It’s Too Easy to Charge Normal Parents as “Negligent,” Says Study

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The Family  Defense Center in Chicago defends families being torn apart by pointless yet devastating Child Protective Services investigations. Families like Natasha’s. Remember her story? Natasha let her kids, 11, 9 and 5, play in the park literally across the street from her home, where she could peer out at them every 10 minutes. But a pre-school teacher saw the kids unsupervised, worried, and called the cops. Natasha was found guilty of neglect by virtue of the fact her oldest boy has Attention Deficit Disorder and was therefore not considered responsible enough to watch his younger brothers.

As if:

1 – The younger brothers needed monitoring.

2 – Anyone with Attention Deficit is so compromised as to be useless.

3 – The situation was so dangerous, only concerted supervision was enough to keep the kids safe.

4 – A half hour is too long for any kids to be on their own.

5 – A mother’s decision about her children’s safety can be legally trumped by a passerby, as well as by the system designed to “protect” children from harm….but not the harm caused to a mom who then finds herself on the “Child Abuse and Neglect Registry” and unable to find a job.

This is the kind of case that pushed the Defense Center to take a step back and study the basic issues of who gets to report on parents, and what criteria are used to determine negligence. And, long story short, the Center found that it is too easy for any onlooker to cry “BAD PARENT!” and there is too much ambiguity as to what constitutes “endangering” kids. In other words:

Instead of protecting children and strengthening parent capacity, the child welfare system too often oversteps its authority and intervenes inappropriately in families’ lives, with devastating consequences. This intervention frequently occurs when children are left alone for short periods of time. Why do parents leave their children alone? Parents may decide to leave children alone, reasoning that their child is ready for more independence. Parents may also decide to leave children alone because of a specific urgent matter or errand….

The range of cases that may come to the attention of child welfare authorities is so broad that child abuse reporters, parents, and their advocates, as well as judges and policy makers are unable to clearly and consistently use existing law and policy to distinguish reasonable parenting from child neglect. The child welfare system’s ambiguous standards are challenging for everyone, including the most conscientious parent who is left incapable of determining where his or her conduct falls on the spectrum of acceptable parenting.

This is what we are up against as Free-Range Parents: We think our kids can have some unsupervised time…but what will the authorities think?

The Center’s suggestions are simple: We need bright line guidelines as to what constitutes neglect, so everyone knows what the rules are. And we need to be less trigger happy when creating those guidelines. Lawmakers need to remember that kids do not need perfect parenting — whatever that is — to be just fine. As the Center’s report concludes, after listing many cases as egregious as Natasha’s:

The number of mistaken and harmful investigations would be reduced dramatically by: creating a clear presumption in favor of reasonable parents; demanding proof of a blatant disregard of parental duties of care; simplifying the applicable guidelines; training investigators; and making sure that DCFS investigators, supervisors, and Administrative Law Judges are aware of and properly applying the rules.

Amen to all this, especially assuming that most parents are trying to do their best. And they probably care a lot more about their kids than passersby dialing 911.

By the way, you can donate to the Family Defense Center here. – L

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The Family Defense Center report says: Let's give parents the benefit of the doubt before crying "negligence!

The Family Defense Center report says: Let’s give parents the benefit of the doubt before crying “negligence!

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26 Responses to It’s Too Easy to Charge Normal Parents as “Negligent,” Says Study

  1. Donald August 13, 2015 at 2:10 am #

    We just had a story of how desperate a teen can get to see the world. She’s so desperate that she threw cation to the wind and climbed into a stranger’s van that she met on Facebook!

    Now we’re saying that parents that allow their children freedom to develop responsibility are negligent?

  2. sexhysteria August 13, 2015 at 3:07 am #

    If a neglectful parent is the wife of a police officer, social worker, judge, etc., no charges will be filed against her.

  3. lollipoplover August 13, 2015 at 8:18 am #

    “Natasha was found guilty of neglect by virtue of the fact her oldest boy has Attention Deficit Disorder and was therefore not considered responsible enough to watch his younger brothers.”

