Thursday, 13 December 2012

Eva Cameron Won't be Charged for Abandoning her 19-Year-Old Disabled Daughter in a Bar

There's all kinds of wrong about the story of Eva Cameron and how she abandoned her 19-year-old disabled adult child in a Tennessee bar.  It's hard to know where to begin.

Eva Cameron and Caregiver Burn-Out

While I can no way condone the actions of Eva Cameron, I can understand why she pushed to drastic action. According to newspaper reports, she'd been trying to get her daughter, who is physically and intellectually disabled, into a group home for ten years. A social worker had told her to stop calling for emergency medical help. Caregiving was affecting her job and her husband's business, with $12 000 in medical bills to pay. She just couldn't do it anymore. Anyone who has been a caregiver will be able to relate and empathize.

Plenty of Blame to Go Around

This isn't the first time that I've heard of a case of a parent abandoning a disabled adult child out of desperation, and I guarantee that we'll hear about more as budget cuts cause agencies to tighten up more and more:

  • Social workers and case workers have to take increased caseloads and can see clients less and less. Details like "Mom is very stressed and I'm concerned that she'll take off" fall through the cracks

  • Agencies cut programs like adult protective services, which should have been in place for Eva Cameron's daughter the moment a professional saw that she was at risk (assuming that someone saw that)

  • Gov't funding for respite, personal development, and support for community participation for disabled people are getting harder and harder to obtain

  • Spots in community residential placements are very difficult to obtain

It's easy to see why parent caregivers get frustrated and despondent.  And in Tennessee, where Eva Cameron dropped her daughter off, she's not responsible for her daughter's care after age eighteen. However, given her daughter's disabilities and likely ability to comprehend what she'd need to do when she found herself alone, Eva Cameron had a moral responsibility that she did not live up to and should be held accountable. And I rarely use the words "moral responsibility",  so I feel quite strongly about this.

Eva Cameron: What I Don't Have Any Use For

I don't have any patience for a woman who, knowing that *any* passenger in her car needs emergency room attention, let alone her daughter, drives away while her daughter in the bathroom at a bar without leaving her any money or ID. If she could have dropped her daughter off at a bar and driven off, she just as easily could have dropped her off in front of a hospital and driven off.

I understand being tired and overwhelmed and wanting something to just be over. But why not go to a hospital after driving 500 miles? Or call 911 and leave her cell phone in the parking lot, if she didn't want to deal with the ambulance?

She either doesn't care as much as she says she does, or she has some mental health issues that must be addressed for her own comfort and safety and for the safety of any other children that may be in her care.

Ultimately, I agree with the decision made by Tennessee officials this week not to charge Eva Cameron. And I admit that I go back and forth on that sort of thing. I'm torn between wanting to leave things as they are now, where intellectually disabled people are legally treated as adults because of their physical age, and wanting to say, "But but but if they don't understand and need to be kept safe, shouldn't there be safeguards in place?" I get very protective of the people I support. I don't want anything to happen to them.

But I ultimately come back to "slippery slope"...when does someone become "disabled" enough to have to be "protected"? Where do you start to change the laws for them? Where do you stop?

So no, I can't support charging Eva Cameron. But I can still feel sad and scared by what she did.

And just sit here and wait to hear about the next person that does something like it.


  1. Indeed a very sad and perplexing situation. I understand the soul weariness of caring for a child 24/7. I understand that few people understand the depth of this angst. I understand that many parents in similar situations simply keep going because of an unconditional love for their child to the detriment of their own health and sanity. I do not understand abandoning a child no matter what, even though "mom" probably had some nifty rationalizations. I can't judge because I know "snapping" and "Being on the edge." But the reality is that that no one knows your child better than you do, especially when they are non-verbal. There had to be a better way; there had to be a reasonable accommodation or intervention....someone had to be able to help! Yet, sometimes, I think that no one really cares...a dark place to be.

  2. I'd like to think that she'd really snapped, actually, to at least not dropped her daughter at the hospital. But, having been the one to tell many parents, "I'm doing everything I can, but there's nothing out there," and seeing how stressful caregiving can get for them...I can imagine why parents get to this point. As much as I miss working in the field, I'm often glad that I don't anymore - there seemed like there was so little that I could do that actually helped anyone, and I really did care. I cared a whole lot. Still do.

  3. Hey Sarah - interesting story and interesting dilemma... I watched a documentary about families that surrendered custody of their disabled and mentally disturbed children because their family could not survive with the level of respite and support they were given. One father called the child welfare people and told them they needed to come and pick up the son immediately and was refused - the father then said "what if I told you that I am about to beat him" and was put on hold... someone was sent but that is what it took for that family to get assistance. The child was about 13 and was very physically violent towards the father. The father sobbed while telling the story. Now - though the state have custody of the son - the family has him at home a couple of evenings a week and every second weekend. Surely adequate respite care would have been more cost effective than the state having to take guardianship of the child?

    Eva Cameron made bad decisions and horrible choices but you have to wonder what kind of stress and pressure she was under... maybe she was at breaking point too?

    It's a funny thing when we ourselves lose our temper or do something inappropriate we want others to hear our reasons and understand our excuses, too often when looking at others we jump to the conclusion that things are "inexcusable" which on the face of it appears so obvious... Stress and lack of support can push people to the brink and I just have to wonder was Eva Cameron on that brink?

  4. I don't doubt that Eva Cameron was at a breaking point that, having never been in her place, I can't truly understand, and I fear that I sounded more judgmental of than I intended. I'm having trouble getting my head around leaving her at a bar when she was sick, with no money or ID. But, given how little is available in the way of resources for families, it's not difficult to imagine how they get to the point where this sort of thing starts to look like the only option.

    I'm reading more and more about families in Ontario that are putting their disabled children into care, as you described, as a way to get them support. This is shameful to me. What a terrible position to put families in.

    Thanks for's nice to see you!