Recently, the state of New York passed a bill that will outlaw letting kids under age 8 wait in the car without a guardian of at least age 12. After reading this opinion piece in the New York Post, I am more convinced than ever that this should not be a criminal act.
I believe dragging kids across the street or through a parking lot to fetch a gallon of milk at the back of a giant grocery store is far more dangerous than leaving them in the car for five minutes (assuming, of course, the temperature isn’t scorching). I believe waking a napping toddler to run into the dry cleaner is disruptive and unnecessary. If the kids are secure in their car seats and the doors are locked, the odds of something truly terrible happening are beyond slim.
But, I am reluctant to leave my kids in the car even for a minute. Because too many people who know nothing about me or my family or my intentions have vowed to call the police and DCFS if they spot kids alone in a car. Give me a break!
I personally know two families that faced DCFS investigations. It was HELL. Hell for the parents. Hell for the kids. Hell for the extended family that had to run the family while they were under scrutiny. In both cases, after months of questioning and severe family disruption and separation, the families were cleared of any wrongdoing.
We all know of the horrible stories where babies died when left in hot cars. Make no mistake, these are tragedies. But, the kids were not intentionally left in the car – rather, the parents forgot they were there. It was a horrible, sad, heartbreaking accident, and criminalizing this kind of accident doesn’t do any favors for mourning parents or the community at large.
To me, criminilizing kids in a car seems so arbitrary. Lots of kids die every year in swimming pools – why not outlaw those? Kids die choking on hot dogs. Kids suffer when the fall at the playground. And how is kids in a car considered neglect, but feeding obese children fast food every night doesn’t cause an investigation? Shouldn’t parents who don’t read books to their children and opt for 12 daily hours of screen time instead have to deal with DCFS? Why aren’t parents who refuse to encourage good dental hygiene in their kids arrested?!
As a community, how do we determine what deserves a call to the police and what doesn’t?!
We need to recognize that it takes a community to raise children. We need to trust parents to know what is right and best for their kids at any given moment. If you see kids in a car and you fear for their safety, don’t call the police. Take five minutes to watch the car until the parent returns! Let’s all give each other a break. Life doesn’t have to be more difficult than it already is.
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