On 6/14/15, I appeared on Fox and Friends Weekend to discuss a case from Florida where parents were arrested for child endangerment and temporarily had their children removed from their custody for allowing their 11-year-old child to remain alone at their home, locked out of his house, without knowing where his parents were.
While the facts are minimal, it appears that the parents were 1.5 hours late arriving at home due to traffic issues. The child was locked out of his home and was found in the backyard playing basketball. Before the parents arrived home, however, a neighbor alerted the police who took possession of the child and later arrested the parents when they finally arrived home. The police claim that the child had no shelter, food, water, or ability to communicate with adults had there been a problem or emergency and that the parents did not reach out to anyone (inclusive of the police) if there was an unanticipated problem. They also allege that the child was home alone, locked out of his house, with no knowledge of when his parents would arrive.
After the parents were charged, the children were removed pending a Child Protective Services review and a court appearance to determine if the children were at risk. A month later, the court allowed the children to return home with an order that the parents take parenting training, counseling, and other conditions.
The case has caused controversy. Many remember stories of our childhood when as youngsters we were allowed to “roam the streets” until we had to be home for dinner. Back in those days we also did not have helmets when riding bicycles, bullying was a fact of life that was unaddressed, we did not have car seats, and harsh corporal punishment was acceptable. Times change, and so do our laws. Simply put, today is not yesterday.
Today, we have learned about so many cases where children are abducted, sexually abused, physically and emotionally harmed, and we are more aware of cases where police and protective services turned their backs on children at risk who later died of abuse.
Now, a simple mistake or unplanned event is to me understandable. In the Florida case, we don’t know all of the data. Where was this residence? What crime issues exist in the community; have there been child abductions in that area; is there a prior history of neglect with this family; why did the neighbor feel the need to call the police; why did the police make an arrest; whey did Child Protective Services remove the children; why did the prosecutor approve the charges; and why did the judge order significant parenting and counseling classes when resources are so scarce and typically reserved only after a determination is made that there is a problem that needs intervention.
These questions will likely not be answered because of confidentially issues in cases like these.
In some states, there are laws with age cut-offs on when you can leave a child alone at home. In New Jersey, there is no such law. But even in states where there is an age limit, it is always conditioned by making sure the child is mature enough, and the environment is appropriate.
Simply put, in most cases a parent who is running late to let an 11 year old into the home is probably not a big deal. But, with so many unanswered questions, the fact that all government agencies involved felt there was an issue, and most importantly, the judge’s order that the parents receive parenting training and counseling tells me there is much more to this story.
On a side note, I have handled as a New Jersey Prosecutor and New Jersey Criminal Defense attorney cases where the police did not take a matter like this seriously. Later, when a child is injured or killed, they are vilified for not having taken protective actions that would have allowed for an assessment of a problem before a tragedy occurs. This is why they are trained to err on the side of caution and allow the professionals and courts to “sort it all out.”
Interesting case. I hope we get more information as my experience as a New Jersey Lawyer tells me we do not have all of the information we need to properly debate this case.
You can find the story on this case at http://bit.ly/1GF0cNk.