Help Needed: Mom Who Let Kids Wait in Car Needs Lawyer and Is Distraught

Readers — This is a two-part post. First comes a letter from Lisa, a mom in Arizona who had her kids (2 and 4) wait in the car while she ran an errand and is now facing charges of neglect. The temperature that morning was mild, not sweltering. The second part is a letter to Lisa from The National Association of Parents‘ founder, David DeLugas. He has pledged to use new membership dues ($19 for a year) and donations toward hiring Lisa a lawyer. I’m a member! Read on:

Dear Free-Range Kids: It was approx 11 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 11th. I realized I was out of dog food. My oldest would have normally been at school, but she had a fever, so she stayed home with her brother and me. I went to get dog food. I decided to leave both children in the car. (My Nissan is a push button start, so I can leave it running). I had the ac on, doors locked. The errand took a lot longer than I anticipated. I was waiting on the clerk to tell me about a specific brand of dog food. She had to consult with another employee about it. A 5-minute trip turned into what I am guessing to be 15 or 20 minutes, tops. (The police report states up to an hour.)

As I walked out of the door, I saw 2 police cars, and a fire truck. I ran to the car, unlocked it, and they forced me to remove my children. Both were crying, as I was. I was begging please don’t take my babies. Both children were clinging to me. Officers took photographs of my children and the inside of my car. They kept me and the children there for awhile. They said if I didn’t cooperate fully their sergeant told them to arrest me. 

After telling me all the horrific things that could HAVE happened, they let us go. 

A lady from CPS came the next day, but I was out of town. She talked to my husband. I got back Monday afternoon. She came on Tuesday. I was afraid. I was apologetic. She asked if she could speak with my daughter alone, I obliged, even though it was uncomfortable for my daughter and I. When her and my daughter came out of a guest bedroom, she asked my daughter in front of me about good touch and bad touch, and asked if she had ever been touched. She said no. I tried to smile thru all of this, but I was extremely uncomfortable. The case worker noticed my son’s happy and laid-back personality. Then said something bizarre. That he seems to have my husband’s demeanor. I smiled, but took it as insult.

The aftermath of this has caused all of us serious anxiety. Now, when I pick my daughter up from preschool she’ll say please don’t stop for gas mommy,  or, “You don’t have to go anywhere do you?” 

My arraignment is Jan. 15. I don’t know what to do.

I am terrified.

Thank you, Lisa

And now — how to help. Here’s what DeLugas wrote to Lisa, which she shared with me:

Lisa,

The hearing on January 15 is an “arraignment” and that, unless Arizona is different, is nothing more than the charges being read and your pleading not guilty.  In fact, if you hire an attorney, most likely the attorney can agree to waive the arraignment and plead NOT GUILTY without your going to court.  Then what would follow is your attorney sending the prosecutor “discovery” asking for everything the prosecutor has in his or her file and preparing for a jury trial.

You must find an attorney.  We will try to raise some money so that we can pay the attorneys’ fees, realizing that you, like most parents, just don’t have an extra few thousand dollars to fight back against such absurd charges.  If we had the membership base or the donations that I know we will one day soon, we wouldn’t have to have a specific fund-raiser for you. Alas, we are not yet there.  Your attorney might decide (and I recommend) (a) that you engage an expert witness to refute the notion that you endangered your children, (b) that you have evidence of the weather conditions that day (your testimony may differ from the witness for the State), and (c) that you are prepared to testify.

I would expect that, after consulting with an attorney, you will plead “NOT GUILTY” and prepare for a jury trial where, for it to convict you, the State has the burden of proving beyond all reasonable doubt that you “knowingly caused or permitted the LIFE of [your children] to be endangered”  . . . “by neglect.”  That is what is in the Arizona statute under which you are being charged. I already spoke with several attorneys and will help screen them and even will help the attorney hired with strategy and preparation for trial.

I would also suggest a motion to dismiss the charges based on the unconstitutionality of it.  Initial thoughts are that it is vague in that “endangered” is not defined in the statute.  After all, a parent who allows her child to play tackle football, ride a dirt bike, go bungee jumping, participate in cheerleading or gymnastics, or go scuba diving “endangers” the child, too, because the risk of harm to a child from those activities is probably GREATER than the risk that your children would be harmed in the locked car, AC on, while you were inside a store (whether 15 minutes or longer).  As well, the usurping of the right of parents to raise their children unless actual harm comes to the child is a violation of the Constitution and this statute infringes on that right. Together, we will consider having a professor at a local university who deals with risk analysis to do so and prepare to testify.

…I urge you NOT to plead to a lesser charge or to accept a plea deal where you are “only” on probation.  That is exactly the outcome the prosecutor wants, likely expects, from parents who don’t want to face the risk of conviction, but prefer to pay the fine and be on probation.  You are not a bad parent.

Try not to worry. Make 2014 a good year. – David

Readers: Here, again, is the link for the National Association for Parents. I’ll write a post about them soon. I like what they are doing and sure hope they can help Lisa! This could be the start of something big. – L 

A mom faces her day in court.

A mom faces her day in court.

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52 Responses to Help Needed: Mom Who Let Kids Wait in Car Needs Lawyer and Is Distraught

  1. Nicole January 3, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

    To whomever the mom is-

    Please be wary of accepting advice (such as if you should or shouldn’t plea deal) from a person who runs an advocacy group. While well intentioned, it’s generally not good practice as he does not necessarily know the specifics of your case, the judge who is hearing your case, or the local laws. Definitely find sound legal counsel quickly, even if at this point all you can afford is a consultation.

