A woman who worked at a McDonald’s in South Carolina probably would’ve been happier leaving her nine-year-old daughter home alone, but the home was burglarized and the laptop which might’ve provided a little entertainment was stolen.
So Debra Harrell dropped the girl off at a park about a mile from where she worked.
The mother was arrested earlier this month on child endangerment charges.
The Atlantic finds this troubling:
1) Parents ought to enjoy broad latitude in bringing up their children. There are obviously limits. The state ought to intervene if a child is being abused. But letting a 9-year-old go to the park alone doesn’t come close to meeting that threshold. Honestly, it seems a bit young to me, but I don’t know the kid or the neighborhood, it doesn’t sound as though the mother had any great option, and as I didn’t give birth to the kid, support her, and raise her for 9 years, it isn’t my call.
2) By arresting this mom (presumably causing her to lose her job) and putting the child in foster care, the state has caused the child far more trauma than she was ever likely to suffer in the park, whatever one thinks of the decision to leave her there. Even if the state felt it had the right to declare this parenting decision impermissible, couldn’t they have given this woman a simple warning before taking custody?
3) The state’s decision is coming at a time when it is suffering from a shortage of foster families, as well as a child protective services workforce so overwhelmed that serious child abuse inquiries are regularly closed in violation of policy.
Jessica Grose, writing on Slate, suggests welfare reform pushing more mothers into low-paying jobs has a role in this case.
It’s clear that Harrell was put in a difficult situation and made what she thought was the best choice for her child. But a lot of the posts defending Harrell imply that if she weren’t working, letting a 9-year-old go to a park by herself would have been a questionable call. I’m with Lenore Skenazy, founder of the “free-range kids” movement, who believes modern helicopter parenting has gone too far. She writes, “It may feel like kids are in constant danger, but they are as safe (if not safer) than we were when our parents let us enjoy the summer outside, on our own, without fear of being arrested.” It should be normalized for children who are nearing the end of elementary school to begin doing some things on their own. If every parent who let their fourth-graders go to the park unsupervised were arrested, all the moms from 1972 would have been behind bars.
An online fundraising effort for the woman is nearing its goal.