It can be terrifying, humiliating and/or infuriating to be arrested or investigated for simply taking your eyes off your kids, for reasons of choice or necessity.
Below you will find two helpful articles:
1 - How to Talk to The Police or Child Protective Worker
2 - The Constitutional Rights of Parents
If you are seeking more stories and comfort, click here for articles of others in your situation, and arguments in favor of more childhood freedom.
1 - WHAT IF A POLICE OFFICER OR CHILD PROTECTION CASEWORKER QUESTIONS MY RIGHT TO GIVE MY CHILD SOME INDEPENDENCE?
Any time a parent or caregiver is stopped by a police officer or a child protection caseworker because of a possible concern about a child’s wellbeing, it is important to respond in the best way you can. Let Grow advocates for the right of responsible and reasonable parents to make sound decisions for their kids, including their kids’ right to reasonable independence. Unfortunately, parents and children are often stopped by authorities from engaging in activities that are normal, safe and legal. This overbroad use of state power can cause a chilling effect on the families' right to make reasonable decisions in the best interests of their children.
Sometimes reasonable people disagree about how much independence children can or should have. And occasionally, children left alone ARE in danger of abuse or neglect. But sometimes hotline or 911 calls get made simply because someone sees a child alone. In fact, laws, policies and practices often encourage “when in doubt” hotline calls to child protection authorities. When these calls are made, an investigation by either a law enforcement or child protection system (or both) may occur.
We believe, consistent with the United States Constitution, that it is the parents’ right and duty to make decisions about their children’s welfare. For that reason, when stopped by police or child protection authorities, some general guidelines on how to protect yourself and your child can be helpful.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THESE ARE GENERAL GUIDELINES ONLY AND NOT SPECIFIC LEGAL ADVICE. THESE GUIDELINES MAY NOT APPLY TO THE SPECIFIC SITUATION OF ANY SPECIFIC CHILD OR FAMILY.
Because these guideless may not apply to your case, for more specific individually tailored advice or assistance, contact your own attorney. If you need help finding an attorney or understanding your own local laws and policies, Let Grow is working to build a resources and referral network and you may wish to contact us for possible assistance in identifying local resources and supports. Do this by sending a note to Info@LetGrow.org. Let Grow is also working to change laws and policies that stop parents from making sound parenting decisions on behalf of their children.
GUIDELINES AND SUGGESTED QUESTIONS:
- Police and child protection authorities are required to respond to hotline and 911 calls. This is their job. Whether or not the call was well-grounded, it is generally best to realize that the person responding to the call is just “doing their job.” The person who made the call may be entitled to keep their identity confidential under state and federal laws. However, if you believe you have been the subject of a harassing call, you may wish to disclose the reasons you think this has occurred to the investigating officer.
- If you made a sound parenting decision for your own child, you can defend your parenting decision and do not have to apologize for something you believe was good or reasonable. Neglect laws are in place to protect children who are placed in obvious danger—not to stop children from having a normal childhood. Giving the officer reasons why you believed your child was mature enough to be alone can help in your defense – assuming you have those reasons.
- Try to stay calm and refrain from showing anger. Be careful not to escalate the concerns.
- Treat the investigation seriously but realize that most investigations are closed without any findings, and no legal action. (Unfortunately, some states have categories that do not rule out abuse or neglect but still leave some record, without a finding of wrongdoing). While the officers may have the power to take serious actions, whether they take further action depends on how much evidence they gather that shows that you did endanger your child in some way.
- Whether and how you respond to questions by police or child protection is your decision. A general rule is that you do not have any duty to answer questions, open your home, or provide documents to either the police or to child protection authorities — unless the police show you a warrant or the child protection worker shows you a court order. But at the same time, another general rule is that it may be in your interests and your child’s interest to cooperate by talking, opening your home or providing documents.
