Young children out alone are wake-up call for other parents

Saturday's incident prompted 2 arrests for abuse, neglect

By Crystal Moyer - Traffic/reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After two young children were found wandering alone in Jacksonville within a week, child safety experts are reminding parents and guardians to watch those in their care closely.

Two brothers were charged with child abuse and neglect Saturday after their 3-year-old nephew was found unsupervised, wandering around a Jacksonville neighborhood.

Police said Julian Stephens, 20, and Joseph Salters, 17, were playing video games while they were babysitting and didn't notice the boy had left the house. It took about four hours after the child was spotted by police for officers to locate the mother, Josephine Salters, who was at work at the time.

She said she was upset that her child was out on his own and plans to make some changes.

"I have the responsibility over watching him. I'll have to keep watching him on my own because I can't have babysitters or any of that because you can't even trust everybody," Salters said.

Another child found alone last Monday was identified after police posted his photo of Facebook.

"It was somewhat unbelievable," said Faye Johnson, CEO of the Northeast Florida Health Start Coalition.

Johnson's reaction was similar to thousands of people who saw the story on social media Saturday. 

Johnson and other organizations are using are using the instances to remind parents they need to keep an eye on their children.

"I think more parents go back to work and they're having to rely on relatives to take care of their children because they can't afford day care," Johnson said.

Johnson said the boys are lucky to be alright and the incidents should be a wake-up call for all parents.

"Once they start walking, they're curious. They hear sounds, they want to see outdoors," Johnson said. "There is a conversation that needs to be had, because you shouldn't just assume that because someone's watching your child (that) they know these things."

Experts said education is key. The Department of Children and Families tells parents to:

  • Make sure locks on all outside doors high enough that kids can't reach.
  • Secure all cabinets and drawers so children can't get a hold of chemicals or other dangerous items.
  • If you have a pool, make sure it’s fenced.

There are a variety of child-proofing products like door knob locks and cabinet latches that can help. But when it comes to safety, the most important thing is the parent or caregiver.

"Keep a very watchful eye on the child at all times," Johnson said. "It just takes an extra step, but in the long run, you'll be so happy because you saved your baby's life."

The Healthy Start Coalition is one of many family support organizations in the area that offer free services and products for families in need.

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