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One of our goals is to make it easy and normal for parents to let go a little. That’s what Utah did, rather elegantly, by altering the state’s definition of “neglect” to NOT prosecute parents who simply give their kids some old-fashioned freedom. The state’s new language declares it is NOT NEGLECT when a parent is:
“Permitting a child, whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and
317 maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities,
319 (A) traveling to and from school, including by walking, running, or bicycling;
320 (B) traveling to and from nearby commercial or recreational facilities;
321 (C) engaging in outdoor play;
322 (D) remaining in a vehicle unattended, except under the conditions described in
323 Subsection 76-10-2202(2);
324 (E) remaining at home unattended; or
325 (F) engaging in a similar independent activity.
326 (36) “Neglected child” means a child who has been subjected to neglect.
Of course “sufficient age and maturity” is vague, but the law is clearly leaning in the direction of giving “Free-Range” parents the benefit of the doubt when they give their kids some unsupervised time, rather than charging negligence.
If you’d rather not start amending child neglect statues, well, that’s where the Let Grow Proclamation comes in. Feel free to use its simple language in your state or town. Like the Utah law, it allows parents to “Free-Range” their kids without fear of being second-guessed by the authorities. Here it is!
The Let Grow Proclamation
Part 1 is a short, shocking list of some parents who were arrested simply for giving their kids a little old-fashioned, unsupervised time. These stories help make the case for why the Let Grow Proclamation is important.
Part 2 is the Proclamation itself, which any town, city or state can pass, reassuring parents that letting their kids be kids is not a crime.
PART 1: DO PARENTS REALLY HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT GETTING ARRESTED IF THEY LET THEIR KIDS PLAY OUTSIDE OR HAVE A FEW UNSUPERVISED MINUTES?
On Nov. 18, 2015, Maria Hasankolli of Wallingford, CT, came home at 6 a.m. after staying with her aunt all night as she expired at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Maria overslept when she would have normally been getting her 8-year-old stepson ready for school. Instead, he got himself breakfast, packed his own backpack, went outside — and missed his bus. The boy decided to walk to school on his own, two miles away, and was about halfway there when a business owner spotted him — a boy outside alone! — and called the cops. The cops found him and drove him the rest of the way to school. Then they turned around and went to his home, woke Maria — and clapped her into handcuffs. They put her in the police car, drove her to the station and took her mug shot. Then she was given a $2500 bond and a court date. The charge? Risk of injury to a minor. Because she overslept and her son walked himself to school.
Austin, Texas mom Kari Anne Roy’s 6-year-old was playing outside for about 10 minutes when a woman saw him and marched him home, 150 feet away. Shortly afterward, Roy’s doorbell rang again. It was the police. They interrogated her and asked for I.D. A week later, Child Protective Services came to the house and interviewed each of Roy’s three children separately, without their parents, asking the 12-year-old if he had ever done drugs, and the 8-year-old girl if she had seen movies with people’s private parts – something she’d never even heard of. “Thanks, CPS,” said the mom.
For three days over summer vacation in 2014, South Carolina mom Debra Harrell let her 9-year-old play at the local sprinkler playground — a popular park that also offered breakfast and lunch — while she worked her shift at McDonald’s. A woman at the park asked the girl where her mom was, and upon learning she was at work, called 911. The police threw the mom in jail overnight. She lost custody of her daughter for 17 days. Despite public outcry, it took over two years before the charges were dropped.
The state of Illinois cited Natasha Felix for neglect after she let three children, aged 5, 9, and 11, play in the park next to her home, where she could see them from her window. She checked on them every 10 minutes, but a passerby thought the kids were unsupervised, and called the Department of Children and Family Services Hotline. “These were not kids being left in a crack house with no food,” said Felix’s attorney, Diane Redleaf, a lawyer and director of the Chicago-based Family Defense Center. Redleaf’s organization released a report in August titled, “When Can Parents Let Children Be Alone?” It documents what it contends are over-the-top cases of government intervention into parenting practices that were once considered acceptable, such as letting younger kids walk to school alone or sit in a car while Mom runs into the grocery store. “We don’t want the state second-guessing parents like that,” Redleaf said. Her group is asking the state to tighten its definition of what is considered inadequate supervision. Meanwhile, it took two years but a state appellate court finally overturned the finding of neglect against Natasha.
