Never leave a child alone in a car

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  January 29, 2010 06:00 AM

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Barbara, I have a 3-year-old grandson.  His mother is my step-daughter.  She goes to college and leaves him in her car while attending classes. 

She [also] leaves him with her mother, who is a stroke victim.  Her mother has no use of her left arm and is wheelchair-bound.  I have expressed concern about this little boy being able to "escape" the car, run from his other grandmother.  He is naughty, screams at her, takes her cellphone (which leaves her totally helpless).  I know things have changed with child-rearing but is this considered "okay" or "normal?"  I don't want to be a busybody, but it scares the living  daylights out of me.  Help!

From: Karen, Stigler

Dear Karen,

Your step-daughter needs to know: It is NEVER OK to leave a  child unattended in a car.

In any weather, including a beautiful, balmy day, there is a danger of dehydration, abduction, and injury. In hot weather, there is a heightened danger of heat stroke or death. In cold weather, depending how and where the car is parked, a snow drift can block the exhaust pipe, causing the car to fill with carbon monoxide which can cause death. OneToughJob.org urges anyone who sees a child left unattended in a car to call 911.

I don't know where Stigler is, but in Massachusetts, it is illegal to leave a child left unattended in a car, even for a few minutes, according to Dave McGrath, deputy commissioner for the state Department of Early Education and Care.

"In fact," he said, "we've had a push in recent years to alert parents to the dangers, especially in the spring when the weather starts to warm up. People think they can run into a store, but children die, even in the spring," because "in a confined space, it can heat up pretty quickly."

The second part of your letter is also troubling, but not for the reasons you cite. An adult in a wheelchair can be a caring, competent caregiver, assuming the appropriate obstacles and hazards for both child and adult are removed, and that appropriate precautions are taken to make sure the environment is safe for both of them.

What worries me is your description of this child. He sounds like he is out of control, and, from your description, I'm betting this has more to do with a lack of consistent limit-setting in his life than for reasons of temperament.

Bottom line? You're right to be worried about this child. His mom needs a basic parenting 101 course, the likes of which are sometimes offered by a local Y, or the resources and support of a parenting organization that offers mom-to-mom support, such as P2P (Parent to Parent USA) which has a network in all but 14 states.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.


 

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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33 comments so far...
  1. Children die every year from exposure (whether to heat or cold) as a result of having been left in vehicles unattended. I have yet to hear of a case that didn't go to court to prosecute the caregiver that left the child.

    Most states make it illegal and I can tell you this, if I saw a kid left alone, I would call 911.

    Posted by Phe January 29, 10 08:28 AM
  1. You have got to be kidding me. This mother needs much much more than basic parenting classes. Leaving a 3 year old in a car while she takes a college class is way beyond poor parenting judgement. That is total neglect and the child should be taken away. I feel a twinge of guilt when I leave my 8 year old alone while I go into a convenience store. Someone needs to call child services before something terrible happens.

    Posted by Dad January 29, 10 08:36 AM
  1. Funny, someone posted this on Babycenter as well.

    Posted by merilisa January 29, 10 09:14 AM
  1. Left in the car to go to class. I'm surprised someone hasn't seen him and called the cops already. We've all been pushed to do things with our children that we wouldn't ordinarily do, but this is beyond that.
    You should call DHS and drop a hint that this is happening at whatever college. You may think this is severe, but you'd never forgive yourself if something worse happened.

    Posted by lala January 29, 10 09:23 AM
  1. I am so sick of hearing this story ....same situation different people. I am sorry to say this but your daughter isn't too bright...she needs more than college courses to smarten her up! If I walked by a car and saw this, the police would be called immediately as well as a call into DSS. I am wondering why another passerby hasn't already. I am sorry to be so judgemental but really? Why do people have to be so stupid????

    Posted by jd January 29, 10 09:35 AM
  1. Well I hope none of you ever walk past my car when I'm returning a shopping cart to a stand.
    While I agree in part--that it's not okay to leave a small child alone in a car for long periods of time, I have to take exception to the rest of Barbara's comments--especially the over the top fear mongering.

    When I was 6 until I was 10 and deemed old enough to just stay home, I would stay in the car and read while my mom did grocery shopping. There were no cell phones. I had the car keys to turn on heat or air as needed. If there was an issue, I went into the grocery store and I found her. Miraculously, I survived and was not stolen, raped, or even ever approached.

    While many officers SAY there is a law on the books, I have to meet one who could cite the exact law, the exact parameters of who qualifies as a child, and exactly how long the child would have to be alone for it to be a crime (the 1 minute it take for me to push a shopping cart 6 cars down to the carrell and walk back? The 3 minutes for an ATM? What about if I'm not paying with credit for my gas or the credit card reader is broken and I need to run over to the guy ). No one seems to know what class of "crime" it is, nor what the penalty is. Sorry, I just don't buy that it's a legit law that a person could be prosecuted under for leaving a child alone for 5 minutes.

    This sort of fear mongering is what leads parents to wrap their kids in bubble wrap. But seriously, get a grip--there aren't child predators circling the parking lot at Target just waiting for you to leave your child in a locked car for the minute it takes to return a cart. No one is prowling the ATM lot looking for a cute baby to sell on the black market. And use your brains--snow is not going to spontaneously jump up off the ground and stuff itself into your tailpipe.

    I strongly encourage everyone to read Lenore Skenazy's blog and book, both entitled "Free Range Kids: Giving our kids the same freedoms we had." You will shocked to learn that...

