Should Sick Mother Have Been Charged With Child Neglect After E.R. Visit?



Let's say you're a single mother with four kids at home. This is very common.

Suppose that one day you wake up feeling sick. So sick, in fact, that, as a precaution, you decide you should go to the emergency room. It could happen to any mom, right?

But you wonder about who will watch the kids while you're away. Your friends aren't around to help. Since your oldest child is 13, you decide it's OK for her to watch two of the others -- ages 7 and 2 -- at a neighborhood park during your visit to the E.R. (You take one of your children along with you.) It's a bit chilly out, but it's a clear day. There won't be any problem, you say to yourself.

But there is a problem. The hospital visit runs longer than you expect. The sun starts to set. You can't get in touch with your children, who are surely wondering where you are. Has your bout of morning sickness suddenly turned into a case of child neglect?


At least according to the Missouri Court of Appeals of the Eastern District, which today reversed a decision made by a trial judge who originally contended that Cape Girardau mother Teresa Johnson endangered her children after leaving them at a local park before going to the hospital.

Because Johnson did not put her kids in a situation that presented a substantial risk to their life or health, she carries no blame, according to the panel of appellate judges.

On February 27, 2010, Johnson woke up feeling ill. She dropped three of her kids off at the park on the way to the hospital, at around noon. At 4:30, the 13-year-old asked a stranger if she could borrow his phone to call her mom. After the conversation, the stranger contacted the police. When an officer responded, the three kids were seated inside their uncle's van. They were not wearing hats or gloves, but they were wearing jackets.

Because it was cold out, a trial judge convicted Johnson of two counts of endangering the welfare of a child in the second degree.

The appellate judges determined that the children were wearing jackets, so they were not underdressed for the weather; they also ruled that the 13-year-old daughter was old enough to mind after her younger siblings that day.

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