Negligence or bad judgment, call it what you will. I want to know what the heck is wrong with mothers? And others who see nothing wrong with letting 7- and 9-year-olds go to parks alone.
And don’t think I don’t know what I’m talking about, or can’t sympathize with these struggling parents. I’ve been there, done that. The youngest of my three daughters was five months old when I had to leave and divorce their father to keep the girls safe. The oldest was four.
I went to work full time, arranging and paying for reliable childcare. Eventually I accepted work out of town, knowing my girls were well supervised until I got home to prepare dinner and gather at the table with them.
When they were old enough, in my estimation, to walk somewhere they went together, not alone. Instantly, upon setting out on a suburban hike, my girls set aside their sibling rivalry and became a vigilant and protective trio. You’d pity the fool who attempted to mess with them.
So, I know what it’s like to be a single mom having to make decisions about letting your child fend for herself.
Two days ago a South Carolina single mother was in the national news for allowing her 9-year-old to spend the day at a park while the mom worked her shift at McDonalds. A debate arose about what age is okay for kids to be on their own in public, and whether or not working is reason enough to leave a child unsupervised.
Another mother has been arrested, this time in Florida; the child is only seven.
CNN reported this one:
After letting her 7-year-old son walk from their home to a park to play, a Florida mother faces up to five years in jail for child neglect.
Nicole Gainey, 34, was arrested on July 26 after her son, Dominic, was found by police alone in a park less than a half-mile from her Port St. Lucie home.
On Saturday afternoon, Gainey had given Dominic permission to walk to Sportsman’s Park, a route he’s familiar with since he uses it to ride his bike to school, her lawyer said. On the way, he passed a public pool, and someone asked him where his mother was.
“They asked me a couple questions, and I got scared, so I ran off to the park and they called the cops,” Dominic Guerrisi told CNN affiliate WPTV.
According to the [police]report, Gainey told the officer that she let her son go to the park alone once or twice a week. The arresting officer said that Gainey had failed to provide her son with care and supervision by allowing him to cross the street and go to the park alone. According to the report, he told her that there had been recent criminal activity in and around the park and a number of sex offenders lived nearby.
Gainey was arrested on a felony child neglect charge and taken to jail, leaving Dominic and her 17-year-old daughter at the house with her boyfriend. She was released seven hours later on $3,750 bond.
On Wednesday, Gainey met with an employee from the Florida Department of Children and Families who told her the charges would likely be dropped, according to Whitehead.
“I’m really sad about how this has already impacted our family,” Gainey wrote in an e-mail to CNN. “My son is worried that I’ll get in trouble if he goes outside. I’m even worried about getting in trouble if I let him walk down my driveway alone.”
A number of child neglect arrests are gaining attention nationwide, with some onlookers arguing local authorities are overstepping bounds in arresting parents for childrearing decisions that wouldn’t have merited notice a generation ago or which plunge families close to the poverty line into even more dire situations.
“Something has shifted and now we’re in the middle of a dangerous societal trend of arresting parents for noncriminal activities,” Whitehead said.
In March, Shanesha Taylor was arrested in Scottsdale, Arizona, on two counts of felony child abuse after leaving her two children in her Dodge Durango for about an hour while she interviewed for a job.
There was also a case of a woman leaving her 3-year-old alone to fend for himself. The child died. Are 7-year-olds more self-sufficient than 3-year-olds? Oh, please. Of course. But the point is, common sense and natural instinct are lacking in way too many parents today, many of whom are ‘accidental’ parents.
And, most states do not have an age stated in regulations for when it is legal to leave a child unsupervised. Chances are the same people clamoring about overreaching police are the same ones who complain about confusion because of absence of a specific age in the law.
For me, it’s not only the age factor at issue. It’s the fact that these children are alone. I would much rather see two 9-year-olds at a park without an adult, than only one. There IS safety in numbers. Pedophiles and kidnappers working alone don’t target pairs or groups of children. Besides, a pair of children occupied with each other wouldn’t draw attention of onlookers like a lone child does.
Lone children always look like they are lonely, as they look longingly at children with playmates, naturally hesitating to join in. Adults looking on first feel sorry, then concerned. We start to realize how vulnerable this small person is, even with a cell phone. Not wanting to become a suspect ourselves, we contact the police who have the authority and right to assert protection, at the risk of ruffling the feathers of the absent parent.
Oh, well. Better ruffled feathers than a missing kid.
by T.M. Burroughs
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