    --There has NEVER been a case of poisoning from a stranger's Halloween Candy reported....EVER

    --Crime is lower now than it ever was when we were growing up as kids

    ---Most kids are hurt or taken by people they know. For it to be a stranger, it would take 750,000 years of staying in one spot to make it even a barely likely statistical probability.

    Posted by C January 29, 10 09:54 AM
  1. It seems that there is a sensible way to get this taken care of. Sit in sight of this nonsense in your own car, take a photo WITH TIME AND DATE when the stepdaughter walks off to class. Take another picture every 5 minutes. Call the police 40 minutes later.

    That way there is evidence that the abandonment in the car was not a momentary run-off-to-get-the-cart-back.

    Local child-protection authorities will make an assessment of the services that this child needs. The mother will have the chance to be part of the solution IF she can make it to court hearings on time.

    I have no problem with kids over the age of 6 being left at home briefly without an adult.

    A THREE year old in a car is helpless and could not call 911 if necessary. Making this a habit is the real crime.

    Posted by Irene January 29, 10 10:15 AM
  1. Someone posted this exact same story on the Moms discussion board as well.

    Posted by AJ January 29, 10 10:20 AM
  1. Amen, C.

    Leaving a 3 year old in a car to go take a college class is not the same thing as leaving kids in a car for a minute to return a grocery cart, and these should not be treated the same.

    The mom in the original letter has all sorts of bad news written all over her. But her situation should not equate to overreaction in all situations.

    Posted by BMS January 29, 10 10:21 AM
  1. C - Thank you for your good sense.
    I agree that this situation is obviously endangerment and out of hand, but *never* leave any child, ever? I honestly believe that leaving a child strapped in a car seat in a parked car in sight of the parent for one minute (such as to put library books in the drop box) is rather different than leaving a child alone in a car for an hour to attend class.
    About the so-called law: tt is against EEC regulations for a child-care provider to leave a child unattended in a car for even a few minutes (Standards for licensure of family child care 102 CMR 8.10(5)), but I cannot find a MA law about it, nor any definition about a "child". Don't tell me it's illegal to leave a minor alone in a car, that's obviously wrong as minors (with licenses) may drive.

    Posted by Lizzie January 29, 10 10:31 AM
  1. C, i know what you are saying...there is a difference between returning your shopping cart that is probably no more than 2 or 3 car lengths away from you and not being near your car at all. I think the logical person would at least try to take notice as to who is around the vehicle prior to calling. It comes down to being smart adn logical.
    I also like what Irene said because that is what I would probably do...hang out and see how long it takes for the parent to return. Sorry. but I care about children way more than I care about appearing paranoid about the possibilities of what COULD happen.

    Posted by jd January 29, 10 10:48 AM
  1. "C" has it right on. Be realistic. Don't be stupid.

    Posted by snowfields January 29, 10 11:51 AM
  1. No one has probably called the cops because as the letter writter stated, there is someone in the car with the child. Just not a very capable one.

    Posted by momof2 January 29, 10 12:36 PM
  1. First of all, if this letter is real, then where is this letter writer's son, who is the father of the child?

    If he's as clueless as the step-daughter, then they need to be reported to DSS as of TODAY!!!

    Secondly, I challenge anyone who thinks about leaving a child alone in a car "for a minute" to think about this scenario......if you had one million dollars in cash, and it was piled up on the front passenger seat, how long would you leave the car unattended? Just askin'

    Posted by Cosmogirl January 29, 10 12:49 PM
  1. C said it so well.

    OTOH, if this mom is truly leaving her kid in the car while she attends classes (so we're talking at least 45 minutes or an hour), that's a real problem. And from what we're told, it sure sounds like this woman has no clue how to be a parent, and needs serious help. LW, if the situation is truly as you describe, why don't you offer to take the kid? Or help find childcare if you are unable to care for the child yourself? And if you are refused, and can document the awful things you say are happening, call DSS or something.

    Posted by akmom January 29, 10 12:57 PM
  1. There is not a specific law for the state of Massachusetts that makes it illegal to leave a child alone in a vehicle. Rep. Philip Travis, D-Rehoboth, proposed legislation in 2006 that would fine people for leaving a child unaccompanied by another person at least 14 years old in a car. The fine would be $200 for a first offense, and at least $500 for subsequent offenses. The bill did not pass.

    You can't leave an animal in the car in Massachusetts because you will get fined; but there is not a law to protect children.

    When I hear statements from people justifying their actions that it’s okay to leave a child alone in a vehicle I know immediately that the person has put their own ‘convenience’ ahead of the safety of their child in that particular situation. Since when are kids convenient? When you leave a child alone in the car to pay for gas how could you possibly know it would only take a minute or two to pay? I’ve been in a line at a convenience store/gas station many times for a much longer period of time; haven’t you? Car thieves actually target convenience stores and gas stations for places to steal cars because people are lax and leave their keys in the ignition.

    As far as someone thinking that children being taken from or with an automobile is rare or that this is ‘the over the top fear mongering;’ they need to stop by our office and we’ll show them the THOUSANDS of cases we have documented where a child has been left alone in a vehicle and were taken during a vehicle theft, strangled by power windows, knocked the vehicle into gear, died of hyperthermia and other situations you can not even imagine.

