A Florida mother of four was arrested on Tuesday for leaving her four children unattended in a park while she picked up groceries at a local food bank, Bay News 9 reported.
A West Haven officer became suspicious when he saw four young children, whose ages ranged from 6 to 8, playing together at the Lake Maude Nature Park. When the 8-year-old boy became entangled in a swing that is designated for toddlers, the officer called the fire department to help extricate the kid.
When the children’s mother, Ashley Richardson, resurfaced two-and-a-half hours later and explained that the errand had taken longer than she had expected, she was promptly arrested.
She was transported to the Winter Haven Police Department where she was interviewed and then booked into the Polk County Jail.
The 28-year-old mom is facing four counts of negligent child abuse without bodily harm.
It still isn’t clear when the children left their home to walk to the park or where the food bank was located, according to the West Haven Police Department’s statement on Facebook.
"Our officer had great concern for the safety of these children," said Chief Gary Hester on the West Haven Police Department Facebook page. "She gave ample opportunity for an adult to come forward. For anyone to think it is okay to allow small children to walk almost a half mile alone across a heavily traveled road, not to mention left in unsafe conditions, is criminal and will not be ignored."
While dropping young children in a park to fend for themselves isn’t an ideal option, many underserved mothers have few other choices.
Costs for childcare, for example, have continued to rise, according to a study released by Child Care Aware of America.
According to the study, child care fees for an infant and a 4-year-old in a child care center exceeded annual median rent payments in every state.
Full-time child care for a single school-age kid in Florida in 2012 cost $3,822, according to the organization.
Richardson is hardly the anomaly when it comes to enduring increased financial struggles.
Single mother Shanesha Taylor faced a similar quandary back in March.
Taylor was eager to attend a job interview, but couldn’t find a babysitter to watch her two youngest kids. She left them in her hot car in Scottsdale and was arrested soon after, the Associated Press reported.
She faced being tried on two felony child abuse charges, but in July prosecutors reached a deal that would allow her to avoid prosecution.
It’s not just finding affordable and reliable care that low-income mothers struggle with.
During the summer, another plaguing issue parents face is losing out on meals they depended on throughout the school year.
Nationally, only one in seven children who receive free or reduced-price lunch during the school year get access to summer meals programs, according to Food Research and Action Center, an anti-hunger advocacy group.
While the numbers are grim, they’ve actually improved.
Last month, nearly 3 million children participated in the Summer Nutrition Programs, an increase of 5.7 percent from the year before.
Still, advocates say that more work needs to be done so that these meals can reach more low-income kids. So, perhaps, it can ease the burden on moms -- like Richardson -- who may have to make more trips to the food bank this summer, and, at times, wait on agonizingly long lines.
But once the Winter Haven Police Department posted a photo of Richardson to its Facebook page, with the details of the arrest, commenters heatedly debated whether the mother of four warranted getting arrested.
"The poor lady was trying to get food to feed her family and let the kids play instead of having them wait in the heat for food," one commenter wrote. "I do not see why she had to go to jail."
But others felt that the reaction was commensurate with the alleged crime.
"There's so many different possibilities that something bad could have happened," another commenter wrote. "I'm glad she went to jail ... this is a wake up call for her!!"