Protecting Your Child: Who's In Your House?

How to Avoid a Tragedy

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By Attorney Melba Pearson

Special to THELAW.TV<>

Adrian Peterson, running back for the Minnesota Vikings, suffered the tragic loss of his two-year-old son last week. The child's death is believed to be the result of alleged abuse from the mother of the child's boyfriend. Many people have questioned Peterson's closeness to his child (not much is known of their relationship prior to his death) and the fact that he played in the Vikings game against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, a mere two days after the child's death. In my experience dealing with homicide cases, everyone deals with grief differently. Some people who suffer a major loss, especially men, choose to keep busy to avoid the horrible pain of a loss. Peterson confirmed this in several interviews, where he stated that playing football has helped him cope with tragedies in his life.

But what we truly need to focus on are the facts behind the death of the infant. The mother's boyfriend, Joseph Patterson, has been charged with aggravated assault and aggravated battery in their home state of South Dakota. These charges were based on the severe head injuries that sent the young infant to the hospital. Patterson allegedly hit the infant in the head with a steel rod. It is likely that if a link to the injuries and the death can be medically established, the charges will be elevated to include murder.

Tragedies like these can be avoided. Single parents (both male and female) need to take a long hard look at who they are dating and be realistic. No matter how much you love someone, not everyone is cut out to be a step-parent. First, be observant. If the person you are with shows any resentment or violence towards your child, it is a simple choice. By bringing a child into this world, you are responsible for his/her well-being. The person has to go. If you allow your partner to discipline your child, make sure you are on the same page about what is acceptable and what is not.

Secondly, do a background check when you start dating someone new, and certainly before you move the person under the same roof as you and your child. Entering someone's name into search engines such as Google and Bing can give you a wealth of information. There are also paid websites that can give you the prior criminal history of a person. It can be a worthwhile investment for peace of mind.

Also, listen to trusted friends and family. If they are giving you solid reasons why they do not like your potential partner, please consider this. They may see things that are disturbing; emotions can blind us to negative traits of a new love interest.

Lastly, look at your child. Does your child's behavior change when your partner is in the room? Are there any strange bruises? These are all critical signs that something may be very wrong.

When you date as a parent, this is a package deal. It's not just about you anymore. Your partner needs to love you AND your child. Ignoring the signs and making poor decisions about who has access to your child can result in pain for everyone involved.

Be vigilant. Your child is depending on you.

The author, Melba Pearson, is a prosecutor in South Florida.

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