Out in the Cold

The boy keeps coming back to my mind these past few days. I want to do something, but I don’t know what.

My sister does what she can, when she can. He lives next door to her. His mom is dead and he lives with his half-sister. I guess she’s his legal guardian now. And his situation has been the same for at least the three years my sister has lived in her house. I’ve been aware of it. I think it just only really hit me when I was there to watch it happen.

My sister and I have started having movie nights. We pick out a chick-flick and put comfy clothes on and get together to watch. We were at her house on Thursday evening and the DVD hadn’t progressed past the previews when the doorbell rang. I assumed it was one of my nephews’ friends. And when my sister opened the door, I was only vaguely paying attention to her conversation with the visitor until I heard her ask him if he was hungry. He said he was.

As she came up the stairs from her entryway, I saw a tall young man of about 14 or 15 years coming up behind her. She introduced him to me and I recognized his name. I knew immediately that he was the boy from next door.

“How long have you been outside,” she asked him.

“Only about an hour,” he said.

“What happened this time,” my sister asked?

“She told me I had to get out because they were leaving,” he said.

“Did the rest of them have dinner?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “There wasn’t any when I came home and then she told me I had to go outside. I did my homework, but I was getting cold and they’re not back yet.”

It was long dark outside by this time. And it’s been warm-jacket weather for a couple of weeks, especially after the sun goes down. As I understand it, this is a regular occurrence. Before a year or so ago, the boy’s sister lived there too and my sister often opened her home and her kitchen to both of the kids. Their guardian would lock them out of the house for hours and leave them to fend for themselves, without food, or money, or anyone to look over them. The boy’s sister lives somewhere else now, but for some reason, he still lives with his guardian, her significant other and their young children.

My sister pulled her leftover homemade chicken pot pie out of the refrigerator and dished up a plate for the boy. After it had been reheated, he gladly accepted it and ate it all. When he was finished, he went down to the lower level of the house to hang out with my nephews for a while. Not long afterwards, he called up the stairs to my sister to thank her and to let her know he was leaving.

“Do you know if they’re back home so you can go inside again,” she asked?

“I think they probably are,” he said. He thanked her again and went out the door. He didn’t come back.

A year or so ago, during the winter months, another neighbor called Child Protective Services after noticing that the boy and his sister had been locked out of their home, multiple times, for hours at a time while their guardian was gone off to who-knows-where. The authorities said that as long as the temperature was above freezing, they couldn’t (or wouldn’t?) take any action.

I don’t know how the boy’s guardian continues to get away with locking the boy out of the house and leaving him for indefinite periods of time. Maybe he’s not in any real danger, but who locks their kid out of the house, without food, in the cold and makes him wait, not knowing for how long? They live in a nice middle-class neighborhood. Somehow that makes it seem worse.

The day after our movie night, I couldn’t stop thinking about the boy. It made me angry and sad that he is treated as an outcast by his own family. My sister does her best to do what she can for him, but it’s just not possible for her to be there for him at all times. I texted her on Friday and told her that I was so very bothered by the boy’s situation.

“Join the club,” was her reply. “I’m afraid to call Social Services  in case the guardian finds out and then forbids him to come here, and then he is truly out in the cold.”

I asked if there was anything I could do for him.

“What would you do… honestly,” she asked?

I knew what she was getting at. There was nothing I could think to do for him without his guardian knowing, without her getting angry because someone else was butting in to her business.

It’s not right. And I wish I knew what to do.

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35 thoughts on “Out in the Cold

  1. Isn’t there a way to give notice to Social Services in a discrete, confidential fashion? Have you done a web search for any organizations or groups that deal with this or have information and suggestions?

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    • Social Services has already said that they won’t intervene due to locking him out of the house, unless the weather is below freezing. And I didn’t even know where to begin, but the web search is a good idea. Thanks.

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  2. Right now your sister and you are doing what you can – looking out for the young boy and opening up her house to him when he needs it – feeling helpless is an awful feeling, knowing that he has a place to go is comforting to him and I think your sister is right, by saying something might prohibit that availability. It’s a no win, but you are so caring to help, and even more especially cause it’s holiday time too.

