Just When Parents Need a Village, They Get Arrested

What happens when vigilante parents call the police on kids playing alone in the park? All hell breaks loose.

Only not for the caller.

After all, they only contacted authorities out of concern for a child they deemed at risk.

What did they think would happen? The police were going to buy the kid an ice cream soda before taking him home safe and sound – like a Norman Rockwell painting?

Just a bit of information: the hell that breaks lose happens to the child’s family. The caller remains anonymous.

At least two recent cases involving parent arrests have made national news. Now some folks say they’re keeping their children closer to home. After all, nobody wants to be the target of some do-gooder’s scrutiny – and wind up in jail.

But here’s my take: Some parents think arming their kid with a cell phone is the same as spraying on sun screen or insect repellent, which ads say offer full protection when used according to directions.

A cell phone – if it doesn’t lose power and isn’t lost, stolen or broken –  is not going to keep kids from falling off a sliding board, slicing their finger on a piece of broken glass, or being pushed around by a bully – or worse.

On the other hand, vigilante parents need to get out of other people’s lives. A child old enough to walk to and from the park probably isn’t going to die if they aren’t supervised. And unless somebody else’s kid is in immediate danger or obvious distress, why can’t do-gooders leave well-enough alone?

Debra Harrell played the odds. She took a chance, perhaps in hopes that the “village” Hillary Clinton talked about actually exists.

In June, the  46 year-old single mother was arrested on felony neglect charges for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to play alone in the park while she worked her shift at McDonald’s. The South Carolina woman spent 17 days in jail and temporarily lost custody of her child. A lawyer who heard about the case signed on pro bono.

Reports say a woman saw the girl playing in the park  for a few days, and decided to call the authorities.

Charity workers handing out free lunches said they knew the girl was there without a parent, but didn’t think it was a problem. The park has a splash pad, basketball courts and playground, and lots of adults hanging out with children during the summer. Playing_children on merry-go-round

At some point in my thinking, I sided with the do-gooder. Don’t kids need protection from all the weirdos out there?

But now I think the informer made a mistake.

She based her decision on some preconceived notion about the look and color of child neglect. She didn’t have the facts about the child’s ability to handle herself away from home. And it doesn’t appear that she cared to find out.

She should have left the girl alone.

My dad walked me to morning kindergarten exactly twice. The trip involved crossing U.S. Route 1 with a crossing guard, and walking a total of four blocks. After that, I never again had parent supervision going to or from school.

Playing unsupervised in the neighborhood was a given. The place was virtually crawling with kids now known as baby boomers.

There was no less trouble back then, but we learned what trouble looks like: the four-lane highway where you needed to cross at the light. The rowdy boys who pushed you off your bike, and the car model of the neighborhood creep who drove around at trolling speed peering into backyards – all dangers that parents want to their protect kids from.

But even with all the hand-holding and lecturing in the world, a child eventually needs to go out and experience stuff.

The latest case involves a Florida boy, age 7, and his mother, Nicole Gainey.

“I’m totally dumbfounded by this whole situation,” Port St. Lucie resident Nicole Gainey told WPTV news.

What happened that got Gainey arrested? “Honestly, I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong,” Gainey said. “I was letting him go play.”

Authorities disagreed. And so do I. Whereas nine is probably old enough for most kids, seven is too young to be roaming the neighborhood.

Here’s the thing: If a young kid needs help, who will come to his aid? Having a cell-phone might come in handy. But maybe not.

Not long ago, my adult sons confessed something they had done when they were young, quite unbeknownst to me. They found a short-cut leading to the shopping mall through a culvert under a highway. And yes, my older son, then about eight or nine, took his younger brother along on the adventure.

I was horrified. The distance would have been about half-a-mile.

They had told me they were going to play out in the arroyos – a bunch of rain-gouged ravines running through the semi-arid land surrounding our house in New Mexico.

Actually, arroyos aren’t the safest places to play, either. But we won’t go there.

When they got home, the boys said nothing about a foray to the mall, where they bought candy at the drug store. If they’d been picked up, the cops would have brought them home. The boys would have been in huge trouble, but I doubt that I would have been.

The way I see it, Gainey let her kid have the run of the neighborhood. Playing, she called it. That’s what I would call it, too. It’s what kids have done for centuries. Even before the cell phone, which parents now refuse to believe children can live without.

Gainey gave one to her son.

News sources say someone spotted Dominic near the public pool and asked where his parents were. They were trying to do a good thing.

And then all hell broke lose.

Dominic got scared and ran to the park, about a half-mile from home.

Someone called police, who then went looking for Dominic.  According to the news, officers took the boy home, where they arrested Gainey and charged her with felony child neglect. Gainey told WPTV that she paid a $4,000 bond to get out of jail.

Gainey said the policeman kept going over the danger of pedophiles, and that the park wasn’t a safe place to play. police car

I guess putting up signs saying, “Caution: Pedophiles Lurking” would violate a pervert’s civil rights – or some crazed nonsense.

So what’s my bottom line? Don’t send kids to the park by themselves. Make sure they have a buddy – at least until they’re in the neighborhood of 10.

But before sending any child out alone, whether down the block to a friend’s house or to the park, ask yourself these 10 questions:

  • Does he know his complete address, a parent’s phone number and emergency contact number, and his parents’ first and last names – by heart?
  • In the past, have you left your child home alone for at least 30 minutes? What happened?
  • Have you taught your child never to approach a strange vehicle or give directions to a stranger?
  • Would they be able to detect a suspicious-looking person, and do they know who to talk to if they need help? (Usually a woman with children.)
  • Have you taken time to practice safe street-crossing with your child? Do they always look right, left and then right again? Do you insist that they cross at a light? Have you let him take you to the park, instructing you how to get there and back again?
  • Does your child look old enough to be out alone? (People are more likely to show concern for a young child.)
  •  Is their behavior immature, or do they generally exhibit good common sense?
  • Do they understand what constitutes an emergency and how to call 9-1-1? Can they locate a safe place, like a 7-11 or a dry cleaners? (Kids often have an exaggerated perception of their own ability and will try to handle dangerous situations themselves.)
  • Have you taught your child what objects they must never, ever touch? Things like needles, used condoms, and unknown packages or envelopes.
  • Can your child express his needs and desires in a firm, straightforward way? For example: “Don’t push (touch, hit) me. I don’t like it.”   ” That’s my phone. Give it back.” Etc.

Or just stay on the safe side: hire a blessed babysitter when you go out. And pay a high-schooler or a college student to walk young children to the park or playground.  img-article-how-to-be-a-teen-babysitter

They will at least try to ensure that your precious progeny are still in one piece when you – or they – get home. FFG

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