- To manage these conflicting guidelines (i.e. you don’t have to talk but it might be best to talk), here are some suggestions. In some cases, you may want to get legal advice in order to decide to talk to the officer or caseworker. If you go ahead and talk to the police or child protection authorities, there are some questions to ask and information you will want to get:
a - Find out who is asking you to defend yourself from a call concerning your child—is it a police officer and if so, from which department? Is it a child protection caseworker and if so, what department does that person work in? Make sure you know how to contact the officer or caseworker and his or her supervisor. Get his or her office address.
b - Ask, politely, what is the claim that is being made as to your child? Politely request notification in writing as to the claims about your child and your rights.
c - Ask for specifics as to the law or specific way you are accused of violating. If you are told “abuse” or “neglect” ask for more specifics as to what type of abuse or neglect. Ask for specifics as to how you can “look up” that law or policy. Each state and local area may have different laws and policies, so it is important to get the law or policy in your own jurisdiction.
d - If the official refuses to say what you are specifically alleged to have done wrong, it is probably best for you not to answer any more questions.
e - If you can, have a neutral third party present during any questioning of you, your child or any visit to your home.
f - Take notes promptly after the visit is over and keep notes whenever you call the officer or caseworker after the visit. Asking to tape an interview can be viewed as provocative and is generally not recommended, though some parents have been able to get agreement to allow such taping.
g - Ask what information the officer or caseworker needs from you or will consider. If you are asked to sign consents for the officer or caseworker to get records, make sure you ask who will be contacted and what would happen if you didn’t agree to consent. Ask to provide your own positive evidence about your sound parenting.
h - After talking to the officer or caseworker, gather information in writing that you can submit on your behalf to show your child was safe and able to handle the situation, and that your parenting is reasonable. Submit that information to the investigating officer(s) while keeping copies for yourself.
i - Ask what the possible outcomes might be, including the time frames for any decision that the officer or caseworker will be making.
j - Allowing visual (over-the-clothes) confirmation that your child is fine is, in general, reasonable if the officer is doing an initial check in response to a hotline call. But questions about whether or not to allow officers to speak to your child can be challenging to answer. If you need to think over whether to allow this contact, you should let the officer know that you will get back to them. Sometimes you will have to negotiate who is present during any questioning of your child. If your child is photographed, searched or examined without your consent, you should strongly consider seeking legal advice as to how to respond.
k - Once you have this information, consider getting further legal consultation. While most hotline call end with an “unfounded” or “unsubstantiated” decision, and most police contacts do not lead to a criminal case being filed, you may want to have a lawyer available in the event the matter goes in a direction that affects your legal rights to raise your child and manage your home or personal affairs. If you work with children, it is may be especially important obtain legal assistance.
- Let Grow can sometimes assist parents who have been contacted by police or child protection in the following ways:
a - Connecting you with a local parent group in your area if one exists, or helping you to start such a group.
b - Helping you to identify the laws and policies in your state that affect whether you can let your child grow.
c - Offering an up-to-one-hour confidential consultation with Let Grow’s consulting attorney (licensed in Illinois) who may be able to provide appropriate referrals to available legal resources in your area and review the facts of your situation in order to give more specific advice on how to respond to an arrest or child protection investigation. In order to request this consultation, please email a note to Info@LetGrow.org . You will be sent some forms to be completed before we can set up the legal consultation.
2 THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS OF PARENTS
Families Have the Constitutional Right to Decide To Allow Their Children Reasonable Independence: Take It from the United States Supreme Court!
Parents Have the Constitutional Right to Raise Their Children. Starting in the 1920s, the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that the right of parents to raise their children is fundamental. This means that fit parents are allowed to make essential decisions about their own children’s wellbeing and can’t be second-guessed by government officials, including police and child protection authorities, without a compelling state justification.
Starting with rights in education, religious upbringing, medical care, parental decisions about where to live, and in custody and visitation matters,  as well as in questions about liability for children’s actions, our courts have deferred to parental judgment and consider the parents’ rights to make these decisions to be basic to the constitutional system. State and federal courts have stopped non-parents from intervening against the wishes of parents to direct how children should be raised when their views run contrary to the decisions of parents. In our legal system, there is what is called a “presumption” in favor of fit parents: they are the ones who get to decide if their children are ready and able to assume some independence.  To take away that presumption, the burden is on the State to show the parent is unfit. Such unfitness can be due to abuse or neglect of the child, for example, but to cause a lawful limitation on a parent’s rights, the State must obtain and present evidence against the parent.
