A shameful incident in Georgia

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A Blairsville, Georgia mother was arrested some time ago and jailed in front of her children after letting her 14-year-old daughter babysit her siblings. Melissa Henderson said that she had to go to work, and her four-year-old son’s daycare was shut down due to Covid-19. While the almost 15-year-old daughter worked on her homework, according to Inside Edition, the 4-year-old wandered out of his house to play.

A neighbor called 911 and the cops showed up — two weeks later! Some 911 emergency that was!

 Ms. Henderson said her son was outside about 15 minutes. Again, two weeks after the incident, Henderson was handcuffed and taken to jail. She was charged with reckless conduct. The police report said that the child “might have been kidnapped, run over, or bitten by a venomous snake.”

Henderson was placed inside a police cruiser and taken to the county jail, where she was photographed, fingerprinted, and given a pair of bright orange crocs to wear. Then she was put in a cell. “I remember curling up in a ball in the corner and just wanting to hide,” she says. Her ex-husband bailed her out.

Henderson said that, as a single mother of five children, it has been very difficult during the pandemic. First, she lost work and then childcare wasn’t available anymore. She said that all the daycares were shut down and her only option was to have her daughter babysit. The Union County Sheriff’s Office is standing behind the arrest. However, there are some problems.

In Georgia, it is perfectly legal for a child as young as 13 to babysit siblings if the child has the parent’s permission. Red Cross babysitting classes are open to potential babysitters as young as 11. In 1997, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the reckless conduct statute, with which Henderson is charged, could not be used against a parent.

Attorney David DeLugas, Executive Director of Parents USA, has taken the case pro bono and is seeking to have all charges dropped. It should be noted that the neighbor could have called the mother or the daughter but chose to call 911 instead. Why that action was taken remains unknown.

In an earlier part of my life, I worked as a Social Counselor for the Tennessee Department of Human Service (DHS) in the area of child abuse and neglect. The Tennessee DHS is the equivalent of Georgia’s Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS). I investigated scores of allegations and carried a caseload of 50 families per month. I removed numerous children from homes for serious neglect and helped put parents in jail for everything from the torture of a 7-year-old girl to a mother prostituting her five daughters, ages 5 to 15.

In that job I was cursed at, spit at, pushed at, punched at, stabbed at, and shot at. One man who threatened to kill my family, after I removed his two children for severe neglect, did indeed murder a sheriff’s deputy and was sent to prison. Even I think this situation is ridiculously absurd and a case of government overreach, which seems to be occurring more and more.

In my role at the DHS, I was responsible for investigating all new complaints assigned to me. I would say that, out of every 100 cases referred, half the allegations were totally unfounded. Of the 50 remaining, about 40 were neglect and 10 were abuse. Perhaps 1 out of that 100 resulted in removal and almost never did a complaint result in the arrest of a parent. Our goal was to protect the children and keep the family together.

To that end, the DHS would provide services and training to the family to help them cope and, even if the children were removed, our goal was to get them back into the home unless there was genuine criminality involved. The police would never have been involved in a case like this.

The deputy should have, in my opinion, called DFCS and left it with them. At least they might have been able to help the family instead of arresting the mother in front of her children for simply trying to work and care for her children.

Without help, just what was this mother to do? If anyone was at fault, it was the 14-year-old who was distracted by homework. Is she going to be arrested and taken to juvenile detention? That would be a double travesty.

By the way, the daughter has a 4.45 GPA, is vice-president of the 4-H Club, broke school records in varsity track, completed the Red Cross Childcare program, and is certified in CPR.

The whole thing is shameful. My hat is off to the mother who was trying to do what mothers do — try to work and take care of her children when the man is apparently not around.

There is plenty of shame here — shame on the neighbor who called the cops instead of seeing if she could be of help. Shame on the sheriff’s department for not answering a 911 call until two weeks after the so-called “emergency.” Shame on the deputy for arresting a mother in front of her kids and charging her with a crime when no crime was committed. Shame on the Union County elected Sheriff for not apologizing to this family. Shame on the District Attorney for not immediately dropping this case.

Kudos to Attorney David DeLugas for taking this case without pay. Kudos to the news outlets who covered or ran this shameful story. Kudos to the daughter for stepping up and trying to help her mom. Kudos to Ms. Henderson who would rather work and take care of her kids than stay home.

Hopefully, others in Union County and elsewhere will take note of this type of situation and give assistance to struggling families. We help people all over the world. It wouldn’t hurt us to help our neighbor.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the pandemic, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]

3 COMMENTS

  1. Where has “common sense” gone? Those that are public servants must always remember to treat people with dignity and compassion as if you were treating your own family members. I realize law enforcement must follow the law, as well, and here it appears that they didn’t even do that.

  2. Hard to believe something like this could happen. There are too many public servants and officials involved. This wasn’t the result of one fool. Our society is in deep trouble when educated “normal” people can do something like this.