Tuesday, June 17, 1997
Case for nosy, pushy questions

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Addicted to the Internet? A computer is a 24-year-old mother's excuse for letting her three children crawl around in broken glass and finger-paint with feces? This is new psychobabble for an old problem. If it hadn't been a computer, it might have been a deck of cards. Or a book. A new addiction with a support group?

Give me a break.

"She would lock the children in the room so not to be bothered," Cincinnati Police Sgt. Paul W. Neudigate said. "The place was in complete shambles, but the computer area was clean - completely immaculate." Well, of course it was. Computers will just quit if they're too hot or too cold, or you spill something sticky on them.

Kids don't have that option.

The third degree

Police charged Sandra Hacker with child endangering after they saw the living conditions in their Lower Price Hill home. The courts will decide whether she is guilty of a legal offense against these babies - ages 2, 3 and 5.

What is indisputable is the police description of the filth. And that some third party - a social worker or a judge - will probably decide the future for them. I hope they ask plenty of questions. Which brings me to my friend, Robbin Dell. Robbin and her husband, Chuck, had to write lengthy autobiographies, were fingerprinted and their home was inspected. More than once. Their son, Alex, age 7, was interviewed. Authorities checked their stories. They had to take classes.

And only then were they permitted to become the parents of one Monica Lauren Maria Dell. This took time.

Born June 26, 1996, in Guatemala, Monica spent her first eight months with a foster mother. The Dells first saw blurry photos of a little round face, topped by dark hair. Eyes closed. They were thrilled, even before they saw the dark eyes open to become windows to an unusually good-humored little soul.

Nosy social workers

Lutheran Social Services and Small Miracles International became experts on the Dell family of Glendale. It was not merely about finances, but just how, really, would they care for this child? Robbin is a sales rep for WWNK radio. Her husband is a banker. He would be a stay-at-home dad for a while.

"A lot of the questions were invasive," Robbin says. "But we didn't mind." This was, after all, a baby they were considering putting into her arms.

Now I'm not suggesting we put together some sort of creepy licensing program for conception. But sometimes children - once they're already here - depend on nosy outsiders. And you don't have to be a social worker to help.

A few months ago, a 3-year-old boy was rescued from the back seat of an abandoned car where he'd been for 12 hours, just because a woman asked a question. "Where is your baby?" she demanded of the child's psychotic mother. Then she and some of the other neighbors persisted until they found him.

I picture three children, trapped in squalor, while their mother surfs the Internet. Didn't anybody notice anything? Smell anything? Hear anything?

And I picture Alex and Robbin and Chuck, jumping through hoops to qualify for Monica. And doing so with gratitude.

All I'm saying is that we should ask more questions.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio, and as a regular commentator on NPR's Morning Edition.