Saturday, July 18, 2009
A Better Plan Needed for 4-Year-Old Panhandler - San Francisco
Little Gavin Mills, the 4-year-old panhandler who evoked so much sympathy and concern from San Franciscans, has been taken from his parents by Child Protective Services.

It is an incredibly difficult decision to take a child away from his mother and father, but in this case it is the right choice.

"Gavin deserves a chance in life," said Mary Long, who began a crusade to improve Gavin's and his mother Toni's life after seeing them at the Embarcadero BART Station. "He wasn't getting one being used as a panhandler tool by his chronically homeless mom."

City officials say the family was repeatedly offered beds, services and child care. But their offers, they say, were rebuffed, and people like Long kept seeing Gavin panhandling.

He is being evaluated for a foster home. This is an intervention. There will be a hearing later this month to determine if Gavin can stay with his mother and father. They need to show that they have a better plan for him than panhandling on Market Street. (continued)
Special thanks to cali mom for Contributing this Article


Just Me said...

That just isn't right to refuse help when it's offered to you. I understand that housing and state aid takes time to receive but that is no excuse to refuse even temporary lodgings.
A 4 year old child needs to be in a stable home with his loving parents. Not out on the street, begging for money.
It's a totally different story when the family has nowhere else to go and no one to turn to but these people have family that offered to take them in and they walked away from what could've been a new sense of stability for this child.
And I call bullsh*t on being unable to find work in Pennsylvania. I live in the outer suburbs of Philadelphia and there is a ton of retail and housing construction going on, creating tons of jobs.
No one ever wishes a child to be taken away from his or her parents but you can't help a child until you help yourself.

MinuteMuggle said...

I really don't have enough of the story here to make a judgement, (i never heard of this case before) but I do think that if parents cannot care for a child, it is the law that the authorities must step in. It is too bad though, because foster care is not all that it is cracked up to be. But if a four year old is seen unsupervised out on the street, obviously the parents are negligent, whether or not the child is panhandling.

Victoria Anne said...

This story makes me so sad. Living in Chicago I do see parents using their child to panhandle from time to time. It breaks my heart. I have always looked around for the police for assistance, but unfortunately haven't ever seen one.

nyc mom said...

I have worked with the homeless for many years, including going to shelters and being part of outreach teams, in both California and NYC. My experience is that the vast majority of people who remain homeless are either mentally ill or struggling with substance abuse issues. Of course, there are exceptions, but they are rare.

The permanent housing process does take months to years, though with a small child involved it could be expedited. Temporary shelter beds are not very difficult to access in most major cities. However, I have been told by many homeless men and women that the shelters are very dangerous, placing them at risk for violence and theft and exposing them directly to drugs (which they are often struggling to get away from). Many people choose to sleep outside because they feel safer and then utilize soup kitchens during the day.

Panhandling can be surprisingly lucrative. Older men have told me they can earn $20-30/day, while younger/attractive women can earn much more. I imagine a young child can easily earn over $100/day. Recycling is also a good source of income for most homeless people.

In this case, it does sound like there are more serious issues involved. Involving ACS and placing the child in foster care is absolutely the best choice IMO. The parents need comprehensive psych evaluations and mandatory treatment if issues are found. They cannot safely care for a 4yo in their current circumstances. The streets are simply too dangerous.

CuriousDad said...

Wow, This was something I only saw in Italy with the Romish and in Egypt when I traveled. I know of it in other countries. But too see it here in this one really ticks me off.

ericsmom said...

Look at the picture of the mom. You can tell she has a drug/alcohol problem. She is very thin. So probably using most of the money on her habit. And she looks so sad.

