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Reasonable Independence Law Could Soon Give Colorado Kids More Freedom

The Reasonable Independence Law was created to give kids more independence and freedom to roam. It will encourage kids to be kids again.

The Let Grow–inspired “Reasonable Independence” law passed the Colorado House Judiciary Committee on Thursday by a vote of 9 to 0. The bill, HB1147, guarantees that kids can do things like walk to school, play outside, or come home with a latchkey without this being mistaken for parental neglect.

The bipartisan committee’s unanimous vote makes the bill’s passage likely. It was inspired by Utah’s “Free-Range Parenting” law, passed in 2018.

The reasonable independence law is bringing all sides together.

In a country fiercely divided along partisan lines, it’s notable that the bill’s sponsors come from opposite sides of the aisle. Rep. Janet Buckner (D) and Rep. Kim Ransom (R) had been friends for years and always wanted to work on a law together. So when Let Grow contacted them about the “Reasonable Independence” law, they knew they had their chance.

So how did it happen? Working with these reps, we gathered a coalition of grassroots groups as well as the local county welfare departments—that is, child protective services—to make sure everyone was on board.

As the sponsors wrote in an op-ed in the Colorado Sun, they were motivated in part by “outrage at some of the stories we heard from friends and constituents, moms and dads who simply took their eyes off their kids for a few minutes and ended up investigated for neglect. And frankly, we both remember some of the hoops jumped through as moms ourselves, just to make sure no one mistook us for bad parents.”

We’re overprotecting our kids, and it shows.

One constituent told them about a time her daughter, then 7, wanted to run around the block to get some exercise. Her mom could see her daughter almost all the way, except for a minute or two beyond her sightline. The girl, now 10, ended up testifying in favor of the bill, telling the committee what happened next:

The first day I started running, I saw that someone was following me in their car. 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. Minutes after I arrived home, a police officer came and knocked on our door. 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.  I started to cry because I was scared.

While the mom was cleared of wrongdoing, her daughter has been afraid to run around the block ever since. So even when it appears that “the system works,” it doesn’t, really. Not when a case is opened simply because someone saw a child outside without a parent and called 911.

Over the years, the representatives heard other stories from constituents, too, including how just the fear of a possible investigation is impacting parents. One said she worries that onlookers might think her autistic child is being abused because his behavior is odd. Another worries that her kid, a “runner,” could escape her grip and run ahead. Then someone could call 911 on an improperly supervised child.

We need to trust parents to have common sense—and their children’s best interests at heart.

And the reps told stories from their own lives, too. Rep. Ransom, who’d been widowed suddenly as a young mom with four kids under the age of 10, remembered how anxious she felt about onlookers’ judgment.

Rep. Buckner, the speaker pro tempore, remembered how proud she felt when her mom said, “‘You’re old enough now to walk to the grocery store.’ It really made me gain confidence.”

The fear of other people judging and reporting is very real. As they wrote, “Kids rise to the occasion when we start giving them some independence coupled with responsibility. But the threat of an investigation means parents can’t use their common sense. And those investigations often hurt families who are already disproportionately targeted by police officers and other government authorities.

Let’s encourage kids to be kids again.

The bill should come to the floor of the House in a week or two. Then we hope it will proceed to the Senate.

If it passes and Governor Jared Polis signs it into law, Colorado will become the second state in the US where parents don’t have to second-guess these kinds of child-rearing decisions for fear they could be mistaken for neglect.

That relief has a real impact. When Let Grow cofounder Dr. Peter Gray interviewed parents living in Utah about a year after the “Free-Range Kids” bill passed there, he found them much more relaxed and confident. One mom, for instance, found it easier to let her 12-year-old start taking public transit. She was no longer worried that someone would call 911 on her. And even if someone did, the authorities would realize they didn’t have to pay a call.

A Utah dad confessed that he is an overprotective parent at heart. But when he saw his children starting to become anxious and a little helpless, he knew something had to change. Letting them get around the neighborhood on their own seemed like something that would help them become more confident. Thanks to the “Free-Range Kids” law, that’s what he and his wife did, and their kids have blossomed.

“Parents know their kids best,” said Rep. Buckner. This law recognizes that. It will allow kids and their parents to breathe more easily.

If you’d like more information on Reasonable Independence laws, please click here. If you are interested in helping get a Reasonable Childhood Independence law passed in your state, please click here

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