“A Child Called It”: A story of survival
Colleen E. Brewer
Seattle Pacific University
“A Child Called It” is the story of a boy named David and his tragic life trapped inside a home full of more neglect and abuse than anyone could ever imagine. As a young child, his home life seemed like a dream. His parents had a healthy marriage; His mother was known for her cooking and his father worked hard as a firefighter in San Francisco to provide a comfortable living for his family. David spent his days playing with his brothers outside in “what was considered a good neighborhood in Daly City,” California. His family was described as the “Brady Bunch of the 1960’s” (Pelzer, 1995, p. 17). Before his life took a tragic turn, his mother was filled with compassion, determined, put together, and clean. But as David’s life continued, all of this quickly began to change. David described his mothers’ change as going from disciplinary to “punishment that grew out of control” (Pelzer, 1995, p. 29). Filled with fear, David would spend hours in the corner of his bedroom waiting for one of his brothers to come and ask their mother if it was okay for him to come out. This was just the beginning. As his mother became an increasing alcoholic, she began to spend her days drunk on the couch in her bathrobe. But this was the least of David’s concerns. He lived his life in constant fear. The screams of his mother caused him to cringe, and he spent an unreasonable amount of time searching for a mystery object in the basement. He was beaten, starved, and neglected to the point where he was not even considered a part of the family anymore.
As a child, David was robbed of even the simplest necessity – food. He would sometimes go days without a single bite. He resorted to stealing food from lunchboxes at school, but eventually was caught. When the principle informed David’s mother of his theft, the report “led to more beatings and less food” at his house (Pelzer, 1995, p.49). From then on out, meals became scarcer at home, and every day after school David’s mother would force him to throw up so that he could prove that he did not eat at school. If he did, there were serious consequences. I wish that I could say that starvation was David’s biggest problem. Aside from the almost daily beatings, David’s mother did things that would be unimaginable to anybody else. Denying his name and place in the family, forcing him to swallow ammonia, violently shoving his face into a soiled diaper, burning his arm over a stove, stabbing him and then refusing to take him to the hospital, forcing him to lay in freezing cold water for hours at a time, treating him as a slave: This was the reality of his life (Pelzer, 1995). This is not a made up novel or story, this is an autobiographical account of the life of David Pelzer.
As the reader, I felt so helpless. There was nothing I could do, yet my heart ached for David. What made it worse was that the people in his life did little to help him, if anything at all. There were several instances where legal and ethical procedures were not followed, which put David in more danger. According to RCW 26.44.030 section 1G, when a mandated reporter, such as a public educator notices any signs of abuse or neglect, “the report must be made at the first opportunity, but in no case longer than forty-eight hours after there is reasonable cause to believe that the child has suffered abuse or neglect.” However, this is not displayed in the beginning of “A Child Called It.” When David was in the second grade, his teacher began to take special interest in him. She wondered why his clothes were so tattered, he couldn’t seem to pay attention, and why he had bruises on his body. Being trained by his mother, David gave an excuse. The book says that “months crept by and Miss Moss became more persistent.” But when she reported her suspicion to the principle, he disregarded it due to David’s history with stealing food and his negative reputation. He told David’s mother and she filtered her frustration into more physical abuse towards David (Pelzer, 1995, p.52). If the teacher and principle had reported their suspicion to CPS at the time of their suspicion, David could have been saved from months, if not years, of abuse and neglect. However, rather than informing CPS, the principle chose to discuss it with David’s mother who denied it and then punished David upon returning home.
Another instance in the book where the legalities of reporting child abuse were disregarded was when the social worker finally came to David’s house after the report of his substitute teacher. In RCW 26.44.030 12A, the procedures for interviewing the child suspected of abuse are outlined. It states that “prior to commencing the interview the department or law enforcement agency shall determine whether the child wishes a third party to be present for the interview.” However when David was interviewed he was not given the option whether or not to have his mother in the room. He simply was brought into a room and asked questions. At one point, he mentioned the fact that his mother beat him only when he was a “bad boy.” After the social worker left, his mother was furious. Once again, she displayed her anger by hitting David “several times, and banishing him to the garage” (Pelzer, 1995, p. 126). If David had been given the opportunity to not have a third party (his mother) there, he could have prevented a beating that caused severe pain to him. However, not all of legal procedures were ignored in David’s case. Throughout the whole story of David’s life, one hero stuck out. During the first two weeks of his fourth grade year, he had a substitute teacher who he was very fond of. She could tell that he didn’t have the best home life, and she wasted no time reporting it to the school nurse. (Pelzer, 1995, p.117). Though the nurse waited a while to report it to officials, the substitute did what she could do in that situation. Because of her, the investigation on David finally began and it led to his eventual rescue.
As a future educator, the story of David Pelzer’s life made me think long and hard about the reality of child abuse. Though I may not have to deal with it as frequently as the school counselors, I know that it will be something that I come across in the span of my career, especially because I hope to work in a low socio-economic status school where, statistically speaking, reports of neglect and abuse are higher. Because of “A Child Called It,” more than ever I want to be extra aware and alert of the signs of abuse. If I see anything suspicious and I have reasonable cause that it could be a sign of abuse, I will not hesitate to report it. Because the people in David’s life waiting so long to report the signs that seem so obvious to the reader, he had to suffer years more of abuse than he should have. I never want that to be a reality in my student’s lives. I hope to be their biggest supporter, their biggest advocate, and their biggest fan. Being extra aware and proactive about the signs of child abuse is necessary in order to achieve these things. Beyond that, I am more inspired to form strong relationships with my students and be aware of what is going on in their life so that I can best benefit them inside of the classroom. Whether it is a student with a rough home life, a student who does not have parents, or a student who is just having a hard time, it is my goal and my passion to do whatever I can to be there for them.
The life of David Pelzer was not an easy one. The things he had to go through as a child are things that nobody would wish upon their worst enemy. However, because he survived and wrote his autobiography, people everywhere can further their knowledge and awareness about the abuse and neglect that is happening to children all over the world. As future educators it is our duty and our responsibility to fight for those students, like David, who cannot fight for themselves.
Pelzer, D. (1995). A child called it. Health Communications.
RCW 26.44.030. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2013, from Washington State Legislature website: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=26.44.030