A Missing Kid and the Benefit of the Doubt

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This is how it’s SUPPOSED to work:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I feel very fortunate that we live  in Northern Alberta, Canada, where the kids play outside all day, all year!

Last summer, we had the biggest scare of our lives.  It was the last day of school and I was resting in my bedroom while my husband worked outside and my cousin supervised the three kids.  My son, who had just turned three, wandered up to see me on the second floor, but then left.  I assumed he had rejoined the party downstairs, while my cousin assumed that he was with me where she had left him.

About an hour later, I went to find my son to put him to bed and he was nowhere.  We checked everywhere in the house before realizing that he must have left through the front door when one of our older children left it open.  I immediately called 911 while my husband grabbed his bike to search the streets and fields surrounding our house.  The 911 dispatcher took my son’s description and then called our local RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] detachment.  She then phoned us back to let us know that my son  was at the detachment!

When I got there, I was a wreck.  The officers told me that my son had been standing by the road when a couple from a nearby town saw him alone and stopped.  They looked around for a bit for his parents. (Isn’t that the best part?)  Realizing that he was truly alone and not knowing where he belonged, they brought him to the RCMP.

When I was visibly distressed, the main officer told me that as the parent of two toddlers, he completely understands how young kids can sometimes get out.  He reassured me that I was not a bad parent and that my son had been entertaining and happy the entire time.

In the next month, we had a call and quick visit from child protective services to make sure that this was truly an accident.  We have added alarms to the doors and become extra-vigilant about the “handing off responsibility” protocol.  We also have made sure that our now son, now 4, can say his name and ours clearly and we’re working on the phone number.  Convincing him that he can’t leave the house without telling us is possibly a losing battle.

Other than my own mistakes in this story, I believe that it shows exactly how rational adults and professional agencies should handle these situations.  I was given the benefit of the doubt and my son’s safety was prioritized throughout the entire ordeal.

Imagine that! Kindness, no rush to judgment, and concern with actual rather than perceived danger. Oh Canada!

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Let's hear it for the Mounties!

Let’s hear it for the Mounties!

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48 Responses to A Missing Kid and the Benefit of the Doubt

  1. Kimberly August 28, 2015 at 11:13 am #

    We had moved into our new apartment a few months before my oldest was to start kindergarten. She was outside one day, playing with the boy who lived upstairs and was a few years older, while I was inside the apartment doing one thing or another. I came outside to check on her when the boy told me that she had ridden off on her bike to “check out her new school”.

    She had no idea where the school was located and because our apartment parking lot opened up onto a pretty busy street, me and the boys mother started looking for her and I called the police. A few minutes later, my daughter came riding up, I told the operator that we had found her, and that was it. The police never showed up, no visits from CPS, nothing.

    This was in one of the biggest cities in Silicon Valley.

  2. Alex August 28, 2015 at 12:08 pm #

    I can relate, but from the other direction: when I was 5, *I* was the kid who wandered off and had to have the police pick him up. My sister was in high school, and I convinced my mom to leave me at home to watch Rocky & Bullwinkle while they drove over. But then I got anxious, and started thinking she was taking too long. And having ridden with them to my sister’s school several times before, I knew exactly how to get there. So I thought I’d walk down there and catch up with them. And I did. I even refused a ride with some strangers along the way (I think they were actually friends or classmates of my sister–but at the time, all I knew was “stranger in car = do not get in”). Now I’m 33 and as far as I can tell, I’ve survived the experience.

    Something similar happens in a chapter of the Japanese comic book series Yotsuba&!. I just checked and it’s volume 6 if anyone wants to read it. The 5-year-old title character wants to share some dairy-fresh milk with her teenage neighbor, but the neighbor bikes off to school before Yotsuba can say anything. So she gets on her own bike and follows her… and it’s a much longer trek than I could have imagined at that age. When she gets there, the students take her to her neighbor, someone calls home, and Yotsuba’s dad picks her up. And grounds her.

    And even after that, in the very next volume he trusts her to go to a convenience store to pick up some ramen.

