What makes a person a hero?
Is it walking into burning buildings on a daily basis to save people from fire, as my friend and client Michelle’s husband does? Is it counseling mentally ill or suicidal people, as my friend Noel does? Is it taking swift action to intervene medically, as my friends Donna, Denise, and Jamie do?
Is it helping people find new careers or life paths, as my friends Liz, Jerome, Kevin, James, and Stephanie do?
Maybe it can involve more daily-life stuff, like helping people find their way out of an ADHD or gluten fog and live better lives, like my friends Dotty and Kara do. Or changing to a plant-based diet, like Deborah and Morgan help people do.
Maybe it’s more eternal, like helping people find the way, as my friends the Reverends Bob, Tulley, and Hans; and Fathers Andrew, Daniel, Michael, Steven, and Joshua do.
I say yes, to all of the above. Every one of those people is a hero.
Simply doing the right thing, though… I never thought that simply doing the right thing in a situation can be what makes a person a hero. It’s what we do, right? We do the right thing, period. That’s how I’ve lived my life, how I’ve raised my kids. But the last few days have shown me some things.
Child abuse at daycare
To make a long story short (and less likely to help the accused sue me), some parents and all employees of the daycare center were legally (not to mention morally and ethically) required to make a child abuse report, though some did not. There were death threats involved when I removed an abuser from a child, as there often is when someone is abusing children and doesn’t want anyone to stop them, but I made the call anyway, and I am no longer working there.
A parent thanked me for calling the child abuse hotline with her. She said everyone says of course they’d call the hotline, but when it comes down to it, they realize that they might lose their job as a result, and they don’t make that call. They look out for themselves instead. She’s right, unfortunately. All of the other workers knew about the behavior, but how many of us had the guts to make the phone call?
A few other parents thanked me for it as well, and they all echoed the first: It’s not always easy to do the right thing, even when it’s very clear that it is in fact the right thing to do. Because, threats. Because, job loss. Because, fear.
They all called me a hero. I told them a hero is a first responder or a medical professional, not a teacher who makes a phone call. Not someone who simply does the only thing a good person could do and still be able to sleep at night.
Many ways to be a hero
Maybe there are more ways to be a hero, though. Maybe it’s hugging a child who needs it. Maybe it’s making sure children are safe. Maybe it is making that call. Let me be clear about what the law says, because there is some confusion, especially in the mind of the woman who contacted me about this post. Her understanding of the law is egregiously incorrect.
It’s not your job to decide if it’s abuse or not. It’s just your job to make the phone call. In fact, for mandated reporters, we are required by law to make that call if there is any reason to suspect abuse. How much more so are we required to make that call if we pull an abuser off of a child during an attack?! That’s beyond suspecting; that is knowing.
During my childhood, at least once a year someone made that call on my behalf. Nothing ever came of it because of corruption, and help never came for me, but this time, for these children, the system worked. They took action. At least they’re launching an investigation, and some of the parents know what’s been happening and why their children are making the claims they are making and why they are acting out as they are.
Listen to children
When a child says they are being hurt at school, church, daycare, or Grandma’s house, for the love of all things holy, please LISTEN to that child. Do kids ever make stuff up? Sure they do. Do you want to take the chance? I hope you make the call. Be what that child needs, whether you use the word “hero” or not.
Update: DCFS found that those children WERE abused there and ordered the parents to find another daycare for those children. As for the accusation I received that I was only looking out for myself: that makes no sense at all. If that were true, I’d have looked the other way, like everyone else who works there. I wouldn’t have given up the income. It was a big sacrifice and it put my family in a bind, but, again, it was the right thing to do. It was the only thing any decent person could have done. Being attacked by someone connected to the daycare is to be expected, I guess. The cognitive dissonance must be unbearable. The good news is that at least a few of the kids are now safe. Good does sometimes win.