It gets worse

Dot writes: the shameful element of pleasurable titillation in learning about the state of the end house has now definitely given way to feeling very sad and, at least in my case, decidedly guilty regarding the plight of that little girl. More active friends (specifically, a friend who lives just round the corner and works for Unicef) are making enquiries to see if they can trace the family and get something done about the wretched condition those children are growing up in. Duessa has left no forwarding address and we didn’t know her surname, but I asked the landlord and now have at least the latter piece of information. Apparently there was a social worker on the case but she seems to have achieved next to nothing, and the landlord says she is not returning calls (she’d probably like to do a flit herself after hearing the landlord’s take on all this). My friend thinks her Unicef contacts might do more.

The landlord, naturally, is boiling mad. He says Duessa hadn’t paid rent for the last two months and getting in skips for all the rubbish has already cost him E1000. He was unsparing in filling in further details of how horrible it was in there, for example with specifics of the rubbish that was strewn about the bedrooms: not just vodka bottles, but used condoms, used sanitary pads and soiled underwear, and pornographic videos under the bed. He says there were no plates or cutlery or anything to eat off, which is another odd point as I’ve seen the little girl eating from a bowl before: Duessa must have moved the dinner service and left behind most of the family’s clothes, which is decidedly peculiar. For me the saddest point, though, is that she left behind all the baby albums, the photographs and the locks of first hair. I find that abandonment of memories absolutely heartbreaking. It’s that even more than the poor diet and the dirt that makes me think the little girl is badly neglected.

So now I’m wondering why I didn’t do anything. I’d probably been in that house more than anyone in the development, and I knew it was smelly and dirty, though I hadn’t registered all the stuff about condoms etc. I’d seen the little girl eat scrambled egg in a bowl for her dinner and get pizza delivered four times a week. I’d seen how eager she was for company and attention. To be honest Ken and I had become very irritated at the way she was always ringing our doorbell, often only ten minutes after we’d said it was time for our dinner, and it also narked us that she was constantly eating our food, usually the nicest fruit which she would nibble and then leave; we had become rather less friendly to her than we’d been when we first moved in. I did at least pay her some attention. But it didn’t really occur to me to intervene in any major way. The instinct to leave other people’s family arrangements alone is very strong indeed.


7 thoughts on “It gets worse

  1. laura

    This story is wild, but perhaps because it’s something you witnessed first hand. While its not clear how closely your landlord monitored the situation, where I live there are specific ordinances against landlords who tolerate and fail to report problem tenants. For example, if the neighbor in my building is arrested for holdling drugs in his apartment, I am liable and can be fined – including the possibility that I will lose my license. Likewise, I am liable for reporting mistreatment of children. Is it possible that your landlord was entirely unaware of the problems? Or is there incentive to ignore such while rents are paid?

  2. Dot,

    I don’t think social services have the capacity to cope with calls – the tragic case, a few years ago, of the Wexford family where the father made funeral arrangements before killing them and himself remains in the mind. Out of hours cover is provided by An Garda Siochana who have neither the experience nor the resources. Even if you had called someone, it would have been unlikely to have achieved anything.

  3. Dot

    @Laura: there was a social worker on the case and the landlord had her number, so it was known there were problems. Despite all the innuendo about porn and condoms, I don’t think Duessa is actively abusive. Also, although she made no attempt to supervise her seven-year-old’s play, when she had to go out she did always take her younger daughter along or arrange for us to mind her. And the little girl seemed fond of her mother, and appears a quite normal and friendly child, if a bit behind educationally. It’s hard to know how grave the situation is.

    @Ian: there is a social worker on the case. The landlord thinks she should be sacked, but we don’t know how much she did in fact achieve. She helped Duessa to pack, insofar as she did any packing. Anyway, I hope my Unicef friend (whose husband is a guard, as it happens) may be able to do something. I think the main thing is that the family should not fall through the net as a result of moving without leaving contact details, and that someone should keep an eye out for the wellbeing of the little girl. A good sign is that she doesn’t seem to be changing school.

  4. Belle Inconnue

    You think that’s bad, our chav-tastic neighbours had their toddler removed from them by the police! I have no idea why, we haven’t spoken to them about, and I’m not going to, because I’m terrified of the woman. It was all very strange though, because they weren’t abusing the child (not beyond screaming, shouting and slapping anyway) – we know because the walls are so thin we can hear everything that goes on next door! While this can be annoying, it also provides a great form of entertainment, similar to EastEnders – we have learnt all kinds of spectacular secrets about the family!

    Personally I think the best thing to do in these situations is keep your head under the parapet. Loads of people these kinds of crazy lives, and social services will do what they can. The family certainly won’t appreciate you trying to help (they will probably go out of their way to give you a hard time if they find out that you’re ‘meddling’) and you probably can’t do anything anyway. Just be grateful they’ve moved away and no longer have anything to do with you.

  5. Dot,

    I just don’t think there is a ‘net’ here as there is in England. Life here is much more Darwinian than under the dear old NHS. We were shocked when we moved to Dublin ten years ago at how different things were – now we are used to cash on the nail for everything.

    (Did you know that the casualty charge for a non-EU national is €300? The ordinary charge is €100, which is why people go off to the private clinics – the Swift Clinic at Dundrum is €105 and they guarantee to see you in under an hour).

    I think a health care system posited on free market principles probably has little capacity for coping with the problems of migrant children.

  6. Dot

    Ian, it’s true all these services seem much more sketchy here. I don’t think Duessa’s children count as migrants, though: Duessa herself is English but the father was Irish, I believe, and the daughters were both born here. Apparently when the father was alive he was quite an active parent (this according to another neighbour) but Duessa has let everything slide since he died.

    Has the A&E charge already gone up that much? Eeek. It was 60 euro last time we paid it (when Hugh fell off the bed).

  7. Belle Inconnue

    Hi dot,
    sorry if my previous post was mean, I didn’t really intend it to be. I just think that unless someone has specifically asked for help, then they probably don’t want want your help, and will not accept it – they may well get pretty nasty with you too. That’s my experience anyway. If social services can’t help, considering they presumably have resources and power that you don’t, then there’s probably nothing you can do.

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