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Arizona mom left son at park to buy groceries. Now she's fighting to stay off the DCS 'watch list'

The Goldwater Institute is trying to help an Arizona mother stay off a registry maintained by the Department of Child Safety.

PHOENIX — An Arizona mother is fighting the Department of Child Safety in court after the agency allegedly found cause to put her on a statewide list of neglectful parents for leaving her son at a public park. 

The Goldwater Institute has recently filed an appeal in Maricopa County Superior Court against the child welfare agency for allegedly violating the "due process" rights of a mother in Tucson. 

According to paperwork filed by the Institute, the mother -- identified as Sarra in records -- had to go to the grocery store around Thanksgiving Day in 2020. 

Since COVID-19 guidelines at the time were discouraging family shopping trips, Sarra allowed her 7-year-old son and his friend to play at a nearby park.

"Sarra knew the area to be safe; she had played at the same park as a child, and she saw a friend teaching a tai chi class at the park," court records state. "She believed the children, if the need arose, would consult with that friend."

A police officer observed the children at the park and attempted to charge Sarra with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. But the county prosecutor dropped the charges in exchange for Sarra taking a life-skills class, according to court records.  

DCS proceeded to open its own investigation and determined there was evidence to find Sarra had been neglectful. 

According to the Institute, the DCS ruling could place Sarra on the agency's statewide central registry, a database of people who shouldn't work with children or vulnerable adults. Placement on the registry can make it difficult for someone to pass a background check.

The Institute says the method by which DCS can place someone on the list is "constitutionally suspect" and gives the agency too much power. 

"...the state can put someone’s name on the list based merely on an official’s belief that a person may have done something wrong," the Institute's records state.

The Institute has asked the courts to stop DCS from potentially placing Sarra's name on the registry while her case remains pending.

“Overzealous bureaucrats shouldn’t be allowed to prosecute parents for letting their kids play in public parks," said Timothy Sandefur, the Goldwater Institute's vice president of litigation, in a statement. "The court should, once again, rebuke DCS for meddling in the decisions of parents who have done nothing wrong.”

DCS representatives declined to comment on the pending litigation. 

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