My NY Post Piece about Kids Waiting in Cars

Readers — Here’s my piece that’s in today’s New York Post! The site doesn’t take comments, but if you want to write a letter to the editor, drop one to: letters@nypost.com.

NJ court takes ‘child neglect’ to extremes

by Lenore Skenazy

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. …

Read the rest here!

Unattractive clip art that nonetheless illustrates the story.

Unattractive clip art that nonetheless illustrates the story.

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31 Responses to My NY Post Piece about Kids Waiting in Cars

  1. kate January 21, 2014 at 10:06 am #

    “We need not describe at any length the parade of horribles that could have attended [the child’s] neglect.” There are lots of horrible things that can happen while a parent is right there! They could both be hit by a runaway car while crossing the sidewalk. An armed robber might enter the building and take them hostage. A meteor could hit the ground right where the two are standing.

    Is it really less of a risk to walk on the sidewalk or parking lot than to leave a child in the car? Perhaps the only reason he wouldn’t list the terrible consequences of this awful parenting is that it would sound absolutely ridiculous!

  2. C. S. P. Schofield January 21, 2014 at 10:36 am #

    This idiocy is based on the growing trend of outlawing behaviors that, at the extreme end, are dangerous. Children left in hot cars for long periods of time are at risk, so leaving children in cars becomes a crime. This is like saying that since swimming alone puts children at risk of drowning, parents who allow their child to become wet are criminals.

  3. Brenna January 21, 2014 at 11:48 am #

    This morning I dropped my son off at daycare. There was another mom dropping hers off at the same time, only she was carrying her infant into daycare as well. It was five degrees below zero this morning, with a wind chill of about 20 below. The (very small) parking lot was entirely covered with packed snow, and quite slick. The furthest parking spot from the front door is maybe 20 yards. Maybe. It what world is it a better idea to haul the baby into freezing weather over slick terrain, rather than leave her in a nice warm car for the 3-4 minutes that drop-off takes??

    I agree with CSP’s analogy; this law makes absolutely no sense.

  4. anonymous this time January 21, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    Thank you for being our voice, Lenore. So grateful you have a platform to broadcast this view publicly, where it will be seen.

  5. Lola January 21, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    I only hope that these judges are forced to take care of a couple of toddlers for a week on their own- see if they manage to do everything by their book…

  6. SKL January 21, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    I hope the discussion helps to get the pendulum swinging the other way.

  7. Kerry January 21, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    I seem to remember my Dad living my brother and me in an unheated car (with a blanket) in freezing Wisconsin winters a few times while he ran a quick errand. And he’s a minister and social worker!

  8. Christine Hancock January 21, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

    A week or so ago, my family was loading the car after shopping and we heard a horn blowing in the distance, kind of annoying. It was just a boy about nine or ten years of age. My husband got so angry.

    “You don’t leave a child in a car!”, he almost shouted.

    “Well, why is that?” I asked.

    “Some one could kidnap him”

    This was one lovers argument I thought would be fun.

    “Oh really?! Who besides his parents would want him? He’s being brat. I know I wouldn’t want him. A random kidnapping is as rare as a lightning strike”

    “Well something could happen. He could freeze to death and kids have died in the summer heat”

    “Above thirty degrees and below sixty degrees, I hardly think this nine year old is in any danger. Besides, I’ll bet he’s perfectly capable of opening the door and going into Wally’s should the weather suddenly become extreme”

    “Well, it’s just the times we live in… my parents never left me in the car”.

    “My parents left me in the car all the time. I survived and nothing bad ever happened”

    My sweet husband got pretty quiet after that. Don’t worry. We still love eachother very, very much.

  9. anonymous mom January 21, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

    One of the most infuriating things about this is that, while there are no or minimal dangers to leaving a child in a car in NJ in May (I recognize that leaving a child in a car in AZ in the summer is a different thing altogether), there are enormous, well-researched, and well-known negative consequences to putting a child in foster care. From every single study I’ve seen, the negative outcomes of being placed in even a loving foster home are so negative that a child will fare better in their family of origin in nearly all cases, even when drug abuse, neglect, and abuse are present. Unless the child’s actual life is at risk, they will probably fare better as adults being raised in a home with an abusive drug addict who is their permanent guardian (a biological or adoptive parent, a relative who cared for them since birth) than with a foster family. The foster care system, while well-intentioned–and while most of the families involved are wonderful and loving–leads to very negative outcomes for many kids.

