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article imageOp-Ed: We need clear, objective laws on when kids can be left unattended

By Calvin Wolf     Jul 21, 2014 in Politics
When is it okay to leave your child unattended, either at home or in a public place like a park? A controversial arrest in South Carolina has raised issues of race, class, parenting, and child development.
At what age can a child be left unattended at home? Walking to and from a nearby school? Lounging In a public park? As if the Mommy Wars were not bad enough, sometimes law enforcement gets involved. According to CNN, a single mother in South Carolina was arrested after her nine-year-old daughter was allowed to hang out in a park near her home while her mother was working at McDonald's. The mother has been charged with a felony — unlawful conduct toward a child — and a huge debate has erupted over issues of race, social class, parenting, child development, and law enforcement.
In today's era of helicopter parenting, it is not hard to see how many people, including legislators, would be appalled at the idea of a nine-year-old girl spending hours alone in a park. However, it does not take long to realize just how classist the notions of "proper parenting" can be. Many families simply cannot afford to have a parent always available to watch the children. Work hours are long, childcare hours can be inconvenient, and unexpected things happen.
As a parent, I have learned just how expensive and time-incovenient childcare can be. The kid cannot be dropped off earlier than _______, must be picked up by ________, and the day care center will be closed on ________, _______, and _________. My wife has to start work before the kid can be dropped off, and sometimes my work takes me out of town during the summer.,,what can we do? For those days, fortunately, my wife's employers are flexible. We are also lucky to have my parents living in the same city. Many couples, and especially single parents, are not so lucky.
While I do not know where the line should be drawn, I do know that many states and municipalities have failed to draw clear lines about when a child may or may not be left unattended. These laws must be made clear to avoid confusion and arbitrary prosecution. And more effort must be made to provide all communities with convenient, affordable childcare. If we pay to educate all children with our tax dollars, why not extend that education to include year-round and weekend childcare?
We should encourage our legislatures to craft clear, concise, commonsense laws about when it is unacceptable to leave a child unattended. Parents should not have to worry about ambiguous guidelines when having to decide whether or not it's okay to leave a kid at home alone. We should protect small children but also realize that many children are mature enough to be left alone, at least at home. When I started seventh grade I walked to and from school and hung out at home, sometimes even productively doing homework, until my parents arrived. Many kids might be ready for such responsibility even a few grades earlier.
We should also encourage a diversion of funds from public higher education, which is oversaturated and often grossly mismanaged, to public childcare. This childcare could even be offered at local public schools, meaning little or no new infrastructure need be created. Public school teachers, many of whom actively look for ways to make additional money, could receive the first offers to be evening, weekend, and summertime childcare providers. As a public school teacher myself, I would be eager for an opportunity to help working parents in my community during some evening, weekend, and summertime shifts.
No parent should be unaware of the rules regarding leaving his or her child unattended, and no parent should ever be left without an option regarding workable childcare. Craft clear laws, guarantee public childcare, and help keep more working parents at their jobs, boosting our economy.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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