    Good luck.

  2. E January 3, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

    It would be great to know how some of the cases featured here end up.

    It seems to me that in any environment where the a/c is req’d (it implies to me that it was warm outside) — it may be tough to get around a safety issue. Or maybe it’s just because I don’t have perfect cars, but the fear of a stalled vehicle with children locked inside for 20 minutes….

    I never left my kids in the car because I just chose not to (never considered it to be honest), but if I had small children today and read this blog for any length of time, I’d just give up on that. It would not be worth the time/money to plant my free-range flag on that issue.

    I feel very badly for the Mom who is clearly distraught and the stress it’s created for her daughter. Best of luck.

  3. DadCAMP January 3, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    I am normally all about what you do, but not this time.

    Don’t leave your 2 and 4 yr old in the car. Not in Arizona. Not ever. Yup, it’s a pain the ass to run errands with kids, but if you can’t handle it then save the errand for a weekend.

    Pay the piper.

  4. Christina moon January 3, 2014 at 3:18 pm #

    Oh how my heart hurts for you Lisa! I too went through the same thing a few months ago. I wish their was more we could do to change this absurd law!!!! Good Luck and God Bless! To the person who wants to know how cases such as these ends up, in my case, I had a friend who was an attorney and took on my case pro bono. I plead not guilty at the arraignment per legal advice in hopes of coming to a plea bargain at my pre trial.However, my prosecuting attorney wouldn’t accept probation and parenting class for a first time offender. He wanted child abuse on my record and 90 days in jail. Luckily, 3 months later at my sentencing the judge granted a deferred sentence (one year from that date) in wich time I would be on probation, ordered to report to a probation officer, 40 hours of community service and 8 weeks of parenting classes. I realize in the scheme of things, I could be dealing with much worse heartache (according to worst case scenario thinkers) but, we know our children and our community’s, is it really better to cause anxiety, depression and nervousness to protect against all things that “might” happen?
    At my deferred sentencing date (June 18, 2014) it is likely that child abuse will be removed from my record. But, for parents that aren’t as “lucky” their future is technically ruined.

  5. E January 3, 2014 at 3:29 pm #

    @Christina – thanks for the followup.

    I do feel badly for the burden (financial and emotional) this places on people.

    I think it’s good to read the real impact of this. It clearly shows that it is not worth the risks (and I’m including the risk of the children in the car) to continue this kind of habit. I have a dog and love her, but I wouldn’t risk the legal/financial or risk to my kids (however small people perceive that) in order to get her food if leaving my kids in the car on a warm day were the only option.

    Not sure I agree it’s an absurd law , but that has been debated here over and over.

    Again – I appreciate your extra info.

  6. Jacqueline January 3, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

    And this is why I don’t like leaving my children in my apartment to do laundry. My husband thinks I’m nuts, but I did get locked out a couple of weeks ago. He was home (thank goodness), although it was still a pain since he was asleep. Stories like this make me scared to call police or even my landlord in such a situation.

  7. Zlateče pri Šentjurju January 3, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

    Good thing she rolled up the windows and locked the doors, otherwise she surely would have exited the store to find her children kidnapped.

  8. lollipoplover January 3, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

    “After all, a parent who allows her child to play tackle football, ride a dirt bike, go bungee jumping, participate in cheerleading or gymnastics, or go scuba diving “endangers” the child, too, because the risk of harm to a child from those activities is probably GREATER than the risk that your children would be harmed in the locked car, AC on, while you were inside a store (whether 15 minutes or longer).”

    If all of our parenting choices were put under a microscope, we would all lose our children. Bathing (drowning), feeding (choking), driving (car accidents), and simply breathing (asthma)endanger children every day. Leaving kids in the car with the AC on to lug a sack of dog food out (which isn’t fun to do with small kids by the way- probably way more dangerous, statistically)to face police prosecution is insane. Sorry this is happening to parents.

  9. E January 3, 2014 at 5:10 pm #

    I know this forum hates the “what ifs” because the odds are so low. I think the issue with kids locked in cars is that there is a known outcome IF the parent is late, held up, miscalculates the heat, a/c malfunction, etc. The known outcome for this is not the same as a kid that’s left on playground longer than expected, or plays in the backyard because Mom’s not home from work yet, or wandering around a store for 30 minutes because they can’t find Mom.

    Sure, the car stalling or the A/C shutting off might be a small chance….but it’s the eventuality that makes it much higher stakes.

    At least that’s how I looked at it and how I presume the law does.

    My comments focus on the car/windows/heat issue, rather than kids left in a car with windows down. I realize that’s also a concern for some, but for this discussion, it’s a different set of parameters.

  10. Buffy January 3, 2014 at 5:54 pm #

    So many of you are questioning the mother saying that the day was mild? Were you there?

  11. E January 3, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

    Obviously not. Just noting that the A/C was on, indicates that it was warm enough (whatever that means) that she used it.

    If the temps weren’t a factor, then that should be noted on the report — which is probably good news for the Mom.

    We don’t know what “mild” means to each of us either.

  12. Donna January 3, 2014 at 6:55 pm #

    I feel that if you need to keep the a/c or heat on for them to be comfortable in the car, you should take your children out of the car, with the limited exception of running into the house to grab something while parked in the driveway or something very similar. Mostly this is because I think leaving young children in running cars is a really bad idea unless you are truly only going to be a gone a minute or two. I also don’t get the locking the doors thing. If you think your car is going to be stolen or your kid is going to bolt without the door being locked, you probably shouldn’t leave them in the car either as door locks are pretty easy for most toddlers to work.

