Laissez Faire

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Musings #19: Grandmother Arrested for Leaving 13 Year Old to Watch Siblings in the Car

smashedwindowIn Georgia (USA) on April 26 on a day where the high temperature of the day was 85 degrees F at 6:30pm in the evening, a grandmother — a retired army veteran — left her 13 year old grandchild in charge of a ten year old and five year old sibling while she shopped in the Dollar general for about 40 minutes.   The children had been playing hard all day and didn’t want to pile into the store , rather wanting to wait in the car while their Grandmother went to buy beverages, snacks, and supplies.  Read the full story here.

“Good Samaritans” decided to call the police because all the windows were rolled up, and the grandmother now is not allowed to see her grandchildren pending an investigation.      The children were checked out by Emergency Medical Services and none showed any signs of distress, dehydration, or hyperthermia.

Has the world gone crazy!?

In what parallel universe have I awoken in where a thirteen year old and ten-year old are incapable of assessing temperature and opening the door?    In what Universe is a typical four-year old unable to tell siblings, “Hey, it’s like an oven in here, open the door.”   In fact, had it been particularly uncomfortable, I am sure that all three could have easily exited the vehicle and walked into the store under the supervision of the young teenager.

To use some popular slang, “People be trippin'”

I’ve read some arguments that saying that the thirteen year old could fall asleep and not notice how hot it was getting.   I suppose that could happen in a rare circumstances, but how often does that happen to anyone?   Other arguments say one should never leave their children in the car ever not even for a minute to pay for gas.  This said without any regard for the environment and weather conditions of that environment.   Some statistics came up.

I am not a statistician, but I had a look.

Over the past 17 years about 83% of car heat stroke related deaths have been because the child was totally forgotten or the child was playing in the car unbeknownst to the parents , trapping themselves, and couldn’t get out of the car or its trunk.  Half of the deaths occurred in children under age two.    Most deaths in 3-4 year old children were self-entrapment.   All deaths in children age 5-10 were self-entrapment (typically in a trunk and mostly age three to six and under).   There were two deaths in children over age 10, and those particular children were immigrants being smuggled into the country and died along with adults.  Tragically,  a handful infants and children under two died while the parent was also in the car.

From no

    • An examination of media reports about the 636 child vehicular heatstroke deaths for a 17-year period (1998 through 2014) shows the following circumstances:

      • 53% – child “forgotten” by caregiver (336 Children)

      • 29% – child playing in unattended vehicle (186)

      • 17% – child intentionally left in vehicle by adult  (110)

      • 1% – circumstances unknown (4)


In other words, children age five and over are immune to death by heat-stroke within a vehicle’s interior either because they can get out, or because the parents know they are there.   And that’s the key here.   Nearly all heat-stroke related deaths in this country are not due do neglect or poor decisions but because the parents forgot that the children they had were in the car.     This tells me that the vast majority of parents are making good, sound decisions concerning cars, children, and errands.    It is pretty clear that area of the country is a big factor– so basing a decision to call 9-1-1 in Vermont based upon heat stroke statistics from Texas is folly.

Age is another huge factor.

I just looked at info over the past 10 years in the USA.  As far as I could see, the number of children over age 4 or 5 who died in the car because the parents went into the store for a short time is 0.    Zero.     Any children under age four who died (with the exception of self entrapment) were by and far tragic incidences of forgotten confusion, the rest that died were left by their parent or caregiver for several hours deliberately.      The number of heat stroke death cases of older siblings watching younger ones in the car while the parents shopped for a short time…0.  (I could have missed one, so if you find it let me know)

In my state over the last 10 years there have been 3 accidental forgotten deaths (2 daycare, 1 parent) .  Two were under age one; the other was 2.5.

So this perception if imminent danger causing these over reaction calls is unfounded.

Some might argue that any temperature is dangerous, but they are basing that perception in their own area of the country where the heat can soar rapidly.    But, if you look at the data, even parents in these areas are making good decisions about cars and their children.      Leaving a child to die in the car due to an actual case of neglect is atypical.

In nearly all cases the child was found by their parent or caregiver — not strangers. The vast majority are cases of tragic forgetting due to change of routine or chaotic situations (often found in home driveways, in front of the home, or in workplace parking lots/garages). Self entrapment the next common. The deliberate leaving of small children unable to help themselves is rare. It is just telling me that the “Good Samaritans” are looking in all the wrong places — they should be looking in parking lots in places of businesses that have low traffic, not in malls and store lots.

