Kids Play Outside, Child Protective Services Comes Calling

Readers – Before you read this, let me say that I am eagerly awaiting a call later today from a lawyer whose organization fights for parents’ rights to raise their kids as they see fit, so long as they aren’t hurting them. In the meantime, here’s why we need a group like that:

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I’m having a hard day, and wanted to touch base with you.

I still send my kids to the playground down the street regularly (for the record, it is 350 meters from my house… not exactly far). Nothing around here has changed.

Unfortunately, last week, my kids were at the playground on their own, as usual, when one of the local cops was in the area following up on a call about some creepy guy hanging around the playground. Now, I’m not sure if anyone called specifically about my kids (I did suspect as much at first, but now I’m not so sure), but he did notice them, and after investigating a little, including trying to call myself, my husband, and our roommate (none of whom answered, due to the “blocked” label on the call display, and the fact that two of us were working), he eventually brought them home. Now, Alberta law states that if the police are involved in anything to do with children, that a report must be filed with Children’s Services, regardless of the personal beliefs of the officer (once he was informed about our parenting style, he fully understood, and was fine with it… was mostly concerned about the creepy guy).

 Well, I got the dreaded call this afternoon, and it’s really taking the wind out of my sails. I had a lovely (read: firm) discussion with the worker on the phone, that ultimately ended with her not knowing what to say to me, and stating “we’ll have to continue this conversation later”. I informed her that my opinion would not change, but she repeated the last statement, and ended the call.

 I know in my heart and in my head that I have done nothing wrong, but when Children’s Services has a habit of labeling parents based on next-to-no information, to the point of removing the children with no just cause, I can’t help but get a little stressed out about it… especially when I work (both paid, and volunteer) with children, and this could potentially put a big ol’ black mark on my background check.

 I will fight with all my heart and soul for my right to raise my children Free-Range. I will not by stopped by this. I will not live in fear. But I might need some help with that fight.

I’m thinking I should start compiling resources that support my stance, both legally, and scientifically, in case I need them later. I know at least in Alberta, there is no legally-binding “magic age”, despite the crap that she kept spouting on the phone (“we believe that children under 12 should not be left to supervise younger children”, “we believe that 8 is not old enough…” etc etc), but I would like to make sure I have that in black-and-white. I’ve read most of Dr Peter Gray’s blog, and will definitely include a lot of that in my collection. Are you aware of other resources that I could take advantage of? I know there’s others, I just can’t think straight at the moment.

I appreciate you taking the time to read this, and I understand if you don’t have time to send anything other than moral support. I just needed to vent to someone who would understand.Thanks again – A.

Dear A. – First of all, we are ALL with you in that fight. Secondly, while it may feel like Child Protective Services is removing kids from decent homes all the time, I think the threat is far larger than the reality. Even at my perch here, I’ve only heard of a handful of cases (in the course of five years) when that happened. Investigations? Yes. Tense times and unwarranted misery? Yes. But child removal? Very rare.

Thirdly, I have a proposal in right now to work with a bigger organization than mine to draw up a list of “What age?” answers that I hope will be endorsed by a blue ribbon panel of experts, to the point where it DOES become admissible in court — and hung on every refrigerator. I will keep you and other readers apprised of that effort.

Finally, the main issue here is that this is not a case where CPS should be involved at all, which is one of the things Free-Range Kids exists to fight. It is not only our right as parents to raise our kids as we see fit and wholesome, it is also our KIDS’ right to play outside, unsupervised. As the wonderful Peter Gray you are reading also taught ME, play is crucial to making kids into decent adults. Every generation until the current one has been allowed to play on their own, so considering it wrong is a RADICAL new outlook on childhood. Unsupervised play is not a crime, it’s not unduly dangerous, it’s a lot healthier than just sitting “safe” inside.  – L

Let’s keep this legal! (Photo by shyam, via Flickr)

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55 Responses to Kids Play Outside, Child Protective Services Comes Calling

  1. Natalie June 6, 2013 at 10:04 am #

    Fist pump!

