you may remember this case — I wrote about it here: A mom left her son in the car for what everyone agrees was under 10 minutes to run an errand. The toddler slept through the whole “ordeal,” but the mom was found guilty of neglect, even upon appeal, when the three appellate judges ruled that they didn’t have to list the “parade of horribles” that COULD have happened to the child.
you may remember this case — I wrote about it here: A mom left her son in the car for what everyone agrees was under 10 minutes to run an errand. The toddler slept through the whole “ordeal,” but the mom was found guilty of neglect, even upon appeal, when the three appellate judges ruled that they didn’t have to list the “parade of horribles” that COULD have happened to the child.
Which is, of course, fantasy as policy again: Just because the judges could imagine a kidnapping, or carjacking, or a big bad wolf, doesn’t mean that these are at all likely. They aren’t. As the Washington Post just wrote: There’s never been a safer time to be a kid in America. What’s more, my own book cites the stat that if for some reason you WANTED your kid to be abducted by a stranger, the amount of time you’d have to leave him outside, unattended, for this to be statistically likely to happen is 600,000 years.
Not 10 minutes.
So to accuse parents of negligence for not acting as if a far-fetched, horrific danger is imminent all the time, well, you could arrest me because I have knives in my kitchen. What if my children threw them at each other? What if they used them to behead my cat? (I don’t have a cat, but you could fantasize about that, too, once reality is no longer a barrier to prosecution.)
Here’s how the wonderful legal scholar David Pimentel explains what is up:
The case involved a mother who left her sleeping child in a car for a few minutes while she dashed into the store. It was a cool, overcast day. The car was locked, with the windows cracked, and with the engine running, presumably to keep the car’s climate-control system engaged.Â The mother could see the car from the store, and when she saw police cars arrive, she dashed out, only to be arrested for child endangerment..A thorough investigation showed that in all other respects she was a good mother, and not a threat to the health and safety of any of her four children, so the investigation was closed and all criminal charges dropped. But because the incident was confirmed, she was labeled a child abuser and included on New Jersey’s child abuse central registry.Â .She challenged the finding that she was a child abuser, and requested a hearing in which she could demonstrate that her child was not, in fact,Â â€œunreasonablyâ€ exposed to â€œsubstantial risk,â€ posing â€œimminent dangerâ€ to the childâ€™s condition (all factors required by the statute). The court denied her request for a hearing, saying she had no right to defend herself against the charges, because her action was so obviously “grossly negligent.” The court said the imagined dangers spoke for themselves: â€œWe need not describe at any length the parade of horribles that could have attended (this) neglect.â€ The court relied on earlier cases where a child had actually come to harm, without distinguishing that this case involved merely a perceived risk of harm.Â .The mother appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court, with us (I and Lenore Skenazy) filing an amicus brief on behalf of the mother, and the Court granted review. This case was argued just this week in Trenton. We remain hopeful that the Court will uphold the mother’s right to defend herself, and that it will allow the lower court to consider the reasonableness of the mother’s action, the likelihood of harm, the imminence of the danger, before labeling her as a child abuser, stigmatizing her for life and making it virtually impossible to ever to get a job working with children, to adopt a child, etc.Â .If the N.J. Supreme Court upholds the lower court, child-left-in-car cases in New Jersey will be very straightforward. Even if the investigation shows that no criminal child endangerment occured (so charges are dropped), absent extenuating circumstances, it will be virtually automatic that the parent will be branded as a “child abuser” for the rest of his or her life. Not only is the parent presumed guilty, the parent is not even entitled to a hearing to prove his or her innocence.Â .We think that parents are entitled to some discretion in making risk-assessments for their kids. And that even if parents occasionally misjudge a situation (not to say that this mother’s parenting judgment that day was necessarily erroneous, but even if it were), they should be entitled to an opportunity to defend their parenting choices, in a hearing, before being labeled as a child abuser on the state registry.Â .The reasoning is spelled out in a little more detail in the op-edÂ I wrote last year after the Court of Appeals rendered its decision.Â .Prof. David PimentelOhio Northern University College of Law
To label all parents as “negligent” because they let their kids wait in the car during an errand is just like labeling the Meitivs in Maryland “negligent” for letting their kids go outside unsupervised: Nothing bad DID happen to those kids as they walked home from the park. Nothing bad was LIKELY to happen to the kids — we are at a 50-year crime low and Silver Spring is hardly a hotbed of crime. It was recently voted “the most caring”Â suburb in America. Â But because some cops and CPS workers could IMAGINE something TERRIBLE happening, the parents are under investigation.
Fantasy cannot be the basis for policy. If it is, any made-up idea can be used as rationale to lock folks up or put them on a list.
Parents Â must be allowed to make decisions — even ones that others consider sub-optimal — so long as they are not putting their children in immediate, obvious, and indisputable harm’s way….
Like letting them get anywhere near those delusional New Jersey appellate court judges. Â – L
i disagree. It isn’t safe to leave your children in the car.
I’ve read news stories of babies who died because of the heat after their mothers left them in the car.
Yes, but in those stories, was the child left for only 10 minutes on a cool day with the windows cracked in view of the parent? You may be right… But in the stories I’ve heard of something bad ACTUALLY happening, a child was left for extended time and/or in extreme temperatures. Judgement is required.
Leaving a baby in the car on a warm day for an extended period of time and letting a 5 year old wait in the car on a cool morning rather than making her run into day care to drop off a younger child are two very different things. My oldest doesn’t like to go in while her sister gets dropped off. She is directly in front of the office window and the director knows she’s there. She is there for (at most) 10 min. We’re in NJ. Should my husband and I now be labelled child abusers because she’s a loner who wants to wait by herself?
@Melissa Semra – Again, because something has happened, or could happen, does not make other circumstances dangerous.
Children have choked to death on hot dogs, but I still let my kids eat hot dogs… Dangerous? Neglectful? Do we make decisions based on what *might* happen, or what is likely to happen? A friend lost her husband at a picnic because a tree branch fell and struck him – but, I still go outside. Do we worry about worst case scenarios, or use evidence to guide our decisions?