    Please do not leave your children alone in vehicles. We need to wake-up and understand something can happen to them in a matter of seconds. If we start thinking about the issue of leaving children alone in a vehicle in the same way we think about not leaving children alone by a pool, body of water or bathtub because something terrible can happen in a matter of seconds……….then it should be quite obvious that you should never leave children alone in vehicles.
    As far as the 'mothering' example in this post..........run; don't walk to get protection for this childd.
    www.KidsAndCars.org
    Jane

    Posted by Janette Fennell January 29, 10 01:04 PM
  1. Janette,
    I really think you're over the top here. Kids are not convenient, but life is a balancing act. It's more dangerous to drag a squirming 2-year old across an icy parking lot to return a cart than to leave him properly secured in a car seat for the time it takes to walk 50 yards.

    And 14-years-old as a proposed cut-off. That's insane! Kids babysit at 13. And there are even more hazards inside a house than a car.

    Further, it's rather impossible to not leave a child in the car alone for a minute when you have two or more sleeping children to carry in.

    Oh, and for the person who postulates leaving a million in cash on the front seat - there are easily a million times more people who would steal your cash than steal your baby. Most from decency, some from self-interest.

    Posted by Lizzie January 29, 10 01:58 PM
  1. It sounds like a horrible situation. Wonder why the letter writer hasn't offered to step in and babysit?

    Posted by Wondering January 29, 10 01:59 PM
  1. As is common with most posts, I don't believe most of you read the letter very carefully.
    This woman is leaving a three year old in a car, alone, while she is in class. Last time I was in college, classes were at least 45-60 minutes long. The caregiver mentioned is someone that watches him at another time.
    Please read more carefully.
    Leaving a kid in car while you return your cart, or run to the mailbox, is different than going to class. I can't even believe that that has become part of the discussion.


    Posted by lala January 29, 10 02:08 PM
  1. Jane wrote: "When I hear statements from people justifying their actions that it’s okay to leave a child alone in a vehicle I know immediately that the person has put their own ‘convenience’ ahead of the safety of their child in that particular situation." Simply put, you are wrong. And judgmental. I have left my daughter alone in the car, because I put her safety first. Like when I needed to run 6 bags of groceries into the house, and it's safer for her to stay strapped into her carseat for those 30 seconds than it would be to have her unattended in the house. Bottom line: let's take it easy with the generalizations and the fear-mongering. Obviously, a person has to be sensible and use their best judgment in every situation. And if a person does not appear to have good judgment and the safety of a child is at stake, intervene. Otherwise, blanket statements and sensationalizing is not really helpful.


    Posted by G. January 29, 10 02:10 PM
  1. If this is your step daughter, then presumably it's your husband's daughter? Has anyone even talked to her about this first, before we run off and call the cops? Couldn't her father intervene here? This is beyond "I left something in the house I'm running back in to get it." The fact that she feels she needs to leave the kid in the car while she goes to class tells me that her decision making radar is totally turned off. Perhaps she is overwhelmed, etc.

    C, I agree you're a voice of reason here, but on the other hand, there's no comparing the climate when we were kids to now. We keep our kids in a bubble for a reason-- it's much more dangerous today than it was when we were kids.

    Posted by suz January 29, 10 02:20 PM
  1. When I was kid I used to accompany my parents grocery shopping at the Fort Devens commissary and PX. From the time I was too old to sit in the cart (3 yrs old?) to the time I was old enough to get a base ID card (13 yrs old), I was not allowed in these buildings and had to sit outside in a waiting area or in the car bored out of my gourd until my parents were done shopping. At Hanscom base we were allowed in the stores so my parents must have gone to Devens just for that blissful alone time to get their shopping done. I can't even fathom that being acceptable or required today. Anyone know if this still holds true on military bases? Thank you C and Lizzie. A kid left in a locked car while you run into the bank or convenience store is not a crime. People should take notice when its clearly a case of neglect (long time, hot day with windows closed, mall parking lot) but stop accusing everyone of child endangerment when everything is clearly just fine. If you are worried, sit quietly in your car and watch. Chances are good that mom will be out within five or ten minutes and there is no cause for DSS OR confronting the parent with your holier-than-thou tirade.

    Posted by Common Sense January 29, 10 02:47 PM
  1. Oh please. Crime stats have been declining for years. The whole 'the world is more dangerous' thing is a myth. We hear about the dangerous things that happen 250 times a day on 12 different news channels so we start to think they are really common.

    I'm not saying leave your kid in the middle of a bad neighborhood at midnight. But neither do you have to handcuff them to your side every waking moment. Oh wait - better do it while they sleep too - someone could climb in their window!

    Posted by BMS January 29, 10 03:18 PM
  1. Suz said "We keep our kids in a bubble for a reason-- it's much more dangerous today than it was when we were kids." According to crime statistics, this simply is not true.

    I urge you to read Lenore Skenazy's book "Free Range Kids". Here's her website - http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/

    Posted by Cait January 29, 10 03:19 PM
  1. Ya know when reading the headline I figured it was the usual chastising that goes along with a parent admitting that they leave their child(ren) in the car to run into the gas station, convenience store, ATM, mailbox etc. and I was ready to roll my eyes because honestly, who doesn't do that?