2003 –
5yr – smuggled immigrant (many other deaths of various ages)
2yr – forgotten by daycare
4yr – self trapped in car
3yr – unknown – suspected self trapping
2mo – left in car while mother was applying for a job at target
4mo – forgotten by parent
8mo – forgotten by daycare
18mo – self trapped
21mo – abandoned
14mo – forgotten by parent

20mo – forgotten by parent
3yr – self trapped (trunk)
18mo – abandonment ruling

6mo – forgotten by parent
1yo – forgotten by parent
3yo – forgotten by parent
2yo – self trapped

8mo – forgotten by parent
4yo – forgotten by daycare
2yo – forgotten by parent
5mo – forgotten by parent (who happened to be a resrve officer)
10mo – forgotten by parent

3yo – self trapped

7mo – forgotten by parent
2yo – forgotten by relative (called in by stranger)
18mo – forgotten by daycare (suspected. brought in by man unrelated to child)
14mo – forgotten by parent
2yo – forgotten by relative (called in by stranger)
3yo – forgotten by parent
4yo – self trapped
8mo – forgotten by parent
3yo – unknown

14yo – smuggled immigrant
4yo – self trapped / forgotten by parent
18mo – forgotten by parent (called in by stranger)
7mo – forgotten by parent
17mo – left by parent for eight hours
7mo – unknown (brought in by parent)

7mo – forgotten by friend
3yo – unknown (found in family vehicle)
18mo – self trapped
33mo – self trapped
11mo – forgotten by parent
2yo – unknown left or forgotten (found by sibling)
18mo – left by parents (called in by parents)
2.5yo – self trapped
2yo – left by parent (unknown)
2yo – left by parents for 2 hours while both tending to their seizuring 7yo
4mo – forgotten by parent (discovered by strangers)
2yo – forgotten by parent (found by neighbors)
2yo – forgotten by daycare

2011- (I notice reports begin to change tone from ‘accident/tragedy’ to ‘neglect/endangerment/manslaughter’)
6mo – forgotten by parent
1yo – unknown (called in by strangers)
17mo – unknown (called in by strangers)
3yo – self trapped (found by sibling)
9mo – in car with mother possible congenital health problem contribution
4yo – self trapped
4yo – self trapped
2yo – forgotten by parent
6mo – forgotten by parent

2012 –
7mo – forgotten by parent
2mo – forgotten by parent
3yo – forgotten by daycare
15mo – forgotten by parent
6mo – left by nearby parent (accidentally left heater on)

5mo – forgotten by parent
1yo – forgotten by parent
1yo – unknown
6mo – forgotten by parent
2yo – unknown left / self trapped – parents were already under CPS investigation

17mo – forgotten by grandparent (found by sibling)
8mo – forgotten / left in car (called in by parents)

That’s an eye opening bit of information from just Texas.   So what is going on in the state of Georgia for the past ten years?

All except 1 of the deaths (about an average of 1 per year over ten years) were the result of forgetting by parents, 1 was forgetting by a day care (discovery of children was after several hours).  One of these deaths was a 6 week old infant who died after 15 minutes during a 100 degree day when the air conditioning stopped working while the parent was talking outside of the vehicle.    All but three of the “forgetting deaths” were children under age 2 (most of those under age 1). There were four deaths due to self-entrapment: 2 two-year old, a four year old, and a six year old) .

No cases of any child over six dying of heat stroke. No cases of a parent or caregiver running a short errand and returning to find a dead child.

The advice that you should never leave your child in the car even for a minute regardless of environment or their age is absurd and not supported by the facts.  The real danger is in those instances where the parents are forgetting or under the impression that the other parent (or family member) has the child.     This usually happens when the parents in question have gone off routine, think they have actually done a drop-off before going to work,  or haven’t fully communicated with the other party.   The other danger is self-entrapment by children who do what children do.   My guess is that auto-locking doors and power windows are not helpful in this tragic statistics.     Perhaps a lock release inside trunks would be useful or a manual override for at least one window that can be shown to those age groups at highest risk of self-entrapment.    As for the rest of the 17%, at least some of those are saddly cases where the parent couldn’t find a baby sitter and feared for losing their job–a real concern for low income families.

The people who are calling the police for these cases and causing these families undue distress are trying to save the wrong people.  The thirteen year old didn’t need saving.  The kids were not in danger because they could get out of the car and their caregiver knew they were there.       Whatever happened to the art of conversation where you ask, “Hey, are you kids okay?” get and answer, and move on?

The majority of kids who are dying from heat-stroke aren’t being found in the parking lot of the Dollar stores.

I’m not saying to not be vigilant or not look for the rare cases where kids have been left on an obviously hot day or forgotten in cars for a long period of time.   It happens and the sooner they are found the better!     I am saying before dialing 9-1-1 or breaking someone’s window, assess the situation.   Where do you live?   Is a thirteen year old sitting in a car unattended an actual emergency?  Did you ask the kid if they were alright?    Is even a six year old playing happily on their hand-held game with their feet propped on the seat relaxed while their parent has run into the store a few yards away for ten to thirty  minutes in any sort of distress?      Can we at least agree that a child who is awake, free moving, and capable of opening the door is not trapped–something a simple knock on the window can determine?

It’s not just an issue of kids in cars.  Parents are having CPS called on them by neighbors because they left their ten year old in charge at home while they went to a  night class, or a teenager who wanted to take their younger siblings to the mall and was detained for being unsupervised, a mother who left her 6 year old for five minutes in the car in her safe home town on a cool day for ten minutes, got on a plane to go home, and was tracked down by police and told to fly back to turn herself in!

