The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, has ruled that leaving a small child alone in a vehicle for any amount of time is now considered abuse.
The judge panel and the Department of Children and Families ruled against a mother who left her 19-month-old child in an unattended car while she went food shopping.
The DCF decided that they would not reconsider the mother’s pleas and sent the case to the Appellate Division.
Associate professor of social work Christine Heer spoke on the new law.
“I do agree with the law as it stands because it is very fact-sensitive,” Heer said. “Children cannot necessarily protect themselves and when their parents are unable or unwilling to do so, the state must step in.”
The court found that even though the mother was in the store for a short time, it was an act of “gross negligence.”
The panel said that children are in “substantial peril” when left in a car by themselves even if it is only briefly.
The courts and DCF must balance parental rights and the welfare of children, according to Heer.
She said that DCF reforms included a retraining of staff in the “case practice model” of child welfare.
“I believe that the current commissioner of DCF and her staff are committed to these reforms and to creating an environment of transparency and accountability,” Heer said. “I will note that the commissioner, Dr. Allison Blake, has previously been a member of the Seton Hall University family.”
The mother at the center of the case did take precautionary measures such as leaving the windows open and locking the doors, but the court ruled that this did not ensure the safety of her child.
Eight Seton Hall University female students interviewed all said that they would never leave their child alone in the car, no matter how long they were.
The women said that the mother should have taken the child in the store with her to prevent anything from happening.
Jordyn Puchino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.