9-year-old plays in park, Mom is arrested

A South Carolina mother faces neglect charges for letting her nine-year-old daughter play in a park while the mother worked at a nearby McDonald’s, reports Lenore Skenazy on Reason.

The daughter had sat in McDonald’s playing on a laptop while mother Debra Harrell worked. After the laptop was stolen in a home burglary, the girl asked to play at the playground.

(Harrell) gave her daughter a cell phone. The girl went to the park—a place so popular that at any given time there are about 40 kids frolicking—two days in a row. There were swings, a “splash pad,” and shade.

On her third day at the park, an adult asked the girl where her mother was. At work, the daughter replied.

Fears of kidnapping are wildly overblown, writes Skenazy, who’s known for her advocacy of Free Range Kids.

But in this case, the child was taken by strangers: The mother was jailed and Social Services took custody of the child, reports WJBF in North Augusta.

Star File Photo: Aarden Harper goes for a splash at Summerfield Park.

Scott Ott was horribly neglected as a child With his brothers, he’d roam the woods and fields, walking, biking or riding horses.

In case of emergency — like when somebody shot my finger with the BB-gun, or when Troy and I caught a groundhog and the varmint latched onto my brother’s thumb and wouldn’t let go — anyway, in case of emergency our only car was with Pop at work an hour away. Nan never had a driver’s license anyway. Our only phone was screwed to the wall in the kitchen.

We’d swim in creek, pond or canal. We played tackle football without helmets or pads. We’d cross fields where menacing cattle grazed, and climb the highest trees we could. We built dams, panned for “gold,” caught salamanders, snakes, turtles, crayfish and eels. We cracked spherical rocks searching in vain for geodes.

Sometimes, in our early teens, we’d carry firearms, but way before that we always carried weapons — bows, spears, cudgels, rocks and slings that we fashioned from natural materials.  Often we reenacted Robin Hood’s cudgel fight with Little John on a log over a stream. For a few years, we tended a trap-line before school in the morning, toting a .22 caliber rifle in the dark and facing some very annoyed raccoons and possums.

We’d swing from vines, engage in brutal snowball fights, toboggan through a stand of trees and bail out just before the barbed-wire fence. A pack of us would skate the unreliable ice of a farmer’s pond — when the farmer wasn’t looking — slapping frozen hockey pucks at the unpadded goalie who trembled between the boots that formed the goal.

Children as young as six played without adult supervision.

Because it was a rural area, an abductor would stand little chance of being seen, Ott writes. “An urban playground, crawling with dozens of appropriately-supervised children and police foot patrols” is much safer.

“Only the statute of limitations prevents posthumous prosecution” of his parents.

I grew up in the suburbs. We walked to school and played in the park from the age of five without adult supervision. It was the baby boom era, so our mothers were busy with younger children but there were other kids around nearly always. I think we started exploring the ravines when we were seven or eight. We played in the street, made garden stakes into bows and arrows . . .

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  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the real people to blame for this trend are the scared parents who settle these cases instead of taking them to trial.

    It’s easy to find some silly prosecutor willing to press these charges.

    It’s hard to find a unanimous jury to convict a mother for letting her kid play outside at age 9.

    But what happens is that the prosecutors threaten all sorts of stuff, and the parents fold. They accept some lesser charge, maybe a fine and some sort of supervision or classes. The prosecutor’s office then chalks up a “win”.

    It’s the *juries* who need to be our line of defense against insanity. And the people who decide not to put these things in front of juries are the parents.

  2. Mark Roulo says:

    “…the real people to blame for this trend are the scared parents who settle these cases instead of taking them to trial.”
    If the parent loses the case, they lose custody of their child. What odds would you find acceptable to fight this if it was your child that you would be losing if you lost the case?
    In addition, my *guess* is that the folks who are charged are usually below upper-middle-class. They have fewer resources to fight this sort of thing.
    My wife and I let our kid roam fairly free, and have done so for a while(*). I made the conscious decision to risk a run-in with CPS because I figured that we could afford it. We have enough resources that we could credibly signal to CPS that we could fight them in court. And I expected that if things *did* come to this, we’d get one free pass before they tried to take my kid. For parents (especially single parents) with fewer resources, the tradeoff is different …
    And every so often, we get some excitement. We let him go ahead of us at the Phoenix zoo when he was seven. Due to a screw up with the directions, he was missing for about an hour …
    He got “lost” in Manhatten [*he* knew where he was, we just didn’t …] … twice.
    We found out one day how the folks at AT&T park handle a missing child (very calmly and very professionally … no panic). This one wasn’t our fault … he was tagging along with friends and the friends parents when the family went home. He stayed at the park, but didn’t know how to get back to us …
    Every so often, you lose one for a while. In our case, CPS never got involved. One could imagine things working out differently …

  3. A lot depends on your local police department. Ours has better things to do than interrogate children playing in parks. Yet, I now realize that many things I let my kids do were mostly acceptable because many other parents were also letting their kids do those things. Strength in numbers.

  4. It should be noted that the mother is African-American. One has to wonder if the police/social services bureaucrats would have reacted so aggressively if the victims were a different race. It is possible they would due to economic class bias.