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Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Home Alone
I'm not a parent, but stories like this get to me:

Last Sunday, as her night shift neared, Kim Brathwaite faced a hard choice. Her baby sitter had not shown up, and to miss work might end her new position as assistant manager at a McDonald's in downtown Brooklyn.

So she left her two children, 9 and 1, alone, trying to stay in touch by phone.

It turned out to be a disastrous decision. Someone, it seems, deliberately set fire to her apartment. Her children died. And within hours, Ms. Brathwaite was under arrest, charged with recklessly endangering her children.

The article is rightly quite sympathetic to the plight of the mother. What sort of crummy society do we have where a mother has to go to work to feed her family, but gets prosecuted when tragedy strikes? Good daycare is expensive in any case, and this mother worked a variety of shifts at McDonald's, making it almost impossible to find steady daycare even if she could afford it. The article also points out that most states have no laws defining when it is "neglect" to leave children home alone. The basic rule seems to be that if they're under 18 and something bad happens, it's neglect. Also, all over the world children nine and younger frequently have child-care responsibilities. I think the atomization of our society is the main culprit here. Those weren't our kids, they were hers, so their well-being, and their deaths, is all her responsibility. In the poorer countries I've been in (Jamaica, Costa Rica, Mexico), child care seems to be a community responsibility. While some adults may be off at jobs or shopping or whatever, there are always others around (neighbors, siblings, grandparents) who are watching the kids, usually with the help of the older kids. In this case in Brooklyn, it looks as though the mother's support system consisted solely of one other adult. When that adult didn't show, she was left with a difficult choice. And now, she's not only crushed by the loss of her two children, but she's being prosecuted for it. All because in this country around the clock junk-food availability is more important than caring for children.

(via Through the Looking Glass)