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Colorado Legislature Passes “Reasonable Childhood Independence” Law!

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Read Time: 3 minutes


Colorado kids — put on your sneakers. Thanks to your state legislators (and perhaps a little encouragement from Let Grow), you can play outside, stay home alone a bit, and enjoy some freedom without your parents worrying this could get them investigated for neglect.

Yesterday the Colorado Senate followed the lead of the House and passed the “Reasonable Childhood Independence” bill unanimously. Now it goes to Gov. Jared Polis, who is expected to sign it into law.

A 12-year-old testifies

A front page Denver Gazette story by Hannah Metzger quoted one of the citizens who testified in favor of the bill: 12-year-old Brinley Sheffield.

Brinley was 7 when she first decided to take up running. Unfortunately, Day One of her new pursuit ended in terror when a car followed her the few blocks back to her home. Soon afterward, a policeman came knocking.

She thought he was coming to say he’d caught a criminal. But no. He told Brinley and her mom that a citizen had spotted a child alone outside — and called the cops. While no charges were filed, Brinley told the legislators that after that, “I didn’t want to run around my block.”

A huge bi-partisan hit

To prevent just such incidents, and to reassure parents they can give their kids some independence, and to stop the over-investigation of decent parents in poverty who literally cannot afford to helicopter their kids, the bill was introduced by two Democrats and two Republicans: Sen. Janet Buckner (D- Aurora) and Rep. Mary Young (D- Greeley), and Sen. Jim Smallwood (R- Douglas County), and Rep. Kim Ransom (R-Littleton).

As The Gazette reported:

“We’re trying to give greater flexibility to families,” said Young, a former child psychologist and chair of the Weld County child abuse coalition. “When youth are given independence they grow, learn and thrive and we’re pleased to pass legislation that empowers their right to independence.”

This bill had been introduced in 2020 and sailed through the Colorado House. It was expected to do the same in the Senate when COVID closed the legislature. Back then, it had just two sponsors.

This year, in the House itself, 27 Representatives asked to sign on as co-sponsors.

Yes, 27.

“Parents know their kids best”

While similar bills passed in Utah, Texas and Oklahoma, Colorado is the first “blue” state to pass what was originally dubbed the “Free-Range Parenting” law. Over the past four years, Let Grow has been building stakeholder coalitions and popular support for these measures. Currently Illinois, Nebraska, and South Carolina are considering such bills. If you’d like to get involved, please visit our Laws & Advocacy pages.

As the sponsors of the 2020 bill, Buckner and Ransom, wrote in The Colorado Sun:

Parents know their children best and there are children 8, 9, 10 that are perfectly capable of walking to school by themselves. But the parents load them up and drive them because they’re afraid to be charged with neglect…

This “defensive parenting” hurts parents and stunts kids.

Too many investigations

Sen. Buckner remembered how “proud and grown up” she felt when she ran her first errand — to get baking powder. But now:

The threat of an investigation means parents can’t use their common sense. And minority moms have even more reason to worry: Fully 53% of all African American kids will be investigated by child protective services sometime in their childhoods.

In Colorado, Rep. Young reported, 82% of parents reported to the child abuse hotline will have their cases “unsubstantiated.” That’s a lot of excess investigations — and trauma.

Thankfully, those days are becoming a thing of the past as parents demand the right to raise their kids with the independence they need to grow up confident, capable — and happy.

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