    So if it’s even a real question of whether we should put the child of a neglectful drug addict into foster care, why would anybody even consider CPS involvement for a family where the children were healthy, well-cared-for, and not abused or neglected? The idea of even considering foster placement for the children in this case is not only outrageous but illogical. If the actual well-being of the child is the concern, I see no way that any sane or rational human being could conclude that a mother leaving a sleeping toddler in a car for 10 minutes is somehow more harmful than placing a child into foster care. (I do realize that the child wasn’t placed, but in some cases like this, they are, and it was an option CPS was considering even here.) That is complete and utter lunacy that ignores everything we know about the things that actually in reality affect children negatively in order to indulge in paranoid fantasies with no evidence to back them up.

  10. SKL January 21, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

    I remember what the cop said after I was reported for leaving my 2nd-grade daughters in the car for 3 minutes.

    I tried to make light of the matter and said, “it isn’t hot out.” His response: “that’s not the point.”

    Makes me wonder, what *is* the point, then? Kinda wish I had the guts to ask, but I really just wanted to get away from him ASAP.

  11. Papilio January 21, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

    Several lightyears off-topic, but, Rahelen? How is that pronounced? And if you have any idea, what is the history/story behind that name? It’s obviously a Rachel variation, but how and where did it develop?

    (Internet doesn’t seem to know – I just googeled ‘Rahelen name origin’ and the first hit was ‘1 person named Rahelen Skenazy in the US’…)

  12. J.T. Wenting January 21, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    “Makes me wonder, what *is* the point, then? Kinda wish I had the guts to ask, but I really just wanted to get away from him ASAP.”

    The point is improving their arrest and prosecution statistics so they stand out and get more budget.
    And idiotic, counter intuitive, “laws” like this help do that as people aren’t even aware they’re breaking the law so they’re easy prey.

    Ever crossed the street away from a marked pedestrian crossing? In ever more places that’s now “felony jaywalking”. Yes, crossing the street is now a felony unless it’s at a government licensed spot.
    And there are millions such laws and regulations, mostly on a local level (but ever more at national levels) all over the world, for no other reason than to turn as many people as possible into criminals, to have something you can use to arrest anyone you want when you want to get to them.

  13. lollipoplover January 21, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

    I guess my mom was a criminal too because she left us in the car all the time. All 10 of us turned out fine.

    I left my youngest in the car the week before Christmas. She had the norovirus (a nasty strain- went through our whole family within days and everyone who came in contact with us) and had been vomiting for hours and was pale and dehyrated. She needed pedialyte so I left her there with a bucket (which she needed- threw up twice while I was gone) while I dashed through the store.
    Now if I was in New Jersey, I would drag her with me (leave bucket in the car) as she spews vomit in the store, exposing germs and virus everywhere, get my pedialyte, check out while withstanding glares from rational folks who say “Why on Earth would you drag a sick child through the store?!” to which I would reply, “It’s New Jersey, It’s the law. Common Sense does not apply here.”

  14. SKL January 21, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

    Yes, I remember the time my 5yo was puking while my other 5yo needed to be dropped off at school (tardy, so I had to walk her in). “Where is E?” “In the car, covered in vomit.” My look dared anyone to mess with that. Nobody did.

  15. Kay January 21, 2014 at 4:35 pm #

    I hope that judge reads this article and realizes he lacks critical thinking and is over-reaching! I also hope the mother appeals this ruling.

  16. Andy January 22, 2014 at 3:55 am #

    @J.T. Wenting That is weird thing to criminalize and weird rule. Isnt there some rule about road size or distance to closest crossing?

    Here, you have to use crossing if it is within 50metres or something like that. Otherwise you can cross if it is safe to do so.