    But this situation? OMG my heart stopped reading this letter. This women doesn't need parenting classes, she nees a full-blown DSS intervention. If she is taking classes as an alternative to/adjunct of public assistance, she can get a childcare voucher for while she is in school. At three years old, and with behavior problems, this child probably qualifies for free pre-school or head start anyway, which it sounds like he could desperately use. Not only is her child not safe, the disabled mother isn't safe either. What a horrible life for this kid - instead of being in a nurturing, stimulating setting with professional caregivers he's either locked in a car or torturing his disabled grandmother? I hope this kid's mother gets help, smartens up, and chooses reliable birth control. People like this shouldn't have children. I was a young single mother so I know it's tough but honest to gosh I had more sense when I was 10 years old than it sounds like this mother has.

    Posted by Jen January 29, 10 03:27 PM
  1. Please visit this web site for more information on the dangers children face being left alone inside vehicles.

    www.kidsandcars.org

    Posted by Amber January 29, 10 05:04 PM
  1. "A kid left in a locked car while you run into the bank or convenience store is not a crime."

    No. But it is stupid. That's not 30 seconds. That's who knows how long while you wait in line and conduct your business and you cannot see your child. (Weather-related problems can happen very fast to young kids. In summer, the inside of a car can reach 120 degrees in as few as 10 minutes.)

    But at any rate, this whole argument is so completely irrelevant I can't believe it is happening. We are not talking here about buckling a little one in the car and then running 30 seconds to drop off a cart. We are not talking about leaving your child buckled in the car in your driveway for 30 seconds while you drop groceries in the hall.

    We are talking about leaving a toddler in a car, alone, for the entire length of a college class. That is insane, and very, very dangerous. It is not fear mongering to talk about the danger in that context, so stop with the silly justifications about why it's best for you to leave your kid locked in a car for 30 seconds -- no one was talking about returning a grocery cart for heaven's sake. Barbara was not talking about brief seconds in her answer; she was talking about minutes. 5 or 10 or 15 minutes is dangerous. No one is bashing you for 30 seconds, with the car in sight. But parked in a parking lot, you gone away to a *college class* -- that is the subject.

    The stepmom here should call DSS. This child is being neglected and he is seriously at risk.

    Posted by jlen January 29, 10 09:06 PM
  1. So, there are two different issues. The first issue is the mother in the original letter. She really should be arrested for child endangerment and if I knew who she was I'd turn her in. Literally criminal.

    The second issue is the thread that has been taken up with the comments. My personal rule of thumb is if the car is in sight, then I'm OK stepping away from the car for a minute. However, if the car is going to be out of sight I take my son with me. I personally don't leave my son in the car when I want to go into a store. Yes, the chances of anything happening are low. So are the chances of getting in a car accident - but I still buckle my seatbelt and buy car insurance.

    Posted by Mom of a 2 year old January 30, 10 10:54 PM
  1. This letter can't possibly be true... I mean really - this step-grandmother KNOWS that this woman is leaving her child in a locked car for 45-60 min. to attend class and all she does is write a letter about it??!! The whole family needs intervention.... and permanent birth control.

    Posted by suz January 30, 10 11:24 PM
  1. Think about it from the flip side. Whatever convenience is gained by leaving a child in a car alone for a few minutes---what on earth would you do if you found yourself in that tiny percentage and the child was NOT there when you returned? Whatever few minutes saved, are lost and then some as you frantically search for your child. And yes, you get to tell whomever comes to help you, strangers, the police, news teams, etc. that you LEFT your child in the car....because why? And children don't have to be abducted, by the age of 5 or 6, they can get out of the car by themselves.
    Car theft, abductions, etc. are rare, but many are crimes of opportunity. Don't give anyone that opportunity with your child. And leaving a child in the car for possibly HOURS to take a class? Hmm. Sounds like a "fail" grade to me.
    About six months ago, man in NH went in to get coffee and returned to find someone had called 911, and instead of a quick cup of joe, he got....to be bailed out by his wife, hauled in to DSS and all over the local news. Is that worth the extra time takes to bring your child with you?
    Go ahead, leave your child in the car. Next time it might be your lucky day. Isn't that the lottery you're playing?

    Posted by c'mon, people! January 31, 10 11:11 AM
  1. Is anyone going to give this woman the advice she needs? I think we can all agree that leaving a 3 year old in a car while you attend a college course (or courses!) is not a good thing. It is not clear to me if the other grandmother is actually in the car with him or this is a separate situation, but I don't think either scenario is very safe.

    So no, letter writer, this is not normal parenting. I'll go out on a limb and assume that this mother is young, perhaps single, and either doesn't have the money for appropriate child care or doesn't know how to access it.

    Call her up and tell her that this is an inappropriate situation and that she needs to fine a child care provider. If there is a father involved, he should be part of this, because perhaps they can alter their schedules so they don't need other care. Offer to help her to do this (her school probably has resources), and if you can, help her pay for it. Or if you can offer to watch this child a couple of times a week.that would be very nice.