I feel sorry for the whole family. But I don't understand why they refused help. When that family was willing to take them in.

social worker said...

ericsmom: "you can tell she has a drug/alcohol problem." ugh. that statement disgusts me. she's thin because she's living on the street! you have absolutely no idea that she has a substance abuse problem to make that kind of judgment.

yes it is true that many homeless have substance abuse/mental illnesses/etc. but it's also true that being homeless becomes their comfort zone. it's hard to imagine when you live life in a home with all the comforts that entails, but just because help is offered doesn't mean it was wanted.

i hope that the courts are able to help these parents realize that they need to step out of their comfort zone in order to provide a healthier environment for their child. i don't doubt their love for the boy, even if their actions seems strange. a homeless mother who carries around crayons for her child does not seem abusive or neglectful to me.

MinuteMuggle said...

social worker,
well said.

mom said...

NO matter how much the parents may love their child, if they are unable to offer him a better life at 4 years old than panhandling, it is necessary for the authorities to find a better place for him. Sad. Besides it being incredibly dangerous for him, what about the fact that he deserves to be at a park playing with other preschoolers, not to mention living in a stable home and starting kindergarten next year? Giving him a pack of crayons by the side of the road is simply not enough.

cali mom said...

I agree completely with Mom. If you are too selfish to step out of your "comfort zone" of being a panhandling druggie (and there is no other VALID reason for the chronic homeless described in this article), then you have NO BUSINESS producing children, or having responsibility over their lives. It's too bad he couldn't have been removed from them soooner, so he would have less memory of his life with them, making the transition to a more stable family life easier.

cali mom said...


wake up said...

Id rather see the kid on the street next to his panhandling mother than home alone in a project while she turns tricks or panhandles, or turns tricks in front of him. Many homeless people have kids. I don't think she was "using her kid" but rather putting a face on the crisis. Kids are homeless too and it is very sad. If this story upsets you consider donating your time to the Salvation Army's kids cafe. Most major cities have one and it is a soup kitchen for kids only.

Kids Cafe said...

Kids Cafe is such a great program. Here is info on the NH chapter:

mom said...

Wake up,
I prefer the better option of the child participating in NONE of those activities. None of that can amount to anything positive in his life. It is ALL UNACCEPTABLE. Children do not deserve to be homeless...ESPECIALLY when there are people available who have offered assistance to keep him form having to live that way. It is not his responsibility at the age of four to be "the face of homelessness" so that the rest of society will look more kindly upon the plight of homeless adults.

Formerly "wake up" trying to think of a nicer name :) said...


Sorry I think I worded my post wrong. My point was I'm shocked this is getting so much publicity because sadly SO MANY CHILDREN ARE HOMELESS. I agree that this is unacceptable. I don't want people just looking more favorably at the homeless. I want them to realize that when there is a panhandler there is often a child somewhere waiting for that parent to come home. And they keep those kids in hiding so that they don't get taken away. Also unacceptable. But true.

What is sad is if you read the second link, the one to the NH Kids Cafe, it says it was founded because of all the kids home alone while their impoverished parents worked late or second jobs. The pictures of the kids on the website are not old enough to be left home alone, let alone to find themselves dinner.

Yet social services isn't taking children away that go to this soup kitchen. It is considered an acceptable community resource. Maybe if we have more of those less children will be in that poor little boys situation.

Sorry if I sounded harsh - the homeless are often not just strung out deadbeat adults. They are often women with children through whatever unforeseen circumstances, often escaping domestic violence.

This case is a poor example because the mom refused help. There are many that have NOWHERE to turn. Because of liability most shelters won't accept children. They are the often overlooked victims.

mom said...

