Monday, March 1, 2010

I’m surprised it doesn’t happen often

As I write this, I don’t know if criminal charges are going to be sought against either the mother or the aunt (if not both) of a 2-year-old girl who got left behind at a Chuck E. Cheese franchise on the Northwest Side.

As I understand it, the mother thought her daughter was going to leave with her sister (the girl’s aunt), while the sister thought the girl’s mother was keeping her daughter with her.

IT COMES DOWN to confusion. Unless there’s some sort of unknown factor that somebody is going out of their way to hide, it doesn’t seem that anyone was going out of their way to abandon this particular child, whom both of the metro newspapers say is named Kayla.

The fact that caught my attention in all these accounts was that the way in which police found the family of the girl was because they came forward. They openly identified themselves to police, and rather promptly.

The girl was discovered abandoned at the Chuck E. Cheese when it was closing at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday night. The girl’s mother contacted police Sunday morning when she learned that her daughter wasn’t with her sister, but was instead being written about on the Internet as a missing child.

Hence, Sunday became a very tense day for that particular family. Several members had to answer police questions and try to figure out if they needed legal representation to deal with the possiblity of criminal charges.

IT’S NO JOKE. Child abandonment is the type of charge that will stir up resentment amongst the public, and not just because Kayla was abandoned in a place as tacky as a Chuck E. Cheese. Many people are going to be quick to jump to conclusions that these people are horrid excuses for humanity who deserve the worst punishments possible.

Reading the public comments posted on various Internet sites about this incident, it already has started up. There are those who are convinced the girl should be removed from her family and put in foster care – figuring that even the least-caring foster parents (who are doing it for the extra money they receive from the state to cover the kid’s expenses) would be better than people who can’t keep track of where their kid is.

I just don’t buy it. Like I wrote earlier, these people seem to have come forward rather quickly, and their top priority appears to be getting their daughter/niece back (although as I write this, Kayla remains in the custody of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services).

It’s just that I have noticed the ability of kids to just wander off at the most inopportune moments. I know there once was a time I have watched my own niece, only to discover that she wasn’t physically where she had said she would be.

THE MOST SERIOUS incident I recall was a time when my then-5-year-old niece (she’s now 7) told me she was going to visit the house of one neighboring kid (who lived on the same block), but instead chose to visit another neighboring kid who lived a couple of houses away (but also on the same block).

That incident took me about two minutes to square away once I discovered the discrepancy. It ultimately ended without incident. But it means there was those few minutes when I couldn’t specifically account for my niece’s whereabouts.

Did I commit a criminal act on that day a couple of years ago? I’d hate to think so.

I suppose it all depends just how strict we want to be about enforcing a definition of child abandonment.

IF ANYTHING, MY problem with this incident would be that the girl (who supposedly is about 2 years old) was able to wander off in a Chuck E. Cheese and get lost amidst the noise of one of those places.

I couldn’t envision letting the kid wander away to where it would be possible for the mother and the aunt to not have her there physically in front of them, which would have made it next to impossible for the two to think that the girl was going to leave the restaurant with the other.

But even if you want to believe that such behavior is bad, I don’t know that I think it warrants a criminal charge.

I’d like to think our criminal justice system is already too clogged with cases to be bothered with this. But then again, I am realistic enough to know that when a 2-year-old gets involved, rationality often gets thrown out the window. Because there will be those people who will screech and scream for someone’s head as an example of “justice” being served.

IF THERE IS an appropriate punishment for this so-called offense, I think the mother and aunt ought to be sentenced to have to spend an entire week at a Chuck E. Cheese themselves – no kids along.

Perhaps the concept of having to survive off of that cheap (in quality, not in price) pizza and cope with headaches from the racket made by all those aging, tacky videogames will be suffering enough to make them watch their kid a little bit closer next time.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Police are calling it a “miscommunication,” but it remains to be seen how long it ( will be until Kayla is returned to her mother, and if the mother will be cleared of any (,girl-abandoned-chuck-e-cheese-022810.article) wrongdoing.

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