Parents arrested for 'neglect' for allowing 11-year-old to play alone in backyard

I don't know if these horror stories about parents being arrested for allowing their kids to play unsupervised are becoming more numerous or if we're just hearing about them more often because of social media. 

But it's hardly relevant to a couple in Florida who found themselves arrested and charged with felony neglect when they couldn't get home in time after work to take care of their 11-year-old son.

Hit and Run:

One afternoon this past April, a Florida mom and dad I'll call Cindy and Fred could not get home in time to let their 11-year-old son into the house. The boy didn't have a key, so he played basketball in the yard. He was alone for 90 minutes. A neighbor called the cops, and when the parents arrived—having been delayed by traffic and rain—they were arrested for negligence.

They were put in handcuffs, strip searched, fingerprinted, and held overnight in jail.

It would be a month before their sons—the 11-year-old and his 4-year-old brother—were allowed home again. Only after the eldest spoke up and begged a judge to give him back to his parents did the situation improve.

I spoke with Cindy about her family’s horrible ordeal.

"My older one was the so-called 'victim,'" she said during a phone interview. But since she and her husband were charged with felony neglect, the younger boy had to be removed from the home, too.

Here is the law: "A person who willfully or by culpable negligence neglects a child without causing great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child commits a felony of the third degree."

I first heard of Cindy's case last week when she wrote to me at Free-Range Kids. Her email explained:

The authorities claim he had no access to water or shelter.  We have an open shed in the back yard and 2 working sinks and 2 hoses.  They said he had no food.  He ate his snacks already.  He had no bathroom, but the responding officer found our yard good enough to relieve himself in while our son sat in a police car alone.  In his own yard, in a state,  Florida, that has no minimum age for children to be alone.  

The children were placed in foster care for two days while the state ran a background check on a relative who was willing to take them in. "Our first choice was my mother," said Cindy. "But she lives in another state and so the kids would have been in foster care even longer until they cleared her." The parents decided to have them placed with a slightly problematic in-state relative instead.

But the parents' ordeal was just beginning.  When the relative got tired of caring for the kids, he sought to get the state to take custody.  The resulting action in civil court almost resulted in the children being placed in foster care, until the 11-year-old asked to see the judge and begged the judge to allow him and his brother to return to the custody of their parents.  The judge did so, but with onerous requirements and restrictions that continue to be a nightmare for the family.

The parents are not in the clear.  They still may have to face criminal charges for the "neglect."  Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if children's services agencies around the country had stellar track records of taking care of kids who are really neglected and abused.  They don't.  And throwing their weight around by coming down like a ton of bricks on obviously good parents for a situation not in their control gives them a chance to exercise authority that they don't bother with when kids are being horribly abused elsewhere.

I don't know if these horror stories about parents being arrested for allowing their kids to play unsupervised are becoming more numerous or if we're just hearing about them more often because of social media. 

But it's hardly relevant to a couple in Florida who found themselves arrested and charged with felony neglect when they couldn't get home in time after work to take care of their 11-year-old son.

Hit and Run:

One afternoon this past April, a Florida mom and dad I'll call Cindy and Fred could not get home in time to let their 11-year-old son into the house. The boy didn't have a key, so he played basketball in the yard. He was alone for 90 minutes. A neighbor called the cops, and when the parents arrived—having been delayed by traffic and rain—they were arrested for negligence.

They were put in handcuffs, strip searched, fingerprinted, and held overnight in jail.

It would be a month before their sons—the 11-year-old and his 4-year-old brother—were allowed home again. Only after the eldest spoke up and begged a judge to give him back to his parents did the situation improve.

I spoke with Cindy about her family’s horrible ordeal.

"My older one was the so-called 'victim,'" she said during a phone interview. But since she and her husband were charged with felony neglect, the younger boy had to be removed from the home, too.

Here is the law: "A person who willfully or by culpable negligence neglects a child without causing great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child commits a felony of the third degree."

I first heard of Cindy's case last week when she wrote to me at Free-Range Kids. Her email explained:

The authorities claim he had no access to water or shelter.  We have an open shed in the back yard and 2 working sinks and 2 hoses.  They said he had no food.  He ate his snacks already.  He had no bathroom, but the responding officer found our yard good enough to relieve himself in while our son sat in a police car alone.  In his own yard, in a state,  Florida, that has no minimum age for children to be alone.  

The children were placed in foster care for two days while the state ran a background check on a relative who was willing to take them in. "Our first choice was my mother," said Cindy. "But she lives in another state and so the kids would have been in foster care even longer until they cleared her." The parents decided to have them placed with a slightly problematic in-state relative instead.

But the parents' ordeal was just beginning.  When the relative got tired of caring for the kids, he sought to get the state to take custody.  The resulting action in civil court almost resulted in the children being placed in foster care, until the 11-year-old asked to see the judge and begged the judge to allow him and his brother to return to the custody of their parents.  The judge did so, but with onerous requirements and restrictions that continue to be a nightmare for the family.

The parents are not in the clear.  They still may have to face criminal charges for the "neglect."  Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if children's services agencies around the country had stellar track records of taking care of kids who are really neglected and abused.  They don't.  And throwing their weight around by coming down like a ton of bricks on obviously good parents for a situation not in their control gives them a chance to exercise authority that they don't bother with when kids are being horribly abused elsewhere.