    On the other hand, if she's got the money and the wherewithal to hire child care services, but just doesn't care to, then I'd go straight to DSS

    Posted by ash January 31, 10 10:22 PM
  1. I would hope that our officials (like Dave McGrath) would familiarize themselves with the actual law- a quick google search turns up the following from the MA Trial Court Law Libraries:
    http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/subject/about/childabusefaq.html

    Posted by fact checker February 1, 10 03:53 PM
  1. I was doing a search to find out the actual laws related to whether or not it's illegal to leave an 11 year old alone in a car ... the reason being is that in my local paper in the Pacific NW there's a story about a boy that age who was robbed while his parents were inside the local mall. The boy had gotten out of the car to go and check his bank balance at the ATM machine outside of the mall (isn't it strange that an 11 year old was checking his bank balance? Go figure). When he went back to the car a man approached the car, opened the door and stuck his hand into the boy's shirt pocket stealing his iPod and then demanded the money the boy had withdrawn from the ATM. The kid hadn't actually withdrawn any money, but he did have a $20 in his back pocket, so he gave it to the guy and the robber ran off. The parents called the cops after returning to the vehicle and finding the child crying. The only comment that was left for the article so far was from someone bringing up the legality of leaving the child in the car unattended, so I did the search and found this article. Doesn't seem to answer my question, but I figured that I'd post something because JD (one of the other posters) was so adamant about there being some overexaggerations in society today that creates a delusion about safety ... well JD ... maybe you should stuff it, because you obviously don't have a clue as to how desperate a thief can get and how bold they can be when they target vulnerable children.

    Here's the article:
    http://www.tdn.com/news/local/article_37f4ff16-4759-11df-916d-001cc4c002e0.html?mode=story

    Posted by MJ April 14, 10 01:03 AM
 
33 comments so far...
  1. Children die every year from exposure (whether to heat or cold) as a result of having been left in vehicles unattended. I have yet to hear of a case that didn't go to court to prosecute the caregiver that left the child.

    Most states make it illegal and I can tell you this, if I saw a kid left alone, I would call 911.

    Posted by Phe January 29, 10 08:28 AM
  1. You have got to be kidding me. This mother needs much much more than basic parenting classes. Leaving a 3 year old in a car while she takes a college class is way beyond poor parenting judgement. That is total neglect and the child should be taken away. I feel a twinge of guilt when I leave my 8 year old alone while I go into a convenience store. Someone needs to call child services before something terrible happens.

    Posted by Dad January 29, 10 08:36 AM
  1. Funny, someone posted this on Babycenter as well.

    Posted by merilisa January 29, 10 09:14 AM
  1. Left in the car to go to class. I'm surprised someone hasn't seen him and called the cops already. We've all been pushed to do things with our children that we wouldn't ordinarily do, but this is beyond that.
    You should call DHS and drop a hint that this is happening at whatever college. You may think this is severe, but you'd never forgive yourself if something worse happened.

    Posted by lala January 29, 10 09:23 AM
  1. I am so sick of hearing this story ....same situation different people. I am sorry to say this but your daughter isn't too bright...she needs more than college courses to smarten her up! If I walked by a car and saw this, the police would be called immediately as well as a call into DSS. I am wondering why another passerby hasn't already. I am sorry to be so judgemental but really? Why do people have to be so stupid????

    Posted by jd January 29, 10 09:35 AM
  1. Well I hope none of you ever walk past my car when I'm returning a shopping cart to a stand.
    While I agree in part--that it's not okay to leave a small child alone in a car for long periods of time, I have to take exception to the rest of Barbara's comments--especially the over the top fear mongering.

    When I was 6 until I was 10 and deemed old enough to just stay home, I would stay in the car and read while my mom did grocery shopping. There were no cell phones. I had the car keys to turn on heat or air as needed. If there was an issue, I went into the grocery store and I found her. Miraculously, I survived and was not stolen, raped, or even ever approached.

    While many officers SAY there is a law on the books, I have to meet one who could cite the exact law, the exact parameters of who qualifies as a child, and exactly how long the child would have to be alone for it to be a crime (the 1 minute it take for me to push a shopping cart 6 cars down to the carrell and walk back? The 3 minutes for an ATM? What about if I'm not paying with credit for my gas or the credit card reader is broken and I need to run over to the guy ). No one seems to know what class of "crime" it is, nor what the penalty is. Sorry, I just don't buy that it's a legit law that a person could be prosecuted under for leaving a child alone for 5 minutes.

    This sort of fear mongering is what leads parents to wrap their kids in bubble wrap. But seriously, get a grip--there aren't child predators circling the parking lot at Target just waiting for you to leave your child in a locked car for the minute it takes to return a cart. No one is prowling the ATM lot looking for a cute baby to sell on the black market. And use your brains--snow is not going to spontaneously jump up off the ground and stuff itself into your tailpipe.

    I strongly encourage everyone to read Lenore Skenazy's blog and book, both entitled "Free Range Kids: Giving our kids the same freedoms we had." You will shocked to learn that...

    --There has NEVER been a case of poisoning from a stranger's Halloween Candy reported....EVER

    --Crime is lower now than it ever was when we were growing up as kids

    ---Most kids are hurt or taken by people they know. For it to be a stranger, it would take 750,000 years of staying in one spot to make it even a barely likely statistical probability.

    Posted by C January 29, 10 09:54 AM
  1. It seems that there is a sensible way to get this taken care of. Sit in sight of this nonsense in your own car, take a photo WITH TIME AND DATE when the stepdaughter walks off to class. Take another picture every 5 minutes. Call the police 40 minutes later.

    That way there is evidence that the abandonment in the car was not a momentary run-off-to-get-the-cart-back.

    Local child-protection authorities will make an assessment of the services that this child needs. The mother will have the chance to be part of the solution IF she can make it to court hearings on time.

    I have no problem with kids over the age of 6 being left at home briefly without an adult.

    A THREE year old in a car is helpless and could not call 911 if necessary. Making this a habit is the real crime.