Do you know what the temperature was on the day in question? Was there risk of hyperthermia? If you don’t know, and if the temperature was not dangerously high – then, your point is moot. Life is not without risk, and nothing that we do can make it without risk.
All risk cannot be eliminated. The importance of knowing the ACTUAL risk of harm coming to a child as a result of any one parenting decision cannot be stressed enough. The reason that it makes the news when a child is kidnapped from or dies in a hot car is BECAUSE IT IS RARE. If it happened every time, it wouldn’t be news.
Get something straight. NOT EVERY CAR IS A HOT CAR.
Nobody here is advocating for leaving a child in a car when it is ACTUALLY dangerous. That said there are far many more occassions in which there is no danger, to a child left to wait in a vehicle.
“A thorough investigation showed that in all other respects she was a good mother, and not a threat to the health and safety of any of her four children, so the investigation was closed and all criminal charges dropped. But because the incident was confirmed, she was labeled a child abuser and included on New Jerseyâ€™s child abuse central registry.”
She never endangered the child. The charges were dropped.
Why, oh why would she be considered a child abuser??
THIS is why so many Americans have serious problems understanding CPS and state laws that ruin the lives of GOOD parents for no reason. The charges were dropped! But she can’t ever get a job in childcare or volunteer at her kids school and carries this Scarlet Letter around with her when she did nothing wrong.
EVERY parent who raised a child in the 70’s and 80’s would be on this registry for life. This is sheer and utter nonsense and people need to get a grip.
Please spend taxpayer money on prosecuting REAL not imagined child abusers and not moms running errands.
Melissa – others have said this before, but I will say it again because it is SO VERY IMPORTANT. Not all cars are hot cars. The cases where children die are because they have been left there for hours, generally when a parent forgets they are there (and yes, it could happen to you, so don’t get all high-horsey).
For example, I will never, ever believe that it is inherently safer for me to unbuckle my sleeping baby, take them out of a warm car, and walk over icy sidewalks in -30 degree windchill weather to avoid leaving them safely in a car for the 5 minutes it takes to drop the older one off at preschool. Could someone decide at that moment to carjack my car? Sure, but much more likely is that I’m going to slip and fall and drop the baby. Risk assessment, not fantasy, needs to be UP TO THE PARENT.
Is @Melissa trolling?
The reality is simple: for every child who’s actually hurt by being left in a car unattended, HUNDREDS are hurt by being driven around in a car and getting in an accident.
If leaving a kid in a car a few minutes on a cool day is child abuse, driving him to the store is attempted murder.
I came here to post what Warren said, and I was going to use all caps too! But you know what? I’m going to do it anyway.
NOT ALL CARS ARE HOT. NOT ALL CLIMATES ARE HOT 24/7/365.
NO ONE HERE ADVOCATES LEAVING A CHILD IN A HOT CAR ON A HOT DAY. NO. One.
So, can we just take that out of the equation RIGHT NOW? When we talk about leaving a child in the car for a quick errand, we are NEVER talking about a hot car. Mmmmmkay??
So, I was at a small library in a quiet part of East Tucson. The library is adjacent to a police station. I needed to return some books to the outdoor book drop. There is nowhere to park very close, except illegally. So, instead I park far out in the lot with no cars around. I have my very trustworthy 7 year old girl in the car. She doesn’t want to get out, so I decided to run a little experiment. Her window all the way down. Keys with me. Beautiful 70 degree weather.
An older couple stared at me when they realized that the kid sticking her head out the window belongs to me and I’m walking away. But they said nothing. (I wish they had, I was ready.) They waited until I came back. I’m out of sight of my car for a split second to drop the books. And I felt a panic, like, What have I done?! The consequences! Not the consequences of leaving her in the car, but the consequences of strangers getting involved and mis-reading the situation! What if they had called the cops? What if a cop drove up and didn’t know I hadn’t been just at the book drop? Was it worth the risk?
She wasn’t in any danger from heat or messing about and crashing the car. They would have to explain that they think she was in danger of being kidnapped, which sounds just ridiculous.
I am much more worried about what busybodies would do to ruin our lives, if they disagree with my rational decisions.
*had been* just at the book drop
Well, she was negligent. Just think, they might have been in an injury accident driving to or from the store. Okay, that’s my sarcastic outburst for the day.
It won’t be long before everyone will be on a registry for some misconceived misconduct. There are many people on the sex offender registry who are innocent, falsely accused. But no one cares about that. Well you better start caring because you have no idea that you could be next on some type of government list if you aren’t already.
Let us pray this court is one that falls into the sane and responsible categories with a winning decision for the parents and for common sense. Hopefully they will overcome the wrong thinking of the lower court’s rulings.
Once upon a time parents used to make up fairy tales (don’t go walking in the woods alone or you might meet a witch or a wolf, don’t trust strangers because they may be witches or wolves or snakes, be careful or your baby may be taken by a witch or an evil fairy or a strange little man who helps you turn straw into gold.) Our modern day fairy tales have gotten out of hand.
But what if a meteor had fallen? An elephant stampede? A sudden attack of velociraptors?
Statistically the risks vary on the situation and the conditions, this one size fits all sentencing doesn’t do much good either.
Kim Barden nails it. These are modern day fairy tales. The big bad wolf has become the child abductor.
And if this “what might have happened” idiocy is allowed to stand, then no parent is safe, because absolutely anything might happen any time there is any sort of risk factor, such as knives in the kitchen (you keep your kitchen drawers safely LOCKED, don’t you?) or a car in the driveway (kids might accidentally lock themselves in and wind up cooked).
An adult just woke up and over coffee thought he might have missed something. Babies dying from heat in cars doesn’t happen when the weather is mild, the engine is running, the climate control is set, and the doors are locked. And 10 minutes is 10 minutes. Not ten hours.
Adults make adult decisions all the time. If they don’t, or can’t or aren’t allowed to by the state, then they have become infantilized.
I refer to “infant” as one for whom every decision must be made by someone else for sustenance of life.