  2. librarian June 6, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    “I have a proposal in right now to work with a bigger organization than mine to draw up a list of “What age?” answers that I hope will be endorsed by a blue ribbon panel of experts, to the point where it DOES become admissible in court — and hung on every refrigerator. I will keep you and other readers apprised of that effort.”
    God bless you, Lenore! We SO need this.
    Most kids I know in NYC, in the 7 to 10 age group, are convinced that it’s ILLEGAL for them to be outside on their own. Don’t know where they get this from…but it would be nice to have the facts. Just had this talk with my own 7.5 year old yesterday.
    Mind you, I don’t think my kid, personally, is ready to navigate our (safe and delightful) Morningside Heights neighborhood by herself – mostly, because she is not paying enough attention to her surroundings, and can easily bump into people or stand in someone’s way… But that’s a completely different issue.

  3. Selby June 6, 2013 at 10:19 am #

    So the kids were doing their job – playing at the playground, and the cop was doing his job – keeping an eye on the playground for suspicious activity. Sounds like civilization right? Wrong. Because at some point in the history of civilization, the children playing at the playground HAVE BECOME the suspicious activity for the police to keep an eye on and ultimately blame the parent for. And that is seriously f’d up….

  4. Warren June 6, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    This mother cooperated with the initial phone call, and by the sounds of it the agency is not satisfied with the answers given to them. That they will be calling again or further investigating. So to protect herself, her child, it is time to get the lawyer involved, and to answer all inquiries with “you can address that with my attorney”.

    Now, as far as the rule that anytime kids are involved with the police, that child protective must be involved, is bullshit.
    If a trained police officer sees nothing wrong with situation, why MUST it go any further? Then again why would a cop think he needs to investigate kids playing in a park?

  5. forsythia June 6, 2013 at 10:46 am #

    I think it is time to also reach out to other parent organizations with a vested interest in keeping child welfare out of parenting when parenting is not dangerous. (such as homeschooling groups). Also, Alberta has a lot of mouthy politicians who make much noise about getting government out of people’s lives and government agencies not wasting money. Perhaps they should be put to good use, too.

  6. Kelly S June 6, 2013 at 11:00 am #

    I think overall this is redicuous. However I do have one concern/question. If her children were not being watched/inside/whatever…shouldn’t someone answer the phone regardless of whether or not the number is blocked? stupid accidents happen all the time, and being able to contact a parent I would think would be important.

  7. DJ June 6, 2013 at 11:21 am #

    I’m with Kelly on answering the phone call. If my kids are out and about without us, I answer no matter what the caller ID says. They don’t have their own cell phones yet (they don’t need them on a regular basis) but they have, upon occasion, truly needed to call me and borrowed someone’s phone. Plus, in the rare case of an accident, I would want to know ASAP.

  8. Are we there yet? June 6, 2013 at 11:21 am #

    as i posted on the twitter machine – When enjoying public spaces is criminalized, criminals will be the only ones having fun. Is that what we want?

    Lenore has opened my eyes to this idea that we need more kids in our parks and playgrounds and streets, not fewer. Adults too. The percentage of creeps is a constant, it’s the percentage of everyone else using public space that has gone down. We need to take back our public spaces.

  9. Christine June 6, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    I just wanted to comment to the poster that I am also in Alberta, and we also send our children to the park by themselves (and they are younger than 8). I have looked into our laws, and they are very vague. I find it hard because my fears are never about abduction, or creepy people, but about some other parent calling the cops and child services getting involved. I have had a heck of a time finding other families who support free range, and depend solely on my family to keep me grounded. I would be very interested in hearing the outcome of your situation and support you in any way I can!