    Posted by Irene January 29, 10 10:15 AM
  1. Someone posted this exact same story on the Moms discussion board as well.

    Posted by AJ January 29, 10 10:20 AM
  1. Amen, C.

    Leaving a 3 year old in a car to go take a college class is not the same thing as leaving kids in a car for a minute to return a grocery cart, and these should not be treated the same.

    The mom in the original letter has all sorts of bad news written all over her. But her situation should not equate to overreaction in all situations.

    Posted by BMS January 29, 10 10:21 AM
  1. C - Thank you for your good sense.
    I agree that this situation is obviously endangerment and out of hand, but *never* leave any child, ever? I honestly believe that leaving a child strapped in a car seat in a parked car in sight of the parent for one minute (such as to put library books in the drop box) is rather different than leaving a child alone in a car for an hour to attend class.
    About the so-called law: tt is against EEC regulations for a child-care provider to leave a child unattended in a car for even a few minutes (Standards for licensure of family child care 102 CMR 8.10(5)), but I cannot find a MA law about it, nor any definition about a "child". Don't tell me it's illegal to leave a minor alone in a car, that's obviously wrong as minors (with licenses) may drive.

    Posted by Lizzie January 29, 10 10:31 AM
  1. C, i know what you are saying...there is a difference between returning your shopping cart that is probably no more than 2 or 3 car lengths away from you and not being near your car at all. I think the logical person would at least try to take notice as to who is around the vehicle prior to calling. It comes down to being smart adn logical.
    I also like what Irene said because that is what I would probably do...hang out and see how long it takes for the parent to return. Sorry. but I care about children way more than I care about appearing paranoid about the possibilities of what COULD happen.

    Posted by jd January 29, 10 10:48 AM
  1. "C" has it right on. Be realistic. Don't be stupid.

    Posted by snowfields January 29, 10 11:51 AM
  1. No one has probably called the cops because as the letter writter stated, there is someone in the car with the child. Just not a very capable one.

    Posted by momof2 January 29, 10 12:36 PM
  1. First of all, if this letter is real, then where is this letter writer's son, who is the father of the child?

    If he's as clueless as the step-daughter, then they need to be reported to DSS as of TODAY!!!

    Secondly, I challenge anyone who thinks about leaving a child alone in a car "for a minute" to think about this scenario......if you had one million dollars in cash, and it was piled up on the front passenger seat, how long would you leave the car unattended? Just askin'

    Posted by Cosmogirl January 29, 10 12:49 PM
  1. C said it so well.

    OTOH, if this mom is truly leaving her kid in the car while she attends classes (so we're talking at least 45 minutes or an hour), that's a real problem. And from what we're told, it sure sounds like this woman has no clue how to be a parent, and needs serious help. LW, if the situation is truly as you describe, why don't you offer to take the kid? Or help find childcare if you are unable to care for the child yourself? And if you are refused, and can document the awful things you say are happening, call DSS or something.

    Posted by akmom January 29, 10 12:57 PM
  1. There is not a specific law for the state of Massachusetts that makes it illegal to leave a child alone in a vehicle. Rep. Philip Travis, D-Rehoboth, proposed legislation in 2006 that would fine people for leaving a child unaccompanied by another person at least 14 years old in a car. The fine would be $200 for a first offense, and at least $500 for subsequent offenses. The bill did not pass.

    You can't leave an animal in the car in Massachusetts because you will get fined; but there is not a law to protect children.

    When I hear statements from people justifying their actions that it’s okay to leave a child alone in a vehicle I know immediately that the person has put their own ‘convenience’ ahead of the safety of their child in that particular situation. Since when are kids convenient? When you leave a child alone in the car to pay for gas how could you possibly know it would only take a minute or two to pay? I’ve been in a line at a convenience store/gas station many times for a much longer period of time; haven’t you? Car thieves actually target convenience stores and gas stations for places to steal cars because people are lax and leave their keys in the ignition.

    As far as someone thinking that children being taken from or with an automobile is rare or that this is ‘the over the top fear mongering;’ they need to stop by our office and we’ll show them the THOUSANDS of cases we have documented where a child has been left alone in a vehicle and were taken during a vehicle theft, strangled by power windows, knocked the vehicle into gear, died of hyperthermia and other situations you can not even imagine.

    Please do not leave your children alone in vehicles. We need to wake-up and understand something can happen to them in a matter of seconds. If we start thinking about the issue of leaving children alone in a vehicle in the same way we think about not leaving children alone by a pool, body of water or bathtub because something terrible can happen in a matter of seconds……….then it should be quite obvious that you should never leave children alone in vehicles.
    As far as the 'mothering' example in this post..........run; don't walk to get protection for this childd.
    www.KidsAndCars.org
    Jane

    Posted by Janette Fennell January 29, 10 01:04 PM
  1. Janette,
    I really think you're over the top here. Kids are not convenient, but life is a balancing act. It's more dangerous to drag a squirming 2-year old across an icy parking lot to return a cart than to leave him properly secured in a car seat for the time it takes to walk 50 yards.

    And 14-years-old as a proposed cut-off. That's insane! Kids babysit at 13. And there are even more hazards inside a house than a car.

    Further, it's rather impossible to not leave a child in the car alone for a minute when you have two or more sleeping children to carry in.

    Oh, and for the person who postulates leaving a million in cash on the front seat - there are easily a million times more people who would steal your cash than steal your baby. Most from decency, some from self-interest.

