Don’t Punish Mother for Struggling on Unlivable Wage


Target: South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley

Goal: Drop the charges against a mother whose only crime was being poor

Debra Harrell was arrested and her daughter was put in foster care after she allowed the 9-year-old to play by herself at a popular, nearby park. Now the 46-year-old mother may lose her job and has lost her daughter to the hands of the state.

Harrell worked at a North Augusta McDonald’s near the park and normally her daughter would accompany her and play on a laptop at the restaurant. Because she couldn’t afford childcare on her salary, bringing her daughter to work was the only viable option. Harrell’s laptop was stolen from her home, however, and her daughter no longer had anything to keep her occupied. Her daughter asked if she could play at the park where there were a number of other children. Harrell agreed and gave the 9-year-old a cell phone so she could remain in touch.

On her third unsupervised day at the park, a concerned adult asked where the girl’s mother was and when she replied, “at work,” the police were alerted. The authorities deemed the girl “abandoned” and took her into custody. They later arrested and booked Harrell for “unlawful conduct towards a child.”

Laws differ from state to state regarding the age of the child and the amount of time she is left alone before a lack of supervision is considered neglectful and they are vague enough to allow child welfare services to decide what warrants misconduct. While Harrell’s decision to allow her child to spend long periods of time unsupervised may be considered inappropriate, it seems a gross overstep to call it “abandonment.” Harrell clearly meant to do what was best for her child. At present, she is denied any rights to the girl’s well-being and has been charged with a criminal offense.

Urge the prosecutor to drop the charges against Harrell and restore full custody of her daughter to a mother whose only crime was being unable to afford daycare.


Dear Governor Haley,

Debra Harrell has been booked for “unlawful conduct towards a child” after allowing her 9-year-old to play at a park with other children. As a McDonald’s employee making a barely livable wage, child care is often unaffordable. After the laptop the child used to play on while waiting for her mother was stolen, Harrell agreed to let her daughter go play in the sun while she finished working.

If Harrell was being willfully negligent, it is unlikely she would have given her daughter a cell phone when going to a busy park full of children. Forcing her to sit in a fast food restaurant for an entire work shift while other children played could also be considered irresponsible. Denying her child the pleasure of playing outside in the summer because her job didn’t pay enough to afford reliable supervision is an act that would be truly neglectful.

I implore you to drop the charges against this working mother and grant her custody of the child she obviously cares for, and has loved for the past nine years.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Steven Depolo via Flickr

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