  3. Jenny Islander August 28, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

    I think every law enforcement person should be thoroughly briefed on the way that little kids can hit big milestones with no advance notice while their parents are distracted. Like being able to plan “Imma go for a walk without Mommy ’cause I’m a big boy!” The ability to follow through and handle consequences, not so much…

  4. Reziac August 28, 2015 at 12:29 pm #

    A rational adult assumes a “lost” kid belongs somewhere, and just keeps them safe til where they belong is discovered. They don’t panic about what parents may or may not have done. What? Rational adults in the RCMP?? can we borrow them, please? I promise we’ll give them back. 🙂

    If you have a kid who’s prone to roam and can’t yet remember where they belong, an ID bracelet might be a good option.

  5. John August 28, 2015 at 12:49 pm #

    When it comes to children in Canada it is obviously the way it should be, and that is, a person is innocent until proven guilty.

    Whereas in America when it comes to children, a person is usually guilty until proven innocent. The Constitution doesn’t seem to apply.

  6. Jill August 28, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

    There was a child wandering around all by himself and a predator failed to seize the opportunity to sling him into his white van? I’m shocked.

  7. Jen August 28, 2015 at 1:45 pm #

    What a nice story. Glad it turned out so well.

    When my daughter was little and we would go places — we never assumed we wouldn’t lose her in a crowd. And even though she knew her name and phone number, we weren’t certain she wouldn’t be struck mute if lost or tell people her parents names were Mommy and Daddy. So we always tucked a slip of paper in her pocket with our names and cell phone numbers just in case. Interestingly, the only time she got lost long enough to need to find a mom or dad to call us was right in our own backyard at a local sporting event.

  8. Becca in Alaska August 28, 2015 at 2:56 pm #

    My soon to be three year old twins have figured out every lock on our doors. Our yard is fenced in and they have figured out every lock on the gate, including how to push it just so, so they can squeeze through the gap it creates. When I rigged that so it was harder to do they started climbing the fence. I watched yesterday as they worked on figuring out how to go over the top without falling. They haven’t done it yet. I’m just grateful that we live on a short dead end street and I know at least by sight everyone who lives here. I’m hoping that when the day comes and they escape and I don’t notice right away one of my neighbors will just bring them back.

  9. Dan August 28, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

    @Becca…Good for you for providing them with a stimulating environment which can teach them both cooperation and problem solving 😛

    Living in Alaska, next step should be bear safety. I’m sure you know that you don’t actually need to outrun the bear, just the person next to you….

  10. Emily Morris August 28, 2015 at 6:07 pm #

    Positive story (though a missing child is terrifying!). I’m especially impressed at the rationale of the CPS.

    In our town a toddler escaped during nap time a few months ago. Police found him, neighbors found the correct home, all ended well. No big drama.

  11. Maura August 28, 2015 at 6:44 pm #

    A light story to show how crazy things have become: Back in the mid 70’s, when parents, neighbors, and police still had common sense, my parents moved with my younger sister and I (the first 2 of what would eventually be a family of 5 kids) from Brooklyn NY to upstate NY, to a suburb of Albany. We had a fence around some of that yard, and then a bigger portion of yard, which led to woods, and then to our local high school. A few years later, my mother, who used the fenced in portion as “nature’s playpen” as she called it, would put us out there, lock the gate, and let us get fresh air while she ran back and forth doing laundry, taking care of child number 3, and whatnot. Anyway, one day when I was about 4 and my sister 3, we “escaped”. Learned how to unlock the gate. We were headed to the high school because we thought it was the hospital where we would bring our uncle a blanket because he was sick. Mom panicked, called the police, they looked all over for us. Found us in the woods, with the blanket, missing a shoe, and who knows, probably chewing on bark or something. When found, they asked us our names, and in a story that’s still living in infamy in our family, gave the police aliases. At the age of 3 and 4. Aliases. Everyone happy, no one in trouble, no cps call or visit, or terrorization. And my mom even baked chocolate chip cookies for the town PD…every year on the “anniversary” until the officer in charge retired. And five years ago? Said officer came to my mom’s funeral…with a batch of cookies for us.

  12. Kimberly August 28, 2015 at 6:52 pm #

    Maura — absolutely the best. Story. Ever.

