'Just a minute' is just too long Left alone: Parents who leave young ones in homes or cars are breaking law, tempting fate.

July 24, 1996

IT IS a crime regularly committed by people who don't consider themselves criminals.

It is also an action that people know they may regret the rest of their lives -- and risk it anyway.

Parents or guardians who leave children unattended in cars, as well as in homes, are breaking the law in Maryland. It is illegal to leave a child under age 8 anywhere unless accompanied by someone at least 13 years old. And yet the scenario of young children left alone in cars, if not homes, seems increasingly commonplace. Even in well-to-do areas, children get left alone so parents can cross off another item on their list of things to do.

Social service workers and police in Howard County think the problem is widespread enough that they have launched a campaign entitled " 'Just a minute' is just too long." Posters showing a child's face peering out of a car window will be displayed in stores and schools. "In [a] short time, your child could be abducted or choke to death," the poster warns. "And a vehicle left running is tempting for car thieves and for curious children left alone. Why risk it?"

The dangers are especially acute this time of year when cars become ovens with the air conditioner off and windows up. Howard countians still recall the excruciating story several years ago of a housekeeper who left her baby to suffocate in her car rather than bring her into the home she was hired to clean. A Texas businessman was recently tried in Delaware after his young son died alone in his parked car.

Granted, most people hear such stories and cringe at such carelessness or neglect. Yet they see no connection to leaving their own underage children unattended for "a minute," even though the results can be as tragic. If cited and found guilty, parents could be saddled with a conviction of neglect on their record, plus a possible $500 fine or 30 days in jail.

Kids left in cars may seem a small problem in comparison to the 42 percent of "latchkey" children aged 5 to 9 years old left home alone occasionally while their parents are working, or the more egregious cases of children abandoned so their parents can visit the local pub. But too often, the lesser, yet more common, problems can get overlooked. The Howard County Department of Citizen Services merits kudos for trying to cast a light on the issue.

Pub Date: 7/24/96

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