    What about all of the adults living and parenting with ADHD? Are they neglectful too?
    Approximately 4.4% of the adult population in the United States has ADHD. That’s about 8 million adults.

    And I can’t for the life of me figure out why we are criminalizing kids playing at parks when our agencies can’t even get child abuse right. Domestic violence and physical abuse of children should be the priority, not these fishing schemes that punish good parents. The 11 yo son of my late friend brought child abuse charges against his father last year after being physically abused, but the courts dismissed the charges. The father called the violence “parenting” and the courts concurred (so throwing a child down a flight of wooden steps is parenting. Got it.) The courts didn’t believe this child. Now, he (and his brothers) are orphans as a result of a violent murder suicide. For an agency dedicated to children, they certainly don’t respect them(or listen to them) very much.

  4. Bill Dyszel August 13, 2015 at 8:54 am #

    What gives these “authorities” this much authority? What’s needed more than a bright line on parent’s conduct is a bright line on agency authority. It’s clearly prone to abuse.

    I hope the Defense Center can raise the issue to a matter of constitutional rights.

  5. Maggie August 13, 2015 at 10:05 am #

    What’s bizarre is all the societal contradictions.

    An 11 yr old girl with ADD can go to Planned Parenthood and get birth control without parental consent.

    But according to the law, schools, society, and CPS, she is:

    Too young to consent to sex
    Too young to be carry Midol in her bag to self-medicate for her period
    Too young to babysit other children
    Too young to be allowed to play basketball in her backyard unsupervised
    Too young to walk to school by herself

    I’m not dissing giving out birth control, but it seems if she is old enough to make her own decisions about reproduction, she is certainly old enough to walk to school, babysit, and self-medicate for cramps.

  6. marie August 13, 2015 at 10:10 am #

    “What’s needed more than a bright line on parent’s conduct is a bright line on agency authority.”

    This is exactly right.

  7. theresa hall August 13, 2015 at 10:38 am #

    lets face it these so called experts in child care wouldn’t know real abuse if it smack them upside the head.

  8. Havva August 13, 2015 at 11:16 am #

    I also agree with Bill Dyszel “What’s needed more than a bright line on parent’s conduct is a bright line on agency authority. It’s clearly prone to abuse.”

    I don’t really think if we got ‘bright lines’ they would be right for the needs of children. Most of society for most of human history has agree that somewhere around 4 or 5 kids reach the point of being able to go places with other kids about the same age, and be near home but out of sight. Thus the reason for the ages that school starts…so the kids could walk there themselves. … Yet my county drew it’s bright line at age 8 saying that a kid couldn’t be unattended for any amount of time even in their own yard until then.

    I also think most of the long standing neglect laws are fine. Most say something about “substantial risk of harm.” The problem is we (as a society) are allowing our courts to skip lightly over the step of proving that pesky little “substantial risk of harm” portion of the neglect statutes. I don’t think for a minute that a normal 6 year old walking to the park or a 5 year old playing with 9 and 11 year old siblings across the street from home are facing “substantial risk of harm.” But our society is content to assume that children, even sometimes teens, are completely incompetent and helpless, and that being unattended (even with immediate access to help) is as likely to result in harm as dropping them in a pool with a ravenous shark and no swim lessons.

  9. Timothy Alexander August 13, 2015 at 11:31 am #

    The issue, from my point of view, is government attempts to create a one size fits all laws. There are kids who live close by me that are not free-range, they are feral, and the parents are absolutely neglectful. Laws are often created based on false logic… i.e. bad parents do x, so all parents that do x are bad parents. The result is good parents become criminals because of a superficial appearance of exhibiting the same behavior as bad parents.

  10. Andrea August 13, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    “Laws are often created based on false logic… i.e. bad parents do x, so all parents that do x are bad parents. The result is good parents become criminals because of a superficial appearance of exhibiting the same behavior as bad parents.”

    I 100% agree with this and think that this is the main problem with all of this. People are notorious for this logic fail.

