NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The case in which 13 malnourished siblings were reportedly kept captive in filthy conditions by their parents in California has raised a multitude of questions, like whether or not the neighbors should have gotten involved.
Should they have seen, or done something? In the same circumstance, what would you do? Every few years there’s a case of child abuse or neglect that’s so horrific it makes us question ourselves.
Some New Yorkers offered up what they think they’d do.
“My first instinct as a New Yorker is to mind my business, but if I sensed there’s something wrong then kids need help,” Astoria resident Hampton Gathers said.
“I think people are hesitant to call, especially on a neighbor or especially here where your neighbors are so close,” Upper West Side resident Eve Epstein said. “What if you made a mistake?”
Fear of being wrong and a desire to “just stay out of it” keep a lot of people from calling child welfare agencies when they see odd things, but experts tell CBS2’s Elise Finch that people need to try to think of it differently.
“It’s important to realize that the call you’re making to child welfare services is to protect the child,” Sister Nancy Downing from Covenant House NY said. “It’s always the number one concern, safety of the child. So if that’s the purpose for what you’re calling, you’re doing the right thing even if you’re wrong about the circumstances.”
Covenant House NY is the nation’s largest privately funded agency serving homeless, runaway, and at-risk youth, many of whom were abused at home. So what are some common warning signs of abuse and neglect?
“If there are several children that live next door and you never see them, you hear them but you don’t see them go to school, you don’t see them go out to play,” Sister Downing said, for starters.
Gina Hernandez, Senior VP of Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey, says it’s important to look for any sort of chronic problem.
“You see a pattern that goes on with a child, in terms of bruising, welts, burns,” she said.
Still, people have their reservations.
“It’s tough because you don’t want to call the police when a kid’s just being a kid,” Upper West Side resident Kelsey Cross said. “It’s a difficult situation when to know.”
A spokesperson for New York’s Office of Children and Family Services said you don’t need tangible proof or even need to know for sure that something’s going on. If you have reasonable suspicion of abuse or neglect, call it in.