In May 2020, Melissa Henderson, like so many other parents impacted by Covid-19, was left scrambling for childcare when her children’s daycare center and schools abruptly shut down.
Rather than risk her job, she did what any parent would do; she turned to her oldest daughter, Linley, who was home doing remote learning, for help.
Now, the single mom of 5 from Blairsville, Georgia, is facing a prison sentence for leaving her fourteen-year-old daughter to babysit her younger siblings so that she could go to work.
I really wish I was kidding.
While Linley was engaged in online schoolwork, her youngest brother, 4-year-old Thaddeus, saw his friend outside playing and decided to join him. Did he ask for permission? No. He saw his friend. He went outside. Because he’s FOUR.
Shortly afterward, within 10 to 15 minutes, Linley discovered he was M.I.A. She found him at his friend’s house down the street.
(For context, here is a photo taken by Henderson from her porch and shared on a GoFund Me page that has been set up for the family. The friend’s house is on the right.)
Now at this point, you’re probably wondering why the neighbor wouldn’t have just brought Thaddeus home or called Melissa to let her know her son had popped by for a visit.
Because that’s what most neighbors and fellow moms would do. After all, parents all know that it takes a village.
But for reasons unknown, rather than simply bringing him back home, the friend’s mother chose to CALL THE POLICE instead.
Henderson is now facing criminal charges of reckless conduct for letting her 14-year-old babysit.
This is beyond ridiculous.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a fine of $1,000.
Initially, it appeared that charges would not be laid. The Georgia Division of Family and Children’s Services investigated the incident and immediately declared it “unexceptional” and closed the case.
However, nearly two weeks later, five cop cars appeared at her house to arrest Henderson.
Henderson was handcuffed, taken to the county jail, booked, and put in a cell where she stayed until her ex-husband bailed her out.
In an interview with Reason, she says:
“I almost don’t have words for how low it made me feel. To truly feel in the bottom of my heart that, if I’m anything, it’s a good mother and everything you do is for your kids. To be stripped of that to the point where you are handcuffed in front of them.”
According to Reason, the arresting officer, Deputy Sheriff Marc Pilote, wrote in his report that:
“Anything terrible could have happened to Thaddeus, including being kidnapped, run over, or bitten by a venomous snake.”
Additionally, he cites an earlier incident, when Thaddeus was three and also wandered outside, for proving a pattern. At that time, Henderson was issued a warning.
The majority of states do not have hard and fast rules for when a child is legally able to babysit, including Georgia.
However, according to DFCS guidelines:
“Children thirteen years and older, who are at an adequate level of maturity, may be left alone and may perform the role of babysitter, as authorized by the parent, for up to twelve hours.”
Not only was Linley nearly 15 at the time, but she had also completed the Red Cross Childcare program AND was certified in CPR.
Henderson also told Reason that her daughter, who was diagnosed with ADHD, “has a GPA of 4.45 and is vice president of the 4-H Club.”
Two years later, Henderson’s lawyer, David DeLugas, is still trying to get the case dismissed.
He says that based on a 1997 Georgia Supreme Court ruling in a similar case, the reckless conduct statute cannot be used against a parent.
The District Attorney’s office doesn’t appear to be backing down. A court date is set for July 1.
In the meantime, Henderson is terrified to leave her kids home alone. Her lawyer tells FoxNews:
“It has such a chilling effect where now Melissa is afraid she can never leave her children home alone, even for a short period of time, even with the now 15-year-old daughter in charge of the other kids, because she could get arrested again.”
The fact that this is even a possibility should have all of us worried.
Look, things happen. I don’t know of any parent, at one time or another, who hasn’t had a child run off, or go missing in a store, or walk out of the house unsupervised.
I also don’t know any parent who has NOT left their 14-year-old teenager in charge of younger siblings.
When I was growing up, kids wandering around the neighborhood was NORMAL. Yes, even young ones. Because everyone knew that they could count on their neighbors.
Even when my kids were little I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that my neighbors would step in and help if a situation arose.
And yet, this was obviously not the case for Melissa Henderson.
What happened to just looking out for each other’s kids?
When did neighbors start calling the authorities instead of just calling each other? What happened to parents being able to parent with a village and without fear of persecution?
Hopefully, this case ends the way it should, with the charges dropped. Not only for Henderson’s sake but for the sake of parents everywhere.