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November 6, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Two more parents are in deep… trouble… for the crime of allowing their children to do safe thing in safe places. Fortunately, Lenore Skenazy, the doyenne of the Free Range Kids movement is here to report on the incident and call the police to task for once again overreacting (Reason, 11/4/15).

Parents who let their boys, ages 7 and 9, play on their own for an hour at a family beach will be arraigned later this month on charges of reckless endangerment of a child.

Charles Smith and Lindsay Pembleton of Niagara Falls were vacationing with their kids on Cape Cod. The boys wanted to stay at the beach for a little longer rather than walk back to the nearby campground (which is, according to one commenter, accessible via a car-free path). The parents said okay, but told them they couldn't go in the water, according to The Cape Cod Times.

Understand that this is a family beach with lifeguards. The kids were supervised and far from alone. But that didn’t protect them from being apprehended by the police who breathlessly reported to the local newspaper that the children were damp from a rain shower and “standing around a food truck with no adults in charge.”

For that, Smith and Pembleton are now charged with the criminal offenses of child abuse and neglect in two separate states. (Just how they managed to violate the law in two states while only actually being in one is a mystery I suspect I’ll never solve.)

As is usual in these cases, the mindset of the police and the news media is far more interesting than anything the parents did or didn’t do. The Cape Code Times informed its readers that,

“Although Head of the Meadow is a family beach with lifeguards, the Truro police have been called there for numerous calls related to dog bites, shark sightings, lewd conduct and people taking pictures of children,” [Officer] DeAngelo wrote in her report.

It’s good to know that, had the parents been there, they could have prevented “dog bites, shark sightings, lewd conduct and people taking pictures of children.” Just how they would have gone about those tasks, I can’t guess, but apparently officer DeAngelo can. As Skenazy pointed out, people who take pictures of children have a way of being their parents, grandparents or other relatives. As to the rest, parents can no more ensure that their children aren’t bitten by a dog, sight a shark or observe adults doing adult things than the man in the moon. Those things are part of life — sometimes an unfortunate part — that children can and should be able to experience and deal with.

But the idea has taken root that children should be shielded from all possible harm, that parents should do the shielding and that the failure to do so constitutes a crime. According to that notion, any parents who trust their kids with age-appropriate responsibility immediately find themselves in the crosshairs of the police and child protective authorities. These parents will probably suffer no undue consequences from this particular non-incident. But they now have a file with the police and CPS. That means the next report of anything by anyone for any reason stands a high probability of them losing their children at least temporarily. Another such report might make it permanent.

Meanwhile, Officer DeAngelo offered her version of the dangers posed by kids doing kid things out of sight of their parents.

"Through my training and experience as a sexual assault investigator young boys at the ages of 7 and 9 are prime candidates for sexual predators."

The police just can’t seem to stop profiling. DeAngelo’s mindset is the same one that tells us that, because young black males are disproportionately likely to commit crimes, all young black males are suspect. That of course is absurd. Even if it’s true that boys between the ages of seven and nine are more likely than other people to be victims of sexual assault, sexual assault against children is still an extreme rarity. DeAngelo’s theory holds that Smith and Pembleton’s kids meeting with no harm whatsoever was just dumb luck, when in fact it was almost a sure thing. I’d have put money on it, given the chance.

Like the case of the Meitiv children in Maryland, this one is just a single piece of a far larger puzzle. Put them all together and we find a vast expansion of state power at the expense of parents, children and families, ironically justified by the largely specious claim of protecting children.

In all but fairly rare instances, the state is far worse at judging what’s best for children than are parents. Parents know their children, know what they’re capable of and what they aren’t. The huge majority of parents make decisions every day based on that knowledge, and the huge majority of those decisions are responsible ones.

By contrast, state authorities have little knowledge of the people they deal with. They come into contact with them on an ad hoc basis and make decisions with at best imperfect information about the people and behaviors involved. And, like the hammer and the nail, child welfare personnel have extremely limited options for dealing with the situations they encounter. Officer DeAngelo is a prime example of exactly that. Letting your kids play at a beach with other adults and a lifeguard on duty is a crime? Really? DeAngelo is a police officer; that means she tends to interpret behavior as criminal. A CPS caseworker would likely see the same behavior and call it child abuse or neglect. But none of that makes the behavior either criminal or child abuse.

Our federal government pays states to take children from parents. It pays them again to have them adopted. Federal money encourages police and child welfare authorities to see problems where there are none. The inevitable result is overreaching by the state into family life, which in turn means the breakdown of families which are the backbone of the state. Put simply, that doesn’t make sense.

But it’s what we’re doing. Every day. Many times a day.

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