    If I woke up 3 times in the middle of the night for a year to nurse my children, go out of my way to make sure that they eat fruits and vegetables and healthy foods and don’t eat lots of junk food, wrestle to get mineral sunscreen on their skin before they go outside, spent a full day researching car seats to find the safest ones and had them professionally installed, and my 6 year old is still in a 5-pt harness, but suddenly I’m negligent and don’t care about their safety because I think it’s okay to them in the car unattended for 7 minutes or let them walk 4 blocks to the park without me? How does that make any sense? The lack of critical thinking in this country makes my head hurt.

  11. Reziac August 13, 2015 at 12:20 pm #

    Remember these incidents next time you hear of some case of “animal abuse/neglect” — because 99.9% of the time, the accuser is some ignorant passerby with little or no knowledge of either animal husbandry or the individual situation, but that doesn’t stop them from being a busybody. Yet the same rules apply as with CPS — any unsupported accusation is as good as a conviction.

  12. MomOf8 August 13, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

    Even having guidelines is a little iffy. I wonder how they will be determined and if we’ll lose some of our freedom to decide what’s best for our kids. Hopefully they’ll err on the side of free range and clamp down on do-gooders. Wouldn’t it be great if people could be prosecuted for wasting police time? Oh, wait…

  13. A reader August 13, 2015 at 12:40 pm #

    My husband has ADHD, am I neglectful if I leave the kids in his care? I was babysitting at 11, for crying out loud, and that wasn’t even so long ago (I’m in my late 20s). Seeing some of the stories on this blog has made me automatically suspect anyone who works for child services. There was a CPS social worker who was killed in Vermont earlier this week by the mother of a child who had recently been taken away. While it’s now pretty clear that the mother is completely unhinged and probably did deserve to lose custody (she’s suspected of killing her aunt and two cousins the day before going after the social worker), my immediate thought when I first heard the story was I wonder what this social worker did to this mom and her kid. The news outlets have curiously omitted what, exactly, was the reason for the child being removed from the home, and frankly, absent such facts, I side with the parent until I know more. And I feel terrible for thinking this, because the social worker, no matter how terrible, didn’t deserve to die and her children don’t deserve to be without a mother, but I did feel a tiny twinge of “no sympathy for you, you child-snatching government thug”. Because frankly, the current culture is such that CPS workers are thugs until proven otherwise.

  14. kate August 13, 2015 at 12:57 pm #

    I am not sure we can draw a bright line. As we have seen many times, what we on this site see as perfectly normal, safe activities are seen by others as neglectful parenting. We cannot write a rule that will cover every situation. Somehow many in our society cannot see the difference between leaving a helpless infant in the car for 2 hours on a 90 degree day and leaving an 8 year old in the car for 20 minutes on a 70 degree day.

    I don’t know what the answer is but it is not more regulations.

    I still cannot believe that guidlines that have been appropriate for generations are suddenly deemed dangerous. We all look back at our upbringing and wonder how mores of this country have changed. There are many intertwined culprits implicated in this change. Constant media attention to tragedies, smaller families, less intergenerational contact, more parents working full time….

  15. samantha August 13, 2015 at 12:57 pm #

    And yet, six children who were pulled from their home because they were in danger were sent home after zero investigations and were murdered.

    And my BIL has ADD and Aspergers. He used to watch my husband (his younger brother) all the time as children. Both are still very alive and the only injuries sustained during those babysitting times were what happens when two brothers get together and decide to play physically. They are both Judo Black Belts today after their practice on each other!

  16. Dhewco August 13, 2015 at 3:16 pm #

    Every time we discuss this, I’m reminded of Louis CK’s story about the time his dog somehow ate dark chocolate. His vet had told him that the only way to save the dog was to use peroxide to cause the dog to puke up the chocolate before it’s digested. Unfortunately he didn’t have any at home and he took the dog to the pharmacy. It’s impossible to get dogs to calmly drink it, so he was forced to shove the peroxide down the dog’s throat and the dog really fought him on it. To outsiders, it looked like animal abuse (the dog probably thought so, too. heh) but he was saving the dog’s life.