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  3. Is there a Guardian ad Litem program in your city? Sounds like this boy needs an advocate. I can’t believe that social services refuses to step in. Does he need to starve before they do anything. Such a terrible situation. Your sister is a good person to help him.

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  4. I wouldn’t know what to do either, beyond just being there for him when needed. Perhaps just letting the boy know that he’s more than welcome to come over at any time. Of course that puts a lot of responsibility on your sister. But if you’re willing to take him in for a few hours at a time, or feed him supper, perhaps you can give him your phone number.
    Unfortunately, what you can offer is only a band-aid. What he needs is a guardian who will take care of him. So sad. Especially in a neighborhood such as your sister’s. I’d be interested to know what results you find from a web search…

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    • I’m trying to think of things I can do that would be immediately helpful… maybe just give him some cash for fast food or something. It just makes me so sad when I think that kids who are treated this way grow up having a strong tendency towards repeating those behaviors.

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  5. This is gut-wrenching!! Thank God for your sister and anyone else who is willing to help him, not turn their backs instead. I don’t know what to do either and it bothers me as well.

    Bless you for trying, somehow I feel you’ll find a way to assist and if you do, please update us.
    MJ

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  6. That’s so sad, Terri. I feel bad for him and for all of you. I hope his circumstances improve soon. It’s hard to know what to do, but I do know that we have a Guardian ad Litem program here in Minnesota. Here’s a link: http://www.mncourts.gov/?page=149.

    Earlier today, I was thinking about your friend who was dealing with breast cancer a while ago. How is she doing? Maybe I missed an update, but I do try to keep up with your blog since I enjoy it so much.

    Blessings to you and your family!

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  7. This is really disturbing. It’s okay for a kid to be locked out of his own home as long as it’s above freezing outside?! Pardon my French, but WTF is that?!?

    Thing is, from what you’ve observed, I doubt that his situation would be much better if he were inside the house.

    “They live in a nice middle-class neighborhood. Somehow that makes it seem worse.” – You’re right. Bad people are everywhere. But good people are too. I’m glad your sister lives next door.

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    • Hard to believe, isn’t it? Did you ever read the series of books written by the man who was an abused child? I think one of them was called, “A Boy Called It.” His abuse went on for years and years. It makes me so sad to think that the neglect my sister’s neighbor is experiencing is his “normal” and that so many have been made aware and yet nothing changes.

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  8. Thanks for writing about this Sis…I could literally write a book of all the things we’ve witnessed and heard about in the last 3-1/2 years. It IS gut-wrenching, sickening, sad…and above all, frustrating. This is the long and the short of it…Mom dies, 6 year old boy finds her…his twin sister is there as well. Older 1/2 sister turned 21 the day before…twins’ father in prison. Half sister becomes guardian. Now has boyfriend, 3 children 7 and under and number 4 due this month…all live in house next door. I have witnessed the twins locked out for HOURS in the midwest winter…cold, wet, hungry, no place to urinate. True. I have called Social Services as has the bus driver who happens to be a former cop and is a school busdriver & neighbor, and the middle school. I can’t say if the highschool has done anything. Same story over and over from Protective Services. They seem to feel that he’s better off at home. Uugghh! Our system is so much more than broken. Twin boy was removed briefly & placed into foster care – that was a disaster as that woman was a former family friend, Boy’s Godmother and a single mother of her own 3 children. Yep…worked out financially fabulously so she gave him back. My friends & I have bought the twins clothes, baseball gloves, etc…to really no avail. The half sister guardian actually left Twin boy home while the rest of them went to Florida for a week as a punishment” to him and is charging him for the lost airfare thereby depriving him of playing any sports. Half sister will not speak to me…Phew! But I do feel that we are Twin Boy’s only reprieve. And quick correction, Twin Sister has never left but is treated somewhat better and was allowed to get a job. They will not help her get there and have created schedule issues by locking her out as well and unable to get her uniform. So, ideas welcome for sure but there is so much at stake for this young man who remains happy and positive and presents such a strong character even through all he has endured (and dad is now deceased, too). If he makes it, he will do GREAT things.

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    • Not sure why I thought the sister had moved out to foster care… Confused, I guess. I figured there was more to it than just locking him out now and then. They left him home while they went to Florida for a week??? How does she live with herself?

