He turned up to work for us with a partner and five-year-old child, and little more than the clothes they stood up in.
He said they’d left their last job in a hurry because the boss made him drink too much.
I said to my farmer, call me sceptical but if you weren’t in imminent danger wouldn’t you have time to take a few essentials like bedding with you?
But we needed staff when it was difficult to find any so we gave him the job, found them basic household requirements and he started working.
Soon we got the letter requiring us to deduct money for fines from his pay and another requiring us to deduct child support.
Then we noticed the boy wasn’t going to school. We’d given them the usual information about the community including choice of schools when they arrived. We followed up but there was always some excuse as to why he wasn’t going.
In the end we approached the nearest school and were told that while most children enrolled at five, it wasn’t a legal requirement until they were six.
The boy turned six and still wasn’t going to school.
My farmer asked the father why and was told, “We took him but we didn’t like the principal because he . . . ”
My farmer pointed out that the principal was a she.
The boy was enrolled but his attendance was at best erratic. The parents had a range of excuses, none of which were valid.
The boy looked well fed and happy, and there were no signs of abuse but the school got in touch with the Public Health nurse who began visiting the home.
Shortly afterwards the father gave his notice.
He got another job in the district. The grapevine told us of problems then the mother appeared in court for assaulting the father.
They left the district and we haven’t heard of them since.
But I still think about the boy who will be a teenager now and wonder could we have done any more for him?
Are people who knew the latest in the far too long list of children who have died in suspicious circumstances asking the same questions?
And what about people who know the children who aren’t yet in the list but in danger of joining it?
For everyone reported, how many more are victims of abuse and neglect and how many of these go on to neglect and abuse others?
If there were simple answers to the questions of why? and how? and what can be done?, it would be being done.
But difficult answers aren’t an excuse for not helping those in need now and addressing the causes to prevent more.
In light of which I am my worker’s child’s keeper but I don’t know what else I could have done to help him.