Mom Charged With Child Endangerment for Letting Kids Go to Mall Alone

PHOTO: Bridget Kevane

When Bridget Kevane dropped her three children and their two friends off at a Montana mall in June 2007, she never thought that a few hours later she'd have a criminal record.

But that's what happened when Kevane let her daughter Natalie, 12, and her best friend of the same age take three younger children -- including Kevane's 3-year-old daughter -- to the mall without adult supervision.

"I was definitely in shock," Kevane told ABCNews.com of her initial reaction when told that she would be charged with a criminal offense because of her decision to let her kids roam the mall alone.

Under Montana State law, a parent can be charged with child endangerment if he or she "knowingly endangers the child's welfare by violating a duty of care, protection, or support."

When the two 12-year-olds went inside a Macy's dressing room to try shirts on and left the three younger children, ages 8, 7 and 3, unattended, an employee called mall security. Police were called to the scene and they summoned Kevane and her husband to the mall and arrested Bridget Kevane. She was allowed to leave the mall with the children, but given a court date for a few days later.

"I really thought I could make the policeman understand that there was some mistake or some misunderstanding," said Kevane, who ended up having to call a bail supervisor every Monday for six months as part of a deal her lawyer brokered with prosecutors.

Kevane, 45, who wrote in an essay published in this month's issue of parenting magazine "Brain, Child," said that her decision to let the kids go to the mall unsupervised stemmed from the fact that "the children wanted an activity, and I wanted a couple of hours of quiet and rest."

Further justifying her decision was the fact that the two older girls had both completed a babysitting certification course at a nearby hospital and that the group of five children consistently spent time together and were like "extended family" to one another.

"I have faith in my daughter... I had no reason to doubt her," Kevane said.

Mothers React to Kevane Leaving Kids at a Mall

Kevane's actions have become the latest parenting decision that has grabbed the attention of parenting groups nationwide, groups that are often not shy when it comes to passing judgment on other mothers.

But unlike the negative reaction New York mother Madlyn Primoff received when she made headlines in April for kicking her two bickering tweens out of the car and making them walk three miles home, Kevane's story is rallying a group of supporters.

"I feel for this mother," said Julie Tower-Pierce, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who has three children of her own.

Tower-Pierce says that while she does have reservations about a 3-year-old left in the care of a 12-year-old, she believes that a mother should be able to make a parenting decision without worrying about being slapped with a criminal charge.

"I think that while you need these [child endangerment] laws, we have to be so cautious about whether they are applied in an abusive fashion," said Tower-Pierce. "This case seems like an abuse of power."

Ilina Ewen, a mother of two who writes for the Deep South Mom's Blog, agrees.

"She wasn't intentionally trying to harm her children and she understood the context of the situation and the kids' relationship to one another," said Ewen. "She didn't need to be arrested."

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