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Texas mother lost her home and job and was threatened with jail after asking eight-year-old son to walk home alone

Heather Wallace thought she was calming her son during a tantrum. Before she knew it she was being charged with endangering a child. Bevan Hurley reports

Thursday 17 November 2022 16:35 GMT
Heather Wallace, 37, with her three sons Aiden, Liam and Declan
Heather Wallace, 37, with her three sons Aiden, Liam and Declan (Supplied)
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A Texas mother who asked her misbehaving eight-year-old son to walk half a mile home through a quiet suburban neighbourhood says her life was upended after she was charged with child endangerment.

Mother-of-three Heather Wallace, 37, a qualified teacher and child sleep therapist, faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the second-degree felony charge.

Rather than risk jail time, Ms Wallace told The Independent she admitted the offence and carried out a community service programme.

She was forced to resign from her job and is now barred from working with children. She and husband Scott have sold their family home to cover legal and medical bills, and both have sought treatment for stress as a result of the incident, she said.

Ms Wallace told The Independent the nightmare began one afternoon last October when her eldest son, eight-year-old Aiden, began throwing a tantrum while she was driving home from karate practice with younger brothers Liam and Declan.

Ms Wallace said she asked Aiden to get out of the car and walk the short distance back through an area that he knew well and often rode his bike around unsupervised, with sidewalks and little traffic.

“When he gets like that we have our routine, we can’t engage with him. He calms down just fine after that and we can kind of move on.

“I opened the door and he got out. There was no shouting, there was no argument, I know not to argue with a child in that state of mind.”

Waco parents Heather and Scott Wallace with their three sons Aiden, Liam and Declan (Supplied)

Ms Wallace says a woman who lives a block away from their home spotted Aiden and called the police.

Two patrol cars responded and a few minutes later, officers from the Waco Police Department knocked on the door and questioned her at length on her porch while Aiden remained in the back of the cruiser.

“Aiden’s still upset that they treated him like a baby — he’s adamant he could work home,” she says.

Ms Wallace says the officer told her that sex trafficking of minors was an issue in downtown Waco, a world away from their quiet residential area.

She says the officer asked her prying questions about why her house was so messy.

When he inquired if she would allow her children to walk home again now that she had been informed about sex traffickers, she was arrested, handcuffed behind her back and put in the back of a patrol car as her three kids watched on.

Ms Wallace said a case worker from Texas Child Protective Services arrived and grilled her about her parenting habits while she was still handcuffed in the back of the cruiser.

“I think they were trying to figure out what to do with me — and whether what I had done was illegal or not.”

Heather Wallace says she tries to give her sons Aiden, Liam and Declan the freedom to be independent (Supplied)

Around three hours after police had turned up at her doorstep, she was taken to McLennan County Jail and booked on charges of endangering a child, a second-degree felony that carries a mandatory two year prison sentence.

Ms Wallace’s husband Scott posted her $300 bail the next day.

After her release, child services forced the parents to agree to a safety plan, which meant they were not allowed to be alone with the children.

Ms Wallace told The Independent the children’s grandmothers took turns spending the night at their home for the next two weeks until the order was lifted.

“At the time we didn’t know anything about (child protective services) or what we should or shouldn’t agree to do,” Ms Wallace said.

She hired an attorney, who told her that if convicted she faced a minimum of two-years in prison and could be sentenced to up to 20 years.

“I wanted to fight the charges, but I didn’t really know what my rights were.”

Ms Wallace agreed to plead guilty and carried out a diversion programme which included 65 hours work at an early childhood centre.

She was forbidden from being there during weekdays when children were around, and instead worked weekends, carrying out cleaning duties and helping to develop the school curriculum.

Ms Wallace said she also had to undergo random drug testing, and was forced to leave her children alone to travel to testing centres.

Scott and Heather Wallace are trying to rebuild their lives after she was charged with child endangerment (Supplied)

Due to the child endangerment conviction, she was forced to resign from the pediatric sleep consultancy firm where she had previously worked and is barred from finding work as a teacher.

Under the strain of thinking they might lose their kids, both parents sought therapy, an added expense after their income had already been shorn in half.

The financial toll forced the family to sell their home, and they are now living in a rented duplex nearby. They hope to eventually build on a one-acre plot of land they have purchased, where the three boys will be able to roam outside.

Ms Wallace’s sister Britt has set up a GoFundme page to help ease their financial burden.

Ms Wallace also said she lost confidence in her own ability as a mother, something she has been working hard to regain.

“It’s all very painful. I know I need to be confident in the parenting decisions I make because they’re mine to make, instead always worrying about what other people are thinking.”

She says she wants other mums and dads to know their rights and also respect other people’s parenting choices.

“We’re all trying to do what’s right for our kids, they have their own personalities, and have different needs.”

She has started her own business in pediatric sleep consultancy.

A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said in a statement to The Independent they were unable to comment on specific cases under state law.

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