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Report: Arizona mom let her kids play at the park while she went grocery shopping. Now she’s on a child abuser list.
Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Report: Arizona mom let her kids play at the park while she went grocery shopping. Now she’s on a child abuser list.

An Arizona mother was threatened with jail time and placed on a secret child abuser list for the simple act of letting her 7-year-old son and a 5-year-old friend play at the park while she went grocery shopping, Reason reported this week.

What are the details?

The crime was committed just over a year ago — right before Thanksgiving 2020. At the time, COVID-19 was still raging in some areas of the country and many local jurisdictions remained in some semblance of a lockdown.

According to the mother, who is referred to as "Jessica" in the story, that was certainly true for her community. "The market was asking that anyone who didn't need to go into the store to please stay outside," she told Reason.

So, given the store capacity limits and the boys' disinterest in coming to the store to buy a turkey, she decided to drop them off just five blocks away at a local park where she had often played as a child. At the time, she said, a friend of hers was there teaching a tai chi class and another acquaintance was there walking her dog.

Jessica let the boys out and told them to stay in the play area before proceeding to complete the errand. But while she was in the grocery store, her friend who had been teaching tai chi ran into the store to tell her that police officers were talking to the kids.

The two women rushed back to the park, where the officers informed Jessica that she had violated the law. According to Jessica, one of the officers even claimed "that children of any age, up to 18, must be with a guardian at all times in a public place."

What happened next?

Jessica was ultimately charged with two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a child, each count carrying a maximum punishment of six months in jail.

"As punishment for ostensibly not supervising her child closely enough for a short time, the state was threatening to stop Jessica from supervising her child at all, for a year," Reason reported.

But that's not all. Separately from law enforcement, the Arizona Department of Child Safety was conducting its own investigation and eventually concluded that Jessica had placed her son "at unreasonable risk of harm for abduction, injury, harm from a stranger, exposure to drugs, and death."

Jessica was able to get the criminal charges dropped after completing what was described as a parenting class but that, in reality, had nothing to do with parenting. But things were not resolved so smoothly with the Department of Child Safety investigation.

As a result of the department's determination, Jessica had her name entered into a secret database that Reason describes as the "Central Registry for child abusers." And there it will stay for 25 years, pending a review.

TheBlaze reached out to the department seeking further information about the case and about the nature of the Central Registry but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Anything else?

Jessica's case is reminiscent of a 2014 case in which the state of South Carolina took custody of a 9-year-old girl after her mother let her play in a nearby park while she was at work.

The mother in that case, then 46-year-old Debra Harrell, was arrested and charged with unlawful conduct towards a child.

According to Diane Redleaf, author of "They Took the Kids Last Night: How the Child Protection System Puts Families at Risk," cases like Jessica's and Debra Harrell's are more common than many might think.

She told Reason that "vague child neglect laws — open to the interpretation of any cop or caseworker — set up parents for no-win parenting choices."

Reason added, "Real child neglect is when you actually neglect your kids, not when you let them play outside at a park during a pandemic while you run to the store."

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