    People assume other people intend bad things. News stories reinforce this with the emphasis on bad events. These passers-by want to help, but not enough to fiind out what’s really going on. They make quick calls and disappear thinking they’ve interfered positively in someone else’s life and they didn’t even have to miss their shows to do it! heh.

  17. J.T. Wenting August 13, 2015 at 3:52 pm #

    “We just had a story of how desperate a teen can get to see the world. She’s so desperate that she threw cation to the wind and climbed into a stranger’s van that she met on Facebook!

    Now we’re saying that parents that allow their children freedom to develop responsibility are negligent?

    of course. The parents were negligent to allow her to leave the house for even a second without them holding her hand…

    Was signed, CPS.

  18. Donald August 13, 2015 at 6:16 pm #

    “What gives these “authorities” this much authority? What’s needed more than a bright line on parent’s conduct is a bright line on agency authority. It’s clearly prone to abuse.”

    Nobody granted them the authority. It just grew like wild like an invasive plant such as bamboo. It’s keeps going and even the bureaucrat’s themselves have a hard time trying to hinder this growth. It’s a bit like the movie, ‘The Sorcerers Apprentice.’ Mickey Mouse made the brooms carry water for him. However the brooms kept bring more water even though Mickey was in danger of drowning!

    More can be read on these pages.

    http://www.onmysoapboxx.com/robot
    http://www.onmysoapboxx.com/

  19. Vicky August 14, 2015 at 7:32 am #

    Exactly. CPS/DCF are two of the most evil government programs we allow to continually harm the populace. Planned Parenthood kills the body, CPS/DCF kills everything else. They were created out of a real need to protect severely abused and neglected children from cruel business’s that employed them and their parents. Now that we have laws and regulations in place that do that, coupled with a hyper sensitivity and awareness of the general public, this gestapo with with it’s SS soldiers is no longer needed.
    It’s main purpose and reason for existing has become creating false scenarios that show it’s existence is critical.

  20. Beth August 14, 2015 at 8:32 am #

    @Vicky, Planned Parenthood also provides birth control, STD treatment, cancer screenings, and general maternal health care.

    But I guess you don’t want all THAT nonsense going on.

  21. Emily August 14, 2015 at 8:34 am #

    About the argument that the older boy idn’t safe to watch his siblings because he has ADHD, whatever happened to telling kids with ADHD and other learning disabilities that they’re still normal, and they can do anything they put their minds to?

  22. JP Merzetti August 15, 2015 at 10:28 am #

    I think far too many people – including the relatively small number of professional child – savers….lose sight of the most important and salient fact in all this mayhem:
    The children themselves.
    Much focus is placed on the (so-called) errant parent, or parents. They get all the press. Their lives are the ones looked at, examined, analyzed, read about, glanced into on tv, bandied about in the press.

    But the kids themselves are often shoved to the back burner. The negative impact this nonsense has on the kids themselves, becomes curiously invisible.
    I have heard far too many people from far and distant lands reiterate the same responses, often asking the same question, over and over.
    “But – don’t you people actually love your children?” And this question is asked not specifically in a familial kind of way….but in a societal kind of way.
    And of course the obvious answer to that question is always the same.
    “Well….yeah, we do. But we seem to love something else more, and I’m not quite sure what that is, anymore.”

    And that’s a rather sad, pathetic answer, isn’t it?

    Because the love, honor and respect due to children is missing, when ideologies move in and take over, and completely eclipse the automatic compassion that should be there – if not for the intact family as a whole, including parents……then at least for defenceless and innocent children.

    “Oh but it is!” I hear, over and over. And I don’t believe it.
    They forget one supreme thing. A child’s worst nightmare is the threat of separation from what is known, loved, trusted. This is not rocket science.
    But apparently the professional savers need the brains of a quantum physicist to figure it out.

    I’m constantly amazed – at this narco-utopian hardline ‘tough-love’ approach to anything that doesn’t live up to adolescent ideals of perfection. This stupefying need to punish anything that appears flawed.

