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Is it a crime to leave your child alone?

Recent news stories about parents allowing their kids to walk alone to the park or play alone at the park are causing a debate among parents and law enforcement officials. Most states don’t have an official age when kids can be left alone. However, mothers are being arrested for not supervising their minor children.


tA Florida mother was arrested for allowing her 7-year old son to walk alone to the park. He had a cell phone to call his mother in the event of an emergency. Someone saw the boy walking alone and questioned him about his parents’ whereabouts. The police went to the park and picked him up to return him home.

t The boy’s mother, Nicole Gainey, was arrested and held in jail for 7 hours before being released. She was charged with felony child neglect.

t Attorney and CEO of, Matthew Reishcer, states that the fact of a lone 7-year old venturing to the park only a half mile from his home fails to demonstrate prima facie neglect on the part of the parents. “That this act became a basis for felony child neglect charge is outrageous and may be legal abuse by Port Lucie.”

t In mid-July, Debra Harrell was arrested and jailed for leaving her 9-year old daughter to play alone and unsupervised at a park while she worked at McDonalds. Her daughter had a cell phone to call her in case of an emergency. She is awaiting trial.

tThe price of child care during summer months is prohibitive, especially for single parents. It is a catch-22; do you stay home, take care of your children and suffer financially, or do you go to work and leave the children unattended and hope for the best? State subsidies for child care assistance have dropped, leaving the low-income parents even fewer choices. Welfare reform under President Clinton required that mothers seeking assistance be working or looking for work.

t The outcry has been loud; are poor mothers being criminalized for their inability to pay for day care? Or, are these mothers neglecting and endangering their children? Another question being asked is, where are the fathers?

t Tracy Vega, along with her husband Charley, co-founders of Simple Self Defense for Women, warns that these unattended children are easy targets for abductors. She feels there is no magic age, however, “No child should ever walk alone anywhere, and every child should know how to prevent, avoid and escape a potential threat, attack or abduction.”

t What do you think? Should these parents be arrested? Would you ever leave your child unattended under any circumstance? Should the country be responsible for not helping low-income mothers?

Photo credit: EVErything by EVE/Moment Open/Getty Images

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