And Gross Negligence may as well refer to absence of a gated community address, armed guards and patrolling Rotweillers, personal bodyguards, high-tech surveillance, and the armies of opportunists who milk that cow ’til the cows left home.
Someone said crime doesn’t pay. Even if that were so – for some, it pays large.
Even when crime goes down, it lurks and looms ever larger in adult night terrors.
I can stroll through Forest Hill the livelong day and observe herds of nannies coddling the offspring of the rich.
The rest of us mere mortals live our lives in the ‘other’ world. Attendent wage-slaves provide endless opportunity to avoid liability and litigation. The rest of us struggle without such amenities.
Ah – but these be different times. When even a magistrate cannot be trusted to weigh out the facts and come to an intelligent decision. Now where’s an adult when you need one?
But really…..any parent in the land could be defined as neglectful, and an abuser.
How’s that for a value-added population?
When I stroll past an unattended child, what I see is a fellow citizen. What I don’t see are the predatory lions, the Ripper-Jacks, the monsters, hobgoblins, and bogey-persons lurking thereabouts. That’s because they are just not there.
That public space happens to be crime-free.
Free also from the ghostly wails of CNN and FOX, televised crime drama and the allmighty press that prays for bleeds that leads.
I whistle past with my big-daddy adult undies on, happy in the knowledge that all is right in my little world. Mercy!
Mrs. Grundy used to be a comic book character. I laughed myself silly at how ridiculous she was. It never occurred to me back then that one day she would rise from the page and exact vengeance upon an unsuspecting public.
What happened to charges being dropped because there is no actual case?
The rule of law now decrees that 2+2=5? The math doesn’t add up.
Registries fill up computers, and all that RAM needs something to do with itself.
Idle fingers need keys to twiddle with.
A devil’s playground,methinks.
Grownups, by natural progression, often tend to gain experience in life. Understanding liklihood is how many of us earn our daily bread. Thus it has ever been. Back to basics. Fingers in wall sockets. Hands on hot burners.
Balance on bikes. And so it goes.
I don’t understand how it is suddenly unsafe to leave a child in a parked car, yet it is perfectly fine to drive said car on the highway. Haven’t we seen all the statistics on accidents and driving? Maybe is should be illegal to have a child in a moving car rather than the perfectly safe parked car!
Ah me……at your daughter’s age, I went to the library by myself. To get my own books. Library rules decreed that my double-bubble gum stayed on the railing outside. Not allowed inside (though I was, gumless.)
You and your daughter survived quite nicely. The only clear and present danger happened to be an older couple.
Probably as nice as apple pie – but in context – potential threat.
With pounding hearts and existential dread we ‘risk’ our adult decisions in the moment.
A split-second out of eyeshot, never entirely out of earshot, mere seconds away……..
and yet somehow still, not good enough. So we are led to believe.
I remember a time when in that very same scenario, it would have been a given that an older grandparent-ish couple would have smiled benign, swung into action, offered of their own kindly spirit of grace, and chatted warmish with said child until the parental return.
Yet the modern cynics frown upon such a state as this. So wise and wonderful.
Protection was bred into the populace. Not surgically removed, to be replaced by doubting heart transplants.
Trust is a public concept……..now evermore privatised.
Melissa….either you’re being sarcastic in your post OR you didn’t read the article very closely.
This is something that really should be decided by the legislature–not by the courts.
“It isnâ€™t safe to leave your children in the car”
But driving them around in a 2000 lb. steel cage at 70 mph is??
Ya know- calling ’em out like that.. not really a move that could endear the next set of judges to your POV…
Mellisa Semra, children have been known to drown in less than 2 inches of water – yet should you have children of your own- i expect you will immerse them in more water than that on a daily basis…and I’m good with that.
You know why- because you made a choice. Its a myth that we can save all the babies and we indulge in it at the cost of of future competant humans.
I don’t believe that if you can see the child and the weather is cool it should be a permanent blot on your record That being said the mother has to beware of all the well meaning people out there that think they are doing a good thing by calling the cops.
This is how they force parents to do what isn’t best for their own family. I’m glad folks are not taking it lying down.
I’ve mentioned more than once that what is happening in the U.S. — with everyone calling almost any behavior dangerous or offensive — is very much like what happened in Red China under Mao. Most of you reading this will not believe me, unless you’ve lived in China or read books by Chinese citizens who left the country.
If you read books, you might try this one:
Son of the Revolution Paperback ( by Liang Heng)
“That being said the mother has to beware of all the well meaning people out there that think they are doing a good thing by calling the cops.”
Sorry, but I’m past the point of believing that any of these people are well-meaning. And that includes the cops.
Seriously? Seriously????? Where is perspective????
I hate to overuse the Mommy Wars trope, but that’s how I lately think of most of these calls and behaviors: some warped Mommy Wars game.
@Steve- also Nazi Germany, in the very beginning, when they were “just” looking for a scapegoat.
From the “Always in Danger” file:
Last night, during another crappy Phillies game, a dad made an outstanding one-handed catch of a foul ball with his 7-month son strapped to his chest.
Honestly, it was the highlight of the game! Mike Schmidt was announcing the game and signed the ball for the family writing Happy Mother’s Day on the ball.
Yet the dad is getting grief for even GOING to the game with the baby because what if the ball hit the baby??!
Comments range from “Call Child Services” to “The baby should never have been at the game”. What should be an awesome Mother’s Day memory for this family is now turning into attack on their parenting…for going to a ball game! Grrr.
Melissa is most definitely trolling:
“Help Me Prosper was created in 2012 to help new online entrepreneurs in building their business.”
Fight the good fight, Lenore.
Your efforts go far beyond book, blog, TV shows and appearances… you are right in there, in the heart and soul of what is going sideways in our culture, our laws, our enforcement of said laws.
