When to pick up the phone

You've been hearing a lot of crying and yelling from the house across the way. The children seem particularly out of control. Should you be calling the police? Before you pick up the phone, a number of elements should be considered, according to child welfare and police officials familiar with the tell-tale signs of abuse, compared to what's sometimes just the plain day-to-day challenges of parenting. "It depends on what's really going on there, because a child can cry for hours even if they simply have gas pains. You can't really know this, and not every crying child means the parents are bad parents or that the child is being mistreated," says National Council for the Child director Dr. Yitzhak Kadman. "You have to use a little common sense. If besides crying, one hears someone yelling at the child, or something that sounds like blows being delivered, then one must call in," says Kadman. "But there's no reason to call or interfere with the family's autonomy otherwise." A certain amount of reason needs to be employed before making a call, Kadman explains. His office gets frequent calls from people worried about anything from moms feeding their kids too many french fries to other false alarms, and "I don't need everyone turning into the child's guardian because, for example, they don't approve of how the mother dressed her child." What about when you see a mother smack and abuse a young child while on line at the supermarket? "I'd say it was right to say something to the mother," says Kadman. "Look, one little smack is not abuse, though it's something that we really don't want to see someone do, but the law only requires us to report abuse. But I would say something... I'd try to some humor. When I see a cab driver drop a cigarette out the window, I pick it up and hand it to him and say: 'You dropped this.' So if I saw a woman smack a child, I'd say something to her. But if I see a mother not only hit the child, but knock the kid down, step on them and kick them, that's already a different story." However, policewoman Ch.-Supt. Revital Almog, who was involved in the Rose Pizem investigation, says neighbors should pay more attention to the children around them. "Today we live in apartment buildings where sometimes we don't even know our neighbors, so it's better to be alert," she says. She also advises paying careful attention to any clear signs of abuse, which she believes perhaps could have helped alert the authorities to help Rose before it was too late. "Perhaps if someone had paid more attention, the welfare authorities would have gotten involved sooner, or the police or anyone else could've helped," says Almog. "Sure, husbands and wives argue and children cry, sometimes leading us to think that there might be abuse. But if you see them outside - the child, the mother or the husband - and you see actual signs, or a very sad child, one who can't hide the fact that they are being mistreated by an adult, you need to pay attention. "If one has any doubts, it's best to call the police."