  13. Six August 28, 2015 at 7:04 pm #

    When I was young, my family travelled the county fair circuits showing livestock. Being very adventurous and knowing that at the ‘lost and found’ area there was toys (I had been to many different fairgrounds administrative offices with my family and knew they almost always had toys and ‘lost’ children got to play with them), I decided to walk over and tell them I was lost (I most certainly knew where I was and where my family was and how to get back). I gave them a fake name that I made up, ‘Michael’ and proceeded to play with the toys all the while they announced on the loudspeaker over the whole fairgrounds, “will the parents of Michael please come to the lost and found…”. Meanwhile my family began searching for me – and I stuck to my ‘Michael’ pseudonym with the fairgrounds staff. While my family checked the ‘lost and found’ initially and made a report, there was only a ‘Michael’ there so they kept searching. Very quickly there was a full blown (panic) search throughout the entire fairgrounds for me – my mother was convinced someone in the carnival had ‘snatched’ me. After about 45 minutes one of my families employees got wise and insisted that they actually SEE this ‘Michael’ child who’s parents had still not shown up to claim him… my cover was blown. I was maybe 4. These things happen, it’s not bad parenting.

  14. Dee August 28, 2015 at 9:40 pm #

    Love this! Stuff happens. Like kids getting out. Yeah, bad stuff *could* happen (like he wanders in front of a speeding car or in back of one that’s pulling out), but usually it doesn’t. Kind, normal people will look for the parents then see what they can do to help. Kind, normal police will call the parents and shrug because, hey, stuff happens. No judgement, no big whoop.

  15. James Pollock August 28, 2015 at 10:00 pm #

    There’s a story my dad likes to tell but my mom is not so fond of.
    When I was three, I liked to escape my back yard and go play in the water hazard of the mini-golf course. It usually took a while for anyone to catch on that I was there alone, and not with some other group or family.

    My mom finally watched to see how I was doing it… it’d pile up all my toys against the fence and then climb over. So mom fixed that problem by simply taking away all the toys. I figured out, however, that although I could no longer scale the fence, I could still get out… I tunneled under the house. OK, not really, but… there was an opening where they’d had to break through the foundation in one place, and the regular little hatchway door for access under the house, at the the opposite end of the house (and, crucially, outside the fence). So I got out.

    I made it about a mile and half down the highway before Johnny Law caught up to me. Seeing a three-year-old, alone, hoofing it down the highway, must have seemed somehow unusual or something. Anyway, the cop stopped me. “Do you know who you are?” Yep. “Do you know where you live?” Yep. “Will you tell me?” Nope. Fortunately(?) a colleague of my dad’s drove by and saw me and a cop and none of my parents, so he pulled over and offered his assistance in returning me to my parents. The cop rolled up on the house, with me in the backseat. He knocked on the door, and my mom answered it. “Ma’am, do you know where your son is?” … “well, of course I do. He’s in the back yard.” “Could you check, please?” “WHAAAAAA!!!”

    That’s me… in trouble with the law since I could barely walk.

  16. Warren August 28, 2015 at 10:40 pm #

    This reminds you of the good old days when a cop would go home and tell their family it was a great day. They had a lost child and reunited the family.

    As compared to what seems to be happening, with cops going home and telling their family they arrested another parent.

  17. Poppy August 28, 2015 at 11:27 pm #

    We have taught our 3 year old our phone number, by singing it to Twinkle Twinkle, and our address by singing it to Where is Thumbkin (aka Are you Sleeping). I highly recommend doing this. Kids learn songs easily, and it is a helpful way for them to memorialize important information.

  18. Monica August 29, 2015 at 2:21 am #

    My son is a sleepwalker. And can undo any latch or alarm we found whether wide awake or sound asleep. (I mean, the kid has climbed a tree sound asleep) when he was about 4 we had to call the police because he got loose one night and wandered off and we couldn’t find him. Funny now…not so much then. Took about an hour, but the police found him curled up under a tree. CPS called me the next day to make sure we were OK, seeing by my house that afternoon to see if I’d bought up on my sleep, and laugh at my son. Not a big deal to her.

