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New York Laws Vague About How Young Is Too Young To Leave Children Alone

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A South Carolina mother’s fate lies in the hands of a jury after leaving her 9-year-old alone while she went to work.

Debra Harrell faces significant jail time after reportedly leaving her daughter at a park while she went to work at McDonald’s. A stranger called police when he saw the 9-year-old girl alone.

The incident has sparked a national debate about what is considered right and wrong. And while each state has different laws, CBS 2’s Emily Smith reported they all have one thing in common: They are vague.

“The statute does not say what age it is appropriate to leave a child alone,” family law attorney Martha Cohen Stine told CBS 2. “There have been parents prosecuted under New York penal law.”

Stine said authorities determine whether it’s considered unlawful conduct on three main criteria: the child’s age, maturity and circumstances. But again, there isn’t a specific age set.

Child psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere said even if the child happens to be a mature 9-year-old, it isn’t appropriate.

“Times have really changed. It is dangerous,” he said. “I believe this is a mother who is desperate. (She) certainly did something wrong.  It’s not good parenting.”

Experts say how people feel about whether the incident is right or wrong could vary from city to city and even from neighborhood to neighborhood. But Smith found many on Twitter who think the mother in South Carolina is being unfairly targeted.

One person tweeted out a link to a news story about the incident, saying “Help someone who needs it.”

All the parents Smith spoke with in New York City find it egregious to leave a 9-year-old anywhere without supervision.

They should be “at least 13, but they have to be responsible,” one person told CBS 2.

“At home alone, I could see 12, but never in a park alone,” another said.

Still, none of the parents questioned said they believe Harrell should face jail time.

For now, Harrell has her child back and posted bond. She could spend 10 years behind bars if convicted.

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