A crime to leave the kids More parents arrested for neglect of children

June 28, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Sometimes, the stories are downright horrible to hear, like parents who leave their babies locked in a car while they drink in a bar or shoot drugs behind a convenience store.

Other times, they are more understandable, but no less dangerous: A hurried parent runs into the bank to cash a check and leaves a small child alone in the back seat.

In both cases, if the child is under the age of 8, the parents are committing a crime.

And more and more, county police are charging parents who leave their offspring unattended, said Pamela L. Smelser, supervisor of protective services for the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services.

Smelser said she could not provide a numerical breakdown of cases involving parents who leave children alone, but said her agency handles between 150 and 200 child neglect cases a month.

The department investigated eight neglect cases on June 19 -- ** the day Smelser was interviewed.

"It is frightening," Smelser said.

"I am not saying these are necessarily bad people. They are people whose judgment is questionable and who are ignorant of what the law requires of them.

"Most people think they grow up and have kids and do it their own way. But there are minimal requirements established by the states for the protection of children."

Most of the time, Smelser said, parents don't realize they did anything wrong.

"We have had kids left unattended in this District Court parking lot," she said.

"Their parents have just run in to see the commissioner or pick up food stamps."

Police who see a child left alone will usually wait for the parents to come and sometimes will call Smelser's office, depending on the circumstances, such as how young the child is and how long he or she was left alone.

One case that led to an arrest occurred several weeks ago, when police found two babies left alone in a car in front of a 7-Eleven store.

Smelser said the parents were in the back shooting cocaine.

Last September, Donald Lee Gardner Sr. and Tracy Schubert were charged with confining an unattended child after police, who were flagged down by concerned witnesses, found a 5-week-old girl and a 17-month-old boy locked in a car parked in front of a Glen Burnie bar.

Charging documents filed in District Court in Annapolis say Gardner, 39, of Glen Burnie, and Schubert, 21, of Pasadena, were inside the Dug Out Bar drinking. Their court date is July 20.

In another case in May, Barbara Jean Bernstein, 27, of Millersville, was charged with three counts of confining an unattended child after concerned neighbors called State Police.

In court documents, a state trooper said he found two girls, a 21-month-old and a 6-year-old, and a 7-year-old boy alone in an apartment.

The mother told police she went grocery shopping.

"The defendant stated that the vehicle she owned was too small for the whole family," court documents say.

"It troubles me because someday a child is going to get hurt," Smelser said.

"You can't leave your 9-year-old in charge of your 6-year-old. It's a simple thing."

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