THE case of the 18-month-old St Elizabeth toddler who died after being left in her father's vehicle for several hours last Monday is the latest of many tragedies to have gripped the nation, but this time there is significant outpouring of sympathy for the parent, with many empathising with what they deem as a horrible mistake that some parents have experienced, to a lesser degree.
One dad, engrossed in a supermarket aisle conversation with a mother, shook his head in regret as he expressed having had a similar experience, but thankfully realised his error before it was too late. He said it could have easily ended in tragedy if he had delved into his duties at work before it dawned on him that he had forgotten to take his child to day care.
“Easy, easy it could have been me, so I understand. Boy, I hope the law can understand and not punish him too much,” he remarked.
Another parent, Jackie, told the Jamaica Observer that her child had just started basic school, a routine that was new to her as an inexperienced mother with a demanding career.
“I was at work all day, busy, buried in work — my usual routine — phone calls, dealing with bosses and so on, and the time slipped by. I was to pick up my son at 1:30, and it was 5:00 in the evening as things were winding down that I felt like there was something I forgot to do. And it was then I realised the child was still at school. So it's serious what happened, but I can definitely see how under all these pressures we can forget something so important,” she explained.
Noted psychologist Dr Leachim Semaj describes what is recognised in law and psychology as forgotten baby syndrome as an unfortunate, but not unusual situation. He said about 40 children perish in this manner annually in the United States.
“The consequences are devastating on both parents and the family in general. It can happen, and especially in the state we are with pandemic fatigue and with parents who are front line workers who are even more stressed on a daily basis. For the last two years we have been under some serious strains,” he said.
Dr Semaj pointed out that people are having problems concentrating, and are going through the obligations of daily life exhausted. “When we're driving, we drive largely unconscious. By the time you reach age 35, 80 to 90 per cent of your daily activities are unconscious, just based on habit. So, you're driving to work, you're supposed to drop off your child, but while you're driving your mind is all over the place. If the baby is in the car seat in the back, the baby [may not be] part of your consciousness. You get to work, get out of the car, go into your place of work, and your consciousness is then bombarded by your day-to-day activities,” he explained.
There are similar experiences in the school space. A senior teacher and principal of a small school in St Catherine said in her experience and that of her colleagues, parents “forgetting” children is highly common. She told the Observer that there have even been extreme incidents such as a teacher having to keep a child overnight.
“They kept calling and couldn't get the parent. Another parent said she fell asleep; we kept calling and it was a quarter to eight at night when we saw the parent coming. Sometimes you see them coming, running breathless, saying they totally forgot — so it can happen,” the educator who asked not to be named said.
“Another parent went to the country. She informed the teacher that she may be a bit late to pick up the child but she drove straight home, tired, and it was in the hours of night when she woke up that she realised that she hadn't picked up the child. It may sound crazy, but it happens all the time,” she said.
Explaining the possible reasons for forgetting a child, the principal said a small child especially, sitting in the back of a vehicle, does not necessarily engage the parent like an adult would, especially if they are quiet or asleep.
“Then your brain gets occupied, activities for the day start to play out in your brain. A police officer, for example, you have no idea the things their mind is on. Ask any school and they will tell you parents leave children, forget them over and over. You just have to be vigilant,” she stated.
Dr Semaj said the consequences of the situation are devastating, as the parents and families deal with the gamut of emotions associated with the loss. It is important that the parents immediately receive counselling to manage those emotions, he stressed.
“The key element is help, and I do hope people around them don't say unconscionable things. Friends and family need to be there for them, because it's very hard to live this down, but life has to go on,” he stated
Reports are that the toddler's father, a detective sergeant assigned to the Black River Police Station, was supposed to have taken the child to day care but forgot, leaving her in the parked vehicle for hours while he worked elsewhere. The infant was rushed to hospital, but succumbed two days later. It is understood that both parents are members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.