Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Unattended Child in Car

Have you ever left your child in the car while you ran into a store for a few minutes? Is that okay? Are there any laws preventing people from leaving their children alone in a vehicle?

On Black Friday, a Peoria, Illinois woman was arrested for leaving three children (6 years, 5 years and 6 months) in a car in the parking lot of Northwoods Mall. Police say they arrived on the scene after someone saw the kids sitting in the car for an extended period of time. Police waited 35 minutes before the mom came out of the mall. She was arrested and given a notice to appear in court. Two of the kids were foster children and were taken out of her home by the Department of Children and Family Services. Her child was sent home with her.

So is it ever okay to leave a young child in a car while you run into say McDonalds or Walgreens? I called Peoria Police today to find out. It turns out it is illegal in some instances. The Child Endangerment Act states the adult is presumed guilty if a child 6 years old or younger is left alone in a vehicle for more than 10 minutes. Police spokesman Doug Burgess says if an officer is called to a scene it is up to their discretion how to proceed. If they feel the child has been put in a dangerous situation (Ex: it's 100 degrees outside and a child is left in a vehicle for 5 minutes) they can arrest the parent/guardian. They are also likely to call the Department of Children and Family Services to report the incident. That can lead to home visits to make sure the parent/guardian is fit to care for the child.

I recently got this email from a reader:

I think many parents would be surprised about the law and what is considered legal/acceptable to leave a child unattended in a car. I was raised when it was fairly common to be left in a car as my mom ran into a business or did an errand. I still see moms leaving children in vehicles unattended, some for just a moment, sometimes longer. Sometimes a quick dash inside can take longer than anticipated. I don't believe any parent is intending to be negligent but they are exposing themselves to being charged with child negligence if the police are called by caring citizens.

Example: A friend of mine has a son who has ADHD, he had a bad day and she had been advised that when he was not "listening" that to give him a few minutes to settle down would help him, as opposed to being further stimulated. She needed to run into a store for a moment, so she gave him the option to come in or stay in the car. He requested to stay in the car. She could see the car from the store window and only left the window to check out. The person in front of her was having a problem at the register so she was out of sight from the car for five minutes. When she came out of the store, the police were pulling up. They asked if she had left her son in the car and when she explained the circumstances they told her she was going to have a visit from social services. Social services interviewed her, the school, his Dr., etc. She was charged with negligence because the law says a child should not be unattended until the age of fourteen, I believe. She received probation, parenting classes, a monthly visit from a social worker during the probation and her name on a registry for 7 years!

So I would think it is usually not a good idea to leave a child unattended in a car. With the winter months upon us, I would think more parents would leave them warm and snug in their car seats instead of dragging them in a store. However, it might not be the best plan.

Have you ever left a child unattended in a car?

-NewsAnchorMom Jen

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