  17. Coccinelle January 22, 2014 at 8:49 am #

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

    THAT’s the problem. People who forget their sleeping kids in their car all day because they changed their routine for a reason or another are not going to stop doing this ERROR because it’s illegal now! It’s completely inane to me.

    We don’t have this problem (yet) where I live, but the child protection services are so quick to remove a baby from their parents if they go to the hospital with suspect signs, that I actually fear to bring my baby to the hospital. Let me tell you, that’s not healthy at all. And my heart weeps for the many parents who were wrongly accused. I never thought that innocent until proven guilty was not true where I live but I had a sad wake up call with that issue because they ARE guilty until proven innocent and that’s the worst kind of justice.

    Like anonymous mom said, the kids statistically fair worst in foster care and now they put babies as young as a few weeks in foster care! Babies that had all their meets met by their parents, it’s so infuriating! It makes me mad. I feel so powerless.

  18. SKL January 22, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    Yeah, and besides, isn’t it already illegal to leave your kid to bake in a car all day? If laws deterred people from making deadly mistakes, why aren’t the current laws enough?

  19. Sheila January 22, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

    I do beg to differ with the commentators a little bit here. the person in question was a toddler, not someone who could easily get themselves out of a car. And there have been numerous cases of kids being left in cars in either too hot or too cold weather, particularly when the adult responsible thought their errand would take “just a minute” and in fact took much longer due to circumstances beyond control. It can be hard to gauge how long a line up is or how long it might take to locate an item. And it actually takes very little time for a young child in a locked car in hot weather (or cold weather) to become sick and die. I am not quite as worried about kidnappers, but every summer see cases of kids locked in cars getting sick or dying that i understand why judges would be concerned. In fact, i would be more lenient if, when the kids are asleep safely in their room, had to nip out to the corner store for 5 or 10 minutes than leaving kids in a car.

  20. Sheila January 22, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    I don’t think it was necessary to put the child in protective custody though.

  21. SKL January 22, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

    But Sheila, where is the logic in saying that if an errand takes longer than expected, the parent will let the child die rather than leave the line? In what world?

    This happened to me this past summer. I left my kids in the car and ran in to buy a sandwich for them at Panera. It was very hot and sunny. I had had the AC on, but had to turn it off when I left the car. So the wait was longer than expected, and guess what – I realized this and had not forgotten my kids’ situation, so I went out there and ran the AC some more before going back in to get the sandwich. Not really rocket science.

    Parents have to do this kind of thing all the time, don’t they? We are always adjusting our original plans because sh!t happens and our kids’ lives / health are more important to us than most things.

    But if it’s logical to think that any significant percentage of parents are likely to think “MUST STAY IN THE LINE NO MATTER WHAT” while their kids are in the car, then why not apply this same logic to every other time a parent might temporarily walk away from a child? Like, to go stir dinner on the stove while the baby is in the playroom. You could get delayed by a spill or a minor fire and then Anything can happen! To go to the bathroom – what if you found yourself constipated!? Anything could happen! Walking a tot down the street to the park – you could have a heart attack or something. Anything could happen! This is not logic, it’s crazy.

  22. John January 22, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

    This morning on Fox & Friends, they talked about this case in New Jersey of the 18 month old child being left in the car alone and the mother being placed on the “child abuse registry” because of it. So they had a fair and balanced debate between a lady who agreed with the Judge’s decision and with the law and another lady who disagreed with it. The lady who disagreed with the law pointed out that a child is anyone under the age of 18 and that according to this law, a parent could be put on that registry merely for allowing their 17.5-year-old child to wait in the car while they ran into the bank or in to a convenience store. So the other lady countered by saying that the Judge has leeway to use some discretion in this matter so she probably wouldn’t need to worry about a much older child.

    BUT this doesn’t eradicate the fact that because of this law and the way it is written, a zeolous police officer could STILL arrest a parent merely for allowing her 17.5-year-old son or daughter to wait in the car while she made a quick run in to the post office! Just for that she would then need to stand in front of a Judge only to see him shake his head and throw the case out. But how ridiculous and unecessarily stressful for the parent would that be and what a waste of time and court cost it would be too?!

