Bystanders on the Bus. No Words Needed.

Action speaks louder than words in some bystander intervention situations. There were two active bystanders. Maybe three, since I don’t know who created the video. They could have looked the other way. But, they didn’t. They may have saved a life, and didn’t need to say the right words to do it. Here’s the story: (link)

Exceptional situational awareness award

Exceptional situational awareness award goes to this driver. In this instance, a bus driver went beyond her job description of keeping her passengers safe. She rescued a run-away child who was in a dangerous situation. This is a lesson for all drivers. Drivers are responsible for controlling vehicles and keeping everyone in it safe. While driving, would you notice a toddler running on the sidewalk? Maybe? Maybe not? Would you stop for them? This bus driver saw the child, she stopped the bus, and picked the child up.

When I teach bystander intervention, I talk about staying alert to surroundings. I mention this in relation to people walking or using mass transit. People tend to go into their own little worlds –talking on the phone, reading texts or GPS directions, listening to music or podcasts with two earbuds while walking or reading or playing games on subways and buses. Do you look around the street, subway car, or bus while you are traveling? Would you have noticed that child from a bus or car? Would your instinct be to intervene or look the other way?

Who else were wordless active bystanders?

The second active helper in this situation was the person who lent a jacket to warm the freezing child. Everyone on that bus was wearing winter clothing. One took hers off in service to this child.

The third active bystander documented the situation.

Saving a life.

This bus driver may have saved this young child’s life. The child was at risk for hypothermia  and could have been run over.

When to call the police.

When a child is in immediate danger, calling the police is an action I agree with. This child was alone, in danger, and in need of medical attention. The police are the right people to take this child to the care they need.

When not to call the police: I get push-back in my classes when I recommend not calling the police into situations within families where there is no life-threatening danger. The target of the aggression (in this case the neglect) may be more harmed by police intervention.

Here’s a variation on this story to imagine: Instead of the toddler running barefoot all alone, there was a frantic adult twenty feet behind them, giving chase. Would that change things? Of course. Would you intervene by helping the adult catch the child? What would affect your decision to hand the child back to the adult without alerting the police? What situational cues might tell you that the child is in danger from this adult? Here are some ideas:

  • Is the adult carrying a coat, or blanket for the child?
  • Does the child seem to know the adult?
  • Does the child seem to be running from the adult? Does the child seem frightened, or playful?
  • Does the adult seem concerned about the child or angry at the child? Or both? In other words, is the adult acting like a rational parent in a bad situation or is the adult too angry to pay attention to the child’s needs?

Based on these observations, you can decide what is best for the child. Be aware of your values and prejudices. What might be normal in this situation might look like signs of neglect or parental incompetence. If the parent/caregiver was asleep when they child ran out, the adult may look disorganized. Pay attention the interaction between caregiver and child for clues about their relationship. Don’t discount the adult, if you see these things:

  • The adult may have run out the door without putting on a coat themselves.
  • The adult wouldn’t stop to take a wallet or ID with them.
  • The adult may look half asleep, disheveled, or otherwise less than competent.

Child-protective services are important services to have in any community. The people who work in the system are responsible for many cases; they are fallible. Good things happen to children who are taken from abusive parents, but bad things happen to children of well-intentioned parents who get caught up in this system.

All anyone can ask of you is to be aware. Be kind. And use your best judgement. We don’t know what happened to the run-away toddler after they were taken by the police. I am hoping there is a remorseful caregiver who will never let their baby sneak out of the apartment again. That would be the best outcome.


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