There has been much political talk lately about care and neglect of children in Utah and what could be done to improve their general stead. That is a good starting point, but it brings to mind the old saying, "After all is said and done, there's a lot more said than done."
Everyone who wants to could have an immediate positive impact on the life of a child, without waiting on government or other outside intervention. Good friends of ours drove that point home in a rather unorthodox fashion.It was a different era 18 years ago - just after the death of disco - when these folks somewhat naively invited a young waif into their apartment and out of the cold for the night. Would that more could have such an idealistic world view and the gumption to do something about it.
Lawsuits and abuse charges were around in 1980 but had not reached today's saturation point. As managers of an apartment complex, our pals regularly discovered this little fellow - age 8 or 9 - taking shelter from the cold in a heated laundry room. Several times they woke him up late in the evening after finding him curled up on the folding table, then sent him to his house several blocks away.
He was obviously a neglected but still innocent boy, friendly and quick to follow directions. His older brother would sometimes knock on their door looking for him. Big brother would bad-mouth him as siblings are wont to do, forcing him home with threats of pending parental punishment for his lengthy absences.
For two newly married kids from stable homes, the situation was troublesome, so they decided to do something about it. One evening in a youthful huff of righteous indignation, after again finding him asleep, they invited him in for the night. It was a brash and perhaps reckless move. But their motives were right, and everything worked out.
They called a police friend and told him of their plan and where the boy would be if anyone inquired. He was hesitant but, somewhat surprisingly, OK'd the idea.
They made a bed for the tyke on the living-room couch, got him something to eat and sat and talked. He told them of his likes and dislikes, about school and home with mother and stepfather, hobbies and interests. They read him a story and tucked him into bed. It was a cordial and appropriate visit.
Nobody called or stopped by that night looking for him.
They all had breakfast together the next morning, then drove the youngster to school. At the end of the day, they picked him up and returned to their apartment for a snack, further visiting and dinner. Finally, later that evening, there was a knock at the door. It was big brother, telling junior to head home.
Our friends told the elder sibling to forget it. His little brother would return when mom and dad cared enough to inquire personally after his welfare. After all, he had been gone more than 24 hours.
Later that evening, the telephone rang. One of our friends answered and said he heard the sheepish/threatening voice of the young boy's stepfather asking for the lad's return. The caller said they had missed him and been worried about him.
Funny that he hadn't bothered to search the neighborhood or even to call law enforcement out of concern. The man apparently hemmed and stammered when challenged about that. There wasn't much he could say.
Our friends told him the little guy was already asleep, that they would take him to school the next morning and bring him home after that. The stepfather said OK. After school the next day, they marched to the boy's home for an impromptu summit on parenting, child care and the hazards of neglect. It was a candid session.
There were no outside experts or Ph.D.s or state senators, just a couple who got involved when they saw an obvious need. They didn't operate by the book, but they reminded us that even complex social issues are best solved one person at a time by people who really care.