Florida mom charged with felony child neglect for … letting her son walk to the park alone

posted at 6:01 pm on July 29, 2014 by Allahpundit

Via Reason. Their house is half a mile, or a 10-minute walk, away. There are registered sex offenders in the area. Should letting junior go alone be mom’s call or the state’s?

This isn’t the only case recently of a mom being locked up for letting her kid play alone in the park. I don’t think we blogged it at the time but the story of Debra Harrell is pure Kafka. Her daughter had a cell phone, the park she played in was crowded with other kids and parents, and Harrell herself was stuck at work trying to earn a living for the two of them, but no matter. She was arrested for neglect, had her daughter temporarily taken from her, and was reportedly fired from her job at McDonald’s before quietly being reinstated after outrage over her case exploded online. (An Internet fundraising effort for her began with a goal of $10,000. It stands at $41,166 as I write this.) Conor Friedersdorf asked a good question after the Harrell uproar: Does averting the tiny risk of child abduction in a situation like this justify the near-certainty that a child will be traumatized when the state arrests his mother and removes him from her care?

Statistically speaking, the South Carolina mother would almost certainly be putting her daughter in more danger if she strapped her into the car beside her for a hypothetical one-hour daily commute. No one would arrest her for that. It wouldn’t surprise me if the child would more likely suffer harm sitting in a McDonald’s in front of a laptop, presumably eating fast food at least reasonably often, rather than spending summer days playing outdoors in a park with lots of parents. I can’t say with certainty that she’d be statistically safer. But neither have the South Carolina officials who arrested this woman.

The actual safety of a given kid is not being rigorously determined. State employees are drawing on their prejudices to make somewhat arbitrary judgment calls. They wouldn’t think of preventing many statistically riskier parenting decisions so long as those decisions jive comfortably with social norms. They’re sometimes taking away children based on what amounts to their gut feeling–even though kids are far more likely to be abused in state-administered foster care. Again, I haven’t run the numbers, but my hunch is that a single parent with a new boyfriend or girlfriend hanging around the house puts a kid at greater statistical risk of being molested than letting them play alone in a typical park.

Enforcement seems completely arbitrary too. Harrell was busted after a parent asked her daughter where her mother was and then freaked out and called the cops after being told she was at work. Nicole Gainey, the Florida mom, was arrested after someone asked her son while en route to the park where his mother was; the boy reacted by running away to the park — clearly and wisely, he had been taught to be leery of strangers — and then the police were called. If not for the calls, though, the cops never would have known; apparently, the risk to unattended children isn’t so great that they’re stationing officers at parks or cruising around schoolyards to make sure everyone has a chaperone at all times. The strategy in arresting Harrell and Gainey seems to be to make an example of them, pour encourager les autres, which means, freakishly, that the well deserved media coverage of these outrages is actually serving the state’s purpose. You too might be cuffed and hauled to the station if you let your nine-year-old ride the swings alone for an hour. Lesson learned.


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Comment pages: 1 2

Odie1941 on July 29, 2014 at 6:22 PM

So, you never just took off on a bicycle by yourself to a friend’s house? Wow.

nico on July 29, 2014 at 6:28 PM

Come summer vacation we were expected to be outside and not be back except for a noon snack, supper and to be home before dark. To have a parent helicoptering over us would have been embarrassing.

whatcat on July 29, 2014 at 9:54 PM

My question is – why don’t the authorities get to work on rounding up the known local pervatrons instead of going after the mothers of the children? Problem solved right there.

whatcat on July 29, 2014 at 10:02 PM

Trotsky on July 29, 2014 at 7:07 PM

Could your existence be any more worthless? Do you even understand the meaning of Freedom or do you the think the state should lock us up every night “for our own good”?

You stand for everything opposed to the ideals this country was founded on. You believe equality should be achieved by dragging everyone down to the lowest common denominator. Yet, you’re completely clueless this is really what you stand for.