  19. James Pollock August 29, 2015 at 5:01 am #

    “CPS called me the next day to make sure we were OK, seeing by my house that afternoon to see if I’d bought up on my sleep, and laugh at my son. Not a big deal to her.”

    People focus too much on “they’re here to take my kids away” and not enough on “they’re here to see if my family needs any services they can provide, assist with, or identify for us.”

  20. Cassie August 29, 2015 at 5:11 am #

    @Maura… Aliases… nice.

  21. BL August 29, 2015 at 6:16 am #

    “People focus too much on ‘“they’re here to take my kids away’ and not enough on ‘they’re here to see if my family needs any services they can provide, assist with, or identify for us.'”

    Do people focus too much on “Ray Rice beat his fiancee unconscious and dragged her out of an elevator” and not enough on “Ray Rice is an excellent football player”?

  22. James Pollock August 29, 2015 at 7:15 am #

    “Do people focus too much on “Ray Rice beat his fiancee unconscious and dragged her out of an elevator” and not enough on “Ray Rice is an excellent football player”?”

    People focus too much on both “Ray Rice beat up his wife that one time on video” and “Ray Rice is (was) an excellent football player”. Relevance?

  23. sexhysteria August 29, 2015 at 9:32 am #

    I remember meeting three little girls hitch-hiking from Calgary to Vancouver. They were about 8-12 years old, and it was my first time visiting Western Canada, so I was surprised, but nobody said or did anything to stop them. What a great place to live!

  24. Christina August 29, 2015 at 10:00 am #

    @Becca – my b/b twins were the same way at that age! They’re 8 now, and while they still come up with some doozies, I’m starting to believe they will make it to adulthood…

  25. Nicole R. August 29, 2015 at 11:20 am #

    So nice to hear of a situation that was handled rationally!

    Poppy, I love the idea of teaching kids to sing their address and phone number!

  26. Buffy August 29, 2015 at 2:13 pm #

    Except….I keeping wondering….why did the officer, with his understanding and assurance that she was not a bad parent, have to call CPS at all?

  27. theresa hall August 29, 2015 at 2:38 pm #

    that what I thought too buffy. if Canada cps got it into their heads that runaway tot means bad parent the next thing we would hear bye mom and dad

  28. Stacey August 29, 2015 at 2:40 pm #

    I thought my seven year old was playing downstairs in her playhouse inside, while I was upstairs doing things in my room as the 3 year old who was taking a nap in her room. What I didn’t know was my 7 yo had been invited by a friend around the corner to go out to dinner. Instead of asking me, my 7 yo left with friend’s handicapped mother in their car. She ran outside and jumped in the car at the road. NO ONE mentioned it to me. No phone call, nothing.

    An hour after my 7 yo had gone down stairs, I went down to get something. She wasn’t there. I checked outside front and back. My child was no where to be seen. I woke the 3 yo from her nap and walked to the friend’s house. No one was home. We walked home and I called my husband. He immediately came home while I call the police.

    The police showed up. They repeatedly asked me about what happened. Meanwhile, my wonderful neighbors went out and searched for her everywhere….I do have some truly incredible neighbors who thought nothing of searching all the surrounding areas and teamed up to find her even though they didn’t really now each other…..Meanwhile, the police acted incredulous I let my 7 yo go downstairs alone for any amount of time. They kept asking if I was asleep. They questioned my husband and mw about our relationship. They questioned the little 7 yo boys down the street who were playing outside (unsupervised, but somehow that was ok to the police). I am not aware they had anyone looking for my daughter. They were just questioning us.

    I mentioned she had been playing with the friend earlier and I checked there, but they weren’t home. I kept calling the cell phone leaving messages to call me back. Finally, my daughter called me from the grandmother’s cell phone telling me she was having dinner about 20 miles away. The police talked to the grandmother who said she heard me say it was “ok”. I told the police that wasn’t possible as I was upstairs and she is handicapped and in a wheelchair….she never came to my door.

    When my daughter arrived they asked the Grandmother to show them where she was when she heard me approve of the trip. She told them from her car at the street….They let her go even though they knew she was lying.

