you'll be lectured about how nobody really NEEDS baths and that a child wandering about at all hours isn't being neglected but given the gift of a lovely carefree childhood hmm

juneau Sat 18-May-13 10:35:12

I'm well aware that learning to read and write means someone is teaching her those things - I have a 5-year-old myself. But the mother is deciding what she needs to know education-wise, based on her own life choices (living as a hippie in a bus and smoking weed). This is not giving her daughter the kind of choices every child should have or preparing her for any kind of life other than the one she currently lives.

zzzzz Sat 18-May-13 10:35:51

YABVU she sounds lovely. Most of our grandparents were brought up with long drop loos and survived. Dirt washes off and her hair sound in better nick than most of dd's class at prep school. Back off and stop judging.

IneedAsockamnesty Sat 18-May-13 10:50:38

4 times a year 2 of my kids bugger off with a relative they spend these weeks dressed up as Vikings and living as Vikings or reenacting weird battles.

It doesn't mean they don't like coming home and living their normal life.

Why would it be hard to accept the same thing if the lifestyles were the other way round.

FJL203 Sat 18-May-13 10:52:17

quasadilla - "Hold on a minute: everyone is bring very complementary about "home education" but lets be honest, this isn't a structured program of schooling... How many of you would honestly be able to do this for your kids?"

HE doesn't need to be structured for goodness sakes! And would I be able to do this for my kids? Yes.

Amberleaf, I understand what you're saying but if the DN has never been to school she still might be on the LA's radar if, for example, the mum has contacted them for advice or someone else has (do-gooder HV/social worker, interfering friend, relative or neighbour etc who thinks it's "not right" that the child is experiencing an autonomous, holistic, non structured HE). If that's the case the mother would almost certainly have decided to satisfy the LA that the child was receiving a suitable education, not because there's a legal requirement because there isn't but because of the legal precedent (Phillips vs Brown 1980) which makes it very clear that it's in the parent's interest to offer some form of reassurance to the LA. This is something about which LAs make a big issue and use very much to their advantage. You're right in that doesn't mean they have a right to contact with the child - this can come through, for example, a statement of philosophy.

IneedAsockamnesty Sat 18-May-13 10:53:17


That what every parent gets to decide they choose either to home ed and do it there way or school ed and do it the way the gov says schools have to.

All home educators decide what they teach and how they do it.

Tooearlyintheday Sat 18-May-13 11:02:00

Why is everybody focusing on the child's educational needs and ignoring the fact that the child is filthy, unsupervised and witnessing drug use? The fact that the child sees clean underwater as a novelty is very worrying to me. I know a few travellers and have never noticed their children being particularly dirty or unkempt, at least no more so than non-travelling children at the end of a busy day. How is the child's oral hygiene OP?

Wuldric Sat 18-May-13 11:03:13

I agree with quesadilla but there is nothing to be done about it.

It isn't fair to deprive a child of a massive range of opportunities through educational deprivation. That child cannot hope to be a doctor, a lawyer, an academic ... anything that requires a range of qualifications is closed to her. Massively unfair. But as I say, nothing can or will be done about it. Parents have the right to handicap their children and some do.

FJL203 Sat 18-May-13 11:06:48

juneau, I can only speak for myself and not the other posters who are not getting their knickers in a twist about this but I can tell you here and now I'm probably the least "right on" person you might encounter.

Calamity - this won't make me popular - overall I don't like travellers. Or at least certain sectors of them. I'm not inclined to go around being pleasantly disposed towards them or fighting their corner because of what they are or to fly some sort of PC flag. I'm supporting this particular mother's decisions because I or my children have experienced similar to some of her child's experiences without ill effect and sometimes with enormous benefit.

Crocs, you say, "
He just seems so resigned to the idea that he has no say in how his DD lives and is cared for".

That's just as well as the parent with care is the one who is responsible for day to day decision making, not the absent parent. What time the child goes to bed, whether she has a strip down wash in a tin bath with water heated on the stove or a shower in a 5 star bathroom is not under his control.

He can challenge the HE but it would cost him a fortune and be met, I suspect and if the mother has any fire in her belly, with a huge amount of opposition, both with regard to what she considers the better education for her child and with regard to the principle, i.e. that the father has played a limited part in her child's life due to his drinking and now he wants to tell her how to raise her child.

It would imho be a foolish man to attempt to fight this one.

cyclingtreadworn Sat 18-May-13 11:08:35

What Juneau said.
This thread is full of the usual MNers literally tripping over themselves to show how liberal they are.
Sorry, but I think this is low level neglect too. The child is dirty. She has no access to baths or showers or running water. Would you like to live like that, or for your child to? Body lice, worms, gastro bugs.....its really not that hard as a parent to keep your child clean, and this plus the fact she smokes carcinogenic drugs in front of her child and does not ensure she goes to bed at a reasonable hour suggest she simply cannot be bothered.
She is seriously disadvantaging her child by not sending her to school. What happens if the op's niece decides she wants to he a doctor or lawyer or nurse and wants to go to uni? She will struggle, as her mother has denied her the privelige of a formal education.
So step out your silly airy fairy right on bubbles and recognize that of course the ops concerns are grounded. Sadly op I doubt there is much you can do, if you report her she will just scarper. But what a shame, poor little girl.

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