Unsupervised children cases shows the need for affordable childcare

Yet another struggling low-income single mom has been criminalized for buckling under the pressures of being a working mother.

Debra Harrell, a South Carolina mom, could face up to ten years in jail for letting her 9-year-old daughter play in a park alone while she worked her shift at McDonalds.

Harrell used to bring her daughter to work. Then, because the poor child was bored, she allowed her preteen to play unsupervised in a nearby, crowded public park.

The 46-year-old was arrested when a bystander saw her daughter and called the police.

Let’s get the facts straight. What she did could have been risky.

Still, it’s too easy to point the finger and label Harrell a reckless and irresponsible mother. It’s clear she acted out of economic necessity, and desperate predicaments produce desperate outcomes.

Though not enough people want to admit it, Harrell’s dilemma is something many parents face as they muddle through life trying to be decent parents providing for their family.

The facts are Harrell was fortunate enough to have a steady job. But she didn’t earn enough income to pay for summer camp or a licensed childcare provider. She also didn’t have a network of family or trusted friends who were able and willing to care for her child.

Faced with this dilemma, Harrell did what she thought was best for her child and decided to cobble an imperfect plan so her daughter (who had access to a cell phone and keys to their home) could spend some time playing outdoors.

Harrell didn’t make the wrong choice. She made the choices she did because she didn’t have the financial means or support system in place to do anything else.

It takes a village to raise a child. Harrell did not have access to that village. Sadly, nowadays “a village” equals having the financial muscle to pay for someone else to look after your child.

Her story is not uncommon.

The truth is many low-income parents struggle to balance the need for suitable and affordable childcare with the necessity of holding down a job. Teetering on the brink of financial disaster, many find themselves making wrenching choices between providing for their children and caring for their children.

For homeless single mom, Shanesha Taylor, of Scottsdale, Arizona, her desire to build a better life for her family was so strong she left her young children in her car so she could attend a 40-minute job interview. Sounds irrational, yes. But until you’ve walked a day in her shoes, are you qualified to judge?

Thankfully, her young kids were unharmed, but Taylor faced felony child abuse charges, which sparked an outpouring of compassion across the country. Many commented that she was a victim of circumstance.

Taylor was right to be concerned about escaping poverty. Nearly a third of households headed by single women live below the poverty line.

Maria Shriver’s HBO film, Paycheck to Paycheck, takes a microscopic view of this vast problem, chronicling a year in the life of a young Tennessee single mom, who worked long hours to provide for her three young children.

Shriver is vocal about wanting her documentary to start a national conversation about minimum wage, paid sick days, heath care and affordable childcare.

Indeed, a lack of affordable and accessible childcare is a major problem, with far-reaching consequences. It invites parents to cut corners and put their children at risk in a desperate attempt to avoid slipping further into poverty.

The most sweeping solution of all is the most obvious: universal, high-quality, subsidized childcare that assists low-income earners and their children.

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter @Kunbiti.