April 5, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Two weeks ago, the State of Utah struck a blow for sanity (The Hill, 3/30/18). By “sanity,” I mean “free-range parenting.” That’s right, the state legislature passed, and the governor signed into law, amendments to various state statutes allowing parents to give their kids a bit of freedom. Unsurprisingly, the ever-excellent Lenore Skenazy, who started the “free-range kids” movement, was a force behind getting the new law passed.
What the new law specifically does is redefine “neglect.”
(c) "Neglect" does not include:
310 (i) a parent or guardian legitimately practicing religious beliefs and who, for that
311 reason, does not provide specified medical treatment for a child;
312 (ii) a health care decision made for a child by the child's parent or guardian, unless the
313 state or other party to a proceeding shows, by clear and convincing evidence, that the health
314 care decision is not reasonable and informed;
315 (iii) a parent or guardian exercising the right described in Section 78A-6-301.5; or
316 (iv) 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.
This blog post focusses on lines 316 – 325. They’re the “free-range” parts of the new law. The law sensibly connects children’s activities that can’t be considered neglect to the child’s age and maturity. Based on those two considerations, it is now beyond the power of child welfare authorities and the police to interfere with children’s freedom and parents’ right to parent. Children can now walk to the park and play outside. It’s the law.
Now, needless to say, it’s a sign of the times that such a law needed to even be considered, much less passed. But like it or not, those are the times in which we live. The Hill article lists a few recent instances in which parents were abused, threatened and even arrested essentially because they failed to hover close to their children 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The simple truth is that children need the freedom to explore their environments, to experiment with all sorts of things, to interact with other kids and the flora and fauna around them. That freedom means they’ll make mistakes and sometimes be harmed in the process. Those are all necessary parts of growing up. It is abuse to deny them that freedom. Let me say it again; it is abuse to deny them that freedom. They can never learn to negotiate the many vicissitudes of life in this world without the learning that comes from experiences had without an adult nearby.
So one virtue of the new Utah statute is that it encourages that freedom and the maturity it engenders in kids.
Another is that the new law is expressly a limitation on the power of the state. It’s everywhere lauded as being in children’s interests, which of course it is. But it’s also frankly an expression by the legislature that child welfare officials need to leave well enough alone. They need to spend their time on kids who are actually being abused or neglected, not ones who have parents who are smart enough to give them age-appropriate freedom and expect them to exercise the responsibility that goes with it.
Finally, it’s too much to believe that this law will dramatically change behavior, either of parents or of child welfare caseworkers. After all, there are still countless “mandated reporters” who are required by law to report even the suggestion of abuse or neglect. And of course there are the invariable busybodies – neighbors, acquaintances, passersby, etc. – who are always ready to cry “Abuse!” to CPS. They likely neither know about the new law nor care.
Plus, the law’s stipulation that the listed activities depend on a child’s age and maturity opens the door to overzealous child welfare officials to interfere in parental decision-making on the theory that such-and-such an activity wasn’t age-appropriate to such-and-such a child. There’s plenty of wiggle room if the state wants to ignore the plain intent of the law.
But all that said, the law is a needed step toward sanity. It helps to keep the state out of family life and, in the process, relieves parents of some anxiety, gives them more power in court should the need arise and, best of all, increases kids’ freedom to be kids.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.