TWO STATES PASS “CHILDHOOD INDPENDENDENCE” LAWS THAT ENSURE IT IS NOT NEGLECT FOR KIDS TO PLAY OUTSIDE

Third state debates law and its passage looks likely, too.

Go out and play, kids. It’s about to be legal!

Oklahoma and Texas both passed “Reasonable Childhood Independence” bills on Wednesday, ensuring parents that they can let their kids walk and play outside, stay home alone a bit, and engage in other normal childhood activities without being accused of abuse or neglect. These bills just await their governors’ signatures.

Also on Wednesday, the Nevada Assembly’s Health and Human Services committee held hearings on a similar bill that proved so popular, all the committee members ended up asking to co-sponsor it. (It had already passed the state’s Senate).

This is a triple-header for parents and kids!

Let Grow supported this legislation because we have heard from so many parents saying they WANT to let their kids go climb a tree or run an errand, but they’re afraid someone could call 911 and open an investigation on them. So they keep the kids inside, on the couch. Now, within days in Oklahoma and Texas – and probably within weeks in Nevada – it’s Independence Day for families.

“Operator, there are children playing outside.”

The bill, modeled on the so-called Free-Range Parenting bill passed in Utah in 2018, had bi-partisan sponsorship in Oklahoma and Nevada. In Nevada, bill sponsor Sen. Dallas Harris (D., Clark County) confided to the Assembly that she sometimes leaves her 9-year-old alone when she makes a quick Walmart pickup. Other assembly members said they wished the law had been in place when they were raising their kids.

The Nevada bill’s co-sponsor, Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen (R. 32nd Dist.), said, “This is one of the most important things we could be doing to let children grow.” Her grown son, Dr. Daniel Hansen, testified in favor of the bill, in part because recently his sons, 8 and 10, had been playing down his quiet street when a passerby called 911 to report unsupervised children.

The Fire Department came and escorted the children home.

It is just this kind of unnecessary intervention the new laws will help to curb, giving child protective authorities more time to focus on actual cases of abuse and neglect.

Let parents judge what their kids are ready to do.

“The legislation in all three states focuses on clarifying the difference between real neglect and reasonable parenting decisions,” said Diane Redleaf, Let Grow’s Legal Consultant. Redleaf has worked for decades to narrow neglect laws, especially to ensure  they don’t sweep in parents for reasons of poverty alone. “When parents leave their kids in obvious danger, that’s neglect.  But when they decide their child can walk to grandma’s because mom has two jobs, the law needs to start supporting that parent.”

These “independence laws” all recognize that parents should be allowed to decide if their child is mature and capable of avoiding danger without adult supervision, Redleaf said. At the same time, the laws reinforce the ability of state authorities to take protective action if parents make demonstrably unreasonable decisions that endanger their children.

In Oklahoma, Rep. Chad Caldwell (R., Enid) sponsored the Reasonable Childhood Independence bill in part because as a latchkey child. “I’d ride my bike home from school, grab a snack, and go back out again to play King of the Mountain in the empty lot nearby,” he wrote in an op-ed. Those experiences gave him the confidence – and fun – he wanted today’s kids to enjoy, and his co-sponsor from across the aisle, Jacob Rosecrants (D., Norman), felt the same.

In Texas, Andrew Brown of the Texas Public Policy Foundation shepherded the bill. His state had been home to a couple of infamous stories of child protective overreach.

The mom let her 6-year-old play within view of the house. Cops were called.

In 2014, Austin mom Kari Anne Roy’s 6-year-old was playing within view of the house for about ten minutes when a woman marched him home and called the cops. Police officers paid Roy a visit, and a week later Child Protective Services interviewed each of her children separately. They asked the boy, 12, if he had ever done drugs, and the girl, 8, if she had seen movies with people’s private parts – something she’d never even heard of.

In Houston the next year, mom Laura Browder was arrested for having her kids wait 30 feet away from her in a food court when she had a job interview there and didn’t have time to line up child care. The arrest came after she had accepted the new job.

For struggling moms, said Nevada’s Sen. Harris, this bill “provides a little more equity.” She and Rep. Hansen worried aloud that their own single moms might have been considered neglectful by today’s standards. Statistically, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, 37% of American children will be reported to child abuse hotlines over the course their childhood. That number rises to 53% for African-American kids.

“If you see both of us sponsor the same bill, it must be really good or really bad.”

As she presented the bill in Nevada, Sen. Harris acknowledged how unusual it was to find such bipartisan agreement on a bill.  She is a gay, African- American Democrat from Las Vegas.  Rep. Hansen is a straight, white Republican from a rural area. Harris laughed when she said, “If you see Rep. Hansen and me as the sponsors of the same bill, you know it is either a really good idea or a really bad idea. We think it’s a really good idea.”

So does Dr. Rachel Flynn, a Reno-based psychologist and assistant professor of child and adolescent development testifying in Nevada.

Over her 23 years in the field, Flynn said, she has worked with kids of every ethnicity, rich and poor,  including “the gifted and talented as well as those who are non-verbal with severe intellectual delays.” But across the board, she said, “I’ve seen children’s mental health declining and the research supports this. There is more anxiety, more depression, and more perceived learning disabilities.”

Kids need independence to jump-start the skills they’ll need forever.

Flynn blames this at least in part on kids losing their independence. “All children need to use their executive functioning skills by making decisions and solving problems. They need to practice their visual spatial skills by moving through the world. And they need to play.”

The Reasonable Childhood Independence Bills — HB 2565 in Oklahoma, HB 567 in Texas, and SB 143 in Nevada – give childhood back to kids and parenting back to parents. What a gift. And just in time for summer!

NOTE TO PRESS: For more information, please contact Let Grow President Lenore Skenazy: [email protected] .

NOTE TO PARENTS AND LEGISLATORS: For information on getting a Reasonable Childhood Independence bill underway in your state, please see our Legislative Advocacy Page. There’s also a form you can fill out to reach us.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Featured Photo by Mieke Campbell on Unsplash