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Making It Legal to Play Outside: “Reasonable Childhood Independence” Bills Update

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Read Time: 5 minutes

Let Grow’s goal is to make it easy, normal and legal to give kids some old-fashioned independence.

When it comes to that “legal” part, we help states pass Reasonable Childhood Independence laws. Right now, most states’ neglect laws are just too open-ended. They say things like, “Parent must provide proper supervision.”

WE AGREE! But people have very different ideas of what “proper supervision” entails (as you know if you have, say, a spouse). One parent lets their kids play outside at age 6, another not till 12. Let Grow-supported legislation ensures kids are ALLOWED to do childhood activities on their own — walking to school, playing outside, staying alone for a while, etc., etc. — so long as they aren’t put in obvious, serious and likely danger. This helps parents who want to give their kids some independence, as well as those who simply can’t afford the time and money to helicopter, like a single mom working double shifts who gives her responsible child a latchkey. Poverty is not neglect.

To date, four states have passed Reasonable Childhood Independence bills, always with bi-partisan support. In fact, it passed unanimously in red state Utah and blue state Colorado. Here’s a clip of our recent hearing in Virginia Senate, and below that, a brief overview of which states we’re working in this year — and how you can get involved:

Virginia Senate Judiciary Hearing on our law. Kids-and-moms testimony begins about 13:18.

States considering Reasonable Childhood Independence bills:

CONNECTICUT — A bill is being presented in the joint Judiciary Committee, likely to get a public hearing in March. There is a separate “fallback” bill sponsored by a friendly senator, and even a THIRD bill likely to be presented in the Children’s Committee by another strong ally. So we have multiple vehicles for presenting our bill, and significant support from committee members. 

ILLINOIS — We just learned of a renewed effort by a Republican legislator to introduce a bill there. It is inspired but not assisted by us at this point. 

MICHIGAN — We have  a well-respected Democratic sponsor (chair of the committee where the bill is likely to be heard) and a Republican dairy farmer sponsor too. They will present our bill probably no sooner than March.

VIRGINIA — Last week the VA Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill UNANIMOUSLY. Its sponsors, Sen. Jill Vogel (R) and Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D), wrote an oped about why a Democrat and a Republican are teaming up to pass this law.

At the hearing, two Virginia children and their moms testified about their neglect investigations. Elsa Hackel, 12, recalled walking home from the library one day at age 9. She hadn’t even gotten her coat off when four cops came to the house. They berated her parents for letting her walk alone. Afterward, Elsa was afraid to go outside by herself because she didn’t want her parents to be taken away.

Ana Fields, now 9, told of playing outside with her siblings just one house down from her own home. She was 8. Child Protective Services came and told her parents never to let their kids play outside without adult supervision.

Allies from across the political spectrum — including The Virginia Poverty Law Center on the left and on the right — testified too. You can watch the hearing here.

NEBRASKA — A bill has been introduced by the same Republican lead sponsor Let Grow worked with last year and three Democratic co-sponsors. With a longer session, lots of support, and no opposition last time (the problem was timing), we are optimistic.

NEVADA — The bill that didn’t make it in 2022 is being reconsidered by our bi-partisan sponsors from last year: Sen. Dallas Harris (D) and Rep. Alexis Hansen (R). As Harris said last year: “If you see both of us sponsoring one bill, it’s either really great or really bad.” She was joking because the co-sponsors do seem like something straight out of a buddy movie: Harris is a gay, Black, Democrat, mom of one. Hansen is a straight, White, Republican grandma of 20. Under discussion is whether to do this as a “resolution” or as a substantive bill. 

SOUTH CAROLINA  — After some headway in the past, our sponsor from last year, Wes Climer, is likely to try again. We had amazing testimony in the S.C. Legislature last year, including from 6-year-old Caroline Lanz who told the legislature, “If I couldn’t play outside, I’d be mad.”

Ashley Smith, a foster dad, testified about being investigated for neglect because one afternoon his daughter, 8, was doing her homework on the front lawn. A passerby reported an “unsupervised” child (not knowing Ashley was actually inside). The upshot: “We went through a period of eight weeks of not knowing if we would continue being able to keep our children,” said Ashley. The story is even more gut-wrenching, as Ashley’s adopted son had been TRULY abused by his biological family. You can see all the testimony here.

WEST VIRGINIA — We just learned of a bill proposed by Del. Chris Pritt that says “Free-Range Parenting is not classified as abuse and neglect.”

It’s possible there are other states working on similar laws that we have yet to hear about.

How to get involved:

If you would like to share your time, expertise, or stories, please fill out the form at the bottom of this page.

If you’d like to check your own state’s neglect laws, you can do that here.

If you have been shamed or investigated for a reasonable parenting decision, here is some helpful information.

And if you would like to support our work with a donation — we’d love that! You can do that here.

Questions? Please drop a note to [email protected] .

Here’s to independence for children — and parents!

Top photo: Ana Fields testifying in Virginia Senate last week about playing outside with her siblings.

Lower photo: Elsa Hackel also testifying in Virginia Senate last week about police telling her not to walk outside, even at age 9. At right is Sen. Jill Vogel, co-sponsor of the bill.

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