Mom Thrown in Jail for Letting 9-Year-Old Play at the Park

playground swing setA mother in North Augusta, South Carolina named Debra Harrell went to jail earlier this month, charged with "unlawful conduct towards a child." Whatever she did must've been well-deserved, right? Not so much. Harrell's alleged crime: Her daughter was "left behind at a nearby park, for hours at a time," according to the local news. This all because Harrell works at a McDonald's, and for most of the summer, her daughter had stayed there with her, playing on a laptop that Harrell had saved up to buy her. But when their home was robbed, and the laptop was stolen, the little girl asked her mom if she could stay at the park that was practically adjacent to the McD's to play.

Harrell said yes, equipped her daughter with a cellphone, and allowed her to play at the park, surrounded by about 40 kids at any given time, three days in a row. But the third day, an adult asked her where her mom was. When she said she was at work, the other parent called the police, who declared the girl "abandoned."

If the story sounds a bit absurd to you, you're not alone. In the days following the story breaking, the general reaction has been of shock, disbelief, and frustration at this news. Sure, there are some who think Harrell was putting her daughter at risk. But most believe it's nothing short of ludicrous that a mom could be thrown in jail for allowing her 9-year-old to play like a normal kid at the park instead of keeping her cooped up inside, staring at a laptop all day -- while she's working. 

This culture of fear-mongering and distrust some parents have for other parents and their children are really frightening. We need to give kids room to be kids and trust them to look out for themselves by a certain age. Parents who think they're doing others a favor by calling out moms like Harrell need to take a step back and assess what exactly they're "blowing the whistle" on. If there are really any dangers present to warrant an over-the-top reaction like this. And if the parent in question is actually doing something unlawful -- or maybe just parenting differently, perhaps in a way that's more trusting and less helicopter-like.

More from The StirHow Young Is Too Young For a Kid to Travel Alone?

At least it's heartening to see most parents are siding with Harrell. With hope, they'll continue to stand up for moms like her, in turn preventing parents like the one who called the cops here from sticking their nose where it doesn't belong.

How do you feel about what happened to this mom?


Image via fredrocko/iStock

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nonmember avatar Nicole

Wow this mother and the writer believes it okay to allow a child to play in the park unsupervised. That is a dangerous thing to do. Children are being kidnapped from their own yards, from sidewalks in broad daylight with people nearby, etc. Thank God someone thought enough of the child to be "nosy".

Elaine Cox

9 years old left for hours at a time..what could go wrong

Kattey Kattey

Paranoid much? Stranger abductions are actually incredibly rare, we just hear about them more because they make for better headlines.


Having read a few articles about this, this mom should not be in jail. We're talking about a 9 year old, not a 3 year old. Just a family trying to make the best of a crappy situation. It was a full park, the kid had a phone, access to food/water, and wasn't that far from her mother. I bet she checked in often, and I doubt this kid was there for 9 hours straight.

luvmy... luvmybubs

This mom shouldn't be dealt with in the way she is. My biggest concern would be setting up a pattern that an abductor could see such as regular chunks of time she is alone but other than that I think it should be a jugdement call for a parent to make. Some 9 year olds are more mature than some 14 year olds. This woamb is going to jail, losing income in the process when all she was trying to do is make the best of what she can do. I am so thankful to be blessed with family and friends that can help keep me from even having to make decisions like this.

nonmember avatar daughter12

Again with the hating on helicopter parents. The woman saw the girl at the park 3 days in a row without any parent supervision, this has nothing to do with helicoptering. The woman was worried and concerned and felt the mom was just leaving her kid at the park something she probably has never seen before or wouldn't do herself so she decided to call the cops.atleast she was showing some type of concern for the child. Stop connecting everything with helicopter parenting or saying there needs to be less helicoptering. Now, I feel extremely sorry for the mom as I know she didn't leaver her at the park with bad intentions. I really hope they drop the charges. Although, if her house got robbed then she is not living in a safe area so leaving her at the park without a parents supervision doesn't seem like the best idea...

Prett... PrettyWings29

So it's ok to dump your kid off at a park and expect that other parents will keep an eye on them while you're at work?  It's not 1950's anymore. I hear about kids getting taken all the time, and that is not a risk I would have been willing to take if I were this mother. Surely she had a friend, relative, neighbor, ANYONE that could have kept an eye on her daughter while she was at work. I don't nessesarily agree with her being put in jail for this but she should definitely be penalized. 

Craft... CraftyJenna

It's not even just the risk of someone hurting this little girl; there is no gurentee that there will be other parents there the entire time, what if she fell off something and broke her leg? There is a reason children should be supervised, and making sure you are around for them doesn't make you a helicopter parent. I feel bad for the mom but it's not safe to dump your kid off at the park for 8 hours and call it good. 

Mommy... MommyHuman

This was a park adjacent to the McD's parking lot.  The girl had a cell phone, food, and water.  She knew how to reach her mom in case of an emergency. I was a latchkey kid at that age.  If child care or day camp wasn't so expensive the girl would have been there.  The park I used to go to had 9-10 year olds from the neighborhood there all the time with no parent/sitter.  The kids were behaved and parents weren't tattling like little kids over 9 years olds in a park, which is a normal occurrence. If the helicopter mom was so concerned why didn't she ask more questions about where the mom worked, if she was okay, etc.  calling the cops was not only a waste of resources, because of her she separated a mother and child. She also taught that girl that adults cannot be trusted. Hope the lady who called feels guilty about that.

Anderson Terry

well maybe... just maybe, she should of sent her through 3 or 5 HOSTILE rapey murdering countries when her 9 year old was 5... so she could get foodstamps, rent paid for life, and unlimited healthcare FOREVER including ALL children and children's children... and 3.7 BILLION dollars as a cherry?

kitca... kitcatmcgee

Seriously kids are abused beaten and raped at their own homes on a daily basis and Cps rarely does anything to stop the abuse these children endure. Yet here is a mom doing her best to provide for her child while not leaving the kid locked in a house all day. Was the woman right? I'm not sure it really depends on the little girl,some are very mature at 9 others are not. At 10 my mom regularly let us play at the park for hours at a time with no cell to check in, once every few hours she'd drive by to check on us, which I'm sure this mom did too. So how about we go after actual child abusers and get this woman a couple of parenting classes and some help with a sitter.



I think people need to learn when it's actually an emergency, I think the woman could have went and spoken to the mother before calling the police. I also think this is more about how people choose to parent.

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