Care and Feeding

Should I Call Child Protective Services on the Unsupervised Kids Next Door?

They ask to come over all the time, and I’ve had to feed them on occasion. Should I do something more?

Three young kids playing out in the open.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

What can I do about the kids next door? There are three of them, aged about 3 to 8. They often ask my 2- and 6-year-olds to come out and play. We are social distancing and keep declining these invitations, saying it’s because of the virus. The kids tell us they don’t have the virus and got all their shots, and “it’s just the flu anyway.” Today they wanted to play, and after my husband told them no yet again, they started putting toys through the mail slot, which I put in a grocery sack and hung back outside. They kept knocking, and we answered the door a few more times. They asked to play in our sprinkler because they don’t have a way to get wet, and their parents weren’t home. I asked them if they’d had any lunch, and when they said no, I got some snacks for them and told them we’d see if we could take turns in the sprinkler later on.

My husband thinks calling child protective services is a good idea, but I can’t see how it would help anything. The parents are usually there and seem mostly fine, though they seem to yell at or ignore the children more than I personally think is ideal. What can I do while maintaining social distancing to try to help these kids out without getting them into a system that will surely not improve their lot? All the places kids could go and hang out and get fed—a community center, library, etc.—are closed for the pandemic.

(I should note that my family is white and well-off; the neighbors are a Black and white couple with biracial children and are not well-off, though the kids have clothes that fit and toys to play with.)

—Trying to Be a Good Neighbor

Dear TBGN,

Is your husband the sort of person who typically calls the authorities at the drop of a hat? You aren’t describing anything in this situation that points toward that being the appropriate move, though I am certainly no fan of letting kids roam their neighborhood—or even just their block—like feral cats either. Please continue to dissuade him from creating what could be a devastating situation unless there is some evidence of abuse or neglect that necessitates it.

Have you talked to your neighbors about their kids? If not, why not? You should let them know that while you may be open to play dates under normal circumstances, your household is firmly adhering to social distancing guidelines and that the kids won’t be able to come by and hang out until further notice. They may have instructed the kids to stay indoors while they go to work and didn’t know that they were knocking on your door at all.

If it seemed like the lines of communication were more open between the two families, I’d also suggest that you try to find out if the parents are in need of some assistance with making sure their children eat each day, or in finding some sort of alternative child care situation until school starts. If you feel comfortable asking if there’s any way you can be helpful during this difficult time period, then do so. Otherwise, keep an eye out for anything that may look like a serious danger or a sign of trouble, but don’t bring CPS into the fold unless there is real trouble afoot.

—Jamilah