What Do a Gay, Black, Democrat Mom of One and a Straight, White GOP Grandma of 20 Have in Common? They’re Co-Sponsoring Nevada’s Reasonable Childhood Independence Bill

Nevada State Senator Dallas Harris
Nevada Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen

Let Grow’s goal of making it easy, normal and legal to give kids some confidence-building independence is getting a big boost in several states this year, where lawmakers are considering “Reasonable Childhood Independence” bills.

In Nevada — as in Colorado before it — the co-sponsors of the bill may LOOK and sometimes VOTE like opposites. But as Sen. Dallas Harris and Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen explain in an opinion piece in the Las Vegas Review-Journal today:

Maybe we look like complete opposites. One of us is a gay, Black and a Democratic mom of one from Clark County. And one of us is a white, Republican and a mom of eight — grandmother of 20 — from Northern Nevada. But we are thrilled to be working together because we are in heated agreement when it comes to this:

Kids have the right to some reasonable independence. And parents have the right to give it to them without being charged with neglect. Now we are supporting a bill that makes this truth into law.

Nevada’s so-called “Reasonable Childhood Independence” bill narrows the definition of child neglect so it doesn’t include simply letting kids engage in normal childhood activities.

Childhood Freedom on Foot and Bike

The two go on to describe their own childhoods, which were rather similar. Both were the children of single moms, and both had a lot of free, unsupervised time. Sen. Harris, whose mom worked at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas, would ride her bike around the neighborhood, build forts in vacant lots, or sometimes visit model homes with her older cousin. The two would tell the brokers, “Our parents are thinking of moving here.”

Assemblywoman Hansen grew up in the small town of Tonopah. When her older sister couldn’t babysit her, she, too, would hop on her bike and visit the old mining sites, or go see her mom at work, or hang out with the woman who lived across from them whose only child was grown. That lady — Katie — taught Assemblywoman Hansen to bake and iron.

Allowing Parents to Trust their Kids

The law they are sponsoring is in part in honor of their moms, who gave them this kind of independence out of necessity — they had to go earn a living — but also because they knew their kids, and trusted them to be pretty responsible. Today, the co-sponsors worry, other good, responsible parents might have to second-guess themselves, for fear that their rational parenting decisions could be mistaken for neglect. They write:

 Unfortunately the idea that kids need constant supervision has been reinforced by expanding neglect laws to the point where parents can’t decide for themselves what their kids are ready to do on their own.

The threat of an investigation for neglect is not just theoretical. Nearly 40,000 children in Nevada are referred to Child Protective Services each year, mostly under neglect charges. The vast majority of these cases turn out to be unfounded.

Too Easy to Open a Neglect Investigation

An unfounded charge does not mean an untraumatized family. Having a stranger come in, inspect your home and interrogate your kids — with the power to possibly take them away — is not a “no harm, no foul” kind of thing. It shakes a family to the core. What’s more, they write:

The burden on minority families is disproportionately harsh. Approximately 40 percent of Nevada kids are African American or Hispanic, but they make up 60 percent of those involved in child protection cases.

The bill they’re co-sponsoring “just brings a little more clarity to the law. It is designed to take into account the wide variation in kids’ abilities and give parents back the flexibility they need to make sometimes seat-of-the-pants decisions.”

The Movement for Childhood Independence

Lawmakers in Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas are also considering these “Reasonable Childhood Independence” bills. Let Grow is working with parents and interested parties in all those states, hoping to make it “easy, normal and legal” to give kids (and their parents) back the freedom to spread their wings as they grow.

If you live in any of those states and would like to get involved, here’s some info and a form you can fill out.

And next year, we hope to add more states to the growing list of places where it reasonable childhood independence is, indeed, easy, normal and legal!