Good Question: Unattended Child - When Can a Parent be Charged?

July 11, 2017 06:34 AM

It was a story that sparked a lot of debate. A Pittsford mother was charged with endangering the welfare of her child after deputies say she left her 10-year old son at the Lego store at Eastview Mall for more than two hours earlier this month.

The story angered a lot of parents because the original press release, sent by the Sheriff's Office, did not report the amount of time that child was left alone. Many parents felt deputies were being too hard on the mother. Deputies then sent an updated press release clarifying that, according to investigators, the mother left her 10-year old alone for over two hours. 

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 So what are the rules? When can a parent be charged with endangering the welfare of a child? 

 Let's be honest, it's summer and it can be tough for parents to monitor their kids 24-7. 

 "We don't have school that can be a burden on parents and we understand that," said Lt. David Cirencione with the Ontario County Sheriff's Office.

When it comes to children being left alone, whether at home or at a store, what designates them as being "endangered"?

 Cirencione says it's a case by case basis.

"I would say if you’re under the age of 16 two hours is too long to be leaving a child unattended without a parent checking in on them at all," he said.

But that doesn't mean you're a bad mom or dad if you do or that you'll be arrested.

"There may be an 11 or 12 year old who's completely comfortable with that scenario but there may be a 13 year old who is not. I think it's life experience and the way they're being raised," Cirencione said.

When officers are called to check on a child they consider several factors. Among them: 

- The child's maturity level

- Their behavior

- The environment they are in

- Does that child feel safe?

"Parents need to think about those things. It's their responsibility to keep their child safe and part of keeping them safe is making that child feel safe. Where it's to a point where the child is scared and they feel they've been left alone for too long that is certainly something we need to consider," Cirencione said.

In the most recent case at Eastview Mall, deputies say the boy had no idea where his mother was and did not have her cell phone number when they asked. Your child should have that information. 

There is also a sign at the Lego store warning parents not to leave their child alone for any amount of time inside the store.

Parents should also know any endangering the welfare of a child charge leads to more issues.

Child Protective services will be called.

"We are mandated reporters so if we have reasonable cause that there is maltreatment we have to call. Whether or not the hotline follows up on that that is their call."

We contacted the N.Y.S. Office of Children and Family Services. A spokesperson said the agency will not comment on any case they may or may not be investigating.

We also made repeated attempts to reach the mother, who was charged at Eastview, but she did not get back to us.


Pat Taney

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