You may recall the Silver Spring, Maryland case of parents being charged with “unsubstantiated neglect” for allowing their children, ages 10 and 6, to walk home from a local park.  This, along with similar incidents, sparked a debate about “free-range kids,” the role government should take in parenting, and the relative dangers of and safety concerns about children walking outside without a parent or guardian present.

The Washington Post reported about it at the time:

Long before the Meitivs of Silver Spring clashed with Montgomery County over their young children’s walk home alone from a park, other parents across the country were at odds with authorities over similar questions: How much supervision do children need, and when are they truly at risk?

In Austin, Kari Anne Roy, 38, a children’s author, was investigated for neglect after her children walked the dog one day in August and her 6-year-old lagged behind, playing on an outdoor bench a few houses down the street.

In Port St. Lucie, Fla., Nicole Gainey, 35, a mother of two, was arrested for letting her 7-year-old son walk alone to a park and play there, about half a mile away from their home in the town where she grew up.

One of most the most publicized recent cases involved Debra Harrell in North Augusta, S.C., who allegedly allowed her 9-year-old daughter to play at a park while she worked at a McDonald’s as a shift manager.

The particulars of such cases are different, cutting across lines of economics, geography and circumstances. But they point to a tension about how safe the world really is, what parents should do to protect their children and when the government should intercede.

Rhode Island thinks it may have the answer to this last question about when the government should intercede.  The legislature there is proposing a bill that would, among other things like set age restrictions on which children can go outside and play during recess if it’s cold, punish parents who leave their children “home alone” or in a car for too long.

The AP reports:

Parents who fear the judgment of neighbors if they leave their kids alone at home or in a car may soon have more than a “tsk, tsk” to worry about in Rhode Island.

State lawmakers are debating a bill that would punish parents for leaving a child younger than 7 alone in a car. They’ve also proposed legislation to ban kids under 10 from being home alone and older kids from being home alone at night. Legislation could even extend to private preschools, where a bill would ban outdoor recess when the temperature drops below freezing.

The pushback against such measures is quite strong.

The AP continues:

Rhode Island’s efforts come years after many other states implemented such measures, but have been met by counterattacks from a growing movement of parents who say enough is enough.

“You can’t legislate parenting, and you can’t legislate common sense,” said Rema Tomka, who is raising three kids in the leafy Providence suburb of Smithfield.

. . . . Helping to spread the parental outrage and mobilize opposition was [Lenore] Skenazy, who has repeatedly ridiculed Rhode Island lawmakers.

“These laws are preposterous,” she wrote in her blog. “They assume it is the government’s job to dictate family life. They criminalize maturity in children and common sense in parents, and turn mundane decisions — like running out to do an errand — into legal minefields.”

Skenazy’s blog, “Free Range Kids,” advocates keeping parental duties and responsibilities with parents and not shifting them over to government.

Watch her 2014 interview with Reason TV:

Not only are citizens and advocates pushing back, but the AP article notes that even Rhode Island state health officials see a potential problem with a flood of phone calls from neighbors and concerned strangers about situations that “aren’t a safety risk.”  Presumably each report would need to be checked out and followed up, and the potential cost to the state for investigating everything from spiteful neighbor reports to genuinely concerned, but erroneous, people reporting situations that are perfectly safe for the children involved.

[Featured image via AP]


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