    That said, I don’t think that it is something that someone needs to be prosecuted for. Just because I think it is a bad idea doesn’t mean that it is criminal neglect. And that seems to be the problem with much of these situations — the inability for so many people to say “that’s not what I would do but to each their own.”

  13. fiona January 3, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    I don’t believe the children were at any real risk. Only small risk is the malfunction of the ac, temperature rising or something happening to the Mum. That small chance is very low. How far do we have to go as parents to automatically say that doing a particular action that has a small risk to be deemed illegally harmful? Does this mother’s action deserve her labelled an abusive mother? I can understand the concern for the children as that small risk can become a bigger one (very small chance if temp of day was mild etc as stated), and maybe she should have made a wiser choice but to label her an abuser and have a record for it is disgusting and installing fear in parents. Parents will no longer give their children independence, responsibility etc for fear of punishment even over small risk situations. Parents will stop their children from going into shops on their own, or walking home from school, or being left alone with a dog etc. What if a parent is late picking up their child at school and they have to wait 30 mins on their own? Neglect.. irresponsible parenting? Or just unfortunate and part of life and just a part of teaching children responsibilty, dealing with situations out of their control, resilience…

  14. Gina January 3, 2014 at 7:24 pm #

    @Buffy

    Yes. I was there. Not in the car, but in the area. This past October here in the Phoenix area was VERY warm..unseasonably so.

    Even on a milder day in the fall here in the desert, the sun is intense! Especially on a day when you need the a/c.

    Sometimes errands take longer than expected. 30 minutes is too long for kids that young to be in the car alone, even with the air on. And what if the car stalled out?

    We lose too many little ones here to hot cars.

    Sorry, this time I don’t agree.

  15. Matthew Schiller January 3, 2014 at 8:24 pm #

    The weather in phoenix on that day was:
    High :79F
    Low:57F

    So it was probably about 75 by 11am. Further research
    Could probably find the exact temp.

    (According to AccuWeather)

    If she was parked in full sun, and the engine or AC failed,
    The car might’ve gotten as high as 125 in the sun on that day. But that would’ve taken 10-20 minutes after the engine failed. 125 is dangerous. But nothing compared to the 150 that can be achieved on hot days….

    If the kids were well hydrated (a big if since Americans don’t drink enough), the kids would’ve been fine for 5-15 minute even in the hot car. So in my book they need to prove the mom left the kids for more then 20 minutes to even start the case… And then they have to present some proof that the car was likely going to stop running…

    Prosecuting loving parents makes no sense….

    And leaving your kids for N minutes safe in the car is not a crime. Any more than sleeping down the hall is at home. My 3.5 year old is perfectly capable of climbing the baby gate at the top of the stairs and opening the front door and playing in the street in the middle of the night. (She doesn’t, but could and if she was sneaky I wouldn’t discover her gone until morning). Honestly the buckled into the parked car is the safest place I can leave her alone!

  16. CrazyCatLady January 3, 2014 at 9:14 pm #

    Urg. I know more than a couple of immune compromised people who would thank you a lot for not exposing your sick child to them. The little cold that your daughter had would end them up in the hospital.

    Does the store still have security footage? Can they tell exactly how long your were in the store? It may or may not be helpful depending on how long the actual time was.

    First and foremost…get a lawyer, and follow his or her advice. Take suggestions from the advocacy group to share, but do what the lawyer says.

    Good luck!

  17. anonymous this time January 3, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

    “Good thing she rolled up the windows and locked the doors, otherwise she surely would have exited the store to find her children kidnapped.”

    Hope this is sarcastic, and if so, I completely agree. Do people leave their kids in the car with the doors locked and the A/C on because they are afraid the kids will exit the car if the windows are left open?

    I was left in the car on very hot days, in the sun, with the windows DOWN. The car was not running. I lived to tell the tale. Why are we locking the doors and rolling up the windows? Doesn’t that say as much about our paranoia as these law enforcement fiascos?

  18. Gina January 4, 2014 at 12:10 am #

    @anonympusthistime

    As a resident of the Phoenix metro area I will tell you that on a warm day here, you DO NOT want to be left in a car with the windows down. Unless you live in the desert, you don’t get it.

  19. Shelley January 4, 2014 at 12:20 am #

    I do live in Arizona and it was still pretty warm in October! They tell you not to leave your dogs in the car if the temp is over 70.
    However, I feel for her. The days are long gone when you could leave kids the car, leave your doors unlocked and people would be safe. CPS in Arizona can be extremely abusive.
    Find a good attorney, don’t accept a court appointed one! Davis Miles is a good one in Tempe, don’t know what city she lives in. You need someone good to represent you.
    Good luck!

  20. J.T. Wenting January 4, 2014 at 2:42 am #

    “If all of our parenting choices were put under a microscope, we would all lose our children.”

    That’s the end game for the control freaks, to have all children taken away at birth and put in government “child rearing centers” or whatever they’ll call them, straight out of Brave New World.

    And having a chance against CPS? Very rare. Even without criminal convictions they just take your children and do with them as they like, laws be damned, it’s “for the children” which justifies everything, even ignoring direct court orders to the contrary.

