A Turlock mother is facing charges of child neglect after her two young children were found home alone in a smoky apartment where one of them had tried to cook a corn dog.
Turlock firefighters were called to the apartment at 155 E. Minnesota Ave. at about 6 p.m. Monday.
A 4-year-old child who was left home alone with an 18-month-old sibling had overcooked a corn dog in a microwave, said Fire Chief Tim Lohman. By the time fire crews entered the apartment, a smoke cloud reached halfway to the floor from the ceiling.
Fortunately, the apartment manager had made his way inside and taken the children to safety. Lohman said the captain on scene called Turlock police.
Officer Mayra Lewis said investigators learned the children had been home alone "for an extended period of time," but she would not say for how long.
The mother, 29-year-old Jessica Segovia, eventually returned to the scene and was arrested on suspicion of felony child neglect.
The children were not injured, but an emergency situation like the one they were in is exactly why children who cannot care for themselves shouldn't be left home alone, said Christine Huber, who oversees the child abuse and neglect investigation unit at the Community Services Agency.
"There is no legal age that is required to stay home by yourself, so it is really based on the child's ability to take care of himself and stay safe," she said.
Huber said a parent should ask himself or herself whether the child knows how to dial 911 and what he or she would do if a stranger came to the door, and should consider how long the child is staying home alone.
When assessing a possible child neglect case, Hubert said she takes into consideration the age of the oldest child but also the ages of the siblings that child must care for.
A 12-year-old may know to not let strangers in the house, but will he know what to do if his brother or sister has a medical emergency? Does he know how to change diapers or prepare food for his sibling?
Child Protective Services usually gets involved when a concerned family member or neighbor reports a child home alone. Its findings in each case will depend on the situation.
"Sometimes it's just a misunderstanding; they think it was only for a few minutes and someone else was supposed to come over, but they never did," Hubert said. "Sometimes the parents might be addicted to drugs and they are searching for drugs and not thinking about the care of their kids."
Lewis would not say where Segovia was or what she was doing, but said Child Protective Services took custody of her children.
Hubert said if any parent has questions about whether their kids are mature enough to stay home alone, they can call CPS at (800) 558-3665.
The California Department of Social Services has information on Child Protective Services at www.dss.cahwnet.gov/cdssweb/pg93.htm. There, it advises: "If you suspect that a child has been, or is in danger of, abuse or neglect, contact the police or county sheriff, or the county Children's Protective Services."
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2366.