Court: Yes, leaving baby in hot car for 2 hours without food and water was abuse
A mother abused and neglected her 20-month-old son when she left the baby in her car, unattended, for more than two hours, an appellant court has ruled.
The ruling affirms a Family Part determination the woman put her baby at significant risk when she left the baby alone in February of 2014.
Police Officer Joseph Quinn, responding to a call about the child being left alone, found the 20-month-old boy locked in car outside an assisted living facility, sitting in a carseat in the back, according to an account of the case in the appellate ruling. It said the facts of the case were "largely undisputed."
One window was open two inches, and the car was parked about 500 feet from the entrance to the facility, the court wrote. The temperature outside was in the high 60s, according ot the court.
Quinn opened the car door, using his baton to reach through the window. Inside, he noticed the car was warm, the boy was sweating — wearing a heavy coat, a knit hat, two pairs of pajamas and slippers, the court wrote.
Quinn took off the child's coat to allow the boy to cool down — and noticed a smell, the court wrote. He changed the child's diaper.
According to the court, the car was "in disarray," with no food or water left with the child, and a purse and cellphone left in the front seat of the car, in plain view.
When, after 15 minutes, the child's mother came out of the car, she initially told the officers the boy's father had left the child there, the court wrote. The mother is identified in court documents only as SG, to protect the 20-month-old's privacy.
Eventually, the mother admitted she'd left the child there at around 10 a.m. — more than two hours earlier — because she couldn't find a babysitter and was scared she'd lose her job if she didn't go to work, the court wrote. In all that time, the mother never checked on the 20-month-old, the court wrote.
The mother was arrested at the time on a charge of endangering the welfare of a child.
According to the court, the mother told a Division of Chid Protection and Permanency (the agency formerly known as DYFS) worker that she was also about to be evicted because she owed back rent.
But later, as the division worked with the mother to provide her with services — during which DCP&P took charge of the child's care, and the mother only had visitation rights — it learned she and the child were in fact homeless, the court wrote. The mother had in the time since been living in the Homeless Solutions shelter in Morris County.
While after several court proceedings, DCP&P negotiated a consent order giving custody back to the mother, DCP&P was also granted continuing care and supervision, and the mother was ordered to continue parenting classes, the court wrote.
In June of 2014, a judge found the mother had abused or neglected the child during the car incident — the decision the appellate court upheld — though ultimately, after several hearings, the child was left in the mother's custody.
The mother had argued in an appeal that there wasn't enough evidence she'd put the child at risked or caused harm, and that the burden shouldn't have been on her to provide otherwise.
But the appellate court ruled it could only overturn the Family Part if its findings weren't supported by adequate, credible evidence — and found they were.
"The credible evidence established that SG left her 20-month-old child locked in a car without food or water," the court wrote. "The child was left for over two hours and may well have been left for a longer period of time had someone not reported the situation."
It wasn't just the child's heath at risk, the court wrote — someone could have broken into the car and done the chid harm.
And the appellate court said if found "no improper burden shifting."
"(The mother) has not argued the child was not at risk of harm when he was left in the car, but that the court did not fully appreciate the mitigating factors of her new employment and the child's daycare," the appellate court wrote.
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