A burning issue

There are times – all too many of them – when I think I’m a long way from being the best parent in the world. And then there are times when I realise I’m an awfully long way from being the worst parent in the world.

I came across this story earlier this week, and I’m still shaking with disbelief at the thought of it. A five-month old boy was taken to hospital last Sunday with serious burns over 40% of his body after a day on Brighton beach with his 29-year-old mother. Police community support officers intervened when they saw the child was suffering from severe sunburn.

A nearby shop worker alerted the beachfront patrol when two girls came in and told her they were worried about a baby who was crying and looked burnt, while his mother drank beer, apparently unconcerned.

“They were very worried because they could see he was burning. He was crying and they thought he was in pain. They said the mother was drunk and very rowdy. She just kept drinking and completely ignored her son. They tried to tell her again but she got aggressive so they backed off. As soon as they told me I phoned the beachfront patrol. The girls pointed out the mum and then the support officer intervened.”

A burns specialist said on Tuesday that the infant, whose injuries were initially thought to be life-threatening, was now in a stable condition. Apparently the Metropolitan Police are considering what, if any, course of action to take on child protection grounds.

I’ll say! It’s astonishing to think that any parent could leave a small child unprotected like that on one of the hottest, sunniest days of the year and not notice. (And that is the end of this public service announcement …)

At times like this it’s gratifying to realise that I’m not that stupid. However, it’s less reassuring to realise that other people are.