Whether or not you agree with leaving a child in the car on a cool day for less than five minutes is good or bad, I think the point here is the legal precedence that this case could create. Anyone could be labeled a “child abuser” based on the possibility that something bad could happen as a result of the action. So, as Lenore writes, if you have sharp knives in your home, you could be putting your children in danger because they could access one of those knives and hurt themselves or each other with a knife. Or if you let your child ride his or her bike on the sidewalk outside your home (even if you are watching), he or she could get hit by a car, and somehow you’d be labeled negligent because you had the nerve to let your child ride the bike. Imagination could serve as legal proof of a crime or neglect. Using that kind of “logic,” anything a prosecutor or judge can imagine could be seen as a crime.
Ugh. I can’t even tolerate useless “Call Social Services” comments over little things.
A toddler in my community is dead, his mother and her boyfriend probably to be charged with murder, even after CPS investigated the home and started a file on the family. And all I can think of is how this is what CPS should be dealing with.
I do hope the court takes this thought process into consideration.
referring to Librarymama’s post
The problem is letting officials decide what is neglect. When they can decide ex post facto that they wouldn’t have made the same choice as you, and therefore you’re on the child abuse list, that is is problem in itself. They should not have that power. Of course it was “confirmed”. No one denied it happened, but when the thing “confirmed” is not dangerous, that is not a reason to be on this list. I always go back to the lady whose child was not returned to her when it was discovered that his bruising was caused by leukemia. Once they’ve got their hooks in you, there’s no going back. And they SHOULDN’T HAVE THAT POWER.
I’m all for parents be able to decide. Children should be allowed to wait in the car. Having said that I don’t think they (the parents) will be allowed the freedom to choose as it was in the 70’s.
I think compromise is in order. Here is what I propose
Any parent can apply for a permit. This permit will be similar to a handicap parking permit and will be displayed in the window. In order to get this permit, the parents must sit through a one day class where they listen to the what ifs.
The government isn’t very good at making a 180 degree change in policy. I can’t imagine they will allow the parental freedom of the 70’s. However the government can compromise. The free range movement is a thorn in their side because for decades they have been driven by policy based on CSI, Fox News, and Gilligan’s Island. (I made that last one up)
However they can compromise. In fact I think some bureaucrats would jump at the chance because they would love for the ‘thorn in their’ side to go away.
Take your permit and course idea and shove them where the sun never shines.
I don’t even know where to begin to describe why that is just such a wrong freaking idea. We are permitted to death, and I am damn well not going to give the government the authority to make me apply for permits to raise my freaking kids.
NJ is famous for it’s tyrants in black robes. Those clowns don’t even recognize your Second Amendment rights in this state.
Putting the family through all of this is far more abusive!
Isn’t it funny that everyone mentions the death risk, yet the real risk for this time frame is a stolen car (almost inevitably causing a freak out for the criminal, they don’t want the baby, they just want the car).
It should not be automatic. Window rolled down at home for instance is a nice nap. We should leave this up to the parents discretion and warn people of the dangers like with bike riding, walking on the sidewalk, or lighting the wood stove etc. It can be dangerous sure.
It is completely circumstance not cut and dry and neglect is way out of line; harsh and unreasonable.
Lets not make parenting any more unnecessarily stressful than it is in the United States. (no paid leave, dangers of car culture, dual income required in most places with the jobs, no sponsored day care, raising cost of health, out of control CPS, less open space, school grounds closed after school, little or no access to nature and open space for play, the lack of extended family or community to help, etc etc)
I just read this related article a few minutes ago: http://jalopnik.com/is-it-okay-to-leave-your-kid-in-a-car-if-youre-not-an-i-1702237113?google_editors_picks=true
Blessed are those who engage in the Grand Old Pastime.
So what if the gripes don’t know how to catch a baseball with a fishing net, let alone with one stalwart bare hand!
What a guy!
What a Dad!
That’s his job. To keep wayward baseballs from whacking his babe. He did it proud.
That great old American tradition.
Should go for naught because the tot wasn’t wearing a batting helmut? (No doubt it probably slumbered throughout the whole thing……as well it should.)
The gripes probably never played baseball in their lives……….much less attend a game live without suiting up in ye grand olde armour like Knights of Yore.
“I canâ€™t imagine they will allow the parental freedom of the 70â€™s.”
And why the hell not?
That’s like admitting that adults knew how to be adults 4 decades ago, but have somehow lost the knack here in the 21st century.
I recall that many adults with children in the 70’s had been crazy hippies in the 60’s.
Then they grew up, so that their children could grow up. Almost all of them survived just fine.
You can tweak this brave new world order all you want, but people have not essentially changed.
Especially people with children.
Silly twits have existed throughout time immemorial……thus it ever was, and ever will be.
Yet most of us survive and thrive by our wits. And so on.
As if some magical formula must have existed that allowed parental ‘freedom’ during a time of halcyon utopiated hallucination; it was a time of greater crime and danger altogether – compared to our contemporary.
Freedom itself scares the living crap out of many of those in power to take it away.
Um, they hate our freedoms. Most assuredly.
If only that pesky little constitution could be re-written………………………………………….
I have to go down a set of concrete stairs to get to my own front porch. There is a railing on one side only.
In wintertime, you darn well bet I woke up my protesting, fussing toddlers in the car and made them walk down the stairs, which would be icy by early afternoon even if they’d been shoveled and salted twice that morning. The idea of carrying a child down those steps in wintertime makes my blood run cold. When I had a baby bucket to manage, I had a death grip on that railing with my other hand, but the baby went inside the house.
But in spring and summer? Babies could ride downstairs in the bucket and sleep in it until they woke up, but toddlers–oh heck no. Crack the windows as needed (they don’t operate when the car is turned off, so no chance of a headfirst lunge into space); raise or lower the sunshields ditto; c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y add or subtract coverings on the kid; find work to do just inside the front door; check every 10 minutes or so; and LET A SLEEPING TODDLER SLEEP.
When my now-5 was 4, he would sleep in the car and let himself out when it was time to wake up.
It’s strange that people use their fantasies about what could have happened only when the parents are absent, not for scenarios when the parents are present.
What could happen if the parents are present with the child outside the car?
– The parent with accompanying child could be robbed at gunpoint and even shot. A child is not likely to become victim of a robbery as it doesn’t carry mÃºch money.
– When being outside of the car the child may be run over by another car.
