Why a Parent Neglects a Child

April 15, 1993

Shocking as it was to hear what happened to Mandy Candella, the Pasadena girl whose mother is alleged to have shoved her out of their moving car, it is equally depressing to contemplate her fate had that act not occurred.

Mandy, who was cut and bruised in the incident, was reportedly pushed from the car because she balked at accompanying her mom to visit her boyfriend. Donna Marie Candella, 26, would regularly take her daughters, ages 5 and 7, to her boyfriend's so she and he could drink into the evening, according to Ms. Candella's mother. The grandmother is watching the children while her daughter fights criminal charges for the incident.

Now that the case is in the hands of authorities, conditions ought to start improving for the girls, who have had to grow up unduly fast. To a reporter, Mandy rattled off the days of her mom's drinking like other kids count the days until a birthday party.

The case even stands out to social workers apt to be numbled by their mounting caseload. The state last year handled 27,000 reports of child abuse and neglect, twice as many as a decade ago. With programs such as "Families Now," an Anne Arundel initiative to help broken families get back on their feet, the state is trying not just to jail bad parents, but to address the question, "what makes a parent neglect a child?"

To people who cherish children, it's a quandary both unthinkable and understandable. Raising children well requires immense energy, planning and selflessness. When in charge of a kid, you put yourself second. Alas, many parents are incapable of that. As one social worker put it, adolescents make poor parents because they usually think of themselves first -- and there are a lot of 20- , 30- and 40-year-old adolescents out there.

When drinking with one's mate is more crucial than the care of one's children, or when one vacations in Mexico while leaving youngsters at home unsupervised as in the "Home Alone" case in Illinois last year, it is clear that adolescent behavior has won out over parental responsibility. Rising rates of drug and alcohol abuse, a harsher economic climate and increased isolation of nuclear families from other relatives have exacerbated the problem for this generation of parents.

The state wouldn't have so many kids to look after if parents realized that no matter how great they think their needs are, their children's needs are greater.

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