This week we meet Melanie, a stay-at-home mother of 4 children; and, her son, Edgar, 2 years old.
One warm summer day, Melanie took her car to go to a shopping center in Newburgh in Orange County. She took Edgar along for the ride. It was 88 degrees Fahrenheit outside and 112 degrees Fahrenheit inside the car. Melanie brought her young son shopping with her at the last moment, although she had previously planned on running errands on her own. On this day, Edgar's car seat was placed in a seat different from that which it normally was in, and Melanie did not have his diaper bag on the front passengers' side of the vehicle, as she normally did when she was traveling with her children. When Melanie arrived at the mall she parked her car in the lot outside and went inside the center to begin shopping.
While Melanie was inside shopping, someone just passing by Melanie's car noticed little Edgar sitting in his car seat all alone. The car engine was off and the windows were closed. The person called 911 and the police arrived in a few minutes and rescued poor Edgar who was then taken to the hospital. He was fine.
About a half hour after Melanie began shopping, she was approached in a store by a police officer. The officer ordered Melanie to follow him outside to her car. It was then that the officer asked Melanie whether she had left Edgar in the car. And that is when Melanie realized that she had forgotten Edgar in the car.
The Department of Social Services was notified and they commenced a proceeding against Melanie for neglect of Edgar and her other three children.
Courts have regularly found that young children left alone in a vehicle were in imminent risk of harm, despite the temperature of the vehicle or the intent of the parent, warranting a finding of neglect. This was a very serious situation for Melanie even though no harm came to Edgar. During the proceedings, Melanie and her family were under close observation by DSS and she forced to receive training and counseling over the 11 months.
Here is what happened:
At trial it was determined that, after 11 months, the Department of Social Services determined that there were no safety concerns, and no indication of a likelihood of future neglect by Melanie. Also, proof was presented that Melanie successfully completed all her training and cooperated fully with the DSS.
The court determined that, although the fact that Melanie left Edgar in the car for a half hour was enough to find neglect, this isolated incident was an “error in judgment,” and “further involvement of the court and the child welfare system was unnecessary.”
The Court ruled that there was no indication of a likelihood of future neglect.
The neglect proceeding against the mother of four was dismissed.