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Editorial: A mistake in judgment

An overzealous Rowan County social worker may have sincerely believed she was doing the right thing when she threatened a man with taking away his lawn-mower-riding granddaughter.
Believing you’re right doesn’t always make it right. And in this case ó if all the allegations are factual ó the social worker’s method of conveying her concern seems to have only hurt a family (and scared a little girl) instead of helping them understand what she believed to be the error of their ways.
According to Donald Lindsay, his granddaughter was riding a mower, under his supervision, on April 28 when a young woman visiting his neighbor walked into his yard and asked the girl’s age. The little girl will be 10 this year, he recalled telling the woman.
In short, according to Lindsay, the woman identified herself as a social worker, told him the girl was too young to operate the mower and that he was being negligent in letting her, and informed him she could remove the girl from the home but wouldn’t if he got the girl off the mower in her presence.
Lindsay also says the woman told him a child should be “middle-school age” to operate a riding lawn mower and told his granddaughter she could take her from the family, frightening the girl.
Rowan County Social Services Director Sandra Wilkes told the Post the social worker denies telling the girl she could be removed from the home. Still, Wilkes says, telling Lindsay she could take his granddaughter was “not appropriate whatsoever.”
You can argue a child that age shouldn’t operate any kind of mower. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no child younger than 16 be put on a riding mower and none younger than 12 use a push mower, while more than 9,000 youths younger than 18 are injured using power mowers each year.
But there’s no law prescribing a minimum mowing age. Without one, Wilkes said a number of factors should be weighed, including age, maturity level and ability to respond in an emergency, determinations best left up to responsible parents or guardians.
Another factor is whether the child is being supervised by an adult. In this case, the little girl clearly was.
Wilkes said Department of Social Services officials wouldn’t necessarily investigate a citizen’s report of a 10-year-old riding a mower. And with so many dangers facing children, why would they, unless additional circumstances gave them cause for concern?
She said the social worker who talked with Lindsay “saw that situation and it concerned her to the extent that she felt in her capacity as a social worker that she needed to respond and at least alert him that the child on the lawn mower might not be safe.”
There’s nothing wrong with an advocate for children voicing concern, but the way this social worker did it was clearly wrong.
Whether this was an abuse of power, as Lindsay believes, is questionable, since the social worker apparently didn’t have the power to follow through on her threats. But it was certainly a misuse of the authority the public perceives someone in her position to have.

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