Melissa Henderson Blairsville Georgia single working mother of five faces jail after leaving 14 yr old daughter to babysit younger siblings.
A single Georgia mother of five faces a year in jail after having her 14-year-old daughter babysit her younger siblings while she went to work during the onset of the pandemic. A decision some have called irresponsible while others argue it was simply the actions of a desperate mom. Or perhaps the lack of social services in the community…
Melissa Henderson of Blairsville, Ga. is charged with criminal reckless conduct after leaving her children under the care of her eldest child, 14-year-old Linley, in May 2020 when COVID shut down their daycare center.
Matters came to the fore after one of the toddlers, four year old boy, Thaddeus, slipped out of the house upon seeing his friend outside and wanting to play with him.
Linley noticed her younger brother had disappeared and according to the family, within 10-15 minutes found him at his friend’s house down the street.
Too late. In the interim, the friend’s mom had already called the police to complain, with Henderson being arrested in front of her children, two weeks later according to Reason Magazine.
Lawyer claims charge is unconstitutional
If convicted, Henderson faces a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of $1,000.
Following the incident, police took Henderson’s information, only to return nearly two weeks later with five fleet cars after the arresting officer, Deputy Sheriff Marc Pilote, discovered that Thaddeus had previously wandered outside FOX News reports.
He wrote in his arrest report that anything terrible could have happened to Thaddeus after he left the home, including being kidnapped, run over or ‘bitten by a venomous snake.’
Henderson was handcuffed and arrested in front of her children.
‘I almost don’t have words for how low it made me feel,’ she told Reason. ‘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.’
The single working mom was taken to Union County jail, where she says she remembers ‘curling up in a ball in the corner and just wanting to hide.’ Her ex-husband bailed her out.
Criminal proceedings have been ongoing for two years, as her attorney, David DeLugas, argues the charge is unconstitutional and seeks to get it dismissed.
Arbitrary enforcement of law
He cites a Georgia Supreme Court ruling in 1997 that ruled that charging a mom for a normal parenting decision is unconstitutional. In that case, Hall v. State, a mom left her 11-year-old babysitting her younger sibling who died in an accident.
The court ruled at the time that the state’s reckless conduct statute is susceptible to ‘arbitrary enforcement,’ with the majority ruling that the state failed to ‘contend that the [reckless conduct statute] is violated by the many parents who on a daily basis, often due to necessity, leave an older child to care for their younger siblings while the parents work or attend to other business.’
Moreover, DeLugas – who is working pro-bono for the Henderson family – argues that Georgia’s own child protective guidelines say children can babysit at the age of 13 with a parent’s permission.
‘They claim that the same thing happened a year earlier,’ DeLugas told FOX News. ‘So you’re saying a year earlier, she left her children in charge of her then 13-year-old, almost 14-year-old, and somehow two rights make a wrong.
‘It wasn’t wrong then, and it’s not wrong now.’
The lawyer has filed a motion to dismiss the case.
Covid was going on
No sitter was available
And America doesn’t provide protection for mothers that have to work
The oldest has a 4.4GPA and is First Aid / CPR trained
Why was the mother jailed?
Support her defense
— JollyRoger (@JollyRoger_105) February 8, 2022
On what grounds should a mom be jailed?
But Union County District Attorney Jeff Langley said he believed that police were acting prudently in their arrest, as Thaddeus had been caught outside on his own once before.
The Georgia Division of Family and Children’s Services had investigated the incident at the time, and left Henderson with a warning, according to 11 Alive. They again investigated her conduct after Thaddeus left the house in 2020, and found no wrongdoing.
Langley also told Reason that arresting officers informed him that Linley had ‘some measure of learning disability,’ making her an unreliable sitter.
Henderson said her daughter has been diagnosed with ADHD, but had a GPA of 4.45, was vice president of the 4-H Club, broke school records in varsity track, completed the Red Cross Childcare Program and is certified in CPR.
A guilty verdict most likely will not result in Henderson facing any prison time, Langley said, but thought it would be a good idea to prevent her daughter from babysitting any more.
‘We just want to make sure the children in our small community stay safe,’ he said.
The case has led to Henderson saying she is afraid to leave her children alone, with the single mom yet to return to work since her arrest.
‘This has just been a nightmare,’ she told 11 Alive.
In the interim a push is being made to narrow state laws ensuring that they kick in only when parents put their kids in likely and obvious danger, not when they make a decision a cop or caseworker disapproves of according to DeLugas.
A GoFundMe has been set up for Henderson’s legal expenses. As of Wednesday morning, it had raised more than $17,400.