Toddler on I-465 -- WHY was he still in mom's care?

Dateline: Mon 01 Jan 2007

The Star's Page 1 story Sunday about a 3-year-old running down I-465 on the Northwestside Saturday was dramatic and frightening, but it raises more questions than it answers -- for police, for Child Protection Services and for the newspaper.

This much we know, based on the Star: the child was spotted Saturday morning charging down the middle of the slow lane of northbound I-465. He was barefoot, wearing only a diaper and a T-shirt. A man driving a flatbed truck -- understandably shook up after realizing he could have killed the kid -- alerted police. Meanwhile a half-dozen or so other drivers slammed on brakes in an effort to avoid striking the baby. They used their vehicles to create a barrier on the road, in an effort to protect the boy.

No wonder the story made Page 1. As a reader of this blog observed, "The child could have been a pancake." The Star reported that the mother said she doesn't hear her kids after she falls asleep. She had tried to block their apartment door with boxes -- apparently the little guy's beeline was routine.

The mother was arrested on two counts of child neglect -- one count because she didn't even know her kid was MIA, a second on behalf of a younger child, who was found eating spaghetti off the floor when cops knocked on the mom's door Saturday morning.

But now for those pesky questions from a "curious reader" of this blog, who also happens to live in the complex where the incident unfolded.

For starters --- Why was the little boy still under his mother's lack of care? The Star reports that "earlier last week," police were summoned to the area after the 3-year-old boy was seen running around the apartment complex parking lot unsupervised.

What the Star does not say, says curious reader, is that two Indianapolis police officers AND a Child Protection Services worker were called to the Scarborough Lakes apartment complex Thursday at 46th and High School Road.

"I am very curious about the incident," he says, asking to remain anonymous. After seeing the story online in the Star Saturday, he learned that office workers at the apartment complex had been concerned enough about the kid to call police Thursday.

Here's what our curious reader asks: "There was feces in the apartment then. What the heck -- why didn't they take the kid away then? Surely the mother's life skills did not collapse over the next two days."

What was not reported in the Star, says "curious", is that one officer wanted to pull the child away from the mom on Thursday; the other officer disagreed. The CPS worker prevailed. Apparently the CPS worker gave the mother two weeks to clean the filthy apartment and also gave her a list of phone numbers for help.

"My eyebrows are up," says "curious." He wonders if the police merger, initiated informally on Thursday, could have been a factor in the poor decision-making process.

"They had an opportunity to pull that kid," he says. "I'd really like to know why it didn't happen then. Why were they so nonchalant?"

"Curious" also adds this detail: while the Star reported that the kid climbed a fence to get onto the highway, "curious" says the fence did not belong to the complex but is one maintained by the city.

For the record, on behalf of both the newspaper and CPS, I'll say this: reporting is always a work in process. Stories evolve as information becomes available. Reporters are at the mercy not only of time restrictions and sources but editors, who are at the mercy of limited space. As for CPS, the conventional wisdom is to keep a family united unless a serious threat is believed to exist.

We're all human; we all make mistakes. But a child almost was killed, and it's important that the kind of questions "curious" raises are answered -- by CPS, by the police and ultimately by the paper.

The Star owes readers a follow-up.

Game?

comments: ruth@ruthholladay.com

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