Imagine the terror felt by the parents of two toddlers who accidentally drowned in a pond near their home while in the care of an 18 month babysitter. The toddlers supposedly wandered away from their home in Waterford, Pennsylvania while the babysitter was asleep.
The babysitter told the police that she put the children down for a nap and then she took a nap in another room at the same time. While she was asleep, 20-month-old Jenna Walker and 2-year-old Maggie Kovski supposedly walked out of the house and then walked for another 100 yards before they found their way into a man made pond behind the house.
What is wrong with this picture? First, it is hard to imagine how two little-bitty toddlers exited the house together, and then walked at least 100 yards together to the pond. How could they have wandered that far away? In addition, what was the babysitter doing by taking a nap in the first place? How long was she asleep? A solid investigation of this case will require the police to review all phone records that the babysitter had made during the time she was babysitting and interview any and all people who she may have been interacting with, as well as neighbors who could have seen people coming and going to the house. Hopefully the investigators will take their time with this investigation.
Can the babysitter be charged with criminal gross negligence? Not likely, at least with the facts as reported by the babysitter. In California, as in most jurisdictions, criminal negligence requires “gross negligence.” Gross negligence involves more than ordinary carelessness, inattention, or mistake in judgment. A person acts with gross negligence when:
1) A person acts in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury; and
2) A reasonable person would have known that acting in that way would create such a risk.
When people fall asleep while in the presence of children they are supposed to be caring for, it is not an inherently reckless act. After all, wouldn’t all parents be guilty of this offense when they fall asleep at night after putting their children to sleep?
We need to learn from the mistakes made by the parents of these two precious children. In a day when it is necessary for both parents to work, we have become more and more dependant upon other people to watch after our children. In this regard, it would be prudent for parents to consider the following four suggestions:
1) Hire a babysitter with experience and who has references;
2) Make sure the babysitter you hire is given explicit instructions on what is expected, e.g., in this case the babysitter should have been told that she was not permitted to take naps while on the job;
3) Install video surveillance equipment within your home so that you can monitor the babysitter and your kids at all times from work. It has become much more affordable to install this type of equipment and we now have the ability to utilize our desk top computer as a monitors;
4) Make unexpected visits to the house throughout the week, so that the babysitter never knows when to let down his or her guard. In order to make the visits feel less threatening to the babysitter, you may consider dropping off snacks for the children and the babysitter when you visit;
5) When your child is old enough, consider placing him or her into a licensed daycare center for a portion of the day. Many children thrive at daycare, and it shortens the amount of time they have to spend with a babysitter. As most people who care for toddlers will agree, watching little kids for prolonged periods of time can be extremely taxing. By shortening the amount of time your child has with the babysitter will enhance your ability to manage the babysitter’s conduct.