    Posted by Lizzie January 29, 10 01:58 PM
  1. It sounds like a horrible situation. Wonder why the letter writer hasn't offered to step in and babysit?

    Posted by Wondering January 29, 10 01:59 PM
  1. As is common with most posts, I don't believe most of you read the letter very carefully.
    This woman is leaving a three year old in a car, alone, while she is in class. Last time I was in college, classes were at least 45-60 minutes long. The caregiver mentioned is someone that watches him at another time.
    Please read more carefully.
    Leaving a kid in car while you return your cart, or run to the mailbox, is different than going to class. I can't even believe that that has become part of the discussion.


    Posted by lala January 29, 10 02:08 PM
  1. Jane wrote: "When I hear statements from people justifying their actions that it’s okay to leave a child alone in a vehicle I know immediately that the person has put their own ‘convenience’ ahead of the safety of their child in that particular situation." Simply put, you are wrong. And judgmental. I have left my daughter alone in the car, because I put her safety first. Like when I needed to run 6 bags of groceries into the house, and it's safer for her to stay strapped into her carseat for those 30 seconds than it would be to have her unattended in the house. Bottom line: let's take it easy with the generalizations and the fear-mongering. Obviously, a person has to be sensible and use their best judgment in every situation. And if a person does not appear to have good judgment and the safety of a child is at stake, intervene. Otherwise, blanket statements and sensationalizing is not really helpful.


    Posted by G. January 29, 10 02:10 PM
  1. If this is your step daughter, then presumably it's your husband's daughter? Has anyone even talked to her about this first, before we run off and call the cops? Couldn't her father intervene here? This is beyond "I left something in the house I'm running back in to get it." The fact that she feels she needs to leave the kid in the car while she goes to class tells me that her decision making radar is totally turned off. Perhaps she is overwhelmed, etc.

    C, I agree you're a voice of reason here, but on the other hand, there's no comparing the climate when we were kids to now. We keep our kids in a bubble for a reason-- it's much more dangerous today than it was when we were kids.

    Posted by suz January 29, 10 02:20 PM
  1. When I was kid I used to accompany my parents grocery shopping at the Fort Devens commissary and PX. From the time I was too old to sit in the cart (3 yrs old?) to the time I was old enough to get a base ID card (13 yrs old), I was not allowed in these buildings and had to sit outside in a waiting area or in the car bored out of my gourd until my parents were done shopping. At Hanscom base we were allowed in the stores so my parents must have gone to Devens just for that blissful alone time to get their shopping done. I can't even fathom that being acceptable or required today. Anyone know if this still holds true on military bases? Thank you C and Lizzie. A kid left in a locked car while you run into the bank or convenience store is not a crime. People should take notice when its clearly a case of neglect (long time, hot day with windows closed, mall parking lot) but stop accusing everyone of child endangerment when everything is clearly just fine. If you are worried, sit quietly in your car and watch. Chances are good that mom will be out within five or ten minutes and there is no cause for DSS OR confronting the parent with your holier-than-thou tirade.

    Posted by Common Sense January 29, 10 02:47 PM
  1. Oh please. Crime stats have been declining for years. The whole 'the world is more dangerous' thing is a myth. We hear about the dangerous things that happen 250 times a day on 12 different news channels so we start to think they are really common.

    I'm not saying leave your kid in the middle of a bad neighborhood at midnight. But neither do you have to handcuff them to your side every waking moment. Oh wait - better do it while they sleep too - someone could climb in their window!

    Posted by BMS January 29, 10 03:18 PM
  1. Suz said "We keep our kids in a bubble for a reason-- it's much more dangerous today than it was when we were kids." According to crime statistics, this simply is not true.

    I urge you to read Lenore Skenazy's book "Free Range Kids". Here's her website - http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/

    Posted by Cait January 29, 10 03:19 PM
  1. Ya know when reading the headline I figured it was the usual chastising that goes along with a parent admitting that they leave their child(ren) in the car to run into the gas station, convenience store, ATM, mailbox etc. and I was ready to roll my eyes because honestly, who doesn't do that?

    But this situation? OMG my heart stopped reading this letter. This women doesn't need parenting classes, she nees a full-blown DSS intervention. If she is taking classes as an alternative to/adjunct of public assistance, she can get a childcare voucher for while she is in school. At three years old, and with behavior problems, this child probably qualifies for free pre-school or head start anyway, which it sounds like he could desperately use. Not only is her child not safe, the disabled mother isn't safe either. What a horrible life for this kid - instead of being in a nurturing, stimulating setting with professional caregivers he's either locked in a car or torturing his disabled grandmother? I hope this kid's mother gets help, smartens up, and chooses reliable birth control. People like this shouldn't have children. I was a young single mother so I know it's tough but honest to gosh I had more sense when I was 10 years old than it sounds like this mother has.

    Posted by Jen January 29, 10 03:27 PM
  1. Please visit this web site for more information on the dangers children face being left alone inside vehicles.

    www.kidsandcars.org

    Posted by Amber January 29, 10 05:04 PM
  1. "A kid left in a locked car while you run into the bank or convenience store is not a crime."

    No. But it is stupid. That's not 30 seconds. That's who knows how long while you wait in line and conduct your business and you cannot see your child. (Weather-related problems can happen very fast to young kids. In summer, the inside of a car can reach 120 degrees in as few as 10 minutes.)