– When being outside of the car the child may be hit by a falling object, such as something being dropped by a window cleaner 30 stories above, or a tree branch that is breaking off. The car roof would protect against most of those things.
How about keeping the child in the house, under constant supervision?
Well, there are:
– gas explosions
– armed home intruders/robberies
– earthquakes and building collapses
Of course all of those are fantasy threats that are extremely unlikely to happen. But still i’m fairly certain that more children come to harm by any of these things per year than by being locked in a car for merely 10 minutes.
One of my best memories as a child, was going out to the family car to take a nap. It was the only place I could really sleep well – and get away from my little sister.
On a warmish Spring day, I’d get into the toasty warm car, and crack the windows just enough to get a soft breeze. The back seat was the size of a large sofa, and I could stretch all the way out. Ahhhh, such bliss! Peace and quiet, warm and soft and comfy in my own little world. Just thinking about it makes me smile, 45 years later.
The neighbors used to see me go in and out of the car all the time, and nobody said a word about it.
I wish the parents rights of the 70’s would return. I really do. I also hate permits for everything. However there is one thing that I hate worse than that. I hate the idea of parents being criminalized for letting their child waiting in a car for ten minutes. This is much more than just an inconvenience. It’s actually quite harmful to constantly hover over kids. It takes years to develop self reliance. Without it, kids get very stressed indeed. Life is already hard. Why do we want to make it harder for them by forbidding them to learn self reliance. Waiting in the car is only one avenue. However by forbidding it we’re constantly telling children that they are too stupid to be able to look after themselves. The spine angel (tooth fairies cousin) doesn’t grant children a spine when they reach 18.
The bureaucrats absolutely will not budge as long as the’re held legally responsible. The media loves to print headlines, “Why did the system fail?” and they love to blame anyone they can including bureaucrats. The permit idea is so they can have a way to exempt them from liability. I’d love for this to happen without the permit idea. I hate permits for everything as well. However there are things that I hate worse than that.
The government has already taken away your right to raise your children the way you see fit. I’m not proposing to give them even more power. I’m also disgusted with the way they have taken away parents rights. I just don’t think that a compromise automatically means that I’ve joined their side.
A child is more likely to suffer serious injury or deah if the child is riding in a moving vehicle with an adult driver, so if leaving a child in a parked car is reckless neglect, then allowing a child to ride in a moving vehicle is downright irresponsible.
I hope a parents rights organization has or will file an amicus brief in this case.
“I just donâ€™t think that a compromise automatically means that Iâ€™ve joined their side.”
Then ask for the 1840s (i.e. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn) and settle for the 1970s as a compromise.
I cannot believe you would be put on the child abuse registry when charges were dropped and you were not convicted of a crime. That seems like a clear violation of the 8th amendment. Absolutely frightening.
I figured it out. If parents really loved their children, and cared about their welfare, they should never, never allow their children to be born. Being born leads to an incredibly high risk of injury and eventual death. The only parents who are truly not child abusers are those without any kids at all; everyone else should proceed directly to CPS and just turn themselves in right now.
A little perspective (from in NJ, even). Yesterday as I was leaving to meet my kindergartener’s school bus (because she is not allowed off the bus if someone isn’t there to meet her), thunder rolled in and the sky opened up. No one was home, so I had to take my two month old with me. I took the car the two blocks to the bus stop in the interest of keeping the sleeping baby dry. When the bus rolled up, I got out of the car and walked 50 feet away so they would release my 5 year old to me. The state would prefer, it seems, that I take the sleeping baby out with me, let her get soaked by the rain (and, if we’re playing this game, possibly hit by lightening) rather than what I did, which was leave her in the car with the windows cracked for the few minutes it took me to retrieve her sister. Also yesterday, the NJ legislature signed into law a statute making child safety seat guidelines law. Among other things, rear facing until at least age 2, but until they outgrow the seat’s limits and in a 5 point harness until they outgrow that and in a booster until 8/80 lbs. My tiny kindergartner, by law, should still be rear facing and will be in a booster until she is probably 15. Guidelines I was fine with, law means I can’t use my judgement,
I just have to point out that when babies or young children die in hot cars, it is because the person driving them has forgotten that they are there! It is not the result of a calculated decision, but rather the tragic result of a tired parent whose routine maybe got altered. And of course because of airbags, children are no longer in the front seat (deaths from hot cars were much lower before airbags). I personally know two wonderful parents who have forgotten a young child was in the back seat for a period of time. Luckily, in both cases things worked out, but in both cases, it was just confusion that led to the mistake.
The situation in NJ is completely different. Parents have the right to their children. The US Supreme Court decided that long ago.
I like compromises pretty well. I negotiate them at work. But the compromise you propose is, in my judgement, unacceptable. It merely feeds into the attitude, in fact seems to provide proof of the attitude, “they just don’t care about their kids”. And a key part of any compromise is providing assurance that the ultimate resolution was the most reasonable decision. Additionally your proposal would give way too much power to the government, create an unnecessary process, and paperwork, and further does nothing to protect children (keeping in mind that the ‘not of a second’ crowd does include people who are aware of ‘forgotten child syndrome’.)
If, and this is a huge if, but if we could reach a point where people were willing to believe it was possible to safely leave a child in a car. The compromise I would be willing to make would be with those who say, “I have no way to know how long the child has been there, if the parent is coming back, and if the child is overheating. So don’t do it, it makes perfect sense for me to be freaked out when you do that.”
Those people we could work with. First of all I would establish that any child large enough for a belt positioning booster seat should just be flat left alone, on the grounds that such a child can extricate themselves if necessary. For children sized to be strapped into a car seat, I could then admit a reasonable person could be concerned. So in exchange for legal protection, I think I could allow that a parent should leave a running timer and a thermometer in view near a child in a 5 point harness. This would allow a reasonable passerby to see that the parent was aware of the child’s presence before leaving, that the parent hasn’t been gone long, and that the car interior is not baking hot.
