A couple in Washington, D.C. left their toddlers strapped into the car on Saturday afternoon for about an hour while they—the parents, obviously—attended a wine tasting. It was 35 degrees outside, and one of the young children was not wearing shoes or socks. Brrr and grrr. (It's not clear from the story whether the parents left the heat on.)
A true Good Samaritan spotted the tots and waited before concluding that it was time to alert the authorities. This person did the right thing: He kept an eye on the kids in case the parents were just running a quick errand. But when nobody came to the car after 20 minutes, he called the cops.
I agree with his decision. Leaving kids alone in the car, for a full hour, in freezing cold weather, is a bad idea.
But what happened next is also disturbing. According to The Washington Post (emphasis mine):
[The parents] were arrested and charged with two counts of attempted second-degree cruelty to children, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence. They spent Saturday and Sunday night in a precinct lockup until their initial appearance in court Monday afternoon. …
A D.C. Superior Court judge ordered [Christophe Lucas and Jennie Chang] released pending a hearing Feb. 18. The judge ordered them to stay away from the toddlers. Neither responded to questions from a reporter as they left the court building after the hearing.
Court files show the couple intends to hire their own lawyers. The documents say that Lucas is originally from France and works as a software engineer and that Chang is employed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The children were checked out by paramedics and were in good health, police said. They were turned over to D.C. Child and Family Services.
The parents may have behaved stupidly, but stupid is not the same thing as abusive. Abusive parents should be kept from their kids. Merely dumb parents could use some instruction, especially considering that the dad is from France, where parenting practices may be very different. These parents don't deserve to have their kids taken away, and their kids certainly don't deserve to be yanked out of their home life and dropped into a state-mandated placement. That's not better for anyone.
Keep in mind that the parents had left their cell phone on in the car, giving the kids an open connection to them. This is a wacky policy, but to me it indicates that the parents at least meant to stay in touch. Teaching them that this wasn't a good idea and telling them not to do it again seems like what would make most sense, not seizing their children and acting as if they were deliberately cruel.
And then there's the tone of the Post article, which mentions the value of the family's home—$1 million—and the fact that the car was a Volvo, and the parents' good jobs, and the proximity of the wine-tasting to the Ritz Carlton. What's the point? Rich people care more about wine than about their own kids? Oh, how we love to hate the rich. (Especially wine drinkers.)
We also love to judge parents and pile on. So while most of us probably think that this was something we personally wouldn't do, I hope we also agree that these moments call for intervention, not imprisonment, separation, and foster care.