Success: Mother Released After Ridiculous ‘Abandonment’ Arrest


Target: U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina William N. Nettles

Goal: Support the return of a child who was allowed to play alone at the park to the custody of her working mother

Debra Harrell has been released from jail and reunited with her nine-year-old daughter, following her July 2014 arrest for allowing her daughter to play at a park alone. Harrell worked at a McDonald’s in North Augusta, South Carolina, and until a couple of days before the arrest, her daughter went to work with her. The girl would play on a laptop in the restaurant while her mother finished her shift. After the laptop was stolen, however, the girl asked to play at the park. Harrell agreed and gave her a cell phone to stay in touch.

On the girl’s third day alone at the busy park, a concerned adult questioned her and, finding that she was unaccompanied, alerted the authorities. Harrell was arrested and fired, and her daughter was taken into the hands of the state.

The laws surrounding negligent parenting remain somewhat vague, and there is no exact age at which a child may be left alone or a set period of time considered acceptable. This means that police, judges and child service workers determine what is permissible, not any clearly defined law. Harrell couldn’t have known until after her arrest if she was breaking the law, because until a police officer made the decision to arrest her, she wasn’t technically breaking any established laws.

Luckily, Harrell was released and her daughter was returned to her, but not before she lost her job. Thanks to media coverage of Harrell’s situation, however, an online fundraiser was set up to help keep her on her feet, and has already reached over $20,000.

Sign this petition in support of the release of this working mother and the return of her daughter, whose best interests were always in mind.


Dear Mr. Nettles,

The recent arrest of Debra Harrell for the “abandonment” of her nine-year-old daughter was a dangerous overreaction to a struggling mother’s only viable option—to let her daughter play outside by herself in the summer. Harrell was arrested, her daughter was taken into custody and she lost her job, all because she didn’t make her girl stay at the McDonald’s where she worked during her shift.

The laws regarding the age at which a child can be left unaccompanied and the acceptable length of time remain vague enough to allow Harrell’s arrest, while a more negligent parent might go free. In fact, since these laws are tried on a case-by-case basis, Harrell could not have known if she was breaking the law until a police officer decided to arrest her.

Fortunately, public support for Harrell flooded in, she was released, and her daughter was returned to her pending a South Carolina Department of Social Services investigation. An online fundraiser has helped her get back on her feet after losing her job, ostensibly as a result of the arrest.

I commend the release of Ms. Harrell and the return of her daughter to an obviously caring mother.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Stephen via Flickr

Original petition: Don’t Punish Mother for Struggling on Unlivable Wage

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