I would be even willing to say that such timer/thermometer combos (which I’m sure would be manufactured in droves in response to such a law) should have a big warning on the packaging that temperatures in a car can rise to dangerous levels on a 70deg day (or 65… whatever the actual number is. I picked 70 because in 2014 not a single kid died from heatstroke on a day less than 70deg. One kid died of SIDS on a 69 deg day and was initially assumed to be a heat stroke death.) I would also be willing to have “danger zone” markings on the thermometer itself or a color changing indicator for when the danger zone is reached.
Timers and temperature guages in plain sight for passerbys to see?
This ranks right up there with getting permits and taking courses. Sorry, the right compromise is easy……………my kid, I have made the choice, mind your own damn business.
It is not up to the sane to constantly put themselves out because the insane think they are right.
I have a better idea. How about I rig up my truck so that everytime a busy body touches my truck to peek in at my truck, they get jolted directly from the batteries. With a sign in the window. Leave my kids/dogs alone. You have been warned.
I don’t even like the suggestion, made on this site and in the comment sections of the many articles on this topic, that the “concerned passerby” just keep an eye on the car and child til the parent returns.
Concerned Passerby doesn’t love my child more than I do, doesn’t know my child and his likes/dislikes, doesn’t know the maturity level of my child, doesn’t know what I’ve taught my child. Concerned Passerby doesn’t know the thought process I went through in deciding that leaving my child in the car was a perfectly appropriate action.
So Concerned Passerby doesn’t need to stand and stare at my car until I return. Concerned Passerby can take her concern and move along, trusting that I made the correct decision for my family and it doesn’t need to be second-guessed.
Beth, I mostly agree with you that the “Concerned Passerby” is more often a “Useless Busybody”, but if they want to waste their time watching my car I don’t have a problem with it. In the extremely rare event that someone does try to abduct my car or child, or there’s a tornado or something, they might be able to help; in all the other cases, they’re not hurting unless they call the cops or CPS. Plus the few kids who genuinely are forgotten in dangerous circumstances could be saved by someone realizing in time that no one is coming back for the kid.
The Walmart where I live has a sign posted asking shoppers to check cars in the parking lot for kids left alone, and report it to the store or cops; that’s clearly going way way too far. One of many reasons I avoid Walmart when possible.
Warren… obviously just leaving parents and their kids alone would be the correct answer. And I got a good laugh at your proposal to wire the battery to the body panels. But that wouldn’t constitute a compromise, of course. If I could really have my way, I would like to drop kick the people at that “KidsAndCars.org”, or hand them over to your creative punishment. They started off with a crusade to make it illegal to leave kids in the cars. And they continue on that same crusade despite evidence it isn’t working.
Even they have figured out that the kids who died in hot cars, either climbed in when no one was looking or were forgotten, (except in very rare instances like that father last year that set out to kill his kid). And it has been figured out that some “Fourteen percent of parents reported leaving a child aged 6 years or younger alone in a parked, locked car. Based on US population, that number is projected to be nearly 2 million parents transporting more than 3.3 million children.” … and with 3.3 million kids intentionally left in cars each year, we have on average 38 deaths per year… nearly all of very young children who were either forgotten entirely (in rear facing car seats), or wandered off into a car when no one was looking.
They claim that “18% of cases, adults intentionally left children in their vehicles” Based on reviewing all 30 of last years cases, I think they are stretching the number. I found one mother who died in the car with her two kids, and a mom who ran to the bathroom and then continued on with her day forgetting about the baby, but since it wasn’t normal for the baby to be in the car she may have forgotten before running to the bathroom, and of course poor Cooper Harris who was murdered and 2 where the parents were arrested and no explanation of circumstances given though the cop in one case sighted ‘zero tolerance’ and claimed kids can die within seconds of being left in a car…if that were true we would have kids dying for lack of remote start on cars and we don’t). Alternately I suppose they could be talking about the hand full of cases were some but not all kids were unloaded. But that seems more like forgotten than intentionally left. Anyhow it seems to require assuming guilt in many cases to get all the way to 18%.
But for estimating purposes, I’ll accept 18%. And I will take their estimate that 70% of frontover and backover accidents had a family member behind the wheel, to mean that those accidents happened in driveways where there was no intention to take the child with. Though perhaps just as some parents forget to take kids out, some forget to put them back in after taking them out while they ran into the house for just a minute.
In the most recent decade of data (2003-2013), we have an average of 39 heat stroke deaths.
And we have an average of 128 children per year run over in driveways and parking lots.
Accepting 18% and 70% (i.e. 30% in parking lots)… We have 7 kids per year who might be saved by the harped upon dictate ‘never leave your child in the car.’ And about 38 per year that could be saved by leaving them in the car.
I dare say the number that could be saved by letting parents leave a kid in the car or house is even higher. In the 90’s only about 13 kids per year were killed in frontover or backover collisions by parents or anyone else. There is an obvious and steep increase in kids run over at low speeds between 2000 and 2003 and then the rates stabilize (we didn’t get to our present thicker corner posts, and smaller back windows, in the course of 4 years, but I think we freaked out about kids left in cars/ left alone in that time span). We also have the number of kids dying in hot cars going up in tandem with moving kids to the backseat and avoiding air bag deaths. *Not that I would trade the lives of children in car accidents in an effort to protect the few being forgotten.
So we may have as many as 115 kids per year dying, and 32 parents (or more) in tragic circumstances vilified, in the hopes maybe of saving 7 kids (or less) per year. And for all the campaigning, the hot car deaths haven’t budged in a decade. Perhaps the real root cause in all the deaths is parental stress causing mistakes and lapses in attention as mentioned in the pediatrics article. And the fastest way to reduce parental stress would be to let parents use their own judgement without needless interference and pointless guilt. But of course they prescribe more intervention…
Melissa, when you were growing up, did your parents leave you in the car by yourself or with siblings for short period of time (or long for that matter)? If you’re like most of us, the answer would be yes. Winter, spring, summer and fall. Sometimes we didn’t want to go into the store, so we stayed in or by the car. And we are talking about the age of 6-10 years old. If we wanted to stay in the car, while my dad went inside to grab grocery or pay for gas, my dad would leave the keys in the ignition. We knew how to start the car and open the windows if we got hot. And we were also smart enough, because we were taught young, the do’s and don’ts while were by ourselves in the car. As well, cops would walk by us, wave hello, asked us where our parents were. We’d tell them, and they’d say “ok, be good”. Then they’d keep walking.
