A Lexington, North Carolina couple was arrested when they and their seven children were found living in appalling filth. Michael Patrick McKnight, age 24, and Jamie Leigh Hiatt, age 25, were charged with felony Neglect-Child Abuse involving serious injury, and six misdemeanor counts of child abuse. Lexington police officers went to the home to do a welfare check, and found malnourished children ages one through six, in a home filled with urine and feces from both animals and people. One child had maggots in her diaper. The welfare check was precipitated by the children’s grandmother receiving images of her grandchildren, and becoming alarmed at their appearance. McKnight and Hiatt are being held in lieu of a $100,000 bond.
This was a very unsafe and unsanitary environment for adults, children or animals. To allow yourself to live in such an environment is unhealthy, and the result of mental illness or addiction. To allow children to live in such an environment is child maltreatment. How does this happen?
Loss of minimal standards and sliding into complete filth does not happen overnight. It is something which occurs over time. Human beings have a remarkable ability to adapt to their environment. This is one of our greatest strengths, but it can work against us. Given sufficient time, any behavior can become normal. Through sensory adaptation, our perception of foul smells will fade away. Procrastination will set in, and people living in filth will promise themselves they will do the dishes, take out the garbage, clean the bathroom, and sweep and mop tomorrow. Or maybe the next day. Rationalizing and justifying will allow people to convince themselves that their place isn’t that dirty, other people’s places are worse; they might need those newspapers, magazines, or empty food containers someday. As the weeks go by, more and more garbage will accumulate, piles will get larger, mold will grow, insects and mice will infest the home, and within months the mess will feel so overwhelming that the residents won’t know where to start cleaning.
Another reason is that people using drugs or alcohol will let themselves and their environment decay. Addiction to drugs, alcohol, pornography, or gaming will demand increasing amounts of time. The addict will need more and more time to acquire their substance, to use it, recover from the effects, and get more money to repeat the cycle. Day by day, more and more essential daily activities will be delayed or skipped. Housekeeping will be neglected, and messes will accumulate until the situation is out of control.
OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is another cause. People with OCD may feel compelled to clean excessively, but others will hoard, or be unable to discard unneeded items and will collect more and more clutter, which makes it impossible to keep a home clean.
These are reasons, but not excuses, especially when children are neglected. It is a parent’s responsibility to provide a clean and safe environment for their children.