Leaving Child Unattended for Four Hours Results in Mother’s Arrest and DCP&P Investigation
On August 18, 2016, a New Jersey mother was arrested and charged with child endangerment after having left her one-year-old son unattended in her house for approximately four hours. According to NJ.Com, Kimberly Rizo of Trenton reported that at 9:00 a.m. she went outside to check on her car, but that her house door became locked behind her and that she was unable to bet back into her house. Four hours later, at approximately 1:00 p.m., Ms. Rizo called the authorities and firefighters responded to her house and were able to gain access to the family’s house. Fortunately, the firefighters found the child to be unharmed. However, the police and the Division of Child Protection and Permanency investigated the matter further and Ms. Rizo was arrested and charged with child endangerment. The available information did not clarify as to whether or not the Division of Child Protection and Permanency took custody of the one-year-old after the mother’s arrest.
Regardless of the criminal aspects associated with leaving a one-year-old unattended for four hours, the Division of Child Protection and Permanency may find that a parent such as Ms. Rizo perpetrated child abuse or neglect pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 even though the toddler did not suffer actual harm. Under New Jersey child abuse and neglect law, actual harm of a child is not a requirement for the Division of Child Protection and Permanency to make a “substantiated” or “established” finding of child abuse or neglect because a risk of harm resulting from a parent’s recklessness in providing proper supervision may suffice for a finding of child abuse or neglect against a parent. Specifically, N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 (c)(4)(b) defines an “abused or neglected child” as a child whose physical, mental, or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired as the result of the failure of his parent to exercise a minimum degree of care in providing the child with proper supervision by unreasonably inflicting or allowing to be inflicted harm, or substantial risk thereof.
In Ms. Rizo’s case, there is no applicable bright line rule that says “leaving a one-year-old unattended after being accidentally locked out of your house” constitutes child abuse or neglect. Rather, the totality of the circumstances must be assessed to determine whether or not Ms. Rizo failed to exercise a minimum degree of care in providing her child with proper supervision.
Leaving One Year Old Child Unattended – Child Abuse Charges in Mercer County NJ
However, in this particular situation, waiting four hours to request assistance with gaining entry into the home will probably be a key factor in DCP&P’s assessment of whether or not the mother perpetrated child abuse or neglect. But the key question is: why did the mother wait four hours to contact the authorities? Because only a few of the things that occurred on the morning of August 18, 2016, were reported, there is no indication as to the outcome of DCP&P’s investigation. In addition, the Division of Child Protection and Permanency maintains their records in the strictest of confidentiality and cannot disclose to the general public whether or not an allegation of child abuse or neglect against Ms. Rizo has been “substantiated” or “established.”