By your reasoning, it’s not “safe” to leave your children ANYWHERE. Because after all, worse case thinking would have you believe, ANYTHING can happen. Which includes walking out of your house. Something can fall from the sky and crush you. A tree can fall on you without warning. A swarm of bees can attack. A sink hole can swallow your whole house. Do you see the ridiculousness of those? No different than saying something can happen to a child waiting a few minutes inside the car, on a cool, overcast day. And using the perfect example of the “putting kids in cars to drive somewhere”. No one thinks twice about this. But far more children die or get injured in car collisions every year, then just sitting in it waiting for mom or dad.
Don’t pick and choose what to be afraid of, and when to be afraid of. If you fear one rare or implausible thing, you must fear them all. Otherwise you peg yourself as a hypocrite, and not of sound mind. 😉 Which seems to be a lot of parents these days.
Sinkholes! Oh my word, sinkholes are terrifying. If the ground beneath your feet is of the right kind, you have a potential to die in your bed when the ground eats your house. I can’t imagine sleeping through the night in karst country.
But I think it does illuminate the absurdity of worst-first thinking. I don’t live in sinkhole country. If I did, should I move because there might someday be a sinkhole under my bed? Live in an RV that I moved every night, then face the terror of driving on roads that might grow a sinkhole at any moment? Wear a jetpack all the time?
@Montreal Dad: “If leaving a kid in a car a few minutes on a cool day is child abuse, driving him to the store is attempted murder.”
That is a great comparison! Alas, some people (authorities and civilians) will never have the common sense and logic to figure that out. lol
The world seems to be in continual preparation for the courtroom. Perhaps it’s different in the US but at work I often have to take ‘safety tests’ which are not really tests but a way to collect my signature which exempt others from responsibility. These safety tests are moronic. The questions are things like, ‘If you have an itchy ear, it’s safe to use a sharp pencil to scratch it, T or F?’ I’m exaggerating but not by much. The questions are insulting. To make a long story short, there is a HUGE focus in Australia to collect signatures and prove to a courtroom that the person was trained properly. (I taught college and that was a priority)
My idea would allow the bureaucrats to get a signature that exempts them from responsibility. The class proves that they did inform me of the risks. Hopefully that is all that they would require before they start to give the parents rights back to them.
Having to take any steps to make passerby busybodies feel better about what I choose to do with my kids is not a compromise. It is being made to feel guilty and having to continually prove your not. Or basically saying, as soon as you become a parent, you are on probation with all these conditions to comply with.
The moment you start to compromise, with gadgets or permits or whatever, you are telling the morons of the world that they are right, and their fears are valid. Not gonna do it.
I will not have my daughters raising their children in a world where they can only have the freedom to parent, if they do it they way all these paranoid idiots demand they do.
Compromise is not the answer. Fighting back, and pushing it as far as possible, is the only way. Compromise and acceptance is how we got where we are. To keep doing so, is to invite defeat.
Take your classes and sign offs and take a flying leap.
You really have no idea how it works in life, do you? You do it for kids in cars, and parents will be in continual classes for each and every damn thing that has any risk. And of course the parents will have to pay for the courses, take time off for them and yada yada yada. Stop now.
You think this is compromise, when it is actually just another way for the state to control your life.
Thank you for bringing this outrageous NJ court decision to light for the public to see how ridiculous it is.
I remember when it was a free country.
It seems incredible that a mother can be guilty of negligence in a case like this bit parents have the right to give their toddlers guns
I think the permit idea is interesting, in a sense. It’s interesting in the sense of not being able to turn away, like when you see a bad car accident. It’s not that the permit idea is grotesque – it’s grotesque that society has reached a point where that’s a compromise.
It seems to me we’ve got a pretty good compromise already. Concerned Bystander has to make a choice – and really, it’s no choice at all. If you really think a child is dying in that car, you break the window, knowing two things: first, that no sane court will convict you on vandalism, etc. charges, second, that even if you would face those charges, you’d do it anyway. If you don’t really think a child is in danger – if you’re trying to feel superior, engage in virtue-flash, etc., it’s pretty obvious – you don’t break the window. Any Concerned Bystander who doesn’t actually break into the car, but instead stands around, complaining, pesters the parents when they come back, etc. – either didn’t really think the kid was in danger, or is evil.
I’m a fan of compromise, and not a huge fan of absolutes. For instance, in general, I am against breaking car windows. But we know that there are (very few) cases of actual tragic deaths, mostly, as noted above, in cases where the child was forgotten, not left for a minute. I’d like to think that in those cases, most any bystander who noticed the kid dying would break into the car. But those are incredibly rare. What we have instead is cases like the one reported here where bystanders and police broke into a car where there was, if I remember correctly, an 11 year old sitting comfortably? The issue there is that the bystanders felt empowered to break in because the police went along with them.
Here in CT, and I’m guessing in other states, similarly bad legislation has been proposed. There is a bill worming its way through the legislature this cycle to, essentially, decriminalize breaking car windows – it makes “I felt the kid was in danger” an affirmative defense. To me, this upsets the delicate balance. I don’t want people facing criminal charges when there’s an actual danger – but the fact of breaking into cars being illegal makes people, I think, less prone to do it when they know full well there’s no danger. I trust our system to not actually impose those penalties when a kid was actually in danger – but I want people punished who break into a car while the mom is running into the drug store in 60 degree weather. (Maybe I shouldn’t have so much trust in the system – but if we’re that far gone, it’s unclear what we can do to fix ourselves.) In essence, the law as it stands limits such actions, somewhat, so that most people will only do them if there’s an actual danger. The proposed legislation, in my opinion, gives anyone desiring to feel “I’m a better parent” a legal opportunity to inflict real property damage – and emotional upset on the kid who is sitting there playing with a phone or whatever when suddenly the window comes crashing in.
