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Worst First

January 22, 2014 permalink

Lenore Skenazy gives her opinion of a New Jersey court ruling that leaving a child alone in a car for a few minutes is child abuse.



NJ court takes ‘child neglect’ to extremes

not Home Alone
'Home Alone' it's not: There's nothing horrible about leaving a kid alone in a car for a few minutes. Photo: Gregory P. Mango and Everett Collection (inset)

Did you ever wait in the car while your mom ran an errand? New Jersey says you were abused — and your mom was a criminal.

In an appeals court decision last week, three judges ruled that a mother who left her toddler sleeping in his car seat while she went into a store for five to 10 minutes was indeed guilty of abuse or neglect for taking insufficient care to protect him from harm.

Not that the child came to any harm; he seems to have slept through the whole non-incident.

But when the mom emerged from the store, she was confronted by cops, who’d been summoned by a mall guard when he noticed the sleeping child.

She was arrested and placed on the child-abuse registry — even though a Division of Child Protection and Permanency agent visited her home that day and found the kids well cared for.

If this had been the law back when I was a kid, Rahelen Skenazy — the lady who loves me more than the stars — would be on that registry. And since she had me wait in the car more than once, the state might have even placed me in foster care. That’s the threat that looms over anyone found guilty of neglect.

Instead, I got to be raised by my parents, because waiting in the car was just the normal state of childhood. It only got criminalized recently, when we began to arrest parents for tragedies that didn’t happen . . .but perhaps could have, if conditions had been completely different, or fate outlandishly fickle.

”No question that there are circumstances when leaving a child, even for 10 minutes, would create serious risk or danger for the child,” says law professor David Pimentel at Ohio Northern University. The question is: Was this one of those cases?

Was it a boiling hot day? No. Was the neighborhood plagued by kidnappings? No— and, what’s more, the national crime rate is back down to the level of 1963.

Well, was the baby in the driver’s seat with the ignition on, a cigarette smoldering in the ashtray, Eminem blasting on the stereo? Please.

But the court didn’t care. It ruled that a child could be considered in danger no matter what the circumstances, saying, “We need not describe at any length the parade of horribles that could have attended [the child’s] neglect.”

This is what’s called “Worst-First Thinking” — coming up with the worst-case scenarios first and proceeding as if they were likely to happen.

But if we start using “Worst-First” as the basis for prosecuting parents, shouldn’t we go after any mom who puts her kid in the car, period? After all, what if she careens off the road? What if she’s hit by a drunk driver? These may not be likely, but they certainly are possible, so why let any parent take that kind of risk?

We’re allowed to continue driving our kids because somehow society has managed to keep those risks in perspective, even though dying in a car crash is actually the No. 1 cause of children’s deaths — killing about 1,200 kids under age 14 each year. Meantime, about 38 die from being left in cars, the vast majority of them forgotten there for hours, not waiting out an ordinary errand.

Prosecuting parents who let their kids wait while they pick up a pizza isn’t going to save those tots forgotten there all day.

Quick story: Three years ago in Auckland, New Zealand, a mom decided not to take her three kids into the store with her, because it was raining. Minutes after she ducked inside, a tornado struck — flinging the car into the sky and landing it upside down, 50 meters away.

All three kids, strapped into their car seats, were fine. But if their mom had been unbuckling them at the time, or dragging them across the parking lot . . . well, I need not describe at any length the parade of horribles that could have attended.

Let’s just say that when a loving parent decides it makes sense, given the real-world circumstances that day, in that place, to let her kids wait in the car, she’s not being negligent. She’s just being like my wonderful mom.

And probably yours.

Lenore Skenazy is author of the book and blog “FreeRange Kids” (

Source: New York Post




Police: Child left in car during frigid temps as foster mother shopped

(KMOV) -- A local mother is facing charges after police said she left her one-year-old child in nearly freezing temperatures in Fenton.

Marie Garza, 57, is facing child endangerment charges after she was accused of leaving her 1-year-old foster child in her vehicle without it running as she shopped at a Fenton Walmart.

Police say this happened on January 9 when it was 35 degrees outside. The child was left alone, sleeping in the car for approximately 10 minutes.

