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This baby was left alone in a car for an hour and a half while his mum hit the Boxing Day sales

Police say the mother will face charges

At 9.30am yesterday it was 23 degrees in Melbourne.

Right around the country shoppers had flocked to the Boxing Day sales to try to score a bargain.

At Doncaster’s Westfield shopping center a 27-year-old mother joined thousands of others at the mall.

However this young mother may now face criminal charges after she left her 17-month-old boy alone in the car for an hour and a half.

A passer-by saw the baby and notified security.

“Investigators have been told that a woman drove to attend the sales at the shopping complex on Doncaster Road with a 17-month-old boy at about 9.30am,” Senior Constable Adam West told News Limited.

“She parked the car in an undercover car park and attended the centre alone.

“Security were notified of the unattended child by a passer-by at about 10am.

“They made numerous attempts to locate the owner of the car but were unsuccessful.

“Security removed the child and took him to their office where they were met by police,” he added.

The child’s mother who was from Doncaster was eventually found at 11am.

The baby’s mother had gone shopping

Luckily, despite the heat the 17-month old was checked over by ambulance crews and declaring in good health.

Police officers say they expect to charge the woman with the ‘unattended child offence’ and ‘learner driver fail to be accompanied by licensed driver’.

This is a story we have heard many times before.

Just ten days ago a Bendigo mother, Jayde Poole was committed to stand trial on a charge of manslaughter after she left her five-month-old baby daughter in a car for two-and-a-half hours by mistake.

Tragically in this case tiny Bella died.

In the committal hearing the Magistrate, David Cottrill said that he was satisfied the prosecution had proven beyond reasonable doubt Ms Poole had breached her duty of care and had a case to answer.

Jayde Poole in court earlier this month

Mr Cottrill remanded Ms Poole, who is on bail, to appear in the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne on January 22 next year.

In Rockhampton in 2011 a father was sentenced to four years’ jail after pleading guilty to manslaughter over the death of his eight-month-old daughter – again forgotten about in the back of the car, parked in the driveway, in 27-degree heat.

His lawyer told the court it was “a case of a forgetful father”.

A Queensland man was placed on probation for two years after leaving his 14-month-old son in a car, windows wound up, while he played the pokies in a pub for 50 minutes in 2010.

In the same year a Brisbane father was jailed for six months after leaving his four-year-old son in the car while he visited a massage parlour.

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While in 2011 – another case of a mother going shopping – this mother was fined $400  for leaving her baby in the car for 45 minutes while she shopped.

Some of these cases are indeed shocking, yet in Australia there is no actual law stating an age you can leave your kids unattended.

A recent study of 10,000 Australian kids discovered at least one in four of our 10 and 11 year olds are left without adult supervision for over an hour at a time, at least once a week.

Each state and territory deals differently with the legislation and consequences.

In NSW parents are expected to make reasonable decisions about their children’s safety with fines up to $22,000.

Section 231 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 it states that a person who leaves any child or young person in the person’s care in a motor vehicle without proper supervision for such a period or in such circumstances that:

(a) the child or young person becomes or is likely to become emotionally distressed, or

(b) the child’s or young person’s health becomes or is likely to become permanently or temporarily impaired,
is guilty of an offence.

In Victoria parents risk a $1650 fine or up to three months’ jail for the crime of ‘leaving a child unattended’.

In South Australia and the Northern Territory police have the power to remove children from cars and the potential for charges to be laid if there is injury.

Tasmanian parents risk a fine or up to three months’ jail if they ‘leave a child without making reasonable provision for the child’s supervision and care for a time which is unreasonable’, under the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act.

In WA the penalty is up to 5 years jail.

In WA a person can be jailed for five years if they leave a “child or young person” in a car without proper supervision, if they become emotionally distressed or ill.
Two fathers and eight mothers have been charged in WA since 2005: two cases were dismissed, one received a community services order, five were fined and two received suspended jail terms.

In QLD the laws are tougher, parents in the Sunshine state risk up to three years’ jail for the crime of “leaving a child under 12 unattended.Police have used this legislation to prosecute parents for leaving their kids alone in a car for a few minutes at a time.

Paul Byrne of legal firm Slater and Gordon writes of the QLD law:

So, what this means is, if you leave a child under 12 unattended, whether it be in a car or at home, and that child is left for an unreasonable time and no reasonable provision for the supervision and care of that child has taken place, then ultimately you have committed a misdemeanor. The maximum penalty? Three years imprisonment.

He then goes on to state that the key here is ‘unreasonable time’ and what this actually is.

He writes:

I do not think for a moment that a person who, for instance, leaves their 11-year-old child in a car in the shade at a service station for one minute while paying for the fuel, breaches this provision of the Criminal Code. But if a person were to leave an infant locked in an un-shaded car at a service station while they go inside to join a queue to pay for fuel, this could breach the provision.
A surefire way for a parent to ensure that none of these things happen is for them to take the child or children from the vehicle. The relatively minimal extra effort required is negligible when compared to the burden of guilt, regret or grief that results when seemingly innocent circumstances dramatically change very quickly.

The mother from Doncaster now faces her own dramatic circumstances – police saying it was only luck that the weather was not too hot in Melbourne as it only takes minutes for a car to heat up, and her baby could have easily died.

We will keep you updated.

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