So, I don’t think we need to find a compromise, I think we’ve had one for a long time: it’s illegal to break into cars, but we won’t use that law if you find a child in real danger. Similarly, you can leave your child in your car, or not, your business – unless the child is actually in danger, objectively defined (we have existing laws for that, we don’t need a special “don’t kill your kid this way” law – which would probably have someone’s name attached to it.) Yes, mistakes happen and tragedies take place – and they still will with any ‘compromise’ solution.
@Puzzled: What would you recommend doing if… say ..the ‘concerned bystander’ who witnessed a baby actually dying actually couldn’t physically break the window for whatever reason?
I’m not talking about being unwilling to, just that they can because….I dunno….they’re disabled or something.
@Joan, I see what you’re saying, but I still don’t know (and I do think that if a tornado is coming while you’re in the dry cleaners, you would know about it, and what’s a Concerned Passerby going to do about a tornado anyway? Lol…I know you were only trying to come up with an extreme example).
I think if it’s THAT important that the car be watched while the parent runs a quick errand, then they’d bring someone along to do the watching, or just not leave the child in the car. The CP watching the car just screams judgy to me (“I care more about that child that its parents do!”) and unnecessary.
How to stop busybodies from calling the cops when they see a child left alone in a car while mom or dad runs a quick errand? Tinted windows. The darkest, most impenetrable tint available. If they can’t see in, they can’t spot the kid.
A guy I know just posted that he almost called the cops on a guy who left his 5yo in the car while paying for gas. Here’s my second response to him: (the first was just me saying calling the cops was overkill for the situation. The first part of this comment is me responding to another commentor who said she would never leave her most precious thing in the car, and still takes her 25yo[!!] in with her.
Colleen Forbes, more power to ya, as long as you acknowledge that people can be acceptable parents without that level of vigilance. When my boys are 25, they’re going to be MY bodyguards.
Cliff and Chuck, the big problem is that people are notoriously bad as risk analysis. The classic example is people being afraid to fly, even though the risk of death while driving is much, much greater. The risk of leaving you child in the car for a few minutes is no riskier (and often much less risky than):
walking up and down stairs
eating hot dogs or grapes
walking across the parking lot- especially if you have more than one kid
jumping on a trampoline
sleeping in their own room
being under a tree (two kids got hit by a falling tree just last week, and since then, I’ve heard a plethora of stories of people killed this way)
riding a bike
And of course, the big one, riding in the car, which is generally by far the riskiest thing you allow your child to do.
So the point is, if you consider the level of risk to be acceptable in at least some of these activities, you need to consider that in many circumstances, leaving your child in a car for a few minutes is not unacceptably dangerous, whether or not you would do it yourself.
Also, I always wonder what response people want from the police. Is it enough just to have them told off by a cop? Do you think this one act by someone whose home life you know nothing about warrants a full CPS investigation? Are said investigations without effect on the children involved? Are you aware that the number of children who die in foster care is several times higher than the number who die at home?
Again, it may not be what you choose yourself, but I hope that you acknowledge that it doesn’t by itself make one a terrible parent.
Shoot, I meant to edit the names out, and now I can’t figure out how to remove it. Help, anyone?
@Beth – Certainly it’s judgy, and I don’t personally think the car needs watching (or presumably in this hypothetical I couldn’t have left in the first place), but if some holier-than-thou wants to waste their own ten minutes standing around tutting, I’m not fussed about it. They can tut all they like, and we have no problems until they move from silent judgement to calling the cops or breaking a car window. Just as they should not be free to interfere with my choice to leave a competent kid in a comfortable car for a few minutes, I wouldn’t feel free to interfere with their choice to stand on the sidewalk making frowny faces in my general direction.
Wow – in that situation, I’d suggest calling 911 while also shouting to anyone around that a child is dying in the car. My point is that if you can wait for the parents to come out and then hassle them, you weren’t dealing with a real danger. I didn’t mean to suggest that people ego are unable to break windows will never see an actual danger – but I do suspect, in a true emergency, that getting others around to help will be more effective than calling 911 based on time alone.
I’m feeling cranky, so what if I put a sign like this on my windshield:
To any “concerned” passers by:
This car is locked and not running.
The kids in this car are not helpless.
If it gets hot, they can open the door and get out.
If a predator busts in and tries to grab them, they know self-defense.
If the car spontaneously kicks into gear, their seatbelts will save them.
If the car spontaneously combusts, they can exit without help.
If the car gets fried by lightning, then I guess they are screwed.
If you call 911 on my kids for being safe and harming nobody, you risk turning their lives upside down.
If you took the time to read this, I’m probably on my way back to the car already. So, goodbye and have a nice day.
SKL I like your sign and share your crankiness. remember the signs people used to leave on their windows back in the early 90’s? “No cash, no radio, doors are unlocked”.
Thanks for that. It sounds silly but I really do appreciate that clarification more than I can express.
On average 38 children die in hot cars every year. Virtually all are inadvertent – usually the parent was sleep deprived and forgot to remove the child when they exited the vehicle and went to work. Tragic. But there are also many others who leave their children in cars for an hour or more to go shopping (this happened last year at a nearby Nordstrom). What happens if the toddler wakes up hungry or thirsty, which could happen after 5 minutes or 50? How are you going to contact the mother?
As you can see it is difficult to draw the line between what is reasonable and what is abuse. So the courts have made it easy for you by drawing a bright line: never leave a toddler in a car alone. This makes it easy for even the dumbest parents to understand. their obligations.
Will this result in overprotected kids? Yes. Will this result in improper prosecutions? Yes. But the blame rests with the idiots who leave their toddlers in the car for hours. It’s their fault, not the good samaritan or the cops who doesn’t know how long your toddler has been sleeping without adult supervision. Maybe someday we will have an app that lets parents remotely monitor their kids while they shop at Safeway. Or where a passerby could text the parent. But that day is not here yet.
Personally I think it is reasonable for a parent to leave a child in the car for a few minutes while dropping off another at school or daycare. But that’s not the law.