Colorado Kids Can Legally Play Outside!

Gov. Jared Polis joins three other states in signing "Reasonable Independence for Children" bill.

“We certainly don’t want parents getting in trouble because their kids were playing on the playground,” said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis yesterday.  (See video below!) And with that, he signed the “Reasonable Independence for Children” act into law.

Colorado now becomes the fourth state to pass what was originally dubbed the “Free-Range Parenting Law” when Utah passed it in 2018.  Texas and Oklahoma followed suit last year.

Our first Blue State!

But Colorado is the first “blue state” to pass the legislation. That’s great, because at Let Grow, the nonprofit that grew out of Free-Range Kids, we have always contended childhood independence is a bipartisan issue. Republicans appreciate our work to promote can-do kids and keep the government out of everyday family decisions. Democrats appreciate the same thing – especially because while a third of all kids will be reported to child protective services at some point in their childhoods, that number soars to 53% for African-American kids.

The new law narrows the definition of neglect, making it clear that a child is NOT neglected simply because a parent lets them engage in some normal childhood activities, like playing outside without adult supervision, or staying home alone for a bit.

At the signing, Gov. Polis was surrounded by the bill’s bi-partisan sponsors and other advocates, including a girl once reported to the police for enjoying a run around the block.

Rare bi-partisan agreement

“We want to let parents be parents,” said Rep. Kim Ransom, a Republican. As she stood on one side of the Governor, her friend Sen. Janet Buckner, a Democrat, stood on the other. The two legislators had long wanted to sponsor a bill together, but this was the first one they could finally agree on.

They co-sponsored the bill in 2020 and watched it sail through the House with unanimous support. But then COVID shut everything down just days before a Senate vote.

This time around, the original sponsors were joined by another bi-partisan team, Sen. Jim Smallwood, a Republican, and Rep. Mary Young, a Democrat. Young is a child psychologist and as she noted in the Governor’s office yesterday: maybe the law passed both houses unanimously because “this is the first time we’ve had a bill with the word ‘reasonable’ in the title.”

“I still remember my first errand.”

When Sen. Buckner sponsored the bill the first time around, she wrote in an op-ed how incredible it felt the first time her mother let her run an errand by herself – going to the store to get baking powder. “I am still thankful for that, because it helped me gain confidence knowing that my mother and father felt I was smart enough and strong enough to be given that freedom.”

It’s exactly that kind of confidence that Brinley Sheffield was experiencing a few years back when, as a 7-year-old, she decided to just take a fun run around the block, with her mom’s permission.

Just as she was rounding the block to return home, a car started following her. As she testified to the Colorado legislature a few weeks ago, “I thought about knocking on someone else’s door to ask for help, but I wasn’t very far from my house, so I decided to just run home.”

The creep who followed the girl home

Minutes after she arrived, so did the police. “My first thought was that they found the person who followed me and were going to put them in jail. But then I realized that the officer was at our house because of me! The person who followed me called the police because I was outside running by myself.”

While the police did not charge her mom with anything, that doesn’t mean the experience had no effect. “For many years after this,” Brinley testified, “I didn’t want to run around the block.”

The new law will reassure parents worried about the “oftentimes vague and confusing neglect laws,” said Ruchi Kapoor, founder of Kapoor Law +Policy. Kapoor was part of a group of parents and advocates convened by Let Grow in partnership with the Colorado nonprofit Elephant Circle.

Bill still forbids TRUE neglect

Of course, REAL neglect is still forbidden – letting a 2-year-old play in the street, say, or leaving a 6-year-old alone for a week. But the new law takes a weight off parents’ minds.

Co-sponsor Rep. Ransom had recalled that when she was a mom with four young kids, she felt she had to take them all out of the car and drag them through a snowstorm into the gas station with her, lest someone accuse her of neglect.

Now the law is on her side – very much so. In the Colorado House, 27 legislators asked to be listed as co-sponsors. Said Let Grow’s legal consultant, Diane Redleaf, “Helicopter parenting cannot be the law of the land. And one by one, states are starting to make sure it isn’t.”

Up next? Reasonable Independence bills are being considered in Illinois, Nebraska and South Carolina. For information on Let Grow’s advocacy, click here. And meantime, Colorado kids, go outside already! It’s legal!

Photo courtesy of Hannah Metzger for Colorado Politics.