UnstChem on July 29, 2014 at 10:10 PM

Back in the 60′s a friend who lived directly across the street from me was walking home from school when he was kidnapped, taken to another state, and murdered by some perv. So it happens.
I had to dig in this article to see that the boy was 7, the girl was 9. I don’t know what kind of community we’re talking about here. I may have let one of my sons walk or ride a bike to the park at that age, to play for awhile and then be home at an agreed on time. How you learn responsibility in a safe environment.
Never had a daughter, but it seems wrong to expect a nine year old girl to day care by herself (other mothers whatever, she is alone) at a park.

popup on July 29, 2014 at 10:11 PM

but it seems wrong to expect a nine year old girl to day care by herself (other mothers whatever, she is alone) at a park.

popup on July 29, 2014 at 10:11 PM

That’s the only thing that I think the mom could have done better at – having another mom or someone just keeping an eye out for the girl, without helicoptering every second. The park should be safe for children to play at for long periods of time, but it’s really not intended as day care.

whatcat on July 29, 2014 at 10:19 PM

That’s why liberals like trotski use it. They want government overreach in everything….well, except for abortion, in which case who gives a damn about the children.

xblade on July 29, 2014 at 9:39 PM

Indeed! You can kill your child as that is your “choice” with no repercussion. However, if you let your child walk to the park its the gulag for you.

KW64 on July 29, 2014 at 11:01 PM

The state’s. That’s why we have one.

What if something had happened to the child? I suppose I should realize invoking the welfare of children in a rightwing forum will only draw jeers and contempt.

BTW: I spent a good portion of my life on a leash. Until just recently I was allowed to wander without one, but only under strict supervision, and still within the walled confines of the state asylum.

Trotsky on July 29, 2014 at 6:08 PM

StubbornGreenBurros on July 29, 2014 at 11:36 PM

It takes a penal colony to raise a child.

jbspry on July 30, 2014 at 2:02 AM

Uh, let me get this straight:

Our parks are so unsafe that children cannot enter without being accompanied by parents but that is not the responsibility of law enforcement?

Instead, law enforcement arrests parents who let children play in the park by themselves?

Sounds to me like cops are choosing to attack law-abiding citizens rather than to do the real work of policing – removing criminals from parks.

Most of the hard lessons in coping with adult life I learned before I was 13 years old – in parks near my house when I was unaccompanied.

alux on July 30, 2014 at 2:15 AM

Growing up, we left our house after breakfast and didn’t return for hours. We hopped the el to the other side of the city, rode the subway, occasionally showed up at a relatives house on the west end of the city. If we got lost, we would sometimes ask a policeman for directions home and he would give them to us. No problem.
This was in Philadelphia. If it was today’s times, I wouldn’t have brothers as my parents would’ve been in jail and not making them.

lonestar1 on July 30, 2014 at 2:32 AM

A bit light on the facts… but with all due respect – a 9 year old by themselves???…

Odie1941 on July 29, 2014 at 6:22 PM

Gee. I remember walking in downtown Milwaukee, going to the central library. My dad was stationed at the Marine recruitment office several blocks away. I was 9-10 at the time. This was at the height of the Vietnam War, all sorts of odd, shady, suspicious people wandering about.

I had more bother with the downstairs neighbors.

BillH on July 30, 2014 at 6:40 AM

Florida is pedophile central … just saying.

kregg on July 30, 2014 at 7:11 AM

The state of Floriday should get busy, there are a lot of parents from Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras that need to go to jail.

Fleuries on July 30, 2014 at 10:50 AM

Something did happen. A busy-body stuck her nose in where it didn’t belong.

RickB on July 29, 2014 at 6:21 PM

Never occurred to the busybody to say to the girl that she was there if the girl needed anything and then to keep an eye open for her while she remained at the park with her own children — even enlist other mothers at hand for what would only amount to neighborly concern and awareness. Instead, she called the cops.

So much for “it takes a village.” The true meaning of that phrase no longer exists as it did when I was a child.

cheeflo on July 30, 2014 at 2:52 PM

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