Irma Jacobo Navarro, 37, was arrested Thursday on charges of willful cruelty to a child, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Santa Ana Police Department spokesman Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said officers were called to the apartment complex where Navarro and her three children live after two women who were walking by the building saw a young boy chained by the ankles in the complex's courtyard.
When police arrived, they found the boy, 10, who had apparently escaped from his home, with aluminum chains around his ankles, Bertagna said.
The boy told police his mother had chained him up.
Navarro said she could not afford a babysitter for the boy, and that she wanted to keep him off the street, police said.
She said he has a history of leaving home without telling her, police said.
"Basically, this was a last resort in an attempt to get control of her kid. Unfortunately it's not the proper method to do so," Bertagna said.