Formerly wake up,
Yes, I totally missed your point the first time around.
Seems we basically agree on all of it.
What I don't get is WHY our government doles out so much money to those who choose not to work, but instead use their wits to work the system, when that money could be better spent assessing individual situations more carefully and doing the best possible job for those who truly NEED it.
The majority of homeless people are likely mentally ill to some degree or other. They should be assessed and living in state run quarters (nice places, not like jails or assylums...but regulated living centers) where they can get proper intervention/supervision, instead of allowing them to live like animals. What a shame that we allow those who are mentally incapable of properly fending for themselves to live the way they often do. Children of homeless people who are unable to give them acceptable childhoods need to be taken and put into places where they can be assured food, a place to sleep every night, stable parental influences, and as normal a childhood experience as possible. (This is very sad to say, because I hate that mentally challenged people who may love their children, might have to be separated from them at times, for the sake of those kids.) People who are caught leaving young children home alone need to lose them, period. There is no excuse. None. People who bring their children along to commit crimes, or allow crimes, drug use and/or prostitution, etc., to take place in their homes when children live there need to lose the kids. There is no excuse good enough. Kids do not need to lose their innocence before kindergarten!!!

People who need help could be helped to such a better degree if we took all of the able bodied freeloaders off the payroll. Don't give people who have scores of children they can't take care of more money. (Um, they're often having them for the PURPOSE of increasing their monthly dole out.) Instead, give those kids to people who want children because they desire to nurture a tiny little person into becoming the best person they can grow into...people whose only desire is for the good of those children and their futures. Judging by the numbers of people waiting in lines to adopt babies, I think they would be no shortage of willing GOOD parents to take them...and yes, no matter what nationality or race those babies are, I think people would be more than willing to adopt them ALL.

neglect is wrong but said...

mom, have you heard of welfare reform? People receiving TANF are required to work, be in school, or perfom community service, and they cannot receive benefits for more than 5 years over the course of their lifetime. And even with the benefits, they're still poor (unless they're scamming the system, which doesn't happen nearly as often as you might think).
Yes, it would be great to go back to the days of overcrowded, dilapidated, abusive state- or privately-operated facilities that would be needed to warehouse all of the children whose parents cannot live up to your standards of providing a "normal childhood." Or maybe it wouldn't.

mom said...

neglect is wrong,
So what's your point? That because we don't have a perfect solution yet that we ought not work towards doing better and better for the kids caught in these situations? I'll bet you would feel differently if you were the dirty, hungry child walking past the park filled with happy children playing each day on your way to your boring, dangerous panhandling corner. Or if you were living the confused life of a child pent up in a drug house or a place of prostitution, where you overheard your mother servicing one man after another, day in and day out.

And no, I believe people take advantage of the system far more than you realize. I am appalled to think of the numbers of people I have heard talking about how they find ways to use the system unfairly...and from a variety of income levels, I might add. It's really sick how lax we are with that.

My daughter and I were just discussing the "A Child Called It" series of books last night. I told her I had picked up a book written by his brother yesterday. She has read the the three written by Dave and remarked that when Dave went to see his siblings after being removed form the home, he found that the brother just below him in age had become his mother's victim in Dave's absence. She wondered aloud how the mother was even allowed to keep custody of her other children after doing the unbelievably horrific things she did to Dave...and also how she managed to escape doing a moment of prison time. I told her my best guess was that child abuse had been somewhat tolerated in our society all along and it was at just about that point that we, as a country, were becoming more aware of such issues and beginning to make a distinction between punsihment and abuse and the impact of abuse on those children's lives. Before that, kids were sort of thought of as the parent's "property," to do with as they pleased. We were just starting to deal with abuse seriously at that point and our system did not deal as harshly with it then as we would today. Today that mom would likely be in prison and she would have NO children left to abuse. Although we are not yet perfect in dealing with child abuse in our country, look how far we have come at least. They practically looked the other way at Dave's mom did just 30some years ago. Because we can't be perfect does not mean we should not keep moving forward with the best of our ability as a society to get as close to it as possible.

And in my perfect world, children are not left to endure abuse, hunger, homelessness, neglect and participation in or witnessing of panhandling or other crimes....even in cases where the parents are loving and yet simply, through no fault of their own, incapable of caring for a child without causing that child irreparable physical or emotional harm. (Those particular cases break my heart, actually...because they punish mentally ill people for diseases they have no control over...but still, the kids just have to come first.)