  10. Emily June 6, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    This is nuts, especially when CPS (or the equivalent–it’s the Children’s Aid Society in Canada) has removed children from their homes when their parents have let them become obese. Some people say that this is unfair, because not every family can afford organized sports, and a lot of the time, organized sports involve a lot of lag time–discussing strategy in peewee football or soccer, waiting your turn to bat in Little League, waiting for your turn to walk across the balance beam or cartwheel to the end of the mat in gymnastics, etc. So, naturally, outdoor play fills in that gap, because it’s free, unstructured, and studies have shown that it’s better exercise than organized sports, because kids don’t bother with the “standing around and talking” parts nearly as much on their own. Even if people don’t have proper backyards, playgrounds are built specifically for children to have a safe place to play outside in an open-ended manner……so, it makes no sense that the authorities would criminalize parents for actually letting their kids use these spaces. I know, I know, they’re going to say that parents should be supervising their kids at the playground, but it’s not a clear-cut case of black and white. Instead of immediately calling the parents, I think the police should have, at the very most, asked the kids, “Do you know your way home?” Better yet, it would have been better to just pause, make sure the kids looked happy and not distressed in any way, and if they did, move on.

  11. Warren June 6, 2013 at 11:42 am #


    When my kids are out of the house I do not answer blocked numbers, because I do not answer blocked numbers normally. I am not going to assume that every blocked number is a cop’s cellphone calling about an emergency. Besides, the kids were only 350m from home, shouting distance for me. For our american friends, for most purposes of estimating distance one meter is close enough to one yard.

    So I put it to you……….if a cop is going to use his phone to contact people, why have the number blocked? In the event of emergencies, not having the number blocked would solve any issue.

  12. Selby June 6, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    BTW, how did the cop get the parents’ #?

  13. Emily June 6, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    @Selby–The police probably asked the kids for their parents’ phone number, and it didn’t occur to them to refuse or lie.

  14. Lauren June 6, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    A friend of mine is going through this RIGHT NOW. She loves living in an RV with her four kids because of the flexibility it affords, and lets her kids played around the trailer on their own while she’s inside, because she can still hear them right outside her tiny home! But, of course some RV Park lady called CPS on her and now she has to convince everyone that there is nothing illegal about her way of life! How frustrating.

  15. Warren June 6, 2013 at 12:40 pm #


    My kids would live at the trailer park in a heartbeat. Lake, beach, pool, playground, and all the free range kids you can count.
    We lived at our trailer for three months, June to labour day. Bad timing of occupancy of our new home to closing of our old. The kids, the dogs, everyone loved it.

  16. Les June 6, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    I’m with Warren on the phone call. It is not appropriate for a police officer to use a phone with a blocked number when calling on official business. Citizens have a right to know that it’s the cops calling.

  17. Barbara June 6, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    I am one of the leading “free range” parents in the area. I have neighbors threatening me because my kids play outside unsupervised and take care of themselves at home when I have somewhere to be. They are 11, 10, and 9 yrs old and very responsible. I never want to see a “what age” law put on the books! Let me parent my kids and stay out of my business. My kids are light years more capable, independent and self-aware than 98% of the children of the ‘helicopter’ parents around her. I have always refused to raise my children in fear of the world. My children have been taught, no..grilled on various scenarios that could happen out in the world and they now instinctively KNOW what to do if the sense anything amiss. I could go on for pages on the damage being done to the future generations by overprotective, hovering parents, but I don’t think there’s enough webpage space. Just know, I am with you all here!

  18. EricS June 6, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

    This day and age has produced too many “holier than thou” attitudes. Now I understand the concerns of others. But it’s too much and unwarranted these days. And more and more people just seem to have this smug attitude that they no better than most. How do you know better than generations upon generations of past experiences of child rearing? When they alone, grew up like most of us, FREE-RANGE.

    It should go back to the way things were. Keep an eye out, yes. Without a doubt. But stick your nose out of other people’s business when there is no need to be sticking it in. Example: Kids are outside playing on their own, having a great time. Literally, no danger anywhere. Stick your nose out of it. But if you see kids getting harassed, bullied, or a real honest to goodness threat is about, then yes…involve yourself. That’s how it was always done before. And it’s always been tried, tested and true. Don’t fix what isn’t broke. Because most times, you ended up trying to put it back together, and it never turns out the same. Worse more times than not.

