TRENTON, NJ – A mother of four committed child abuse and neglect in 2009 when she left her 19-month-old child unattended in a car while shopping in the Dollar Tree at Middlesex Mall in South Plainfield, a court said on Tuesday.

The mother parked about 150 feet from the store and left her sleeping child in the car with the engine running and the windows cracked while she ran into the store for what she says was about five or 10 minutes.  When she returned, she found police by the car and learned that a security guard had called them after seeing the child unattended.

Police charged the mother with child endangerment and notified the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), which immediately investigated the incident. 

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According to the 13-page court opinion, the mother was “tearful and remorseful.”  Further investigation by DYFS found no other signs of neglect at the home, but the agency still filed an action seeking custody of the four children, which was later dismissed.

Because the incident was substantiated, DYFS included the mother in a state child-abuse registry, and after unsuccessfully appealing to the agency, the mother filed a court action seeking to overturn the abuse finding.

On Tuesday a three-judge panel upheld the decision, saying most people would “recognize the peril” of leaving a young child alone in a car “no matter how briefly.”

In finding against the mother, the court said that there might be extenuating circumstances where a child might need to be left alone in a car, but there were none here.  “[The mother] was grossly negligent,” the court found.