Mom arrested for leaving her children alone to go pick up some food
A million questions go through a parent’s head when they decide whether to leave a child home alone or not. Can the child be trusted? Will they be safe? How long will they be alone? And also apparently now parents need to wonder: will I be arrested?
Because that is just what happened to a Maryland mom while she was on vacation with her children in Delaware. According to an article in the USA Today, Susan Terrillion left her 8- and 9-year-old kids home alone in their vacation rental while she ran out to pick up some food. The article states a witness “made contact” with the children when their dogs ran into the road in front of his vehicle. After stopping to help the children, he discovered they were alone and, apparently, felt the need to call the police. When police learned Terrillion had left the children alone for at least 45 minutes, she was arrested, charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of her children, and released on $500 unsecured bail.
Wait a minute… arrested? For leaving an eight and nine-year-old home alone for 45 minutes? Unless there’s more to the story than has been reported, parents everywhere are probably shaking their heads because they too have left their kids home alone at about the same age. Are we all at risk of being arrested?
It depends on where you live. There is no federal law regarding when a parent can legally leave a state home alone; rather states set the standards. Only a handful of states have a minimum age for kids to be legally left home alone, which range from six years old to 14 years old. And in Delaware, where the family was staying at the time, there was no minimum age. However, according to the State of Delaware’s website, “While there is no law in Delaware regulating an appropriate age for a child to be left home alone, the Division of Family Services will accept for investigation any report of a child under the age of 12 being left alone. DFS will also accept reports for children age 12 and over if there are any extenuating circumstances (e.g. developmental delays, physical disabilities).”
Maybe the mother made a mistake in leaving the children home alone. Maybe they weren’t quite ready. Or maybe – just maybe – the kids were perfectly capable of being left home alone and this was a simple mistake. (Dogs get out of the house; kids call them back inside; stranger calls the police.) I don’t know, and neither does a stranger. But do you know who does know whether they might be capable of being left home alone? Their mother. And based on the information released, the children were not in danger. (The dogs ran into the road – not the children.)
The decision to leave a child home alone is not one that most parents take lightly. But it is an essential part of the process of growing up. In fact, the Child Welfare Information Gateway (which is part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services), “[b]eing trusted to stay home alone can be a positive experience for a child who is mature and well prepared. It can boost the child’s confidence and promote independence and responsibility.”
That’s not to say that all children should be left alone, or that that there is a one-size-fits-all rule. The safety of our children is of utmost importance, after all. But while these laws might have children’s best interests in mind, in many situations they end up hurting families and handcuffing parents (literally and figuratively) to arbitrary guidelines. I know plenty of good and responsible parents who feel comfortable leaving their children home alone at a younger age than the state-mandated minimum requirement; other children might not be ready to stay home alone even in their teens.
Even more than that, what the hell happened to giving people the benefit of the doubt, and parents looking out for each other instead of rushing to call the cops? What happened to common sense?
When my younger son was about four-years-old, he sometimes played alone outside while his older brother was at school. One morning, he was playing in our front yard – alone – while I was inside the house. We live on a rather busy street, but he was playing close to the house and I peeked out the window to check on him every few minutes.
After my son had come inside, our doorbell rang and I opened the door to find a woman I had never met standing on my doorstep. She said she had seen a little boy playing in my yard and was worried that he was alone. I assured her that the boy was my son, and he was fine. She apologized and seemed slightly embarrassed. I thanked her for checking in, even though I felt slightly defensive that someone was checking up on me. But this is how it is supposed to work: people looking out for their kids and one another. Sure, that other mom and I both felt awkward about the whole thing, but a whole lot less awkward than if my son was in danger or I had opened the door to a police officer, that’s for sure.
In the case of this mom vacationing in Delaware, maybe the incident itself was enough of a learning lesson. Maybe a fine was even in order. But arrested? One can only assume that there is more to this story than has been reported so far; if not, apparently common sense is dead and parental discretion means shit these days. Because it is far more traumatic to see your mom arrested than it is being left home alone for a few minutes.