Disabled Babysitter Deemed Negligent in N.J.

     TRENTON, N.J. (CN) — A mother who left her 10-month-old baby in the care of her older, developmentally disabled son was rightfully placed on a registry list for neglectful parents, New Jersey’s appeals court ruled Monday.
     Three years ago, the mother, referred to in court documents as K.G., was found to have been grossly negligent because she left her son Valentine alone with his brother Carl.
     While Carl was 19 years old, he has an IQ in the 50-60 range and the capacities of a 7-year-old child, court records show. He attended a special school for students with developmental disabilities.
     In May 2013, a caseworker from the state’s child protection agency visited the home after receiving a referral from Carl’s father. During the visit, the caseworker tried to talk to Carl several times, but he shut himself in his room.
     The father called the police the next month, and an officer visited the home while K.G. was not home. The officer entered when nobody answered the door and found Carl running into his room and slamming the door shut.
     Carl eventually came out and talked with the officer, who found Valentine sleeping soundly and safely in his crib. When the officer asked Carl what he would do if the house was on fire or if he needed paramedics, however, Carl responded that he didn’t know. Later interviews by case workers revealed Carl did not know his mother’s phone number at work and that he had no access to a telephone to call 911.
     During later testimony, Carl — who became agitated when asked about the police officer’s visit, and also had laughing fits — admitted to continuing to watch his little brother. Experts testified that Carl would never be able to live on his own, and that at school he was never left alone for more than 10 minutes.
     Carl also told attorneys during testimony that he liked playing with his baby brother and that he fed him baby food and formula, though he said he heated the formula for 25 minutes in the microwave. Carl also said he checked the baby’s temperature with a thermometer and would give him juice if he started coughing.
     Other experts, including a psychologist, testified that the baby seemed more attached to Carl than his mother and that Carl handled the baby well. The psychologist testified that while Carl was disabled, he could safely care for Valentine since he had learned to call his mother or 911 in case of an emergency.
     The mother had testified that she left Valentine with Carl only to go grocery shopping or to run errands, and she disputed the caseworkers’ version of events during the police officer’s visit to her home in June 2013.
     During the officer’s visit, the mother claimed she left the house to shop at the nearby ShopRite for only 15 minutes when she got a call from Carl that there was an intruder in the house. She ran home and found Carl locked in the bedroom closet with the baby monitor and a cell phone.
     The case went before Judge Camille Kenny in early 2014, and she ruled that, while Valentine appeared to be a well-cared-for baby, the mother was grossly negligent for leaving him with Carl. Kenny found the caseworkers’ testimony credible and did not buy the mother’s version that she had been away from home for only 15 minutes.
     The judge also said that it would have been fine to leave the baby in Carl’s care due to an emergency, but she noted that the ShopRite was near Valentine’s daycare center and that the mother should have done her shopping earlier in the evening.
     In its Monday ruling, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division agreed with Kenny that the mother was grossly negligent in leaving her infant son with his brother and that state officials rightfully put her on the state’s central registry list of abusive or neglectful parents. That registry is confidential and used only by Department of Human Services caseworkers.
     “It is clear from this record that leaving Valentine alone with Carl could have resulted in serious harm to the baby,” Judge Susan Reisner wrote in the 35-page opinion. “The fact that Carl was able to care for the child under his mother’s supervision did not mean that it was safe to leave Carl in sole charge of the baby for extended periods of time.”
     The court likened the case to similar ones involving parents leaving sleeping babies in cars while grocery shopping. Reisner wrote that parents are often faced with judgment calls on how to raise their children.
     “There is a quantum difference between allowing a young child, or a person with very limited mental capacity, to act as a mother’s helper under supervision, and leaving that individual alone to care for a baby,” the judge wrote.

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