    But at any rate, this whole argument is so completely irrelevant I can't believe it is happening. We are not talking here about buckling a little one in the car and then running 30 seconds to drop off a cart. We are not talking about leaving your child buckled in the car in your driveway for 30 seconds while you drop groceries in the hall.

    We are talking about leaving a toddler in a car, alone, for the entire length of a college class. That is insane, and very, very dangerous. It is not fear mongering to talk about the danger in that context, so stop with the silly justifications about why it's best for you to leave your kid locked in a car for 30 seconds -- no one was talking about returning a grocery cart for heaven's sake. Barbara was not talking about brief seconds in her answer; she was talking about minutes. 5 or 10 or 15 minutes is dangerous. No one is bashing you for 30 seconds, with the car in sight. But parked in a parking lot, you gone away to a *college class* -- that is the subject.

    The stepmom here should call DSS. This child is being neglected and he is seriously at risk.

    Posted by jlen January 29, 10 09:06 PM
  1. So, there are two different issues. The first issue is the mother in the original letter. She really should be arrested for child endangerment and if I knew who she was I'd turn her in. Literally criminal.

    The second issue is the thread that has been taken up with the comments. My personal rule of thumb is if the car is in sight, then I'm OK stepping away from the car for a minute. However, if the car is going to be out of sight I take my son with me. I personally don't leave my son in the car when I want to go into a store. Yes, the chances of anything happening are low. So are the chances of getting in a car accident - but I still buckle my seatbelt and buy car insurance.

    Posted by Mom of a 2 year old January 30, 10 10:54 PM
  1. This letter can't possibly be true... I mean really - this step-grandmother KNOWS that this woman is leaving her child in a locked car for 45-60 min. to attend class and all she does is write a letter about it??!! The whole family needs intervention.... and permanent birth control.

    Posted by suz January 30, 10 11:24 PM
  1. Think about it from the flip side. Whatever convenience is gained by leaving a child in a car alone for a few minutes---what on earth would you do if you found yourself in that tiny percentage and the child was NOT there when you returned? Whatever few minutes saved, are lost and then some as you frantically search for your child. And yes, you get to tell whomever comes to help you, strangers, the police, news teams, etc. that you LEFT your child in the car....because why? And children don't have to be abducted, by the age of 5 or 6, they can get out of the car by themselves.
    Car theft, abductions, etc. are rare, but many are crimes of opportunity. Don't give anyone that opportunity with your child. And leaving a child in the car for possibly HOURS to take a class? Hmm. Sounds like a "fail" grade to me.
    About six months ago, man in NH went in to get coffee and returned to find someone had called 911, and instead of a quick cup of joe, he got....to be bailed out by his wife, hauled in to DSS and all over the local news. Is that worth the extra time takes to bring your child with you?
    Go ahead, leave your child in the car. Next time it might be your lucky day. Isn't that the lottery you're playing?

    Posted by c'mon, people! January 31, 10 11:11 AM
  1. Is anyone going to give this woman the advice she needs? I think we can all agree that leaving a 3 year old in a car while you attend a college course (or courses!) is not a good thing. It is not clear to me if the other grandmother is actually in the car with him or this is a separate situation, but I don't think either scenario is very safe.

    So no, letter writer, this is not normal parenting. I'll go out on a limb and assume that this mother is young, perhaps single, and either doesn't have the money for appropriate child care or doesn't know how to access it.

    Call her up and tell her that this is an inappropriate situation and that she needs to fine a child care provider. If there is a father involved, he should be part of this, because perhaps they can alter their schedules so they don't need other care. Offer to help her to do this (her school probably has resources), and if you can, help her pay for it. Or if you can offer to watch this child a couple of times a week.that would be very nice.

    On the other hand, if she's got the money and the wherewithal to hire child care services, but just doesn't care to, then I'd go straight to DSS

    Posted by ash January 31, 10 10:22 PM
  1. I would hope that our officials (like Dave McGrath) would familiarize themselves with the actual law- a quick google search turns up the following from the MA Trial Court Law Libraries:
    http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/subject/about/childabusefaq.html

    Posted by fact checker February 1, 10 03:53 PM
  1. I was doing a search to find out the actual laws related to whether or not it's illegal to leave an 11 year old alone in a car ... the reason being is that in my local paper in the Pacific NW there's a story about a boy that age who was robbed while his parents were inside the local mall. The boy had gotten out of the car to go and check his bank balance at the ATM machine outside of the mall (isn't it strange that an 11 year old was checking his bank balance? Go figure). When he went back to the car a man approached the car, opened the door and stuck his hand into the boy's shirt pocket stealing his iPod and then demanded the money the boy had withdrawn from the ATM. The kid hadn't actually withdrawn any money, but he did have a $20 in his back pocket, so he gave it to the guy and the robber ran off. The parents called the cops after returning to the vehicle and finding the child crying. The only comment that was left for the article so far was from someone bringing up the legality of leaving the child in the car unattended, so I did the search and found this article. Doesn't seem to answer my question, but I figured that I'd post something because JD (one of the other posters) was so adamant about there being some overexaggerations in society today that creates a delusion about safety ... well JD ... maybe you should stuff it, because you obviously don't have a clue as to how desperate a thief can get and how bold they can be when they target vulnerable children.

    Here's the article:
    http://www.tdn.com/news/local/article_37f4ff16-4759-11df-916d-001cc4c002e0.html?mode=story

    Posted by MJ April 14, 10 01:03 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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