It’s that time of year again—the summer months are here, temperatures are up and the windows are down. It’s also the time of year we hear the warnings about leaving your children in the car and the tragic stories of parents who do and face unspeakably tragic consequences.
Leaving your child in a locked car, even if it’s just for a few minutes while you run into Starbucks for a cup of coffee or into the grocery store for milk, can have disastrous results of injury or danger for your child due to extreme temperatures both hot and cold. And now, depending on the outcome of a state Supreme Court decision, doing so could have criminal consequences for you as a parent as well.
The New Jersey Supreme Court is considering whether parents who leave their children in locked vehicles for a few moments to run errands or perform similar quick tasks can be charged with child abuse and neglect.
Their deliberation stems from the case of E.D.-O., a New Jersey mother who was charged with neglect and abuse after she left her sleeping 19-month-old in her locked car with the engine running while she stopped by the Dollar Tree in May of 2009. E.D.-O. was only gone for 10 minutes, but when she got back to her car, the police were waiting for her after being alerted by a store security guard.
E.D.-O. was charged with abuse and neglect, which means her name could be placed on the abuse and neglect registry. After her charges were filed, she and her family were subject to several home visits and investigations from the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). E.D.-O. has three other children ranging in age from 9 to 14, and although the DYFS investigation found no further evidence to suggest she was an abusive parent, the stigma of her mistake in the parking lot could follow her and her family for the rest of their lives.
There’s a whole host of literature, public warnings and horror stories that remind parents not to leave their children unattended in a car. The dangers are numerous and well-documented — accidents, temperature changes, overheating, freezing, cars being stolen, children learning to unlock doors and more — but parents are human and mistakes do happen.
Abuse charges can drive home that mistake, and penalize parents for their forgetfulness or wrongdoing. But a lifelong label as an abusive parent can destroy a family and take children away from their loving homes.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, a New Jersey family law firm, we represent parents who have been charged with the highest forms of abuse and neglect for their mistakes. Criminal charges and long-term abuse registries can change the scope of your parenting and your rights as a parent. To discuss your case, contact a New Jersey criminal and family lawyer at HCK today.