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Mom Jailed For Letting 9-Year-Old Play Alone in the Park

Mom gets arrested for leaving daughter at park alone
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

On days when Debra Harrell's nine-year-old daughter isn't in school and she has to work, Harrell brings the young girl along with her. She says it's the only option she has. The single mom from Augusta, S.C., supports the pair on wages she earns as a McDonald's employee, but this often leaves little funds left over for childcare.

So at work, Harrell usually sets her daughter up with a laptop in the dining area, where free WiFi allows her to hop online to keep herself busy as mom remains behind the counter.

Only thing is, summer is upon us. And like any parent, Harrell wants her daughter to run free outside, soaking up the summer sun and playing with other kids her own age. The other factor: the family's home was recently robbed and the laptop that had once been her daughter's primary daytime entertainment was suddenly gone.

So recently, at her daughter's request, Harrell started dropping the girl off at a nearby park, where she could climb the jungle gym and swing from the monkey bars to her heart's content. She had a cell phone in her pocket to call Mom if there was an emergency, and only stayed at the park for a few hours at a time. But after three days of solo playtime in the park, someone asked her where her mother was, and the rest is now headline news.

Harrell was walked off in handcuffs, thrown in jail and charged with "unlawful misconduct against a child." Meanwhile, her 9-year-old was placed in the custody of child services.

When The Atlantic did a piece on the story Wednesday, commentators waged an all-out debate with one another. In well over 1,500 comments, some criticized the police of over-reaching their power, while others sided with the law, noting that anyone could have walked right into the park, abducted the girl, and no one would have been the wiser.

But over at Slate, Jessica Grose reminds us that the likelihood of that isn't actually as great as we've been led to believe — after all, stats have shown that child abductions by strangers are pretty rare.

Plus, there's this inarguable fact: We need only look back to our own childhoods to remember that being allowed to play on a busy playground or roam the neighborhood on our bikes alone wasn't actually that uncommon of a thing.

"If every parent who let their fourth-graders go to the park unsupervised were arrested," Grose writes, "all the moms from 1972 would have been behind bars."

She does have a point there.

Where do you stand on this one?

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