  21. John January 4, 2014 at 3:54 am #

    What does “good touch, bad touch” have to do with leaving her kids in the car??!

  22. MichaelF January 4, 2014 at 7:24 am #

    My one encounter with CPS in Massachusetts showed me that they like to “look around” to be sure the children are not in danger of something else. This whole incident is like opening the door and letting them in with a white glove to see if there is anything they can cite you for.

    This is yet another case of overreaching laws that are hard to fight, I think that these laws are sometimes made to keep lawyers employed to fight or go to court on charges. Although I understand the necessity of leaving the kids in the car for 5 minutes to run and errand it seemed like this became an extended time. Hindsight is 20/20 but I would have left the store once the simple chore of buying dog food became an involved task with the store employees. I know my wife and I tend to work around some errands because it sometimes takes the two of us to keep our two boys under control.

    Good luck with the case and see if you can find any good lawyers in your area that have experience with dealing with these kinds of cases. Talk to a few and it may be worth asking some who they might NOT want to go against in court, to find someone who will really fight for you. Some firms are understanding and have payment plans, it never hurts to ask.

  23. marie January 4, 2014 at 9:56 am #

    What does “good touch, bad touch” have to do with leaving her kids in the car??!

    My thought, too. Are we obligated to let CPS into the house? Are we obligated to let CPS talk to our child(ren) alone?

    If the cops/firemen thought the children were in real danger, they would have broken open the windows or (at the least) they would have gone into the store and paged the “owner of the white Taurus” (or whatever it was). They didn’t do either…which tells me they did not think the children were in any real danger.

  24. Claudia January 4, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

    My main thought on reading this is why should a child be questioned about sexual abuse because they were left in a car briefly?!

  25. anonymous this time January 4, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    If it was 75 – 80º at that time of day, I don’t see the issue with leaving children in the car with the doors unlocked and the windows down. It got a lot hotter than that in the area I lived in, desert or no, and we stayed in the car during short errands, even if it were 90º. But not with the windows up!

    The whole scene of the child being questioned behind closed doors is freaky to me. Children that age say a lot of things, depending on their personality and the phrasing of the questions. Children are notorious for being led to say things that led to ridiculous charges of Satanic sexual abuse in the 80s and 90s. It was deduced from that unfortunate witch-hunt period in the US that children should only be questioned in a certain way by people who have been specifically trained NOT to lead the child to answer in certain ways, or prompt certain ideas in their heads.

    Anyway, it’s outrageous that a parent should face charges of endangering a child when the child is unharmed. Seriously. If the kids had suffered brain damage, all right then. I do believe there can be some repercussion for negligence. But why the big fanfare when the kids are FINE? I do not get it. At all.

  26. Nicole January 4, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    Yeah, I don’t think it’s a wise idea to leave small children in a car while you go into a business for half an hour. I also don’t think it’s wise to leave a child in a running car- for any length of time, or with the windows rolled up on a warm or hot day. I believe I would have handled the situation differently.

    Having said that, I don’t think people should be publicly flogged for it nor lose custody. It was a mistake. Everyone makes them, most of us just don’t get caught.

  27. J.T. Wenting January 4, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

    “My main thought on reading this is why should a child be questioned about sexual abuse because they were left in a car briefly?!”

    Because the CPS shrinks are fixated on sex, and they have a standard list of questions they never deviate from which is heavily influenced by that fixation.
    It’s Freudian, and despite Freud having long since been thoroughly discredited his ideas still influence the standard question lists of mental health workers at all levels.

    When I had a consult with one for hypertension, one of the first things she asked was just that “have you ever been sexually abused”. At least she took my “no” at face value and didn’t assume that me answering no meant I am in some way “suppressing memories”.

  28. tooConservative4U January 4, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

    I, unfortunately, never had my own children, but took responsibility for others. When my 3 or 4 year old niece started asking if she could come into the store with me; I told her she didn’t have a choice. I would NEVER leave small children alone in a car in a parking lot. (She had an older sister with her and it didn’t change my conviction.) I told her to tell her mother that I said never to leave her in a car. Yes, it takes longer to unstrap children from car seats and what not. drag out strollers. I’ve done it all, even when I thought I could run in and out. It’s just a bad idea. A 2 and a 4 year old need parental supervision – even when you feel you can’t muster up enough energy to take them in the store with you. Sorry you’re in so much trouble – but I would also have been the “good samaritan” that would have called the authorities to report babies left in a car.

  29. Linda Wightman January 4, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

    tooConservative4U, you are not remembering the story of the Good Samaritan accurately. He did not observe the situation and call the authorities; he went out of his way and put himself at risk to give direct help to the unknown, needy stranger. If you really want to emulate him, you would attempt to find the parents and/or discreetly watch the children until the mother returned, resorting to such drastic interventions as calling the police only if the children were in immediate danger.

  30. Kay January 4, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

    How is this case much different from the case we read a while back where the mother let her precocious four year old daughter stay in a locked car watching DVDs while she went into a department store? Although her errand took longer than expected, how much time would it take to buy dog food? I don’t believe she was in there close to an hour, I find that impossible, regardless of checking on a certain brand from a store employee. Personally, I might have had my ducks in a row before venturing out regarding what brand of dog food I was buying and if they had it in stock. But hindsight is 20/20. I don’t think it was a good time to explore dog food options with the small children in the car. However, I don’t think any of this is criminal. Kids used to wait in the car all the time back in my day, you can’t leave the windows down because a busybody would think it would be too dangerous, I think the windows up and AC running is an extra safe alternative to make everyone happy. Was this store in a strip mall, a specialty pet food store? I don’t see how this venture was unreasonable at all. However we live in a nanny state now, I’m not sure if it’s ever going to get better. It upsets me that people here are having the “worst first” thinking that this errand surely would have turned into a tragedy. Really, what was the likelihood of the AC malfunctioning within 15-20 minutes anyway? Or if the kids got out of their seats and started messing with the ignition, etc. Do you trust your children? That’s what it comes down to and parents’ freedom to trust their own children is threatened with this.