Several other people shopping noticed the child in the car and called authorities. Officers arrived and had to track down Garza who was still inside the store.

According to authorities, Garza is a first-time foster parent. Since this incident, the child has been taken away from Garza.

"It doesn't take long for the temperature inside a vehicle to drop when it's this cold. Even in the summer time people run inside momentarily and it doesn't take long for the heat to build up in that vehicle. It's inappropriate and inexcusable,” said Shanna Bahr with the St. Louis County Police Department.

Garza was not arrested but did receive a summons to appear in court on February 10.

Source: KMOV

Addendum: A reader replies to Lenore.



Punitive, Puritanical, Sadistic Laws to “Protect” Kids — Woo Hoo!

Readers — This powerful comment came in response to my piece about the New Jersey woman who let her toddler sleep in the car for 5-10 minutes while she ran an errand. She was arrested, found guilty of abuse or neglect, and put on the state’s Child Abuse Registry. Two weeks ago, a New Jersey appeals court upheld that conviction. I love this letter:

Often as not, the Child Abuse and Sex Offender Registries are out to SHAME, not SAVE. (Prop stockade from BJWinslow)

Dear Free-Range Kids: I think what we’re really seeing here is just our country’s punitive mindset. It’s like we cannot imagine any way to express to somebody that we don’t like what they are doing except for calling it “abuse” and putting them on a registry.

We should all be wary of slippery-slope reasoning. That is what happened with sex offender registries in many states. Registries originally designed to be lists of people who, if a young child went missing, might [warrant being] investigated because their history made it much more likely that they’d rape and murder a child, became, in many states, lists of young men who had sex we think they shouldn’t have. The rationale for doing things like keeping the 20 year old guy who slept with a willing 15 year old girlfriend on a registry for life is that we don’t want 50 year olds to think it’s okay to sleep with 12 year olds. But that’s not how things work. Harshly punishing people for crimes we don’t really consider particularly heinous or dangerous is NOT the way to prevent people from committing heinous, dangerous crimes.

So if the fear is that people will knowingly leave their kids in the car for hours in the hot sun, for their own convenience, which would be genuine child abuse, we are not going to stop that by creating a registry of people who leave their kids in the car for 10 minutes on a nice, temperate day. What next? Registering people who spank their kids so that people don’t think child beating is okay? Registering people who withhold treats from a child so people won’t think starving a child is okay?


Whether we think she acted wisely or not, this woman was charged with CHILD ABUSE and is now on a registry of child abusers. The child abuse registry should not be a list of people who made parenting decisions we don’t like and who we think should therefore be publicly shamed for it; it should be a list of people who ACTUALLY pose a danger to children. This woman does not.

If people feel the need to call this woman a bad mom, call her a bad mom. Whatever. But we don’t want or need the state to validate those judgments, for maximum public humiliation. The point of laws should be public safety, not public humiliation, but more and more of our laws and moving in the direction of seeming to be more about shaming and humiliating and branding people who made decisions we don’t like rather than actually protecting the public from truly dangerous people.

– Anonymous Mom

Source: Free Range Kids

Another example from Ontario. According to the reporter, the girl was unharmed.



Toronto girl, 3, left in freezing car at Costco parking lot: Cops

TORONTO - A Toronto man, 39, faces a child abandonment charge after his three-year-old daughter was found alone in a car parked at a Markham, Ont., Costco in frigid temperatures.

A passerby found the little girl in the locked car without heat around 7 p.m. and called police.

At the time, the temperature was about -15 C with the wind chill making it feel like -26 C, police said.

The toddler was checked out by paramedics and didn't appear to have any injuries.

"It is imperative that parents and animal owners understand the consequences of leaving children and pets unattended inside vehicles during extreme weather conditions," York Regional Police Const. Laura Nicolle said.

"Extreme cold during the winter months or heat during the summer months can result in serious health issues or death."

The man - whose name is not being released to protect the identity of the child - will appear Feb. 26 in Newmarket, Ont., court.

The Children's Aid Society has also been called in to investigate.

Source: Sun News Network