Woman Who Left Kids Alone In Car May Not Be A Bad Mom, But She Was Breaking The Law

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shutterstock_218695045__1421857888_142.196.167.223Lenore Skenazy of “Free Range Parenting” answers questions weekly from parents who write in to ask about varying degrees of the “nanny state” many believe our society is becoming. It was her column that broke the story of the Maryland family being investigated for letting their kids walk home alone from the park. This week a mom wrote in about her own experience in Maryland – but this time I’m afraid I can’t agree. The woman was breaking the law.

Here is the question she sent Skenazy:

I was recently involved in a “confined unattended child” case which has landed me with a misdemeanor and 6 months’ probation. The crime: leaving my sleeping 1-year-old daughter in the car with her 10-year-old sister for 10 minutes while I went into the grocery store.  A woman that worked at the store called the police within that 10 minutes.  The police said it was child neglect. I told him my daughter is responsible to watch her sleeping sister for 10 minutes, that I’ve never done it in the past but needed to get a few items, and [that] I didn’t want to wake her sister for that short period of time. He told me a murderer that has never murdered anyone in the past doesn’t make them any less of a murderer.

I think we can all agree that the police officer is being a little dramatic here, but the mother decided to break the law. The law in Maryland states that a child must be at least eight years old to be left alone in a house or car. State law also says a child must be at least 13 years old to baby-sit another child. The mom was within her rights to leave the 10-year-old alone in the car if she deemed her mature enough to be alone, but the 10-year-old can not legally babysit a one-year-old.

Do I think the kids were fine in the car –  probably. But it seems like the police officer was just doing his job. The confusing thing here is, while most states do have laws pertaining to how old a child has to be to be left alone at home or in a car, those same age laws do not apply to children alone in public. Those situations are left to police officers to assess the safety of the child and call for help if he/she thinks it is necessary.

Determining when it’s appropriate to intervene for a child’s safety is difficult. I’m not sure that I fault an onlooker who was uncomfortable with the sight of an infant alone with a child.

(photo: Peter Gudella/ Shutterstock)