  31. Tsu Dho Nimh January 4, 2014 at 5:14 pm #

    BTW – actual October 11, 2013 temps from the NWS …

    Max Temperature 75 °F
    Min Temperature 53 °F

    It was about 10 degrees below “average” high.

  32. lollipoplover January 4, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    … but I would also have been the “good samaritan” that would have called the authorities to report babies left in a car.”

    Please, please, please be the good samaritan that waits for the parent to return and doesn’t call the police to put this family in deep doo doo. Keep your judgements to yourself and think of what you are causing this family before you throw their family into CPS hell. Good people don’t call the police, judgemental busybodies do.

    I, also, would not leave my 4 and 2 year-olds in the car, but my middle child once put the keys in the ignition and put a car in reverse in in our garage when she was 3. I know my kids.

    On the topic of dangerous temperatures, my son went goose hunting today in bitter cold, wind chill below zero conditions that friends were commenting on facebook it was “dangerous” to let the kids go sledding in…he was out all day. He got a goose! It was dangerous (guns! cold!) and he had the time of his life (and we have dinner). My girls are out now still in these bitter temps making snowmen. We follow the philosophy there is no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choices and they are all dressed for this weather properly, just as car with AC on a hot day. Don’t judge others just because you wouldn’t do something yourself.

  33. anonymous this time January 4, 2014 at 6:44 pm #

    “…you can’t leave the windows down because a busybody would think it would be too dangerous, I think the windows up and AC running is an extra safe alternative to make everyone happy.”

    This is what drives me to distraction. We’re locking our kids INTO cars on hot days because we’re afraid of what other people might think? Here’s what’s happening: damned if you leave the kids in the car with the windows down, damned if you leave them in the car with the windows up, doors locked and the A/C on.

    So here’s what I want to know from the FRK community: if we are advocating for parents to make their own choices about how to care for their kids in any given situation, why are we pandering to the “busybodies” and locking kids into cars in the first place?

  34. genie January 4, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

    When my daughter was 3 1/2, we were temporarily living in an RV (due to the loss of our house in a wild fire)… It was 7 am, she was on the couch watching Sesame Street on the TV. I stepped out to feed the dogs… and somehow, the door locked behind me. Times being what they are, I didn’t know my husbands cell phone number, and he worked an hour away. It was before the main office opened too – so the secretary wasn’t there yet to answer and then find him. We tried calling lock smiths, but this is a small town and we couldn’t find one open. I was frantic, still extremely stressed out about the fire, and didn’t know what else to do. So, we called the sheriff. He came out, offered to break a window on the RV as he wasn’t allowed to pick the lock… and then he left. It was crazy hot out, even that early and the AC was on… She was fine watching her show. An HOUR later, a locksmith came out and picked the lock in two minutes. No police charges (or help) and no long term harm… though it did nothing for my already high stress level. No, this wasn’t on purpose but there were far more dangers inside the RV for a 3 year old – knives, toilets, falling off of bunk beds…

    I guess my point is that all things being equal – this moms kids were/are fine. The real harm is the legal part. And what is it going to do to the kids if she goes to jail? Not to mention the mom. It’s beyond silly…

    By the way – I now know my husbands cell number. We also have a key hidden outside of the house. And 2 1/2 years later we have a new daughter and we’re back into a real house and the RV sold. :)

  35. Beth January 4, 2014 at 11:16 pm #

    I cannot believe how judgy some of you are being. On the one hand, the free-range philosophy is to assume that most parents love their children, know their children, can assess situations and make what they believe to be the best decisions for them and their families at a given time.

    But in this case, whoa…no way. The mother says it was a “mild” day? Nope. You’re going to look up the temperature on that date and time, and prove that it wasn’t mild. Or you point out that you live in Arizona too, and this is just something that is never done. And the kids are probably dehydrated, because most Americans are! (?)

    The mother, knowing her kids, decided that the 2 and 4 year old would be better off waiting in the car. This isn’t good enough though. We learn that a 2 and 4 year old ALWAYS need parental supervision, and if Mom can’t handle that, maybe this wasn’t the time for an errand.

    Mom says it was 20 minutes tops…which turned into 30 minutes for some commenters, because obviously Mom must be wrong.

    And we’re going to instruct Mom to have called ahead, or planned ahead, or dealt with the issue in a whole different way, because if she can’t manage the pain-in-the-ass that errand-running with kids can sometimes be, well maybe she just doesn’t deserve the kids or the dog. (I know no one said this. But it’s certainly the impression I’ve gotten from these comments.)

    And somehow, for someone, the 2 and 4 year olds became “babies” which, FYI, they are not. It’s just another way to inflame the story and prove that Mom was wrong.

    Those of you who have stood in judgement of this woman, I hope your next parenting decision is scrutinized as closely by complete strangers.

  36. marie January 5, 2014 at 12:02 am #

    Beth, your comment is awesome. Thank you.

