There are a lot of scenarios that can lead parents to feel so utterly overwhelmed, so desperate, that feel they are unable to care for their children.
As moms, we’ve all had those moments where we’ve come to the brink– feeling as though we couldn’t handle our current state of life.
Even if it was a flicker of a moment -just a single day- it’s a terrifying feeling.
But many of us are fortunate to have resources at our disposal: family, friends, medical professionals, etc. to help us dig ourselves back out of the pit we find ourselves in before things escalate to a critical state.
We’ve heard too many stories on the news about parents that felt they couldn’t cope with their circumstances, and some of them lead to tragic results.
A struggling mom that abandoned her special needs son appeared in court to face charges of child cruelty, and she was met not with condemnation, but with the compassion and support of many fellow moms.
Diana Elliot is a 37-year-old single mother of four children; her 14-year-old son Sheldon has Down syndrome and is non-verbal. Elliott began to experience more & more difficulty in providing for her children, & the family has been living out of an Atlanta hotel room for the past few months.
Diana clearly felt beyond desperate to do what she did next. And it’s something that many will quickly judge her for- case closed.
Diana brought Sheldon to Grady Hospital on December 4. The pair are seen on security camera wandering the hallways for an hour.
(I have no doubt that the hour was one of sheer desperation, confusion, and indecision on Diana’s part.)
Then Diana left Sheldon alone at Grady Hospital, & drove away alone.
Sheldon was found outside of the hospital, cold & disoriented. Since he is non-verbal, he was unable to communicate any details about himself, leading police to circulate a photo of him, which eventually lead to finding Diana & her children at the hotel in DeKalb County.
According to CBS News:
Police said Elliott told them she was overwhelmed and didn’t know where else to turn.
Diana Elliott was arrested and charged with first degree child cruelty -a felony- and held in jail on $10,000 bail.
At first glance, it seems like a very clear-cut case. Many people would hear of Elliott’s actions and immediately condemn her.
What mother could simply abandon her child, right? Especially a more vulnerable, special-needs child? What kind of mother is she?
But based on the support that came out of the woodwork following Elliott’s story coming to light, it appears that many parents could at least empathize with the dilemma that Diana found herself facing.
While most did not make the same choice that she did, they understood all too well what led her to feel that such a desperate act was her only choice.
Parenting is, by nature, challenging. Parenting a special-needs child also brings a specific set of challenges as well.
Being a single mother that is struggling to provide financially for her family is difficult enough. Many parents of children with special needs either find themselves unable to afford the care that their special-needs child requires, or find themselves unable to work full-time due to caring for their child themselves.
When defense attorney Brian Jarrard heard of Elliott’s case, he immediately chose to defend her pro-bono.
And he chose to do so because as the father of three adopted sons with Down syndrome, he knows how vital adequate support is in parenting children with special needs.
As Jarrard explained to 11Alive News, he feels that rather than jail time, Diana needs a support network:
I would say any individual that’s trying to single-parent children with special needs, there are a host of challenges, & those challenges can certainly be met with the right support network.
Attorney Brian Jarrard was not the only one demonstrating compassion for Diana Elliot.
When Elliott appeared in court for her bond hearing, she was greeted there by a community of mothers that came out to support her.
11Alive reporter Kaitlyn Ross was covering the story at the courtroom that day, and she described the moment that Elliott realized she was not alone:
Diana turned around and gasped when she saw them in the courtroom.
She had never met any one of these women and started crying when she realized they were there to support her.
Among her supporters were Carla Griffin, mother of an adult son with Down syndrome. She knows all too well how Diana felt at the moment that she made the choice to leave Sheldon, because Griffin herself had done the same with her son 10 years ago, leaving her then 17-year-old son in an emergency room.
Though the two have been reunited for years now, Griffin echoed the same sentiments that Elliott did:
She didn’t know where else to turn.
When the Assistant Attorney asked Diana where she would live if she was released, Griffin -who has never before met Diana Elliott- spoke up:
“She will live with me. We are family now.”
There were many supporters there that day for Diana; many mothers of children with Down syndrome did not focus on what she did wrong, but how they could help her.
Even the Executive Director of the National Down Syndrome Association offered their support. In a public statement, Sheryl Arno stated:
“This isn’t just today. We are not leaving her. We are not leaving this family. We are in this for the long haul”
The verdict: Elliott’s court date ended on a surprisingly positive note: she was granted bond (no bail money required) and released until her next court date.
The judge’s reason for her decision: Elliott has no prior record. She had never been arrested, her children were healthy and well-cared for despite Diana’s decision to leave Sheldon at the hospital.
Both the prosecution and the defense agreed that Diana needs parenting assistance, not jail time.
Her children are currently in the custody of the Department of Family and Children Services. Visitation with them is dependent on the permission of the DFCS.
We know it’s simply unacceptable to abandon your child for any reason, and Diana may still end up being found guilty of the child cruelty charge.
BUT- the amount of support and compassion that poured out for a mother who felt so overwhelmed is a good reminder to us to be aware of our fellow parents in need. Some of us take resources for granted, assuming everyone has them or knows how to access them.
All parents need support from time to time. And for the parents of children with special needs, they too need a specific kind of support, from fellow parents who are familiar with the unique challenges they face.
It takes a village to raise a child. Let’s provide compassion and support to our fellow villagers so that no mother has to feel like she’s alone in feeling overwhelmed and desperate.