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Mistakes, Parenting and the Law

Mistakes, Parenting and the Law

I recently article from a parenting site, Free Range Kids, about a woman in Delaware who put her 3 year old down for a nap, and then she took a nap.  While she slept, the child got up, opened the door, and wandered out into the street. The mother was not even aware that the child was able to get out.  Accidents happen, right? Not so fast.  After the child was found by the police, the mother was arrested and charged with child endangerment.  Simple Justice, a New York criminal defense blog, took a look at the issue and wrote a great post about nature of human error, and the responses to the Free Range post – including legal professionals who thought arrest was the proper course of action.

As a community, where do we stand on a situation like this? Is this a case of overreaction, or was the punishment fitting for the … incident? Certainly we want to protect children and keep them safe when they cannot do that on their own, but it seems harsh to me to impose this type of judgment on a parent.  Parents really only have on-the-job training, and while it’s true that your first mistake can be your last, until humans become “perfect”, mistakes will happen.
I thought about this over the weekend, and I understand why people (and even some of the commenters) agree with the punishment.  Here are some reasons why “arrest” seems like a good idea:

  • Caylee Anthony’s death.  It seems to me that every time a child is killed and it’s a high profile crime, society as a whole gets overprotective of children.  We certainly don’t want anything like this to happen again and if we have to sacrifice some justice to make sure no more children are harmed, isn’t that worth it?  I don’t know if I agree with that, but that seems to be the mindset ever since the details of this missing/murdered child case came to light.
  • We are all strangers.  As urban centers move out into suburbs, and as modern parents work more and longer hours, knowing your neighbors becomes a thing of the past.  Certainly we cannot trust that a neighbor will find a child who accidentally gets out, indeed, they may not even be home. Do they even know your child well enough to know where to return them?
  • The world is more dangerous.  Look at the maps of where child molesters reside and certainly no one feels safe.   It’s not just crime we have to worry about, though.  Unsafe conditions in new from unsafe roads, flooding, and a host of other untested situations can create areas where accidents did not occur before.
  • Disabilities are on the rise. As I mentioned previously, there are more children who suffer from learning or medical disabilities nowadays, such as autism and asthma, which has made a trip too far from home a real danger.  We need to take better care to ensure that child have a smaller circle of trust than what we used to consider safe.
  • Kids are growing up faster.  The human brain does not reach full maturity until the 20’s, but we’ve made a huge push for our children to do more sooner, so they can reach their full potential.  The resulting side effect is not just that they become smarter at an earlier age, they have also become more precocious, and dangers from everything from unwanted sex to suicide are being seen at a younger age.  Even as we push our young ones forward, we want to hold someone accountable to keep them safe when they may not be able to do that for themselves.

That last point has created something of a conundrum. We want our children to get ahead as early as possible, but we still need locks on doors, guards on windows, and fences around our yards. This must really be confusing to a child who has to navigate an untold amount of dangers in the world, and even more so to a parent trying to balance all of this. 

Since I have a child with autism (kids with autism tend to wander), we have numerous locks and gates in place, a security system on all our first floor doors and windows, and a 6 foot fence with a double lock around our backyard.  Our home is like Fort Knox, and we’ve learned the fine art of sleeping with one eye open.  Still, I wonder, when I go to the bathroom, or get something I need upstairs, is it enough to prevent an accident?  What if something happens to me, like a migraine or a bad cold and I can’t as easily prevent…the unthinkable? Can I imagine every single scenario in which my kids might possibly be hurt or put in danger and prevent it?

Of course, I can’t.  I think any caring parent is as diligent as they can possibly be, and laws that prosecute accidents are a waste of time and money.  Children grow in ways and at times that we don’t always expect, and as parents, we can often only see one or two steps ahead.

What is your take? Do we punish parents to scare them into being more restrictive, or let them go and risk endangering more children?

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  • TurningtheClockBack By TurningtheClockBack
    08.16.11  

    great post! I always napped when my kids did..thank the good Lord that no one ever wandered away but things DO happen sometimes. We are only human...there has to be a hard look at whether something is an accident or neglect. I think a pattern is neglect or obvious bad judgement. But, taking a nap? Not so sure...

  • ginabad By ginabad
    08.17.11  

    Agreed! A pattern is not the same as a one-time incident. If we deal harshly with the one time issues, will we have enough resources for the kids who are in real danger? Food for thought, eh?

  • Bryelee By Bryelee
    10.04.11  

    I live in DE and I missed this story. I don't think this woman was wrong at all. It sounds like there is more to the story than this one incident.

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