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A single mother faces one year in prison after she let her 14-year-old daughter babysit her siblings while she went to work at the beginning of the pandemic – an act some are calling ‘reckless,’ and others defend as the act of a desperate mother.
Melissa Henderson, a single mother of five, is charged with criminal reckless conduct after she let her children under the care of her eldest child, 14-year-old Linley, in May 2020 when COVID shut down their daycare center.
Linley was reportedly engaging in online learning and did not notice that her four-year-old brother, Thaddeus, had slipped out of the house when he saw his friend outside and went to play with him in Blairsville, Georgia.
Within about 10 to 15 minutes, Linley noticed he was gone and found him at his friend’s house down the street.
But in the meantime the friend’s mom called the police, and about two weeks later, Henderson was arrested in front of her children, according to Reason Magazine.
If convicted, Henderson faces a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of $1,000.
Melissa Henderson is charged with criminal reckless conduct and faces a year in prison and a $1,000 fine
Henderson is a single mother of five. In May 2020 she returned to work, but her children’s nursery was still shut down due to the pandemic, and she left her younger children under the care of her 14-year-old, Linley, left.
Henderson said her son, Thaddeus, left the house when he saw a friend outside. The friend lived in the house at the right
Immediately following the incident, FOX News reports, police took down her information, but returned nearly two weeks later with five fleet cars after the arresting officer, Deputy Sheriff Marc Pilote, discovered that Thaddeus had previously wandered outside.
He wrote in his arrest report that anything terrible could have happened to Thaddeus after he left the home, including being kidnapped, run over or ‘bitten by a venomous snake.’
Henderson was ultimately handcuffed and arrested in front of her children.
‘I almost don’t have words for how low it made me feel,’ she told Reason. ‘To truly feel in the bottom of my heart that if I’m anything, it’s a good mother and everything you do is for your kids. To be stripped of that to the point where you are handcuffed in front of them.’
She was taken to Union County jail, where she says she remembers ‘curling up in a ball in the corner and just wanting to hide.’ Eventually, her ex-husband bailed her out.
Henderson said she ‘truly feels’ that she is a ‘good mother’ to her children
Criminal proceedings have now been ongoing for two years, as her attorney, David DeLugas, argues the charge is unconstitutional and seeks to get it dismissed.
He cites a Georgia Supreme Court ruling in 1997 that ruled that charging a mom for a normal parenting decision is unconstitutional. In that case, Hall v. State, a mom left her 11-year-old babysitting her younger sibling who died in a tragic accident.
The court ruled at the time that the state’s reckless conduct statute is susceptible to ‘arbitrary enforcement,’ with the majority ruling that the state failed to ‘contend that the [reckless conduct statute] is violated by the many parents who on a daily basis, often due to necessity, leave an older child to care for their younger siblings while the parents work or attend to other business.’
Moreover, DeLugas – who is working pro-bono for the Henderson family – argues that Georgia’s own child protective guidelines say children can babysit at the age of 13 with a parent’s permission.
‘They claim that the same thing happened a year earlier,’ DeLugas told FOX News. ‘So you’re saying a year earlier, she left her children in charge of her then 13-year-old, almost 14-year-old, and somehow two rights make a wrong.
‘It wasn’t wrong then, and it’s not wrong now.’
He has now filed a motion to dismiss the case, Reason reports.
Henderson has not returned to work since her arrest and is now afraid to leave her children home alone
But Union County District Attorney Jeff Langley said he believed the cops were acting prudently in their arrest, as Thaddeus had been caught outside on his own once before.
The Georgia Division of Family and Children’s Services had investigated the incident at the time, and left Henderson with a warning, according to 11 Alive. They again investigated her conduct after Thaddeus left the house in 2020, and found no wrongdoing, Reason Magazine reports.
Langley also told Reason that arresting officers informed him that Linley had ‘some measure of learning disability,’ making her an unreliable sitter.
Henderson said her daughter has been diagnosed with ADHD, but had a GPA of 4.45, was vice president of the 4-H Club, broke school records in varsity track, completed the Red Cross Childcare Program and is certified in CPR.
A guilty verdict most likely not result in Henderson facing any prison time, Langley said, but thought it would be a good idea to prevent her daughter from babysitting any more.
‘We just want to make sure the children in our small community stay safe,’ he said.
But now Henderson says she is afraid to leave her children alone, and DeLugas said she has not returned to work since her arrest. It is unclear where she had worked.
‘This has just been a nightmare,’ she told 11 Alive.
A GoFundMe has been set up for Henderson’s legal expenses. As of Tuesday, it had raised more than $9,000.