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  9. Oh, and I should mention that the Half sister guardian has called the Police on Twin boy numerous times. The police have been to my house and spoken to my husband and me – we have tried many things to help. Most of us would be in jail for this it should seem…but not this woman…I have to be careful not to become so mean, bitter and enraged, but she represents pure evil to me. Most of treat our pets better than this young man experiences in his home. He is nearly 16. There is no reason for this.

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  10. “Their guardian would lock them out of the house for hours and leave them to fend for themselves, without food, or money, or anyone to look over them.”

    WHAT THE HELL? Why is that person their guardian? Why haven’t they been arrested for child abuse?

    Oh wait….

    “I’m afraid to call Social Services  in case the guardian finds out and then forbids him to come here, and then he is truly out in the cold.”

    OMG. I’m literally crying right now.

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    • It’s horrible isn’t it? I guess I always think that these things happen, but not to anyone I know. It was hard to reconcile the boy I met, with a smile on his face, good manners, polite… with what I know of his situation. So many in his place would be lashing out in any number of ways.

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  11. What a lovely, caring heart you have, Terri! I can see how hard it is to get involved — wanting to protect this boy from a possibly bad situation, yet not wanting to make it worse for him. Why this type of thing is allowed to happen in our great land is beyond me. We’ve reached a new low, I’m afraid, if we can’t be kind and loving to the most innocent among us.

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  12. There has to be something behind why the police and social services cannot pull these children from this home! Sounds like someone needs to video tape anything they see, document everything and maybe call a news station! Find the grandparents of the children or any other relatives. This is ridiculous!! Something needs to be done.

    It makes me sad to think that there are people like this in the world.

    Cori you are amazing for doing what you are doing. My heart hurts for these children.

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  13. Sorry, I don’t have time right now to read through all of the comments right now, so maybe someone already said this. However, I think the more people who report the more likely the authorities are to act. This is completely unacceptable. So, so disturning, Terri. Please keep us informed.
    Hugs,
    Kathy

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  14. I don’t know a better word to use, but this bothers my heart in the worst way. I think, along the lines of what Kathy said, that the more people who do butt in, the more complaints filed, the more likely different agencies will feel they have to act in this child’s best interest. I’m sure that is a terribly uncomfortable spot to be in, not sure what to do or when it’s “overstepping”, but at the end of the day I think that boy is more important than ruffling his neglectful guaradian’s feathers.

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  15. This situation reminds me of my Dad’s two sisters -both school teachers and teaching at the same school. The older aunt taught 1st grade, the younger, second. Back, almost 50 years ago now, there was a little boy in my aunt’s 1st grade class who she and the other aunt felt sorry for as he had no warm winter coat. Weather here may not get quite as wicked as Minnesota, but we do have lots of days when the temps drop well below zero! The boy’s mother was unmarried and the grandparents were basically the ones responsible for raising him but my aunts were a little wary at first of wanting to get the boy a warm coat. Finally, they asked the grandparents if they minded their buying that and they got an Ok. Then, they asked if the boy could come home from school and have supper with them. (My aunts lived about 6-8 miles or so apart, but they ate supper every day at the younger aunt’s home. That went on until the older aunt had to go into a nursing home.)
    Gradually, they began having the boy down for supper more and more often until when he was about 7 years old, he began staying over night now and then and eventually, ended up living with my younger aunt. He started to go by her last name in school -in our school district -and after he turned 18, he had his name legally changed to the same as my younger aunt’s name. I don’t know that my aunt’s ever turned to CYS for any advice, etc., He considers himself to be a cousin to me, my kids and to all the rest of the cousins on my Dad’s side of the family. I, as so many others have stated here too, think the CYS there should look at the full picture -not just being locked out and it not being cold enough, but also the lack of food and sanitation too! That’s a totally horrendous situation for him to be in and one would think it would all be classified as child abuse if all taken into consideration simultaneously. Hope you and Cori find some avenue, some where, that will give him help and definitely ease your minds a bit then too.

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  16. Hopefully it is a better place that the girl lives in now, too bad the boy could not go too. Being guardian, I wonder if the 1/2 sister is paid to keep him but it sounds like his home environment is worse than foster homes. What a sad thing to have to witness without being able to help bring about a change for the better.

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