    The police said nothing more to me. The whole time we felt they were looking for us to be guilty of horrific things to our child instead helping us find her.

    My daughter had to walk to each neighbor’s (with me) and apologize for all the trouble she caused, had a week in her room, miss all her planned activities and stay with me at the park when we went with friends. That was 8 years ago, and she has never had another “adventure”.

    I am definitely a free range parent..this was more about how the Nevada Police responded to a missing child compared to Canada.

    I have one for Georgia police, but I will make a separate post for it.

  29. A reader August 29, 2015 at 10:52 pm #

    I actually just went through this a few days ago. I had my 4 year old in a day camp. They go to a nearby playground after lunch every day. Anyway, on Wednesday, they left him in the park and had NO IDEA until I came at the end of the day to pick him up and he wasn’t in camp. He was alone in the park for over three hours, and the camp had no idea they were missing a kid. NOT OK. I’m pretty free range, but four is too young to be in a playground alone. He was fine (though slightly dehydrated) and never actually knew he was alone. I live in a neighborhood where large families (5+ kids) are common, so no one at the park noticed he was alone because there were so many kids there. My biggest concern about what could have been was that the park is right next to a train station. He could have easily wandered to the tracks or boarded a train to who knows where (he’s obsessed with trains). And now that I think about, I wonder what would have happened if someone had noticed him and called the cops. Would they have dragged me away in handcuffs before allowing me to explain that it wasn’t me, it was his camp that left him there? Would I have been charged anyway for not doing enough homework before entrusting him to theoat popular camp in the neighborhood? Who knows.

  30. Kevin August 30, 2015 at 8:12 am #

    “People focus too much on “they’re here to take my kids away” and not enough on “they’re here to see if my family needs any services they can provide, assist with, or identify for us.”

    With all the horror stories, is this really that surprising? When do you ever hear about CPS doing something actually good?

  31. James Pollock August 30, 2015 at 9:56 am #

    “With all the horror stories, is this really that surprising? When do you ever hear about CPS doing something actually good?”

    This is the same logic that causes people to panic when they see a stranger talking to their kid. With all the horror stories of what can happen to your kid when they talk to strangers, is this really surprising?

  32. theresa hall August 30, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

    if cps at least in usa didn’t get paid major big buck per kids in their care I would be glad to give them the benefit of doubt. but they do. and like boy who cried wolf they cry bad parent and everyone wants to save the kid from nothing. if you belong to a group that lies a lot well trust will harder to find.

  33. James Pollock August 30, 2015 at 4:04 pm #

    “if cps at least in usa didn’t get paid major big buck per kids in their care”

    I’m not aware of anywhere in the US where this is true. Can you elucidate?

  34. Papilio August 30, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

    Aliases, false names – you were all criminals before Kindergarten! No wonder you like to hang out with the World’s worst mom… 😛

    “our now son” That does kinda sound like it used to be a daughter…! O.O

  35. Puzzled August 31, 2015 at 10:21 pm #

    >This is the same logic that causes people to panic when they see a stranger talking to their kid. With all the >horror stories of what can happen to your kid when they talk to strangers, is this really surprising?

    I don’t completely disagree with this point – I think all risks are generally overestimated, with the exception of the 10 or so most dangerous things we do, which are generally underestimated risks. However, if stranger experiences, so to speak, led to abductions at the same rate at which CPS contact leads to bad outcomes, I’d be much less a supporter of free-range thinking.

  36. James Pollock August 31, 2015 at 10:48 pm #

    “if stranger experiences, so to speak, led to abductions at the same rate at which CPS contact leads to bad outcomes, I’d be much less a supporter of free-range thinking.”

    The problem is, you don’t hear about the times people have contact with CPS, and have good outcomes, just like it ‘s not news when a kid talks to a stranger and isn’t abducted. So, you have a distorted view of how often interacting with CPS leads to a problem. (I don’t consider CPS taking custody away from parents who shouldn’t have it (here I’m referring to the meth-heads and abusers, not the people who left the child behind at the grocery store.) as a “bad outcome”… it’s not great that the child is removed from the parents, but it’s the least-bad of the possibilities.

