A Gorilla, A Petition, and the Perspective of a Child Welfare Professional

(Writer’s Note:  This opinion is not intended to represent other child welfare professionals’ opinions.  Plus, I’m not an expert on anything Gorilla or zoo related, and I can barely keep my children from escaping my grasp.)

If you are like me, your social media feed has been taken over by the shocking events that happened when a preschooler fell into the Gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo.  I’m guilty of commenting and sharing news about the incident, as well.  When I first saw the video of the child being dragged through the water, I watched with fear over what could have happened.  I thought about my own children, and what I would do if the same thing happened to any of them.  It hit close to home because I have an almost 4-yr-old who is extremely curious, lacks no fear, and is too quick for me to keep up with.  My heart just sank watching the video; saddened by the death of the majestic Harambe, worried about the child, and apprehensive about the reactions of so many.

I want you to know that I have always been an animal lover.  My parents endured my bringing home half-dead pigeons in hopes of healing them.  I have donated money to a tremendous amount of animal organizations and have fed numerous stray animals.  (I fed a stray cat just hours before writing this.)  In between classes in college, instead of driving the fifteen or so minutes to my house, I would drive around, read the “lost pet” signs, and then look for the animals in hopes of reuniting them with their owners.  I have helped to find homes for stray animals and rushed a dog to an emergency vet right after being hit by a car because I could not stand the thought of that poor baby lying there helpless while everyone else just zoomed by.  So, please hear me.  I adore animals.  I have pets and love them dearly.  I teach my children to do the same.

With that being said, when I read that nearly 500,000 people had signed a petition for an investigation and charges of negligence and/or lack of supervision to be brought up against the parents of this young boy, I had a visceral reaction.  My blood boiled a bit.  I am all about social movement, and stand behind change and action being brought on by the people but as a child welfare professional, I was just livid.  It’s not because I do not think the anger is justified, or that the parents’ actions, or lack thereof, should not be taken into consideration.  (Although, I do not know how it happened, and choose to hold no judgment.  As a mother, I know that things happen literally in the blink of an eye. I do wonder how anyone should be able to escape into a supposedly secured animal exhibit, especially a young child.)

My anger with the petition has more to do with the response to this one incident, than anything else.  My husband told me to just let it go, and stop reading/watching the news about it.  Maybe, I should.  Yet, in my heart, I know that the public outcry appears to have little to do with the child and more to do with the death of Harambe.  This is what stirs my feelings.  I’ve worked in child welfare now for fifteen years, and I can assure you that 500,000 people have never rallied around a situation involving negligence or lack of supervision for any child I’ve worked professionally with.

According to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children  (www.americanspcc.org), in 2014, an estimated 702,000 children were victims of abuse and neglect.  In that same year, 3.2 million cases of child abuse were investigated, and 526,744 children suffered neglect.  I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I find these statistics to be quite overwhelming.  I walk into my office each week knowing that part of my job security is based on the need for services for abused and neglected of children.

I can probably count on two hands the number of perpetrators who have actually been charged and subsequently convicted of abuse or severe neglect for the cases that I have been involved in.  I say two hands, but that might be exaggerating a bit.  And with this, where is the outrage?  Where is the petition?

Where are the people when a young child is left alone all day long because the single mother is working three jobs in order to make rent and put food on the table?  

Where are the people when a toddler is found alone and wandering down a busy street?  

Where is the outcry for justice when a baby is found in a diaper that has not been changed for days, or when a teenager is kicked out of his or her home by an alcoholic parent?  

Where are the people when a baby is diagnosed with failure to thrive after suffering months of extreme neglect?  

Where are the signatures for punishment when someone, who has caused lifelong damage to a child, is not held responsible for this crime?

Where is the outrage?  Where is the petition?  Where are you?

I am tremendously sad over what occurred at the Cincinnati Zoo.  It is just plain awful. However, I am so incredibly thankful that the little boy survived.  A child’s life is of great value.  We should never forget this.

If you have never worked with children who have suffered abuse and neglect, then you do not understand how much it affects their lives, how vulnerable they are, and just how heartbreaking their stories are.  As one person who has worked in child welfare for a long time, I know firsthand that neglect and lack of supervision happen far too often in this nation we call home.

My anger over this situation has little to do with the death of Harambe; although it bothers me that any of this happened.  It has more to do with the reality that social media persuades us to get passionate and angry over certain circumstances, and yet, in our communities, and maybe in our own homes, we choose to turn a blind eye to what is really happening with children.

Where is the outrage about this?

 

5 thoughts on “A Gorilla, A Petition, and the Perspective of a Child Welfare Professional

  1. Candee Thompson McGuire

    So well said! If only our world would rally behind the kind of situations you described. You have a true gift of articulating what others (like me) want to say! Thanks for sharing your heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Carolyn Putney

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I have read through several news links about this incident, but it are the comments that get to me. I really wonder if some people even stop to think before engaging with actual words. How quick children are, especially when our attention is averted even for a moment. Anyone with children knows that, and if they say it never happens to them, then they don’t live in the same world I do. But you know what really grinds me? It is the fact that of all the people at that exhibit, NOT ONE of them intervened when they saw the child climbing the barricade. If allowed to continue to climb, something bad was going to come of it, and they all just stood there with their teeth in their mouth. What were they doing? Staring at the parents, timing how long it would take them to grab their son? All the while, having their own attention averted and not watching their own children? Have we become such a society of self-absorbed beings that stand on two legs, that we refuse to stop a child from doing something we notice, can prevent a tragedy, and do nothing?

    The answer is quite obvious. For many, too many, that is exactly what they have become. Man says we evolved from these gorillas, but that is not possible, because they treat their young better than a lot of people tend their own children. In a primate group, they do not purposefully murder their young via abortion. They do not abuse their young, but they do correct them. They show their young how to survive: hunting, foods safe to eat, snakes to avoid, build a nest and make their bed (lol), how to do all they need to make it on their own, and when the time comes, makes them live on their own. But, they won’t leave their offspring until those skills have been acquired. They also work together to raise the young. When necessary, a primate that is not the parent, will tend to and protect the young of another. Years ago, I read a poem about a “conversation” some monkeys were having about how man says we evolved from them. Well, they mention these things, and more, and the last line is something like this: “Yes man sure has descended, but he sure didn’t descent from us!”

    The whole event is tragic. It would have been more so had a little boy lost his life. It shocks me that people are more in a tither over the gorilla being killed than they are anything else. I feel more sorrow for the zoo keepers than I do just about anyone. It had to have been one of the hardest things to do, to put Harmande down. But, the life of the child hung in the balance, and outweighed the life of the gorilla.

    Yet, just as you pointed out, where is our outrage at the number of children who are abused and neglected? I used to work in Protective Services, and I can tell you the only person who actually intervened, was the one who filed the report in the first place. Foster parents were the best people who walked on the planet, but even some of them had bad intentions. We are a throw away society, and one of the things we throw away, and don’t bat an eye, are our children. Whether they get dumped into an abortionist’s pail, chopped up to retrieve and sell body parts, thrown into a dumpster, or let someplace to die, it has become a norm for people; people who say and do nothing.

    I’m not physically in a position to take in foster kids, but I value their young lives and see them as precious. I know what it is to be abused and have no one do anything. People can blame the parents if they want, but they are deceiving themselves by doing so. Mom and dad perhaps made a mistake, but the ones who were actually neglectful are those who stood there and did nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

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