    From the original story: A 5-minute trip turned into what I am guessing to be 15 or 20 minutes, tops. (The police report states up to an hour.)

    Notice that the cops didn’t say she was actually in the store an hour; they say she was gone up to an hour, which could be 20 minutes. They just chose to word it in a way to drop big fat hints.

  37. Donna January 5, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    Beth – Being free range doesn’t mean that we abdicate our ability to have opinions about the stories that are presented here. That we are required to say “atta girl” to every parenting decision. That we can’t think a parent, no matter how loving, made an error in judgment in a given situation. God knows I’ve made a million of them in my 8 years of doing this and will probably make 2 million more before I’m done.

    Personally, I think leaving 2 and 4 year old children in a running vehicle for 20 minutes is a really bad idea. I’m far more concerned about the kids getting bored – 20 minutes is a lifetime at that age – and messing with crap than I am the car shutting off and them overheating.

    But a big part of the free range philosophy is the belief that parents will make mistakes and that is okay. The kids still will likely be just fine. It doesn’t require police involvement, CPS and criminal prosecution. And everyone here has pretty much said that – we disagree with her choice but don’t think prosecution should be involved. I haven’t read anything that could even slightly be interpreted as “she doesn’t deserve children or dogs.”

  38. Reziac January 5, 2014 at 11:01 am #

    WordPress barfed back my comment, so I’ll bust it into three pieces and see if it takes this time…

    Part One:

    Some facts and statistics about children dying in hot cars:

    http://www.ggweather.com/heat/

    43 deaths last year (38 per year on average), which puts it right near the bottom of ways kids can die. (Note the numbers also *combine* “being left in” and “gained access to” so it’s not all parental neglect. This site is somewhat alarmist, so these are probably the worst possible numbers, not a best-case.)

    Which means both society and law are severely overreacting to this ‘perceived risk’.

  39. Reziac January 5, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    Part Two:

    I’m sorry I can’t help our distraught mom, but — anything and everything you say in such a situation WILL be used against you (witness that CPS tried to make it into a sexual abuse case). This is the most important video you will ever watch:

    Don’t Talk to Cops
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wXkI4t7nuc

    The same applies to CPS, and any other situation where there is threat of arrest and/or confiscation of your children, animals, or property.

  40. Reziac January 5, 2014 at 11:03 am #

    Part Three:

    As to whether you can be falsely accused of ‘bad touching’ your own children, everyone should read about the McMartin Preschool case, and the subsequent studies that demonstrated just how suggestible young children ARE, and how with the right cues, you can get them to say just about anything.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McMartin_preschool_trial

    http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/mcmartin/mcmartin.html

    and in particular,
    http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/mcmartin/mcmartinaccount.html

  41. Reziac January 5, 2014 at 11:23 am #

    Someone says,

    “if we are advocating for parents to make their own choices about how to care for their kids in any given situation, why are we pandering to the “busybodies” and locking kids into cars in the first place?”

    The problem is that the busybodies have the power to take your children away from you, which puts you in a position of being forced to retreat. You have something to lose; they don’t. And because it’s more about the power to confiscate than about the children’s welfare, there will never be a point where you can satisfy their notions of how you should raise your children. As someone else points out, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, despite that you probably know a great deal more about what’s right for your children than all the busybodies combined.

    I don’t have kids but I’m a professional dog breeder and trainer, which puts me in exactly the same situation of being subject to the same kind of witch-hunting and moral panic. Somehow the busybodies, who know nothing about animal husbandry, are assumed to have superior judgment about animal welfare. Therefore I live with the constant threat that someone will file a complaint and my animals will be confiscated — all because what through long experience I know is the right way to do things for dogs, doesn’t always look like rainbows and butterflies to someone who has little or no experience.

    Think about that next time you feel an urge to report someone to animal control — you are feeding the very same beast that one day may come for your children.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_panic

  42. Reziac January 5, 2014 at 11:33 am #

    Sorry to clog up the comments but I find I have more to say :)

    Someone says, “If you really want to emulate [the Good Samaritan], you would attempt to find the parents and/or discreetly watch the children until the mother returned, resorting to such drastic interventions as calling the police only if the children were in immediate danger.”

    Ahem. If the children are in immediate danger, you do something about it yourself. You don’t call the police and wait for them to arrive. If it’s actually an emergency, remember that police response is rarely under 20 minutes, and in larger cities can be 4 hours or maybe never. If those children are actually in mortal distress, by then it’s far too late.

    Not willing to involve yourself that way? Then maybe it wasn’t such an emergency in the first place — thus no need to call the cops.

  43. Reziac January 5, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    One other thing and then I’ll shut up, but I was reminded by something on the Nat’l Assn. of Parents site:

    If CPS arrives and demands to take your children without a warrant, they are potentially in violation of Federal law. You may want to post this statute on your door (I can tell you from experience that on a No Trespassing sign, it will stop a fishing expedition cold):

    U.S. Code, Title 18, Sections 241 and 242

    The statutes themselves:

    http://www.lneilsmith.org/18usc.html

    A good layman’s explanation of the statutes:

    http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/civilrights/federal-statutes

    If you really feel threatened, call a Federal marshal. They take a dim view of such activities.

  44. anonymous this time January 5, 2014 at 4:03 pm #

    What I mean is if we’re damned if we do lock the kids inside the car with the windows up and the engine running, and we’re damned if we leave them inside the car with the windows down (and preferably parked in the shade, which may mean OUT OF YOUR DIRECT LINE OF SIGHT WHILE IN THE STORE OR DRY CLEANERS, why are we defaulting to windows up, engine running, and doors locked?