    People who are so gung-ho on these “child protection” laws don’t seem to think of things like that.

  23. lollipoplover January 22, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

    @Sheila- you think it’s fine to leave s toddler alone at home sleeping for the 5-10 minute errand vs. in the car?
    Are you serious?!

    Household injuries are one of the top reasons kids under age 3 visit the ER, and nearly 70% of the children who die from unintentional injuries at home are 4 years old and under. Young kids have the highest risk of being injured at home because that’s where they spend most of their time.

    All parenting decisions involve assessing risk. Unfortunately, it’s not a black and white issue. But your choice is statistically worse than leaving toddler in a car for the same 5-10 minutes.

  24. Warren January 22, 2014 at 5:57 pm #

    @Sheila
    Really? Do you think that once a car is up to warmth, or down to cool, that in 10 mins. enough of a temperature change will cause a child to get sick and die?

    My kids should all be dead. They play outside in the same clothing for hours.

  25. renee January 22, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

    My dd (12y) just started watching ‘Dance Moms’ on TV. The show is horrible (think tots and tiaras). If a judge can convict a mom for walking away for 5-10 min and NOTHING HAPPENED, how can the parents of these kids get away with child abuse on national tv? Because it is on TV and therefore ok? These kids are as trapped in the dance drama as a toddler is in a car seat. I know it is ‘reality tv’, but my dd is a figure skater. I have seen these sorts of moms in action. Not allowing their kids to quit when tired and then getting injured, hyperventilating due to exhaustion and stress, or plain stating they are quitting and the moms refusing and not allowing it! This is abuse. Psychological, mental and emotional, maybe physical by insisting they push beyond what they are able. Why are these parents allowed to flaunt this abuse on TV?

  26. Donna January 22, 2014 at 10:03 pm #

    Lollipoplover – I am slightly with Sheila on this one (actually I think both are perfectly fine in the right circumstances). I’ve left my daughter sleeping in the house almost every night since she was a toddler and I am gone for more than 5-10 minutes. Single mom and the dog needs to get walked before bed. I’ve never left her sleeping in the car (although I’ve left her awake).

    It really has nothing to do with risk of injury and everything to do with the risk of her waking up while I am gone. I suppose that my view is clouded by giving birth to the one baby known to man who didn’t sleep in the car, but the odds of the child waking in the car seem much higher than the odds of a child waking when nicely tucked into his own bed.

  27. Let Her Eat Dirt January 23, 2014 at 6:12 am #

    WHAT?! This is nuts, though not entirely surprising. I have endured all kinds of withering stares for leaving my sleeping infant in a car while I pick another one up at preschool. (Though as a dad, rather than a mom, there is generally more pity at my incompetence than vitriol at my neglect.) Yes, I understand that leaving him in there for an hour in the hot sun in a car with closed windows is a problem. But five minutes in a well-ventilated car? Let’s all stop hyper-ventilating.

    These judges may have children, but they obviously never had to take care of them or run errands with them.

    Let Her Eat Dirt
    http://www.lethereatdirt.com
    A dad’s take on raising tough, adventurous kids

    Let

  28. anonymous mom January 23, 2014 at 9:57 am #

    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 that were designed originally to be lists of people who, if a young child went missing, might want to be 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.

  29. Warren January 23, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    @Let Her Eat Dirt

    Those busybodies that call 911 or will lecture a mother, are for the most part huge cowards. That is why as a father, they will not say anything to you. Pure fear and less to do with thinking you are incompetent.

  30. Warren January 23, 2014 at 10:22 am #

    Let’s face facts. Be it elected officials, law enforcement, or any gov’t agency, the appearance of doing something is more important to them than actually doing something. It is cheaper and easier to just make this blanket law, than to do the research, gather information and come up with rational decision.

  31. SJH January 24, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    Leaving the grocery store today, I saw a car with a couple kids in it, waiting.
    The car was running (because it’s bitterly cold out),
    and the kids were sitting quietly in their seats, even the boy big enough to (gasp!) unbuckle himself.
    Far from calling the police, I smiled to myself as I drove away, silently applauding that mom (or dad) for having the courage to do the reasonable thing.