The view that children would be “better off” if the parents made a different decision isn’t the legal standard for decisions about family life in either our federal or state court decisions Indeed, even grandparents can’t step in to override parents’ decisions about their children’s wellbeing unless the parents are shown to be unfit first.
In the most well-known recent Supreme Court case on the question of whether parents’ judgment about their children’s upbringing could be overridden by a court in the belief that it would be “best” if the child had visits with their grandparent, the Supreme Court declared that the right of the parents to direct who their children visit is constitutionally protected.  That meant that state legislatures, administrative agencies and courts cannot not take away the parents' decision-making authority just because they think it’s best for the kids. That would be an unconstitutional action that infringed on the family’s fundamental rights, protected by the due process clause of the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution.
What about the Kids’ Rights?
The Supreme Court has said that the Bill of Rights is not for adults alone. But paternalism toward children has a long legal tradition too. Under a doctrine known as “parens patriae,” the State has the right to intervene to protect children from harm, including harm by their parents. Where the limits on State authority lie is a question that has been tested in many constitutional cases. Among the constitutional rights that children have is the right not to be seized from their parents for no reason – a right protected by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. When children’s interests are aligned with the parents, it’s clear that the State has no business telling the parents how to raise their children—it’s in the interests of children to let their parents raise them. But in the face of a conflict between children’s interests and parents’ interests, usually it’s the parent who gets to decide. For example, parents had the right to have their child committed to a mental health facility even over the objection of the child. A child who is enrolled in a school they don’t like doesn’t get to decide to go somewhere else. Parents can send children to summer camps even if their kids hate the outdoors.
If this is what the Constitution says, why do we need new laws and policies?
While parents have the right to raise their children, states and local governments sometimes adopt laws or policies that fail to respect these rights. Or sometimes there is a disagreement about whether parents who make decisions on behalf of their children are abusive or neglectful, and investigations might start in which the question arises as to whether a parent’s conduct crosses the line into abuse or neglect. Practices and customs sometimes have developed that limit parents’ and children’s rights, including practices by police and child protection authorities, even when the law protects parents’ rights. Sometimes, police and child protection authorities assume they have power and authority to decide questions about parenting when the law they claim to be acting on isn’t clear.
That’s why Let Grow advocates for laws that are more specific and spell out the right of families to let their children have reasonable independence.
If you believe that you are within your constitutional rights to decide whether your child can play outside, run an errand, be alone inside or do an activity that is challenging, you might be correct and a person telling you that you don’t have this right might well be wrong! Lawyers can help families know and enforce their right. Because there is a lot of misinformation there may be some bad laws that might even found unconstitutional if tested in the courts, or sometimes the law doesn’t clearly answer the question
At Let Grow, we believe that parents and children’s rights to reasonable independence are almost always aligned, making the case for reasonable independence powerful and legally compelling. The justifications for restricting parents’ rights to let their children play outside alone when the parent reasonably judges that the child is safe and there are no obvious dangers are not just not compelling—they may not even be rational.
Governmental actions that stop children from exercising independence, from doing reasonable chores in the house, from learning new skills that are age-appropriate and build competence is not just bad policy, it might be unconstitutional.
Let Grow can sometimes help parents who want to give their kids more independence. If you have a specific case in which you would like to discuss whether a law, policy, or practice of your state or local government or school is constitutional, you may request a free, one-hour consultation with Let Grow’s legal consultant by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923); Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 321 U.S,158 (1944)
 See n. 1
 Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972)
 Parham v. J.R., 442 U.S. 584 (1979)
 Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645 (1972)
 See e.g., Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000)
 Stanley v. Illinois, n. 5 above.
 Quilloin v. Wolcott,434 U.S. 246 (1978)
 Troxel v. Granville, n. 6 above.
 In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967)
 See, e.g., Hernandez v. Foster, 657 F. 3d 463(7th Cir. 2011).
 In Parham v. J.R., n. 4 above.