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Mother Who Left Child in Car Trunk Loses Job

October 24, 1990

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ A woman who told police she locked her child in the trunk of a car every weekend for a month while she was at work has been charged with criminal restraint.

Chante Fernandez, 24, of Elizabeth, told police and reporters she did it out of desperation. She said she’d been abandoned by her husband and was unable to find any one responsible to care for her 5-year-old daughter while Ms. Fernendez worked weekends at a shopping mall.

Her arrest Saturday has focused attention on day care options as legislators and some state welfare officials criticized the system for failing poor families.

If convicted of criminal restraint, Ms. Fernandez faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and $7,500 fine.

According to police, Ms. Fernandez said she had kept the child in the car during weekends for the past month while she worked as a salesclerk in the Fortunoff store in the Woodbridge Center mall.

Ms. Fernendez reportedly told police she kept the child in the car after firing three babysitters because they had stolen her food, invited guests to her home and left her daughter unattended.

Roberta Francis, director of the division on women for the state Department of Community Affairs said she disapproved of the action, but noted Ms. Fernendez felt she had little choice.

The mother ″had no other option but to do that,″ Ms. Francis said. ″It was a Catch-22. Society shouldn’t put people into a Catch-22 situation and our reaction should not be to completely blame the mother for what she did.″

Ms. Fernandez, who is free on $5,000 bail, was arrested Saturday after police found the pajama-clad child in the trunk of a 1987 Toyota Celica in the mall parking lot. The child, who was in good condition, was taken into custody by the state Division of Youth and Family Services pending an investigation into the charges.

In a telephone interview, Ms. Fernandez said she was notified Tuesday that she was fired from her $300-a-week secretarial job at the Central Lumber Management Co. in Elizabeth.

A woman who answered the company’s telephone Tuesday refused to discuss the case or refer the call to someone who would.

Ms. Fernandez said she earned $160 on weekends as a saleswoman at the Fortunoff store at the mall. Fortunoff officials on Tuesday confirmed that she had worked at the store but refused to say whether she remained with the company.

Ms. Fernandez said her husband abandoned her, her father died in January and her house had been robbed three times.

″I don’t have anything now,″ Ms. Fernandez said. ″I’ve lost everything.″

Legislators and social service officials say the case demonstrates the lack of child care for poor working families. A bill that would provide $75,000 in grants toward the construction and expansion of child-care centers was introduced in 1988, said state Sen. Wynona Lipman, D-Essex, the bill’s sponsor.

The legislation is pending.

″We realize that facilities are lacking,″ said Ms. Lipman. ″I think we’re working hard to correct that, but still, low-income children are rapidly being left on the landing and their mothers have no child care because they can’t afford it. It’s hard to correct the issue.″

She said there are 300,000 children under the age of six competing for about 100,000 day-care slots across the state.

However, Linda Moroses of the Community Coordinated Child Care of Union County said there is day care for those who seek it. The agency is a day-care referral service.

″If a person were really looking, they would find us,″ she said. ″You can find our number in advertising in the paper, flyers in the public school systems, word of mouth, in corporate buildings, in the phone book.″

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