It can be terrifying, humiliating and/or infuriating to be arrested or investigated for simply giving your kids a bit of old-fashioned independence or letting them wait in the car while you run a quick errand.
Here are some articles and links that should provide a bit of reassurance and comfort. Click HERE to read what to do if a cop or child protection caseworker is questioning your right to give your child some independence.
1 - A great court ruling
In a Unanimous 7-0 Decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the case of a mom arrested for letting her child for 5-10 min in the car to go shopping.
The court ruled that simply leaving a child alone in a vehicle, briefly, was not enough to constitute abuse or neglect.
2 - Article on how it is more dangerous to take your child OUT of the car, than letting them wait there briefly:
The New York Post reports that about 30-40 kids die a year in vehicles (the vast majority forgotten there, not waiting during an errand). By contrast:
KidInCars.org, whose members oppose children being left in cars, estimates that 45 kids have died this year after being backed over by vehicles in places including driveways and parking lots, and another 23 were killed after cars rolled over them while going forward. Also, 265 child pedestrians were struck and killed by cars in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
And while we are arresting parents who let their kids wait in the car for a few minutes, the length of time the average child who died was unattended in the car is 4.6 HOURS, not 4.6 MINUTES.
3 - Why we overestimate danger
According to a study at the Irvine University of California, we tend to irrationally overestimate the dangers of leaving a child unattended because we consider it socially unacceptable.
The more we disapprove of a parent, the more danger we believe they put their child is in. And since lately we disapprove of any parent not bending over backwards in any situation, no matter how safe, to make it .00000001% safer, we feel any non-overprotective parent is automatically underprotecting their kids. See item 6 in this New York Post article on "Why Parents are More Paranoid Than Ever."
The problem is that anytime we feel parents SHOULD be watching their kids, we imagine their kids are in grave danger, even when there is no danger.
4 - To expect children to be supervised every single second is a "stealth attack" on poor and working parents
When helicopter parenting becomes the only legal way to raise kids, any parent who trusts his or her kids to do anything on their own becomes an outlaw. For instance, a mom was arrested for letting her 9-year-old child play in the park unattended while she worked at McDonalds. Insisting that parents helicopter means criminalizing parents who cannot or do not spend all their free time watching, ferrying, schlepping, and assisting their competent kids.
5. Letting your kid wait in the car for a few minutes has always been viewed as a NORMAL part of family life
Check it for yourself with this ad from Volkswagen Kids dreams.
6. A new law in Utah says it is NOT neglect to give your kids (or yourself) a bit of freedom.
New Utah “Free Range Parenting” law states it is legal to let your kid play outside, walk to school, wait briefly in a car under some circumstances, or come home with a latchkey. It was passed unanimously.
The press has been almost uniformly enthusiastic about the law, which was signed in March, and other states are considering similar legislation now.
7. And Utah is not alone!
A similar statement was made by the Illinois Appellate Court, which ruled that a mom letting her kid play outside in the park is not abuse and neglect. And the local child protective services agency agreed it has been too fast to investigate normal parents making rational decisions.
8. The U.S. Congress defers to parents when it comes to deciding when their kids can be unsupervised:
A federal law passed in 2015 also says it is up to parents to decide at what age their kids can walk to school -- clearly deferring to a parent's judgment of what their kids can do safely on their own.
9 - A manual about parents' rights and how to respond if targeted by Child Protective Services.
If you have any more concerns about neglect investigations, check out this manual. While it was written specifically for parents in Illinois, its insights are universal.
10 -Another organization understands what you are going through.
11-- Huge New York Times article, "Motherhood in the Age of Fear" by Kim Brooks, documents how crazy we have become on the topic of taking our eyes off our kids, and how the criminalization of rational parenting hurts kids, their dads, and especially the main caregivers (and car drivers!) the moms.
12 - Finding Legal Help
There are some legal organizations that can help you fight back. If you are dealing with an arrest or investigation and need more specific help in understanding the legal process or finding a lawyer in your area, Let Grow is working to expand its legal resources for parents as it works to make the whole system less crazy. Please contact Info@LetGrow.org if you need specific help and want to be put in touch with our legal consultant. We can’t promise to find you a lawyer, and we can't pay for one (alas). But we can try to help you navigate the system.
13 - Some kids die because they were NOT allowed to wait in the car.
A reminder that there is no such thing as perfect safety, and some kids die when taken OUT of the car and walked with their mom across the parking lot. This is a partial list of KIDS WHO WOULD HAVE BEEN ALIVE TODAY IF THEY HAD BEEN LEFT IN THE CAR, RATHER THAN TAKEN OUT:
Moral of story: Nothing is completely safe -- not waiting in a car, not walking across a parking lot, not being home alone, not being home with parents.
As that is the case, parents should be allowed to make rational decisions in which the safety of their children is far more likely than not, including letting them wait briefly in the car, play at the park with other kids, walk to school, or come home with a latchkey.