That seems to be the sort of scenario that people all too often imagine, as they worry that they need to call the cops when seeing unattended children in public. A Washington Post piece which is making the rounds asks, "Would you call 911 on another parent?"
Would you call 911 if you saw a child sitting in a car parked outside a store, alone, engrossed in a video game?It's easy to paint a terrifying scene -- like something from the first few minutes, pre-commercial break, of a cop show -- in which the only thing which saves an innocent child's life is calling the cops when parents have been so foolish as to allow that child to wander without an armed guard escort, or at least a hovering parent. But the fact is, most of the time calling the cops because a ten year old is walking down the street alone will only result in scaring both child and parents, and making them feel under assault by a malevolent society.
Or a 9-year-old playing alone at a playground?
Or a 10- and 6-year-old walking purposefully, hand-in-hand, toward home?
Certainly, there are genuinely dangerous areas, and times when you see a genuinely dangerous situation. Anyone who sees an infant or toddler left strapped into a car seat in a closed car on a hot, sunny day would do well to do something about it immediately. However I think it's also important, more so in our disconnected society where we live surrounded by strangers, that people no be over-quick to call the cops over things that honestly aren't dangerous except in TV shows.
If you see a property or violent crime being committed, by all means call the cops. Or if a kid is doing something which seems likely to directly result in death or injury. If a child seems genuinely lost, upset or hurt, and you're not able to find an adult connected with them (especially if you've taken the time to ask the kid if she needs help and she says yes) then by all means summon help.
But keep in mind that calling the cops on a family can have traumatic (and at times even fatal) consequences. "I wouldn't let my kid walk home alone," is probably not a serious enough reason, unless you happen to live rather literally in a war zone.