Debra Harrell used to bring her 9-year-old daughter to work with her at McDonald's to while away the summer hours on the internet using the restaurant's free wi-fi and a laptop Harrell had saved up for, possibly for this very purpose -- to safely occupy and entertain her child during those months without the supervision school provides.
But after the family's home was broken into and the laptop stolen, the mother weighed the risks in making the difficult decision of whether to say yes to her daughter's request to spend the days outside at a local park.
A single parent living on a wage that doesn't afford child care is faced with a decision -- which is healthier for a child: sitting alone and bored in a McDonald's, sedentary and staring at a screen (or the wall after the screen is stolen) or playing actively outside in the fresh air an sunlight with other children, albeit unsupervised?
Harrell gave daughter a cell phone and dropped her off at a popular park filled with dozens of other children and swings, slides, a "splash pad" and shade.
When it was time for lunch, the girl would either accept a free meal from the local "Feed A Child" charity who frequented the park or walk to visit her mother at the McDonald's a little over a mile away.
This arrangement worked nicely until another parent asked Harrell's daughter where her mother was and the girl replied, "at work."
The outraged parent alerted local authorities.
The child was declared abandoned by authorities and taken to the North Augusta Department of Public Safety's headquarters. Her mother was contacted and when Harrell was questioned by officers, she admitted to allowing the girl to play unsupervised in the park while she worked her shift at McDonald's.
Harrell was arrested for jailed for "unlawful conduct toward a child."
Her daughter was taken from her, and taken into custody by the Department of Social Services.