The most common calls I receive from parents who are accused of child endangerment come from a failure to supervise. Back in the day, parents acted far more loosely with supervision. Many of my friends rode their bikes all over town, stayed home by themselves, or took care of their younger siblings at a young age. However, times have changed substantially and the failure to supervise a child can result in a criminal charge. Here are the most common supervision situations I see in my practice than can result in a child endangerment charge.
- Leaving A Child In A Car
I have counseled and helped several parents who have been charged with crimes after leaving their children alone in a car. California Vehicle Code section 15620 prohibits leaving a child under the age of 6 alone in a vehicle without someone 12 or older. Sometimes parents or caretakers think it is okay to run inside a store, drop off a sibling at school, or even run back inside the house and leave a child unsupervised in a car on the street. One apparent safety issue with leaving a child in a car is heat. However, stranger danger is also an issue. Just recently, a parent left their child and the family dog in the car and a thief drove away with both. Any of these situations can result in a child endangerment charge. Worse yet, law enforcement is required to contact child protective services any time they cite or arrest an adult for child endangerment.
- Leaving A Child At Home Alone
The law does not state what age children are permitted to be left home alone. I have spoken with social workers who struggle with the fact that the law provides no guidance here. However, it is safe to say that parents of children who have not entered junior highschool should think twice before leaving a child home alone. Recently, I had a case where a parent was accused of leaving a five year old in charge of two younger siblings. It just so happens that when that parent stepped away for a moment, an agent of CPS happened to knock on the door looking for someone else. The safety factors with leaving a child at home alone are stranger danger and the hazards inside the home. Even locking the door and advising the child not to open it is not enough. There are hazards that occur inside the home, like a fire or a sudden health issue, that could place a child at risk of harm.
- Raising “Free Range” Children
Parents ultimately have the right to raise their children as they wish within the parameters of the law and honoring the legal rights of their children. I support parents in exercising those rights. Recently, however, there has been controversy over parents who allow their children to walk to places like the park alone when the distance is substantial. We no longer live in a society where children are seen in public alone very often. Earlier this year parents were contacted by CPS for allowing their two children, ages 10 and 6 to walk 1 mile to the park, according to the Washington Post. Someone called the police because they were playing alone and CPS became involved. It took several months and even a second investigation before CPS left this family alone.