    During a long and bitter custody fight, the judge ordered a home visit and evaluation. I had no fear of this… in fact, I looked forward to it… because I knew that any fair appraisal of my fitness as a parent would end with approval. That home visit was the END OF my fear that the judge might order custody for my ex-wife. It wasn’t the end of her trying (not by a long shot) but it was the end of my worrying about it.

  37. Puzzled September 1, 2015 at 12:00 am #

    Two things. First, the chance of talking to a stranger leading to an abduction is so low that it’s probably orders of magnitude lower than the chance of a bad outcome when you interact with CPS – and, sure, I’ll limit bad outcome to taking away a child that should not be taken away, by your standards.

    Second, I apologize that I do not share the view that overworked state employees, who are trained and paid to be risk-averse, will always make the right decision. I do not, in general, share the view of “if you aren’t doing anything wrong, ,you have nothing to fear” and see no reason to apply it particularly in this case, where the institutional risk of doing nothing is much higher than the institutional risk of doing something.

  38. James Pollock September 1, 2015 at 12:16 am #

    “Second, I apologize that I do not share the view that overworked state employees, who are trained and paid to be risk-averse, will always make the right decision.”
    Share it with whom?

    “I do not, in general, share the view of ‘if you aren’t doing anything wrong, ,you have nothing to fear'”
    Again, share it with whom?
    (I’ve advanced the claim that “the fear of having your kids taken away from you, by CPS, for nothing” is similar to “the fear that some stranger will take your kid away from you”. Neither is rational. Both are worst-first thinking.

  39. Puzzled September 1, 2015 at 7:36 am #

    Share it, presumably, with anyone who looks forward to and welcomes a home visit from CPS, trusting that it will come to the right conclusion.

  40. James Pollock September 1, 2015 at 8:46 am #

    “Share it, presumably, with anyone who…”

    Covering our bets?

  41. Puzzled September 1, 2015 at 6:34 pm #

    Yes, if I were to gamble I’d cover my bets.

  42. Emma September 1, 2015 at 9:04 pm #

    it’s good to see even sheep have a place to meet online.

    it is sad and frightening that many of the sheep here are parents.

    If I knew where you lived I’ report you all to CPS twice a day daily!

    none of you be parents!

  43. ChicagoDad September 1, 2015 at 9:32 pm #

    @Emma “it’s good to see even sheep have a place to meet online”

    I’m not sure you know as much about raising sheep as you claim. But just in case you do, can you offer some advice? Do sheep fare better being raised confined in a paddock their whole lives? Or should they be allowed to graze their pasture? Is it good for their health to be packed in tight quarters? Or should they be given time outside, even in a fenced range with a collie in earshot?

    BTW, I live in Chicago. You can look up the number for family services.

  44. ChicagoDad September 1, 2015 at 9:39 pm #

    @Emma, and BTW, without any sarcasm, snark or animosity, I am deeply sorry to hear about the passing of your neighbor’s child. That is terrible and they have my deepest sympathies. I am so sorry for their loss and suffering and the anger and horror you must feel. Even though we disagree about child-rearing, you have my sympathies. Every loss I read about, like the one you described in your comment on the other post, just tear me apart.

  45. James Pollock September 1, 2015 at 9:41 pm #

    “If I knew where you lived I’ report you all to CPS twice a day daily!”

    Portland, OR. You have my name.

  46. Puzzled September 2, 2015 at 3:29 pm #

    How can it be sad and frightening that so many of the sheep here are parents (and what type of keyboard are the sheep using? I can’t imagine trying to use a normal one with hooves) if “none of you be parents”?

    Why even try to make sense of such lunatic ravings, I suppose.

  47. Peter September 7, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

    Hi Warren

    I saw this blog today and thought of your post:

    http://viewsfrommysquadcar.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/feel-good-moment.html

    Admittedly, Officer Cynical has retired but I think this is still a reasonably up to date entry.

  48. Warren September 7, 2015 at 11:48 pm #

    Peter,

    Excellent job on the officer’s part and the mom’s as well, for having the kids take responsibility for taking up the officer’s time.