Debra Lynn Harrell, a mother and McDonald’s employee in South Carolina, has been put in jail for leaving her nine-year-old daughter in a park while she went to work. Her daughter is now in the custody of social services.
According to Reason, Harrell works at McDonald’s and during the summer vacation, her daughter had spent her days playing on a laptop there. But after their home was robbed and the laptop stolen, her daughter asked to be dropped off at the park instead. Harrell gave her daughter a cell phone to call in case of an emergency and let her play in the park unattended twice.
Her daughter wasn’t in any danger, but when an adult asked where her mother was and the girl said she was at work, the adult called the police and the authorities deemed the girl to be “abandoned.”
While it may be unwise to leave a child unattended at a public park, many parents may have few options in the summer months. The cost of day camp is about $300 a week, according to the American Camp Association. Private camps range from $500 to $1,000.
Meanwhile, the cost of child care is incredibly expensive. The price tag for putting a four-year-old in care can reach over $12,000 a year, eating up more than 10 percent of median family income in 21 states and Washington, D.C. In many states, it’s more than the cost of public college tuition. This expense has been steadily on the rise since the mid-1980s, increasing more than 70 percent after adjusting for inflation.
At the same time, help covering these costs has declined. Spending on childcare assistance fell last year to the lowest level since 2002. Fewer children are getting these subsidies. Harrell’s home state of South Carolina is one of three states that decreased their spending by more than 30 percent in 2012 compared to the year before. There were 2,500 fewer children served in the same time period.
That’s left a lot of working mothers scrambling. Only about a quarter stay at home; instead most mothers work and about 40 percent are the sole or primary breadwinner for their families. That includes a lot of single mothers who may have even fewer options during the summer months.
Shanesha Taylor is another one of those moms. In March, she was arrested for leaving her children in the car to go to a job interview. She was homeless at the time and the childcare she had lined up fell through, leaving her with no good choices. She spent ten days in jail after crowdsourced campaigns paid her bail. Taylor’s home state, Arizona, has cut its childcare budget by $81 million over the past four years, leaving 33,000 children without assistance.