I watched a father and mother with their (about) two year old. I saw:
The father, so messed-up he couldn't walk, attempt climbing up the slide, child in his arms. He stumbled, child slipped, but was fine. A few minutes later, the child came swooping down slide by himself with no one to catch him (mum was over on a bench texting), so I did. It seemed like the thing to do, as the drop-off was kind of high for such a small child.
"That's OK, no problem" I told the dad, setting the child down. Mum came racing over demanding to know what I had said to him. Not, what I was doing catching her child, but what I was saying, to her fella.
I told her what I said. She glared at me, as though it were some sort of confrontation. It wasn't.
They wandered off to the merry-go-round, and I watched dad fall off and roll underneath. I don't think mum noticed. The child resumed his existential screaming, which he'd done nearly nonstop since they arrived (I never did hear him speak) which also went unnoticed.
At that point, we left. I didn't care to be drawn into their little family drama.
This isn't me railing against teenaged parents, or drug addicts. I've known people from both groups (some at the same time) who have still managed to pull it together long enough to look after their child. I've known some excellent young parents, and some people you'd never suspect were drug addicts. I can't even say what I observed was neglect-we all turn our backs and have a child fall on the playground-I got a broken arm at five falling from a slide as the teacher had her back turned. It happens, that isn't child abuse. What I couldn't get over was the child screaming unnoticed, and uncomforted. It was one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever seen, and I've seen some pretty awful parenting. The child seemed fed, clean, otherwise cared for-someone is apparently looking after the basics, unless of course you consider emotional involvement basic.
I don't know anything about the people. I can't say if they love their child or not, if they are otherwise good parents having an off day, maybe the dad had some disease that makes you stumble about-hell, I don't know. For all I know the child might be autistic and screams like that 24/7 and they just wanted some fresh air at the park on a nice day-I have no idea. I really don't, and I wouldn't go out on a limb and make an accusation based on nothing more than a feeling that they ought to pay a bit more attention to the kiddo.
I mean, at that point, why bother going to the playground? Somewhere in their heads they must have arrived at the idea that going to the playground is something you do with a small child, but they weren't quite equipped to manage the motions.
I hope that child isn't still screaming away unnoticed.