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I-Team: Left Alone

Updated: Saturday, August 3, 2013 |
I-Team: Left Alone story image
(NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Later this month, the woman whose three young children died in the Interfaith Apartment fire in Kalamazoo in February will be in civil court.

She'll be asking to regain custody of her surviving 4-year-old, who managed to escape the flames when those four kids were left home alone.

In the meantime, the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor's Office is reviewing the fire to see if criminal charges will be filed.

Now, one state lawmaker is launching a new campaign to make sure this kind of unbearable tragedy doesn't happen here again.

Sally Reames is the executive director of the Community Healing Centers, where they work with abused and neglected children and their families.

She says that kids under the age of 10 should never be left home alone, but too often, they are.

"Children younger than that don't necessarily have the resources to get help or ask for help when they need it," she explained. "So at Community Healing Centers, we would say, it's not a good choice to leave kids home alone."

Because, Of course, there are so many dangers lurking.

In mid-February, a Kalamazoo apartment caught on fire at Interfaith Homes, with four young kids inside.

An infant, twin 3-year-olds, and a 4-year old. Only the 4-year-old survived.

Their mother, who was not home at the time--and a friend with whom she claims she left the children--are both under investigation.

One thing is for sure though. No one involved in the Interfaith fire will be specifically charged with leaving the kids home alone and unattended.

That's because leaving kids home alone and unattended is not a crime in Michigan, no matter how young they are.

"There isn't a specific law that says if you leave your child unattended it is a crime punishable by a certain period of time," explained Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting. "The child's age isn't a factor. It could be a baby."

Getting says that every child left home alone case is different, and the totality of the circumstances must be carefully analyzed.

Neglect--or more serious abuse charges--could be filed, but only when police come armed with a lot of evidence.

For it to be a crime, there would have to be a clear and present danger--or proof the parent intended to abandon or harm the child.

As of now, simply leaving them at home doesn't qualify.

Enter State Representative Sean McCann, a Kalamazoo Democrat, who says he is working on a plan that could change that.

"I'm drafting legislation that would create penalties when children are left unattended for an unreasonable amount of time," Rep. McCann said.

Inspired by a 2009 law making it illegal to leave kids younger than 6 alone in cars, Rep. McCann is sponsoring new legislation to make it illegal to leave young children home as well.

"Often times the legislature is prone to closing the barn doors after the horses get out," Rep. McCann said. "So something bad happens and we realize there's not legislation on the books."

Until such a law can be passed, though, the Community Healing Centers is reaching out to parents, making cold calls and house calls.

They bring gift bags and diapers and offer moms and dads free parenting support in their own homes. For now, that's all we can do.

"We believe it's important that we go to where they are and teach parent and to the child in their setting," Reames said.

Newschannel 3 has been told that the bill in question is currently being fast tracked. We'll keep an eye on things and let you know how it turns out.
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