Like many toddlers, Vincent was often jealous of his new baby brother.
As reported by Mom.me, in November, his mom — identified only as “Mary” in the article — noticed her toddler was taking his baby brother's toys.
The family was visiting the paternal grandparents at the time. Mary promptly disciplined Vincent by putting him on the patio and telling him he could come back inside when he was ready.
She watched from an open window until his tantrum subsided. The publication did not state how long he was outside.
Two hours later, police officers knocked on the door and told Mary she was being investigated for child abuse and endangerment. Mary told Mom.me:
“It was like something out of a movie. It never occurred to me that putting my kid on the patio was an issue. We live in a secure, gated apartment complex, and there are at least 4 feet of hedges between the sidewalk and our patio. We literally know all our neighbors, and I was never more than 12 inches away — even if it was on the other side of an open window."
She was allegedly brought into the station and her kids were taken away in another police car. She told Mom.me: “They got them out of bed and didn’t even get them dressed. It was the worst moment of my life.”
Mary was arrested and charged with misdemeanor child neglect. Her bail was set at $10,000, but she was released the following morning.
The parents were kept away from their children for two months. Mary lamented that she was unable to visit her newborn baby, who was breastfeeding at the time.
When the parents spoke to friends about their case, they were given the advice to get a lawyer, take parenting classes, and attend counseling sessions on parenting and anger management.
After two months of back-and-forth with Child Protective Services — at one point losing the newborn's paperwork — the case was dismissed, and the children were returned to their parents.
When Mom.me posted the article on Facebook, many parents shared concerns about losing their children due to a punishment deemed too harshly by a nosey neighbor:
Without the police report or the CPS validation, it is unknown exactly what caused the the children to be taken away from the home.
A few commenters, several claiming to be CPS workers, noted that this is likely not the full picture:
According to Parents.com, child abuse and neglect can be difficult to define as the definitions are different in each state. Renee Dominguez, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, told the publication that many parents also have different definitions on discipline:
“Many parents have experienced extreme 'discipline' themselves as a child and because it was normal in their home, they believe it is not abusive.”
The Children's Bureau reported that on a federal level, child abuse and neglect is defined as:
“Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”
In an interview with Dearly, Dr. Dominguez said that, based on her experience, she has a difficult time believing that CPS would take children away after a first report of child neglect unless the children appear to be at significant risk:
“Professionally, I am a licensed clinical psychologist who has dedicated much of my career to working with children who have been abused, neglected, or otherwise traumatized. In this capacity, I have interfaced with the law enforcement and with Child Protective Services, in two states, for over 20 years. I have, literally, never seen or even heard of anything that resembles the extremes that this story depicts.”
She noted that she's had more experience with CPS failing to act when children need protection:
“My experience has been quite the opposite when it comes to matters of child protection. I have instead interfaced with extreme and severe situations whereby children were, without question, being abused or neglected, and allegations were unfounded and law enforcement did not even engage. Law enforcement and child protection agencies are often understaffed and underfunded. The norm is that child protection agencies are unable to meet the time mandate to even begin the child protection investigation because they do not have the resources to do so.”
Dr. Dominguez said she had only experienced one case in which CPS removed a child without “a great deal of compelling evidence for the allegation at hand.” In this particular case, the parents had previously been reported for neglect and abuse:
“I can count the times that has happened on one hand. I especially cannot imagine what has unfolded in this story to have actually occurred if this is a family that had no other contact with Child Protective Services or law enforcement.”
In addition, she isn't sure why the grandparents would not be eligible for placement. Despite the possibility of the story being falsified, she noted that there are some lessons that parents can take away from this story:
“Having said that, if this is something that actually did occur, I think it is a terrible injustice [...] I think, if this story is actually true, it is something that happens VERY INFREQUENTLY and should not dictate the way in which people parent their children.”
She urged parents to use this as an opportunity to evaluate their parenting and discipline routines to ensure their children are receiving healthy encouragement and regulations (sic):
"Generally speaking, I encourage parents to set very clear expectations about behavior, and encourage consistent consequences. I encourage parents to be nurturing and to connect with their children at an emotional level. I also encourage parents to encourage their children, instead of using fear as a mechanism for shaping behavior. I teach them the fundamentals of behavioral principles as well. I emphasize the benefits of using praise and positive attention (e.g., to catch them when they are behaving in a way that the parent wants to see more of).
I encourage the use of “time out” – it is an effective parenting practice when used as designed. I think of “time out” as an opportunity for a child to learn to regulate himself or herself while negative behaviors are not being reinforced (i.e., they are not given any attention during time out). I do not think of “time out” as a harsh negative consequence. The beauty of time out is that parents can also, very deliberately and clearly, model taking a time out for themselves when they become overwhelmed and need a minute to pull themselves together.
I encourage parents to pick their battles and to ignore negative behavior if it is just annoying (e.g., do you really want to pick the whining battle?), unless, of course, the behavior is potentially harmful, or truly unacceptable.
I try to support parents with psychoeducation. I want to help them understand what is developmentally appropriate behavior for their children. Without this information, parents are at risk for taking their children’s behavior personally and for becoming emotionally dysregulated themselves (e.g., “Johnny is just doing that to make me mad”). I especially encourage parents to pay attention to their own internal experiences, as these have great risk to override logic and their overall parenting plan. There is not a single parent out there who has not responded poorly to his/her child because the parent was in a bad mood or somehow triggered by their child (i.e., taking it personally when it is not about them).
In order to capture the way in which the emotional experience of the parent truly impacts parenting practices, and they offers suggestions about how to manage this effectively, I encourage parents to read “Parenting from the Inside Out” by Dan Siegel, the “Whole Brain Child” by Tina Payne Bryson and Dan Siegel, and “Brainstorm” by Dan Siegel.
In a nutshell, parenting is an individually tailored, unique process that is probably harder than any other job, as it requires significant emotional resources when done well. While there is no clear recipe for successful parenting, I believe that the following are essential ingredients: a basic understanding of behavioral principles, a basic understanding of child development, love for your child, a secure attachment relationship, self awareness, patience, and the ability to self regulate."
While leaving a toddler on the porch during a temper tantrum will likely not lead to an arrest on the first offense, the psychologists suggested that it could potentially be dangerous and might not be the most encouraging way to enforce positive behavior.