So quit trying to convince us that these kids are somehow "acceptable collateral damage." That's an attitude too dangerous for me to accept.

neglect is wrong said...

actually, I never said anything about "acceptable collateral damage." My point is two-fold: first, I thought your comment about all those people collecting government money was irrelevant to the case at hand. And secondly, no we don't have a perfect system, but I don't believe that removing children from their families is always the best idea. The problem with foster care is that you can't just place children for adoption, you first have to go through the legal process of terminating parental rights, which can take quite a while. Therefore, these children don't necessarily go to a loving adoptive home- they may languish in the foster care system for years, being bounced from house to house. Abuse and neglect can also occur in foster homes (and seems to occur with unsettling frequency, although I don't have statistics). Not to mention the fact that it's much more difficult to find adoptive homes for older children, as compared to infants or toddlers. If the parents are otherwise loving, but simply need support to care for their children, taking the children away and putting them "in the system" is not doing the child any favors unless you can absolutely the quality and continuity of care, which is impossible. I'm not talking about cases of abuse, where children should obviously be removed, but I think in the realm of neglect, things get a lot trickier.
Also, in regards to the case you cited, I believe it is the case in my state that if a mother has abused her child, that child can be removed from the home, but a subsequent child born to the mother cannot automatically be removed- only if there is substantiated abuse of the infant.

mom said...

You make some good points.
I would suggest that we not let kids get that old, when possible, before they are placed for adoption. Many, many infants are neglected and abused...and yet the parents are given opportunity after opportunity to get their act together, with the child either waiting in foster care, or being moved into and out of the parents home repeatedly...meanwhile the first two years of a child's life are the most important time for the child's development. I am of the zero tolerance mindset in those cases. Anybody who can harm, or puprosely neglect, a helpless infant is not going to be helped by "parenting classes." Certain things are obvious to a monkey. "Don't physically harm your infant." "Don't leave your infant alone, ever." "Feed your infant consistently." "Put oyur infant's life haead of your own." Those are instincts posessed by most simple animals. If you can't manage those as a thinking human being, your baby needs to be protected from you, as soon after birth as your harmful behavior is discovered.

Marypoppin'pills said...

Jul 21, 2009 11:18:00 AM
Excellent Post, Mom.

mom said...

Thank you, MPP. : )
The older I get, the less tolerant I find myself becoming of any sort of maltreatment of children. Not that I ever found it acceptable...but it just really makes my blood boil now.

Thinking back on when my own kids were small, and how sweet and innocent and trusting they were, I can't help but put my own kid's faces on the kids I hear about in these stories...and then the thought of it is absolutely unbearable. Every child deserves to be treasured, and know that they are truly loved. It's one of the magical gifts of least it should be anyway.

MinuteMuggle said...

mom you are right: so many people take advantage of the system, meanwhile the people it was created for (hardworking people who just need a little help in rough times) have a harder time getting help. it is very sad.

I will say this: I am so lucky to have family who loves me. I know my siblings and extended family will always be there for me and my child in an emergency. I can't imagine what it would be like not to have that. But I would do whatever I could to keep my child. I don't understand why these people do not accept the childcare voucher and work: even if it is a retail job at walmart or stop and shop they can still recieve benefits and put a roof over their child's head.

Applying for assistance can be very time-consuming and difficult, but worth it if you need it. Perhaps some people just don't want to deal with the red tape, of which there is a lot. But for your child? I would assume any mother would go through whatever it took to support their child so that they were not on the street and panhandling like this little boy. But I don't know: I'm not everyone. It's so sad and heartbreaking to see parents making the wrong choices.

mom said...

Minute Muggle,
Exactly. And there is help for people who need a hand UP.

And just think, if we got the cheaters off the rolls, we could use the extra money to actually help people who need it in a MEANINGFUL way, where they have a chance to rebuild their lives...not just keep them barely at poverty level.