    To me, it seems the less safe choice, when you look at it statistically. I can bet there are a hell of a lot more cases of kids putting the car into gear somehow when left alone than kids getting snatched out of vehicles, or being the “victims” of a carjacking or car theft-style “abduction.”

    What I want to get across is this: if it’s too hot to leave the kids in the car, even with the windows down, well, then, there you go. I guess you’ll have to take your lumps when the authorities go ballistic and tell you that you’re “endangering” them, even if the A/C is on, because oh oh oh, the engine might fail and they’ll be cooked alive, or the four-year-old might mess with the A/C and turn it off. Whatever.

    But this lady is saying no, it WASN’T too hot to leave the kids in the car with the windows down and the door unlocked, she CHOSE to lock them in with the engine running because it seemed “safer.” And this begs the question: safer in terms of actual safety, or safer in terms of catching hell from busybodies who walk by?

    My point is that we are NOT safe from busybodies who walk by, whatever we do. So we might as well leave the windows down, since that IS safer in most cases where it’s not 110º outside and you’re parked in direct sun. Or did I miss something? When A/C is only required if you have the car shut up tight, why do it? It seems to me there is less to go wrong with the windows down, busybodies be damned.

  45. SteveS January 5, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

    It sounds like this group is trying to raise funds to help her hire an attorney. If she can’t afford one, doesn’t Arizona have some kind of indigent defense system? If that isn’t a choice, then I would tell her to do whatever she can to hire an attorney. Use a credit card, borrow money from relative, pawn some of your stuff, etc.

    About 25% of what I do is criminal defense and I see an unfortunate number of people that try to do it themselves. They don’t fare well, even with sympathetic judges. They often accept bad plea deals and end up with some very long term negative consequences.

    As an aside, I agree with the post above that says don’t talk to the police. If you are being arrested or questioned, shut up. You have nothing to gain and a heck of a lot to lose if you do talk.

  46. dan January 6, 2014 at 3:35 am #

    I too have left my little one in the car for a few minutes. As it turns out, she’s been fine. Every time. On a hot day, I leave the key in and the AC on. I also happen to be a lawyer (sorry, not in your state).

    One of the things all lawyers learn in the first year of law school is a formula concocted by Judge Learned Hand.

    Hand had a wonderfully easy way to decide when a course of action was negligent. You multiply the magnitude of the potential harm by the probability of that harm occurring. Then, you figure out the cost of preventing that harm. It’s a crude cost/benefit analysis. And, importantly, it’s always retrospective: the bad event has already happened. We’re just trying to figure out whether it was preventable. So you place yourself back in time, you figure out what a reasonable person would do: would a reasonable person have felt that the risk was great enough and likely enough that they should incur the cost of preventing the harm?

    (Standard disclaimer: I’m summarizing a theory and applying it to my own past behavior. This isn’t legal advice.)

    Regular adults do something like this calculation all the time.

    Let’s apply the Hand formula to the action of leaving a kid in a car:
    When I leave my child in the car for a minute, that’s because the “cost” to me of unbuckling the car seat, waking her up, taking her out, grabbing the diaper bag, etc. becomes greater than the benefit of knowing that she’s “safe” in my arms. But even this benefit of safety comes with an attendant cost: that errand that was going to take me 10 minutes in a store? Now, because I’m juggling a just-awakened toddler, it takes me 20, inconveniences other people, and depending on the volume of the toddler on this particular day, definitely does not contribute to the sum total of human happiness.
    Here’s the way I would present it to a judge: Your honor, it is true that there would be some risk in leaving a child alone in a car for a few minutes, because someone might break the window and take my child. That risk is so infinitesimally improbable that you can disregard it entirely. However unlikely, I need to consider the magnitude of the possible harm: if someone broke the glass a few feet from the store, in full view of this retailer’s CCTV cameras, I would be devastated. But I don’t think the abductor would have gotten far in just a couple minutes, especially with a police officer hanging around. Furthermore, I weighed that risk against the chance that both my child and I would be shot by a madman who decided to randomly shoot up a cash register line at JCPenney. I decided that the child was safer in the car, and this is an example of sane, rational, decision-making from a careful, conscientious, loving parent.
    Here’s where there’s real risk to society: the officer of the peace who has required me to be here in court today. Given the number of car accidents that occur each day in this country, there is a slim but real chance that I might be hurt or killed by another driver on my way to court or on my way home. That chance is slim, but it is FAR more likely than the idea that my child might be taken from the car just a few feet from the CCTV cameras of a huge retail store.
    Your honor, if, heaven forbid, I am hurt or killed on my way home, who will hold you accountable for depriving my child of a loving parent?

    (This is, again and emphatically, not legal advice. Nicole’s comment is spot on.)

  47. Donna January 6, 2014 at 9:48 am #

    “If CPS arrives and demands to take your children without a warrant, they are potentially in violation of Federal law.”

    This is not cut and dry. I haven’t researched it, but I would be very surprised if all states didn’t allow, by law, CPS the ability to remove children from their parents without court involvement. In my state, DFCS can take custody of children without court involvement, but there must be a hearing to show cause within 72 hours (which is rarely really 72 hours). The reason should be obvious. There are bad parents and judges aren’t always available 24/7. A toddler walking down the street naked on New Year’s Eve has to be addressed whether a sober judge can be found or not. (Yes, that happened in my town this New Year’s and it was not Baby New Year).