A 6-months-pregnant mom in Lexington County, Kentucky, was arrested for letting her kids wait in the air-conditioned car for 3-5 minutes while she ran an errand. The sheriff said that a parent simply stepping out of the car is one thing, but “if someone has abandoned a child, even for a short time, that’s another matter.” The brief errand qualified as “abandonment,” and the pregnant mom spent the night in jail.
An Omaha woman taking her niece out of the SUV was shocked when the wind blew the door shut with her keys and the child inside. The car locked! The aunt and the girl’s mom and two other relatives frantically tried to get the door open using a hanger and screwdriver, and when they couldn’t, they called 911. The cops arrived, broke the window, and got the child out, safe and sound. Then they ticketed the mom on “suspicion of child abuse by neglect.”
In April of 2015, a Florida mom and dad could not get home in time to let their 11-year-old son into the house. The boy didn’t have a key, so he played basketball in the yard. He was alone for 90 minutes. A neighbor called the cops, and when the parents arrived—having been delayed by traffic and rain—they were arrested for negligence. They were put in handcuffs, strip searched, fingerprinted, and held overnight in jail. It would be a month before their sons—the 11-year-old and his 4-year-old brother—were allowed home again. And that was only after the eldest spoke up and begged a judge to give him back to his parents.
As a result of these and many similar cases, some parents are afraid to give their kids the freedom and responsibility they find appropriate. Yet this should be a decision left to decent parents.
No one is saying we must get rid of Child Protective Services or the police. Only that, in the absence of any other evidence of neglect or abuse, simply giving kids some free time on their own, unsupervised, should not be enough to trigger an arrest or investigation.
How can we give parenting back to parents — and childhood back to children? Pass this:
Part 2: THE LET GROW PROCLAMATION:
Our children have the right to some unsupervised time, and we have the right to give it to them without getting arrested.
Statement of findings
- It is good, healthy and normal for kids to walk and play outside, and run some errands on their own.
- Violent crime is at a 50 year low.
- It is not low because we are keeping kids inside. All crime — even against adults — is lower now, and we are not keeping adults inside.
- The risk of child abduction by strangers is very low.
- Car accidents are the leading cause of deathamong children, not stranger danger.
- Lack of exercise is a contributing factor to short term and long term health risks for children.
- It is in the public interest for children to walk and cycle to their day-to-day destinations, and to play outside on their own.
- When kids do that, they learn social skills, problem-solving, creativity and compromise — the skills they will need in college and beyondthat they do not get in adult-run activities.
- Because we can’t always prepare the path for our children, we must prepare our children for the path, by giving them freedom and responsibility, so they gradually learn to be independent, resourceful and resilient.
Rights of Children to Freedom of Movement
- Therefore, this legislature decrees that it supports letting children walk, cycle, take public transportation and/or play outside by themselves, with the permission of a parent or guardian.
- Allowing children to exercise these rights shall not be grounds for charges against their parents or guardians unless something else is found to be amiss.
AND IF YOU’D LIKE TO INCLUDE THE RIGHT OF PARENTS TO LET THEIR KIDS WAIT IN THE CAR A FEW MINUTES WITHOUT GETTING ARRESTED, HERE IS THE:
Rights of Parents to Make Rational Decisions
- More children die in parking lots than die waiting in parked cars while their caregivers run an errand.
- The majority of children who die in parked cars were forgotten there for hoursor got into the car unbeknownst to anyone and could not get out.
- Punishing parents who let their children wait in the car for five minutes will not bring back the children forgotten there for five hours.
- Therefore, parents should be allowed to make their own decisions, based on the location, temperature, and duration of their errand, as to whether or not they wish to let their child wait in the car.
- Laws against children waiting unsupervised for a short amount of time in a parked car shall be repealed.
Feel free to tinker with any of this! And for more information, please drop a note to Lenore@letgrow.org .