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Mother arrested for allowing 9-year-old to play in park alone

July 15, 2014 - Andrea Johnson
Common sense seems distinctly lacking in the state of South Carolina, where a woman has been arrested for letting her 9-year-old daughter play alone in a city park for several hours.

According to an article in Slate, the 46-year-old mother works for McDonald's and the girl didn't want to sit in the fast-food joint on a beautiful summer day. She used to play games on the family laptop while waiting for her mother to get off work, but the family laptop has been stolen. The mother gave her daughter a cell phone to use for emergencies and sent her to play in the popular city park, where there is a playground and a splash pad. All would have been well if a stranger had not intervened on the third day the girl was sent to the park. The stranger asked the little girl where her mother was at and the girl replied "at work." At that point, the police were called, the girl was turned over to social services and the mother was taken to jail.

This is the kind of thing that really ought to make most sensible adults shudder. Even if you don't agree with letting a 9-year-old go to the park alone, arresting the mother and putting the girl in foster care seems like a real overreaction to the situation. South Carolina state law (and North Dakota law, for that matter) doesn't specify an exact age at which kids can be left alone for a few hours, but it does say that kids should have supervision that is reasonable for their age and development. Is it reasonable to allow a 9-year-old to play in a park in broad daylight, with a cell phone on hand if there is an emergency? If not a 9-year-old, how about a 10-, 11- or 12-year-old?

I suppose there are probably parents these days who would be hesitant about allowing fifth and sixth graders as well as fourth graders to be alone in public. I find, sometimes to my chagrin, that when I am taking care of my own nephews I keep them in line of sight at all times. I do this because they aren't my kids and I take my responsibility when they are in my care very seriously, but I also am probably reacting to the kind of child care that seems to be the norm these days. When I walk in the park, I usually see parents hovering within arm's length of their preschoolers and elementary school age children instead of waiting on the bench and talking with other adults. Personally, I think it would be a lot healthier for both kids and adults to let the kids play alone on the playground with other kids, risking the occasional scraped knee, but also knowing that their parents are just a little ways away if they need them. It would probably be healthier if more 9- and 10-year-olds, at least in safe areas, were allowed to walk alone to school or to the corner store or, yes, to the city park alone.

Despite the common perception and the sensational stories parents might see on the national news or crime shows like "Criminal Minds," there really aren't boogeymen lurking around every corner. The crime rate is lower than it was in the 80s, when most parents would not have thought twice about sending a 9-year-old out to play in the neighborhood for a few hours at a time. Parents who allow their 9-year-olds this kind of freedom do not belong in the city jail and their kids should not be put in foster care.


Article Comments



Jul-18-14 11:02 AM

I think the threat of having Social Services called definitely has an impact on what parents choose to do. Reasonable corporal punishment is still legal in this state but when was the last time you saw a kid being spanked in the parking lot or the church entryway for acting out? That was a fairly common occurrence when I was a child and no one thought the kid was being abused. Today, someone might call the police.


Jul-17-14 4:34 PM

I didn't look up the state century code but I seem to remember that there wasn't a hard and fast rule as far as age. They go by the age and development of the child and how long the child will be alone and where he or she will be at, etc. You may be thinking of the guidelines that the department of human services refers parents to. I think they do say kids eight and under shouldn't be left alone and nine-year-olds can only be left alone for two hours and can't babysit. Guidelines aren't laws, though.


Jul-17-14 1:23 PM

North Dakota CSCC states the legal age to leave a child HOME alone is 9. I have always thought this was a law. You stated that it is not? Even so, I called frequently when my 9 yr old was alone and only left her for about an hour and a half max. She got at least two calls. One was from my phone with a code for answering that we worked out. The other was from a different phone to make sure she was using the rules. I don't think a 9 yr old has the wherewithall to call if there is stranger danger or if the child is overpowered. Not a good idea. Is is an offense that would warrant putting the child in foster care? I don't think so. I think there needs to be counseling and then if it happens again, maybe foster care or at least intervention needs to be visited.


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