    What is the ‘new’ normal? Every state, county, and muncipal locality has its own definition.
    Heaven help the kids trying to grow up and figure out what that is.

  23. Stacey August 16, 2015 at 5:53 am #

    If already posted, my apologies. However, maybe a reminder wouldn’t hurt? Global Parenting Habits That Haven’t Caught On In The U.S.

    http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2014/08/12/339825261/global-parenting-habits-that-havent-caught-on-in-the-u-s

  24. Diana H. August 16, 2015 at 3:28 pm #

    This is so true! Political correctness is making everything “illegal”. The thing that is the most troublesome is most people aren’t aware, because chances are you won’t be charged. What should scare us though is according to the law something you are doing would be deemed “illegal”.

  25. Michael Chermside August 17, 2015 at 9:33 am #

    The title and a line or two in the posting describe there being a study which led to some (hopefully not just anecdotal) conclusions. But you do not include a link to the study… could that be added?

  26. Curious August 23, 2015 at 9:13 am #

    Attention Deficit Disorder? What is the matter with these people? Seems like half the world–in the USA–is add or AADD. Or MAD.

    This is the problem with labeling people, writ large. The label amounts to tarring people with a very broad brush. And the label follows the poor kid all his or her life.

    I know an adult with Aspergers–several, actually–and the only value of the label is in getting a treatment plan that includes a “tax-supported” training component. And some behavioral modification therapy which has been wonderfully supportive as well.

    But too much of the labeling is destructive. A woman I worked with, very bright and productive, had moved to our area, a mid-size Eastern city, as a nine year old child from Puerto Rico. She spoke no English and couldn’t read it either. She was tested by the local school on mainstream 4th grade tests and failed. She was branded “mentally deficient”–not ‘educationally”–and though she caught up, the label followed her all through the system, until she graduated from HS. And was on the transcript that was sent when she applied for college. Which was how she found out about it.

    What is a parent to do?

    Here is what we do. We do the best we can with what we’ve got. And sometimes it is with worn out hands and flagging spirits. With only our will to hold on, we hold on. As our parents did before us. And theirs before them.

    What about all those tough old birds that built this country? Some were immigrants enduring hardships. Some slaves. Some broke the prairie, and their backs in the process. Their blood flows in our veins. And their resilience in our DNA.

    So what right do wimpy self-righteous rule bound “authorities” have to label our kids and then use the labels to exclude them from being fully self-actualized?

    Many of my own ancestors were scouts in wars going back to the so-called “Indian Wars” along the borders, and in the Revolutionary War, and so on. Census records indicated that some of them could not read. Oral history confirms this. ADD? Maybe. But they were such good scouts that they lived decades longer than most of their peers, and then died in bed!

    You can bet your bottom dollar that the ones who built this country grew up “free range”.
    As recently as the 1930″s, in rural America, where most people lived until the huge exodus off the land into the cities during the Second World War, the family was “extended”, not “nuclear”, and kids worked their little tails off, and supervision of kids was by all the interested adults in the vicinity, and there were no high and mighty authorities telling kids they couldn’t play outdoors.

    In fact, when I was little, the grown-ups used to holler at us, “Get out of here! Go outside! You’re getting on my nerves! Go play in traffic!!!” We lived in the city, and there was traffic!

    Amazingly, we did not have our precious little egos shattered and all wind up on the psychiatrists’ couches. Nor were our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, second cousins, and family friends thrown in the local lock-up for gross neglect and child abuse.

    I am not opposed to Child Protective Services. My favorite niece is a Child Protective Social Worker in Houston, a tough job that she is wonderfully good at. She has two extraordinary kids and would be the first to say that the parent is the final authority, not the all-powerful STATE.

    Except in EXTREME CIRCUMSTANCES. Which are very, very rare, And nothing so far makes the recent Chicago case fit that description.

    So, good luck, best wishes and Godspeed to the Family Defense Center. We need more of you, and less of them.