Perhaps in this vehicle scenario it comes down to this:  Whether you believe the majority of parents can make reasonable decisions based on their assessment of their environment even if it isn’t what you would do personally, or if you think that the majority of parents don’t know what they are doing and even a minute unsupervised is inviting imminent danger.   I don’t know.

I do know that the “Good Samaritans” in this story saved no one.

10 comments on “Musings #19: Grandmother Arrested for Leaving 13 Year Old to Watch Siblings in the Car

  1. carolschepper
    May 1, 2015

    I agree. People have gone far overboard in looking to protect other people’s kids. I’ve been horrified by parents being charged for allowing a 6 year old to walk down the block alone. In the instance you reported, the older child was 13 – legally old enough to to babysit & too old for childcare credits – but too young to wait in the car? We are going to wind up raising a generation that will completely fail to handle responsibility

    Liked by 1 person

      • carolschepper
        May 1, 2015

        I’d missed that one. Yet another scary example of everyone overreaching. One of the issues, especially for law enforcement & CPS, is that there have been too many tragic cases where abuse & neglect were overlooked. Those kinds of things make relatively normal, if not incredibly flexible, people think that they need to report everything that bothers them about other people’s children. And because there was a report, everyone thinks they need to immediately respond by immediately removing the children. I’m not sure whatever happened to the notion of investigating first (except that then they might miss a child at risk – except that they still do because many of those cases are never noticed to be reported – or are already on the desks of overloaded caseworkers further overloaded by the need to investigate 13 year old left in cars)
        I wish I knew the answer. I & my fellow boomers may have had too much freedom to walk or bike places, and to disappear for the entire day in the summer. I tried to balance it with my kids (partially out of necessity, we live in a semi-rural area & nothing is close enough) – not sure if I succeeded. But they seem to be doing ok. Although my younger one’s preschool did, in fact, report us to CPS, because the director was a nut case who didn’t seem to believe that my daughter no longer needed her nebulizer. The came to the house, spoke to us, I gave them permission to talk to the pediatrician. They closed the case & said I should try to keep an open communication channel with the school. Fortunately the school year was done a couple of months later & she moved on to public school. But at least back then, they investigated before removing your children.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A Muslim Latina
    May 1, 2015

    I can agree with you, but being a child that my mother was stay at home and she never left us in the car… It’s something personally I would not my child regardless what age to stay in the car.. Now growing up in the neighborhood that we did I can understand why those parents won’t allow there children to even walk a block without supervision…

    Great article and something definitely to think about. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laissez Faire
      May 1, 2015

      I really do think the majority of parents take their locale into consideration and I think a person who grew up in, say, a high crime area is naturally more cautious even though they may live in a very low crime area. I found it interesting that some people I was talking to from the “high heat” area were more concerned about the heat index even though the incident was in an area that had /much/ lower heat stroke numbers. Location bias?

      It’s a real phenomenon though that people generally thin that crime is worse and higher than it actually is. They’ve done studies on it and they still aren’t sure why in times of lower crime people see it as higher.


      • A Muslim Latina
        May 1, 2015

        I can’t talk about now, I know where I grew up South Central Los Angeles, crimes occurred during the day and night. Even cops were corrupt and that is what my family and I saw. We wouldn’t even have news crew come in because they would be shot… My parents worked hard to get us out and we have been out for years. My sister does live in a very safe neighborhood. It took awhile for her to get used to it and “relax”.. Now Her kids go to and from school and stay home alone. I also am blessed to be in a safe area and I don’t have kids but I too have learn to relax. I tend to leave the doors and windows unlock..

        Some people it is hard, in heat yes most people will take that second look and call the cops. If a kid has been running around and does not have the proper fluids to hydrate then they can go into heat stroke fairly quickly. In no doctor but what I learned in the military heat stroke can get you even in winter time so it isn’t something to just let it be a passing thought.

        I understand the grandmother and I can’t say if she was wrongly accused or not, nor will I say the people that called the cops were being noisy.

        To me a child is a blessing their bodies are still growing and sometimes the best kids can have a lack of common sense sometimes, even we as adults sometimes have those moments…

        as my mom says it only takes a second for something to go wrong it’s best not to leave anything for chance…

        I can’t say which is right or wrong, but I think in the end both sides are just looking at the well being of the child which is the primary thing.

        Thank you for your post very stimulating..


  3. jenmotivates12
    May 1, 2015

    I am in total agreement with you on this particular incident. I also like your post because you backed it up with facts and did your research, so many just post their opinion concerning a news story and not include the whole story usually just their version. Amazing job!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laissez Faire
      May 1, 2015

      Thank you! I can’t take the credit for the research though. I was curious so I went to look at the site that compiled the information and also had the weather posted. It was really so clear when you started reading each report of every incident! 2010 was particularly interesting because it had a spike in some areas — I am not sure why though.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Jin Okubo
    May 2, 2015

    Reblogged this on Jin Okubo.


  5. Pingback: Musings #20: Brain Games and the Tragic Forgetting of Small Children in Hot Cars | Laissez Faire

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