A working mom who couldn't find child care left her 4-year-old unattended in a car while she worked at night this week, officials said.
Sacramento police said the child was unharmed and the mother wasn't charged. But the incident prompted officials to warn working parents that there are other options for emergency child care.
"The very specific reason we exist is to provide child care when the alternative would be a child left in an unsafe situation," said Roy Alexander, chief executive officer of Sacramento Children's Home, which operates a Crisis Nursery program.
Wednesday night's incident occurred at Arden Fair mall when a passer-by spotted a child and dog in a vehicle behind Nordstrom with no adult around.
Steve Reed, the mall's security chief, said security officers used surveillance video to track the mother, an employee of a private janitorial service, to where she was working in the mall.
He said she told officers that she didn't have a baby sitter and planned to check on the child periodically during the evening.
The child and dog had been alone about 40 minutes, judging from the surveillance video, which showed the woman leaving the vehicle about 7:45 p.m., Reed said.
"It's not often we see a child left in a car," said Reed, who noted that he and his staff aggressively pursue people who leave children or pets in vehicles without adult supervision.
It takes only a moment for someone to snatch a child from a car, and in hot weather, children and pets can succumb to heat inside a vehicle.
Sacramento police spokesman Officer Doug Morse said Child Protective Services was advised of the incident.
Morse said no charges were filed. "It didn't rise to that level," Morse said.
Although the mother in this instance was not charged with a crime, Reed said parents often face legal consequences for such actions.
For parents in a similar situation the Children's Home operates emergency nurseries in Arden Arcade and South Land Park.
The nurseries offer emergency child care for children ages 5 and younger. The service is free of charge, but parents must agree to work with staff members to come up with a reliable long-term child care plan.
Emergency care averages about three days per youngster, Alexander said. It is intended to aid people who need help caring for children due to employment or housing situations, sudden illness or accident, domestic violence or emotional stress.
Parents seeking child care so they can go to work account for 17 percent to 20 percent of the children who come to the crisis nurseries, he said. Together, the two nurseries can accommodate 24 children during the day but fewer at night.
Referral services for people seeking emergency care for children older than 5 are available through eight Family Resource Centers located throughout Sacramento County – Valley Hi, Meadowview, the Franklin Boulevard area, North Sacramento, Oak Park, North Highlands, Del Paso Heights and Rancho Cordova. The Sacramento Children's Home operates three of the sites.
Sacramento residents can call the city's service line, 311, to locate a center in their area, Alexander said.
Parents sometimes are reluctant to seek help from the Crisis Nursery program for fear they will be reported to Child Protective Services, but Alexander said, "the whole goal is to keep them out of the CPS system."
If staff members see evidence that a child has been abused or neglected, they must report it to authorities, but Alexander said such cases are rare.
The Sacramento Children's Home's North Crisis Nursery, at 4533 Pasadena Ave., can be reached at (916) 679-3600, and its South Crisis Nursery, 6699 South Land Park Drive, at (916) 394-2000.
Call The Bee's Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.