    As in this case, a nosey neighbor just made things worse than they should be for this family. Most cops I come across when children are on their own (walking from school, or playing in a playground), just keep an eye, and move on. But there are a few (we are only human), that falls prey to the fear many parents do, and become that nosey busy body. It’s just a mental state many have become conditioned to one way or another. They can be reconditioned to be more logical, with common sense being reintegrated into society.

  19. Aubrey June 6, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    Please don’t draw up a list of “what age” answers that could be accepted by the courts. That is taking discretion away from the parents, because (as you well know) every child is different. What is okay for my 8yo is not okay for the 8yo down the street, no matter what the “experts” say. Parents are the only experts when it comes to their own kids.

  20. S June 6, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    She’s in Canada, but for the U.S. at least, latch key kids has a home alone by state list. (I’m not sure if this would apply to unsupervised at the local park; provided you are home while they are at the local park, they are not “home alone.”). Now, some of these are LEGAL requirements and some (with the *) are just “guidelines”. CPS will often have “guidelines” that are not a legal requirements, but could be cause for nose-poking if you violate them. For instance, Virginia has no legal age, yet when I lived there, our county had CPS “guidelines” that said you should not leave any child alone – even in your own backyard – under the age of 8. Under the age of 12, don’t leave them alone for more than 1 or 2 hours. And no leaving them alone overnight under the age of 18. Sucks to be a 17-year-old college student, I guess! Amazing – in Florida, the guideline is no leaving them alone under the age of 18!!

    Anyway, here is a link to the U.S. list, if links show up here:

  21. Kelly S June 6, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    Why would the number be blocked?

    Quick answer, because they don’t want everyone they may have to call on a simple routine call to be able to call them directly at any other time.

  22. Alex R. June 6, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    I agree with Aubrey above. A list is a good idea, but it should have an age range rather than an exact age. I should note that I have the parenting experience to back this up; one of my children matured much more quickly than the other child – she was capable of intelligent and mature behaviours at a much younger age than the other kid.

  23. Les June 6, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    @Kelly S— Tough crap. If the police are calling on official business, they do not have a right to privacy.

  24. forsythia June 6, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    Kelly S: you can still block the number but identify yourself.

    If the police are using these phones for official business, they better damn well be identifiable!

  25. Lisa June 6, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

    I posted a question just a bit ago on Facebook asking about letting my 9-year-old go to playpark and the pool by himself. I was asking because I needed an unbiased opinion as I am an introvert and the thought of doing those things as a child would have put me into a panic attack, but most people were freaking out because “He could get kidnapped! I don’t even let my preteen go out by himself!” And that’s when I realized I’m different from most parents.

  26. lollipoplover June 6, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Parents are the only experts when it comes to their own kids.

    Kids hit milestones at different ages (such as independently playing outside) so there is absolutely no basis for child services to be involved here.

    How this SHOULD have gone, if this was a good community police officer:
    Officer receives report of creepy guy (why are all guys deemed creepy if they are around small children?) and checks it out. Notices children playing where creepy guy is reported. Tells children about creepy guy and waits at the park to make sure the boogeyman is not there. Why he asked to call the parents is beyond me- it has nothing to do with them. If he felt is was unsafe in any way, he could have asked the kids to go back home, made sure they arrived safely by following in the car.

    Children have a fundamental right to play outdoors freely. It’s why our country fights wars…for liberty.
    They were playing at a park, not lighting fireworks off in subway tunnels.

    Police should commend kids who play at the park- getting exercise and building friendships (and community) keeps kids out of trouble. Calling their parents, entangling families in the hellish Child Services, and depleting their family resources on legal fees (when it could be spent in the community) creates trouble and breaks families apart.

  27. Orange Roughy June 6, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

    I miss seeing kids outside and I live in Sunny Southern California.

  28. Karen M June 6, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Florida’s latchkey age is 18! EIGHTEEN!?

    This is a horrendous thing to have happen to any parent and I hope it’s resolved quickly for you.

