Posts Tagged ‘ debra harrell ’

We Need to Provide Affordable Childcare

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Affordable Child CareThe arrest of a South Carolina mom on charges that she left her 9-year-old daughter alone in the park while she went to work has sparked a furor over her decision and whether it was appropriate to arrest her for it. It’s far from the only instance of a parent doing something dangerous, even allegedly criminal, in order to go to work when there’s no childcare available. I wrote in December about a California woman who lost custody of her son—permanently—after leaving him alone in his crib one workday. And I am sure there are countless other parents facing similar dilemmas every day.

For women who need to work and don’t have reliable childcare, what are the options? Even Michelle Obama faced a similar dilemma in her past, recently making headlines for her recollections of bringing young Sasha along on a job interview.

That South Carolina mom, Deba Harrell, faced a no-win choice, as my colleague Lisa Milbrand wrote: “to let her daughter play in a park alone, leave her at home, or bring her to work, where she was forced to hang out for hours in McDonald’s with little to engage her. Debra picked the park.” Home seemed more dangerous and would also likely have led to Harrell’s arrest, while having a child at work all day seems like a recipe for getting fired for needing to care for her while on the job (and hardly seems like a healthy environment for a child).

A lot of the discussion about Harrell’s case has focused on how protective and hovering parents should be, and whether we as a society have gone too far in “criminalizing” parenthood, as Radley Balko of the Washington Post put it.

But as essential as that debate is, there is another, related issue that these cases raise, and that is the question of affordable childcare. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat begins to address this in his latest column, questioning a “a welfare system whose work requirements can put a single mother behind a fast-food counter while her kid is out of school.” He concludes that “we have to also find a way to defend their liberty as parents, instead of expecting them to hover like helicopters and then literally arresting them if they don’t.”

But Douthat stops short of taking his argument to its natural conclusion. Affordable, reliable, and safe childcare is a necessary component of a functioning society, especially one that expects—requires, even—parents to work. And so we need to figure out a way to guarantee it to all working parents. In Europe, “all European countries offer government subsidies and regulation support to early childhood care,” according to the European Union’s website. “These measures include tax breaks, vouchers, subsidies paid to parents or to the care provider; and in several European countries, capping of childcare costs relative to household income, or by obliging employers to support childcare costs (for instance in the Netherlands).”

I don’t know what form this sort of policy should take here in the United States, but whether it’s tax breaks or subsidies or publicly funded day-care centers or something else entirely, without addressing this problem, we will see many more Debra Harrells.

I also don’t want to let the absent dads off the hook. While moms like Harrell are arrested and may lose custody of their children, nothing is asked of the dads. Granted, many are not in the picture at all; but where they are or can be found, I don’t know why they are not required to be part of the solution, financial or otherwise, or why they don’t share the blame for alleged neglect and other decisions.

Our public policy must recognize the realities of today’s families, especially the huge number of single parents (and the correlation between single parenthood and poverty). In addition, many families today lack the extensive familial and social networks that may have, in the past, provided (free) childcare so mom and/or dad could work. This is not just a problem for the very poor. There is nothing optional about working for most people trying to support their kids, and childcare could easily be beyond a single parent’s means. As parents, most of us have said things to our kids like, “I don’t have eyes in the back of my head,” or, “I can’t be in two places at once.” For the single moms who must be at work in order to feed their families but have no one else to supervise their children, these are not flippant throw-away lines; they are realities that we as a society must help fix.

Considering day care? Download our Daycare Center Checklist to help you evaluate your options.

Child Care: How to Find Quality Child Care
Child Care: How to Find Quality Child Care
Child Care: How to Find Quality Child Care

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Should a Mom Be Arrested for THIS?

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

A mom is in prison, and her daughter is in foster care. And odds are, you (or your mom) might have done exactly what this woman did: She let her 9-year-old child play outside in a park, unsupervised.

The circumstances, however, might be a little different than your situation. Debra Harrell in North Augusta, South Carolina, couldn’t find any child care for her shifts at McDonald’s in a Walmart. So her choices were to let her daughter play in a park alone, leave her at home, or bring her to work, where she was forced to hang out for hours in McDonald’s with little to engage her. Debra picked the park. But when other parents noticed this girl by herself for long stretches, they alerted authorities, and Debra was arrested for unlawful conduct toward a child.

There’s so much that’s anger inducing here. There’s the fact that so many jobs don’t pay a living wage, which means that even though moms like Debra are working full time, they still need public assistance to get by. There’s the fact that affordable (or subsidized) child care isn’t available, even for people like Debra who are trying hard to earn their living, but may need a little support to make ends meet. There’s the fact that what she did doesn’t even seem to be illegal in South Carolina, where the laws say Debra’s daughter could have legally stayed home alone (kids younger than eight are the only ones who are legally required to have supervision). And it’s my opinion that it likely wouldn’t have been as big an issue if, say, it was a white middle class woman who left her child there (Debra is African American).

But really, what’s the appropriate age to leave your child unattended? And why has it shifted so seismically since we were kids? If you tell me about your childhood, odds are you were roaming the streets and hanging out in the park for hours at a time. I was. I remember leaving for the playground in the morning, coming home for a quick lunch, then heading back out until the street lights came on. (And I had a stay-at-home mom who in theory, could have come down to monitor us and make sure we slid down the slide properly until we turned 25. But she had better things to do.) I was definitely left to my own devices for hours at a time, at an age younger than nine—and likely for as long as Debra’s daughter spent in the park.

You have to start somewhere with giving kids independence. And despite the pervasive helicopter parenting in my neighborhood, I’ve worked hard to let go. For the past several months, I’ve let my daughters, now 10 and 7, go to the park unsupervised. (They go together, they’ve been instructed on stranger danger, and they both have brown belts in karate and jiu jitsu and wicked roundhouse kicks.) It’s been very hard for me to let go, but I know that they need some space to learn how to develop independence, leadership, empathy and problem-solving skills. And they won’t necessarily do all that if I’m hovering ready to solve any quandary that comes up. Does that make me a bad mommy—and a potential felon? I honestly don’t think so. And I don’t think it should make Debra a felon, either.

Tell us: When do you think is the right age to leave your kids unsupervised? Do you think Debra should have been arrested?


Are you too protective of your kids (or not enough)? Find out if you’re a hover mother!

What's Your Parenting Style?
What's Your Parenting Style?
What's Your Parenting Style?

Image: Girl playing the park by Zurijeta/

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