Working Single Mom Arrested After Leaving 14-Year-Old Daughter To Babysit Siblings When Daycare Closed

She didn't have any other options.

melissa henderson and family GoFundMe

In May 2020, Melissa Henderson, a single working mother of five, found herself in jail after leaving her 14-year-old daughter in charge of babysitting her four siblings.

Henderson left her daughter to babysit her siblings when Henderson was called into work while daycares were closed due to COVID-19 mandates.

In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, daycare centers and schools were forced to shut down. Unfortunately, this left many parents who still had to go to work scrambling to find childcare. So when Henderson was called into work, she had no other option but to leave her younger children in the care of her eldest, Linley.


melissa henderson and daughter linleyPhoto: EIN Presswire

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According to a Fox News report, at some point while Linley was watching the kids, her 4-year-old brother Thaddeus slipped out of her sight and left the house when he saw his friend outside. Linley noticed this and searched around for Thaddeus for 10-15 minutes before finding him playing with a friend, but by then, the damage had been done — the neighbors called the police and told them about the mother leaving the kids alone.


Henderson returned home and explained her situation to the police. At the time, nothing seemed out of the ordinary as the police took her statement and left. However, police came back about a week later and arrested her in front of her children.

"They handcuffed me, drove me to jail, booked me, had me put in a cell. It was awful. It was embarrassing," the distraught mother told Fox News at the time.

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Henderson was charged with criminal reckless conduct and faced a year in jail as well as a $1,000 fine.

According to Fox News, this was the second time that Henderson's 4-year-old son was found alone outside, supposedly prompting the arrest. At the time, however, 11Alive reported that Henderson was arrested under Georgia's reckless conduct statute, which Henderson's pro-bono lawyer David DeLugas claimed was ruled unconstitutional in 1997. 

“In nearly similar factual situation, back in 1997, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the reckless conduct statute, which is what Melissa’s charge with, cannot be used against a parent,” DeLugas told 11Alive.

In fact, Fox News reported that the Georgia Department of Human Services guidelines allow children over the age of 13 to act as a babysitter for siblings for up to 12 hours.

"So you're saying a year earlier, she left her children in charge of her then 13-year-old, almost 14-year-old, and somehow two rights make a wrong," DeLugas questioned. "It wasn't wrong then, and it's not wrong now."


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Henderson's lawyer claimed the mother's ex-husband may have played a role in his ex-wife's arrest.

Henderson was later bailed out by her ex-husband, who DeLugas suspected was the catalyst for the whole situation. In the GoFundMe that DeLugas set up for Henderson, DeLugas claimed that Henderson's "arrest may have been motivated not to enforce the law or protect her children, but by Melissa's ex-husband," who filed for custody of the children in January of 2023.


According to ParentsUSA, who represented Henderson throughout the ordeal, Henderson's ex-husband "may have had a role in the neighbor calling the Sheriff's office, in a deputy (not the deputy who responded to the [original] call) getting the arrest warrant a week later and in prearranging for him to bond Melissa out of jail after her arrest."

Henderson was "vindicated" in March 2023 when the "judge motioned to quash the criminal prosecution."

"It's still hard to believe my children and I suffered years of turmoil just because I had my eldest care for her siblings," Henderson said in an update to her GoFundMe page. "My kids were never in danger, but my parental rights were."

Despite charges being dropped, Henderson noted that her arrest has had a lasting effect on her life. 


“I’m constantly in fear of leaving my children that I could be arrested again,” Henderson told 11Alive at the time, a sentiment her lawyer echoed. 

"It has such a chilling effect where now Melissa is afraid she can never leave her children home alone, even for a short period of time, even with the now 15-year-old daughter in charge of the other kids, because she could get arrested again," DeLugas said.

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Sanika Nalgirkar, M.F.A. is a writer who covers entertainment & news, lifestyle, and pop culture topics.