In Pennsylvania, leaving your children in the car unattended even for a few minutes is attracting steep penalties. In a piece for The Appeal, Joshua Vaughn describes what he calls a "moral panic that targets moms", and documents the case of Amanda Forst and the laws and cultural climate that contributed to her arrest.
In the article, Vaughn describes how due to the fears of “hot-car” related deaths, Pennsylvania lawmakers are enforcing Act 20, a law that makes it illegal to leave a child under 6 years old alone in a car. The Act was originally created to address the risk of kidnapping, however the risk that people are concerned about now is the risk of children being left in hot cars. This is a tragedy that claims around 38 children per year according to Kids and Cars, a group that campaigns to reduce the car-related deaths of children.
In August of 2018, Amanda Forst, a mother of three was arrested and charged after leaving her three children in her van as she went into a Kohl’s for 10 minutes. Her children were aged 7, 5, and 2. The police were alerted by someone who saw them unattended in the vehicle, who then reported it. The department store Forst was in announced that the children were unattended over the speaker, leading her to panic and leave the scene. She did return, and faced multiple charges including reckless endangerment, leaving a child unattended in a vehicle and careless driving. These charges could have resulted in 2 years of prison time.
Vaughn documents how this is not the only case of mothers being penalized for leaving their children unattended in vehicles while running errands. He cites a study conducted by the University of California that found that women were viewed more harshly than men in situations where children were left in cars.
Throughout the United States, there have been multiple cases of women being arrested and charged after leaving their children in the care, even if it was for very short periods of time.
In Amanda Forst’s case, she is still fighting to resolve this case which has cost her family hundreds of dollars. She will likely need to complete a program that will include community service and probation, and hopes that in doing so, she will be able to put this whole thing behind her.