How well do you know the person who watches your children? Do they have a criminal record or a history of substance abuse? If something bad happened to your kids while they were in that person's care, are you aware that you could face charges, too? As a parent, you can't just leave your children with whatever warm body happens to be around. You are ultimately responsible for your kids, and that includes choosing safe and reliable child care. According to prosecutors in Oklahoma, it also includes protecting your kids even from their other parent if you have reasonable knowledge that the other parent could pose a risk to your children's safety and well-being.
Should have known better, says prosecution
This week in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a pair of good Samaritans rescued a naked 3-year-old boy who was locked outside his home, crying in the cold. The neighbors heard the little boy's cries, wrapped him up, and called for help. When the police arrived at the filthy north Tulsa home, they found a toddler covered in feces and locked in a dog crate, and another naked 3-year-old in bed with 48-year-old William Todd Lewallen. Lewallen was allegedly passed out under the influence of Oxycontin, Dilaudid, Flexeril, and alcohol. He was arrested and the children were placed in protective custody.
Late in the week, Erin Elizabeth Lewallen, wife of William Lewallen and mother of the three children in the home, was arrested and charged with child neglect, even though she was not home at the time of the incident. According to the Tulsa World, Erin Lewallen was charged because, "As the mother of the three children, she was a person responsible for their care. The prosecution alleges she knew, or reasonably should have known, that leaving the children in the care of William Lewallen would put them at risk of harm." The prosecution also noted that Erin Lewallen should have been aware of the risk because of her knowledge of her husband's "use of medication, history of substance abuse, and criminal history."
Beware of neglectful caregivers
According to a University of New Hampshire report, more kids in the United States die from neglect than from any other form of maltreatment. What this means is that the caregiver you choose doesn't have to beat your children or otherwise abuse them in order to cause serious damage or even death. Simply failing to care for their needs is enough to put them at significant risk.
In the case above, the three young children were left in a dangerous situation with a caregiver who was too incapacitated to care for them or even notice they were in trouble. It could have been much worse.
Love your kids enough to leave
Erin Lewallen filed for divorce after her children were taken into protective custody. The incident might not have happened at all if she had left when her husband was arrested on charges related to the manufacture of methamphetamine, or when she first became aware of his substance abuse issues. Love may be blind, but it need not be stupid. You can stand by your risky partner for life, but when you have kids you have to put their needs first. Love them enough to protect them. Don't stay in a situation where they may be at serious risk.
More by Tavia: