Hi Mama,

I don’t know you and I don’t know anything more about you than what I read in the paper a few days ago. From that article I know your toddler got accidentally locked in the car when a gust of wind blew the door shut with the keys inside. I know you worked frantically for a few minutes to get her out before calling the police. I know the police broke the window and found her to be warm, but healthy.

And I know they gave you a ticket for suspected child abuse or neglect.

It could be there’s more to the story than what the newspaper reported, but if that is truly what happened, I am so sorry. I can only imagine the terror you felt at realizing your baby was stuck in that car. You did your best to get her out and then knew you needed help. You called who any of us should feel safe calling in that moment, and now here you are facing child abuse allegations and a potential investigation. Mama, this should bother all of us because this exact situation could happen to any parent. 

What should you have done differently to avoid being considered abusive or neglectful? What actual abuse or harm did your child suffer if she was deemed to be entirely healthy and you were present with her the whole time? I can imagine this incident was traumatic for all of you (probably for you more than anyone), but how does adding the trauma of a child abuse investigation help? This was NOT a child left in a hot car on purpose or even on accident. You never left her at all. This was an emergency you did everything you could to solve.

And let’s not ignore the fact that if this incident had happened twenty years ago, that toddler (with some direction) would have been able to jump into the front seat, unlock the door and hop out. Instead, she was secured in a five-point harness FOR HER SAFETY, which then put her in an unsafe situation. Moms can’t win. 

Is it really the expectation for all of us to be perfect parents? Our car doors should never blow shut. We should know immediately that our efforts to unlock the door will be fruitless. Our beloved, well attended, totally healthy children are deemed “abused” or “neglected” because they were in a hot car for about 15 minutes while we worked to get them out, reassuring them of our love and presence the whole time? 

It’s one thing to feel like the world judges you as a mother for any perceived imperfections. It’s another thing to have an actual JUDGE called in to judge you for an accident that was entirely outside of your control. 

Having worked with judges and attorneys in the child welfare system as a foster parent, I have every hope the Omaha Prosecutor’s Office will find this to be as ridiculous as your average mother would find it to be. In fact, I hope the prosecutor is a mother and has some real empathy and perspective on this situation. We cannot blame parents for THE WIND or for not knowing the coat hanger or screw driver wouldn’t work to open the window. The police department said you should call them immediately if you can’t get the door open, but by all accounts that sounds like exactly what you did. You worked to get the door open and when you couldn’t, you called the police.

What kind of impact does this punishing of parents have on other parents in need? Who would want to call the police if they know they are likely to be charged with child abuse? Will we actually put more children’s lives in danger by punishing the parents who ask for help? Children pay a very real price when parents feel unsafe about calling the police for help when they’re in a desperate situation. 

And doesn’t this divert time from investigating actual instances of abuse and neglect in our community? When we call everything “abusive” we start to lose perspective on the desperate situations of kids experiencing actual abuse today. We start to doubt the validity of substantiated claims of abuse. We don’t call CPS when we really SHOULD because we fear contributing to this overburdening of the system. 

Mama, this incident does not make you a bad mother. And shockingly enough, even having a CPS investigation doesn’t make you a bad mother. They happen regularly to good mothers with “concerned” neighbors or vindictive ex husbands or worried school administrators who just don’t have all the facts. But nobody talks about it. The shame of being accused of being an abusive or neglectful parent is great, even when the accusations are unfounded. But the statistics are out there– MANY families (especially poor families or minority families) have experienced what you’re going through right now. Good families have been scared and scarred by these investigations and I’m sorry you’re having to be added to that list. 

Just know the mothers in your community are standing by you. We know this is nonsense and we hope the prosecutor’s office will, too. Perfect parenting (that somehow manages to even control THE WIND) can’t be the standard by which we all are judged. It is possible to love and support the police and be thankful for their help while still questioning their call in this situation. And it is entirely possible to be a GOOD MOTHER who accidentally gets her child locked in the car.

Maralee Bradley

Maralee is a mom of six pretty incredible kids. Four were adopted (one internationally, three through foster care) and two were biological surprises. Prior to becoming parents, Maralee and her husband were houseparents at a children’s home and had the privilege of helping to raise 17 boys during their five year tenure. Maralee is passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making her family a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries and doing it all for God’s glory. Maralee can be heard on My Bridge Radio talking about motherhood and what won't fit in a 90 second radio segment ends up at www.amusingmaralee.com.