Globe and Mail

Mother leaves boy alone for 12 days, goes skiing

British youngster fended for himself,
convincing friends that nothing was amiss

By ALAN FREEMAN
Tuesday, December 24, 2002 – Print Edition, Page A13
The Globe and Mail

LONDON -- It's a pre-Christmas story that would cause even Scrooge to shed a tear: a 12-year-old left home alone to fend for himself for nearly two weeks while his mother skied and stayed in a hotel.

On Dec. 7, Jill Parker went missing from her home in South London, leaving her son Rufus Polak to take care of himself. For the next 12 days, Rufus carried on as though nothing had happened, cooking for himself, arriving at school every day with his shoes polished and school uniform pressed. Nobody noticed that anything was wrong.

When a friend came for a visit, Rufus told him that his mother, his sole caregiver since the death of his father three years ago, was sleeping. Rufus continued to visit neighbourhood stores to buy food and computer games, and left notes for the milkman.

It was only last Thursday that the police and Rufus's school were alerted, after a colleague of Rufus's mother became concerned about her prolonged absence from a church charity where she worked.

Ms. Parker, 53, reportedly suffers from bouts of severe depression, so the worst was feared. But after her photo appeared in newspapers and on television, she was located in an upscale hotel not far from their upscale home.

Staff at the hotel said they had found boarding passes for flights to Zurich and Madrid in the room where she had stayed, indicating she may have travelled abroad during her disappearance.

Ms. Parker was arrested on suspicion of child neglect and released on bail pending a hearing next month. Last night, she was reportedly in a psychiatric hospital. Social workers have taken Rufus from his home and placed him temporarily with family friends.

According to friends and teachers, the boy was anxious to protect his mother and at all costs to avoid being sent to a foster home, where he had once spent several weeks when his mother was ill.

Rufus didn't lie low during his mother's absence. He continued to visit friends, including 12-year-old Liam Burrage.

"Liam has been going round there during the time she's been missing and Rufus told him she was upstairs reading or sewing or knitting," said Liam's mother Tracy. "Rufus was at our house last Sunday and he never said anything."

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of Sane, a mental-health group, said children frequently keep up appearances when a parent becomes ill for fear that they will be placed in foster care and the family will be broken up.

"What is happening is that children are loyal to their parents," she said. "They love them. They realize more than anyone that it is illness that is making their mother or father the way they are. They do not want to lose the one person they have in life."

Also all too common are parents who leave their children alone. Yesterday, police were questioning a woman from northern England who sent her 11-year-old son home from the Manchester airport in a taxi after he had passport problems.

The 33-year-old mother, who has not been named, allegedly gave him the house keys and told him there was food in the freezer that he could microwave. She and the rest of the family then flew out for a two-week vacation in the Canary Islands.

It was not immediately clear why the father in the case was not being questioned as well.

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