In the summertime, parks are filled with children frolicking for hours in the sun. Most adults over age 30 can remember playing outside for entire days during the summer, only coming inside to grab a snack or when the streetlights came on. Parents were not arrested for allowing this.
Yet when a South Carolina working mother allowed her 9-year-old daughter to play unsupervised at a nearby park for hours while she worked, her child was labeled “abandoned,” and she has now been jailed for “unlawful conduct toward a child.”
Here are the facts: Debra Harrell works at McDonald's in North Augusta, South Carolina. For most of the summer, her daughter had stayed there with her, playing on a laptop that Harrell had scrounged up the money to purchase. (McDonald's has free WiFi.) Sadly, the Harrell home was robbed and the laptop stolen, so the girl asked her mother if she could be dropped off at the park to play instead.
Harrell said yes. She gave her daughter a cell phone. The girl went to the park—a place so popular that at any given time there are about 40 kids frolicking—two days in a row. There were swings, a “splash pad,” and shade. On her third day at the park, an adult asked the girl where her mother was. At work, the daughter replied.
If a mom works from home and lives a mile-and-a-half from a park, is it child endangerment for her to let the child ride his bike to the park and play for hours, given that the child has a phone and is properly instructed on avoiding strangers?
“I understand the mom may have been in a difficult situation, not having someone to watch the child, but at the same time, you've got to find somebody. You cannot just leave your child alone at a public place, especially. This day and time, you never know who's around. Good, bad, it's just not safe,” said Lesa Lamback, who enjoys the park with her family.
Is it really a more dangerous world than it was back in the '70s and '80s? Recent crime statistics say crime is at the lowest point since 1963. On the other hand, even without the threat of crime, the girl could have gotten hurt or lost her phone and been unable to call.
What do you think? Should the mother have dropped the child off to play, or kept her inside the McDonald's playing on the computer all summer? If you agree that the mother shouldn't have let her play alone, should she have been jailed for that conduct or given a warning?