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Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

Is it ever OK to choose to leave kids in a car?

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Yesterday we talked about the terrible tragedy of the father charged with murder because he allegedly accidentally left his 22-month-old in the car all day while he was work and the child died. But the question for today is: Is it ever OK to knowingly choose to leave your kids in a car?

After the story about the 22-month-old dying broke, a friend posted a story on Facebook about a mom who was arrested for leaving by choice her 4- year-old in the car to run into a store. The story is very long because her ensuing legal battles took years so click and read the link for the full story. I can only pull a few paragraphs.

From Salon.com

“I took a deep breath. I looked at the clock. For the next four or five seconds, I did what it sometimes seems I’ve been doing every minute of every day since having children, a constant, never-ending risk-benefit analysis. I noted that it was a mild, overcast, 50-degree day. I noted how close the parking spot was to the front door, and that there were a few other cars nearby. I visualized how quickly, unencumbered by a tantrumming 4-year-old, I would be, running into the store, grabbing a pair of child headphones. And then I did something I’d never done before. I left him. I told him I’d be right back. I cracked the windows and child-locked the doors and double-clicked my keys so that the car alarm was set. And then I left him in the car for about five minutes.

“He didn’t die. He wasn’t kidnapped or assaulted or forgotten or dragged across state lines by a carjacker. When I returned to the car, he was still playing his game, smiling, or more likely smirking at having gotten what he wanted from his spineless mama. I tossed the headphones onto the passenger seat and put the keys in the ignition….

“I’d never been charged with a crime before, so the weeks that followed were pure improvisation. I hired a lawyer to talk to the police on my behalf. I sought advice and support from those I loved and trusted. I tried to stay calm. My lawyer told me he’d had a productive conversation with the officer involved, that he’d explained I was a loving and responsible mother who’d had a “lapse in judgment,” and that it seemed quite possible charges would not be pressed. For a while, it looked like he was right. But nine months later, a few minutes after dropping my kids off at school, I was walking to a coffee shop when my cellphone rang. Another officer asked if I was Kim Brooks and if I was aware there was a warrant out for my arrest….”

In this case a bystander videotaped the child being left alone and called the police.

“I picture this concerned someone standing beside my car, inches from my child, holding a phone to the window, recording him as he played his game on the iPad. I imagined the person backing away as I came out of the store, watching me return to the car, recording it all, not stopping me, not saying anything, but standing there and dialing 911 as I drove away. Bye now. At this point, almost a year had passed since it happened. I could hear my lawyer shuffling papers. I looked down and saw that my hands were shaking. My hands were shaking, but unlike before, I wasn’t afraid. I was enraged.”

So in this case the state didn’t pass a law that essentially would have made leaving the child in the car a ticket – a fine of $100. Instead they left it as a gray area called “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”

I have no idea what the specific law is in Atlanta or here in Phoenix? Can it differ from county to county or city to city? Does Decatur have a different standard than Atlanta or Alpharetta? Does it involve an age qualification?

If temperature isn’t a factor, can I as a parent make the choice that I think it’s safe for my 11-year-old and 13-year-old to sit in a car while I run into a store? Can I choose to say that it’s safe for 13-year top watch my 7-year-old in the car while I run in? (If I can let her watch her at home, why not in a car?) (These are all hypothetical.)

Is it OK to leave a kid in the car to drop off your movie in the Red Box when it is outside of the Circle K or the Walgreens? Is it OK to run the movie in? Is it OK to grab pizza from a Little Ceasars where it’s a glass front and you can see the vehicle?

Where is the line that it’s not OK – it it’s deep into a grocery store where you don’t have a visual on the car? If you’re inside the store, is that not OK?

How does age and ability to get out of the car affect your decision making and defense as a parent? Is it OK to choose to leave your child, if they are physically able (meaning not locked in carseat) and know how to open the door?

Where is the line in your ability as a parent to make a choice that they are safe to walk to the park, to a store, to wait for you out front of a store, to wait for you by the car or in the car?

When did all this change? The author of the Salon piece talks about our parents letting us run around unsupervised, wait in cars, walk to stores? When did it become not OK and in fact could get you arrested?

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