    However, if your children are in your home, CPS does need either permission or a warrant to enter that home (or exigent circumstances). But how messy do you want this to get in front of your children?

    As for whether you MUST talk to CPS. Of course not. Whether you SHOULD cooperate with CPS is another story entirely.
    If you are ever in this situation, I would highly recommend contacting a local attorney specializing in CPS cases immediately after the initial encounter with police. Don’t just hope it will all blow over. Get a consultation BEFORE CPS ever comes knocking. It should be free or fairly cheap. If CPS never shows up, you’ve gotten information which is never bad to have. If CPS does show up, you know what to do and maybe even have an attorney that you can call to come to your house to help you deal with CPS.

  48. SteveS January 6, 2014 at 11:04 am #

    I agree with Donna. I have several decades of experience working with CPS and people should not talk with them without having consulted with an attorney. If it were my client, I would be present during the interview. Many of the CPS workers I have known are decent people that follow the law, but I have also known an unfortunate number that ignore the law and substitute their own notion of what is correct parenting for this. Considering the risk in dealing with CPS, I would be very cautious.

  49. Kay January 6, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

    Beth, I mentioned my thought on the matter of planning ahead because they are small children and one of them was home sick. I’d probably do my best beforehand to make sure it would go smoothly and quickly. But again, hindsight is 20/20. I also think there is a difference between a grocery store and a small shop at a strip mall but those circumstances weren’t given.

    Why do parents lock the car with the windows up and A/C running? The busy bodies would say it is an admission of guilt, and I would say it is, guilt for something that should be normal but there has been a societal shift over the last couple decades regarding children’s safety. I do believe the parents whose common sense prevails do it to appease the public. It makes me angry that society is forcing people to do things that they think are impractical and over the top and they are criminalizing something that never happened. But even at that, there is no such thing as a fluke accident or incident anymore when it comes to children’s safety, because if your children were tied to your hip nothing would ever happen.

    But again, the parents who know their children, know how they’ll behave and trust them, even at young ages, they aren’t given a chance by today’s society.

    If children are so incapable of knowing ANYTHING until they become adults, then why are five year olds suspended from school for pointing a finger and saying bang? Wouldn’t that be the school’s fault since they were under their care when it happened? Children are helpless creatures that are completely incapable of learning how to wait in a car either, right? That is what society is telling us now.

  50. Reziac January 8, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

    SteveS, that’s my point. Your first words to CPS should be “I want a lawyer”. Anything else you say can and will be used against you. You can’t win by explaining what a good parent you are, either — in their eyes, ALL parents are potentially ‘bad’, and their job is to prove it so. (Because if they don’t find enough bad parents, their jobs, and their budget, are not justified, and may be cut. Incidentally, animal control departments work the same way, and have been known to blatantly fabricate evidence.)

    It doesn’t matter if the individual state (or more often, the local regulatory agency) has given them the ‘right’ to invade your home — it’s still unconstitutional; and when they do so as a fishing expedition or in the guise of “checking on the child”, it is a violation of the Federal statute. It won’t make them go away, but it can buy you some time. No good decision is ever made in a panic. And part of their job IS to get you panicked.

  51. Mom in California January 8, 2014 at 2:39 pm #

    This morning I went to take my dog to get fixed at a new vet. At my other vet, it was always a run in and run out thing, so I left my 19 month old in his seat, with his cars, in a locked car and did have the ignition on (I have a locking device I can take with me) as I thought it was a one second trip. I walked in and got the paperwork and realized it was going to be a while so I ran back out and got my son only to be greeted by 2 woman shouting at me about how illegal that was and one said she should call CPS. I told them both thanks for their concern and grabbed my son and went in. Upon exiting the building again, I was greeted at my car by 2 police officers (another cop car showed up shortly after). One cop seemed sympathetic and understanding, but “bad cop” made me feel like I was a horrible person who put my dog’s life above my child’s (even though that wasn’t the case at all). I am mortified and so upset as I love my child very much, but choose to not live in complete fear of every what if. Heat was not a factor at all and my child was completely content in his seat. I’m glad I’m not alone in this. I wish people would be more polite and talk to me rather than automatically assume I’m a horrible mother.

  52. Donna January 9, 2014 at 7:31 am #

    “Your first words to CPS should be “I want a lawyer”.”

    The rights to remain silent, not have your silence used against you and an attorney are criminal rights. A CPS investigation is NOT a criminal proceeding. While laws may vary by state, in my state, you are NOT entitled to a lawyer until your children are actually removed from your custody and a lack of cooperation CAN be used against you, including as a basis to get a court order to enter your home and remove your children for the purposes of talking to them.

    It is infinitely harder to get your children out of CPS custody than to keep them out of CPS custody. CPS really is not jonesing to find and pay for foster homes for your children. They already have too many kids and too few resources. But once they have them, they are very hesitant to return them (for the exact same reasons as we are always discussing here – no mistakes are acceptable when dealing with children so if they return a child that is later harmed, they are crucified no matter how reasonable or legally necessary the return was).

    THIS is exactly why you should (a) never take legal advice from lay people, and (b) seek genuine local legal advice the second that you think that something may be brewing and not wait until CPS comes knocking. You need to know what to do BEFORE CPS comes because early actions can screw up your case. This is not as cut-and-dry as you should never talk to police who are investigating you for a crime.