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A single mother of five children faces one year in prison and a $1000 fine for letting her 14-year-old daughter babysit.
Melissa Henderson of Blairsville, Georgia was left without a daycare option for her children when the center she brought them to shut down because of COVID-19 in May 2020, Reason reports. The single mother needed to go to work and asked her 14-year-old daughter, Linley, to babysit her four younger siblings, including her four-year-old brother Thaddeus.
The children were also home due to the pandemic and Linley was participating in remote learning when Thaddeus allegedly wandered outside to play with a friend he saw. Linley realized he was missing within 10 to 15 minutes and went to look for him at the friend’s house where she assumed he must have gone.
This was not before the mother of Thaddeus’ friend had called the police.
Thaddeus had wandered off once before when he was three and Henderson had been investigated by the Georgia Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) because of the incident. The supervision period of DFCS had ended before they investigated the new incidents and they found the events unexceptional, dismissing the case.
However, the officer who arrived on the scene the day of the latest incident felt differently. Deputy Sheriff Marc Pilote recalled the first DFCS investigation and, under the belief of a pattern of behavior, issued an arrest for Henderson two weeks after Thaddeus had wandered outside, Fox News reported.
Pilote arrived at the Henderson house with five cop cars, arresting her for charges of criminal reckless conduct. His report listed an array of things he believed could have happened to Thaddeus in the brief time he was unsupervised including kidnapping, getting run over, or being bitten by a venomous snake.
“I almost don’t have words for how low it made me feel,” Henderson recounted of the arrest. “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.”
Henderson was booked in the county jail where she remained in a cell until her ex-husband arrived to bail her out. Of her time there, she said, “I remember curling up in a ball in the corner and just wanting to hide.”
The case against Henderson has been ongoing for nearly two years. Her lawyer, David DeLugas, has filed a new motion to dismiss the case three weeks ago. He is also the founder of Parents USA, a 501(c)(3) working specifically on cases defending parents.
DeLugas points to a Georgia Supreme Court decision from 1997 that ruled charging a mother for a “normal parenting decision” was unconstitutional. The case in question involved a mother leaving her 11-year-old to babysit a younger sibling who then died in a tragic accident.
DeLugas also cites the Georgia Department of Human Services “Lack of Supervision Guidelines” as a reason to dismiss charges. It reads: “Children thirteen years and older, who are at an adequate level of maturity, may be left alone and may perform the role of babysitter, as authorized by the parent, for up to twelve hours.”
Though officers reported to District Attorney Jeff Langley that 14-year-old Linley had “some measure of learning disability,” Henderson says her daughter was previously diagnosed with ADHD, but is also reported as having a GPA of 4.45, is the vice president of the 4-H Club, is a record-breaking varsity track athlete, and is certified in CPR after completing the Red Cross Childcare program.
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