  29. Cin June 6, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    You know what, I want to agree with “parents are the experts on their own kids” …. but the helicopter parents completely disprove this theory.

    Maybe we should instead look at 2,000-plus years of recorded history instead.

  30. Watson S June 6, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    The police phone should identify as the police with a number for the main switchboard. It doesn’t have to link back to the individual cell phone.

    That said, if your kids are not at home, answer your damn phone regardless of the ID. The worst that could happen is that someone offers you West Jet miles and tries to get you to press 1.

  31. Michelle June 6, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    I went through something very similar late last year. For me it was the opposite, though — the cop was a total jerk, and CPS was understanding. In the end, my kids can still go to the park, but the youngest has to have an older sibling with her. That bugs me, because I think she’s old enough to meet her friends there, but at least she can go.

    I agree that a list of recommended ages is not necessarily a good thing. Yes, having no age is a double-edged sword, because parents get to decide what they think is right, but so does each individual cop and social worker. But, at the same time, I don’t want any of my kids stuck at home just because other kids aren’t ready yet.

    Kelly S., there is a third option besides a blocked number or giving out the officer’s direct line. When my husband calls home from work, the number on the caller ID is not his direct line; it goes to the switchboard. So what would be the problem if the caller ID reads My Town Police Department with a phone number for the front desk? Surely the public is allowed that number!

    Lisa, I would definitely let a 9yo go to the park alone. I might let him go to the pool if he’s a strong swimmer, there’s a lifeguard, and the pool doesn’t have a rule against it. Our local pool is private, with no lifeguard and hardly ever any other people there. The official rule is that you have to be 16 to go without an adult. Still, when my kids are that age (in a couple of years), I’ll want them to take a friend or sibling. Swimming in pairs or groups is just safer.

  32. Maggie June 6, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    The city pool in my Kansas town doesn’t require a parent or guardian to stay at the pool for children 8 and older. If 8 yos can go to the pool alone, they ought to be able to play at the park alone.

  33. Kerry June 6, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    A. – You’re not alone. I recently had a neighbor (whose child plays with my child) threaten to call CPS on me for letting my 3-year-old play outside in our yard “unsupervised”. (This was the second time this neighbor had expressed concern about my son’s safety.) Now I feel uncomfortable in my own home because I worry that this neighbor is looking over my shoulder all the time. Mind you, I checked with several people I know who are either social workers or pediatricians and none of them thought I was crazy for letting my son play when I’m right inside the house.

  34. Puzzled June 6, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    The phrase “we’ll talk more about this later” is code for “get a lawyer.”

    Regarding phones – I wouldn’t like it if my job required me to use my cell phone and required me to display my number. Cops are human beings (mostly) and don’t want to be called at all hours with questions, complaints, suspicious reports, etc. The best solution is that police departments should have duty phones, or a simple system where the radio is patched to a phone – we had that system when I was in college for our campus EMS club. They really shouldn’t be making cops use minutes, anyway. Second best is that the cop can call into the station and patch – then the station number shows up.

    I don’t see how any of this would help, though – the parent wouldn’t know what to do with a random number any more than a blocked number, and the incoming number will never be 911 or whatever.

  35. Andy June 6, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    @Kelly S Those unlucky enough to have a lot salesman and advertisers calling them quite often do not answer blocked ids.

    I would not consider it so much irresponsible. If you would have to go through “pleasure” of getting rid of insistent salesman often, you would understand.

    Not picking up the phone is sometimes the only way to get rid of them.

  36. Judy June 6, 2013 at 2:53 pm #


    So if you are fearful of the neighbor, and have already consulted with social workers or pediatricians, at what point can you report the neighbor for harassment? Because that is completely what that is. And if she/he does call CPS, can you file a harassment complaint? Because that neighbor would be using government resources to harass someone which I do believe is filing a false report at least.

  37. Emily June 6, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    >>We lived at our trailer for three months, June to labour day. Bad timing of occupancy of our new home to closing of our old. The kids, the dogs, everyone loved it.<<

    Good thing that happened in the summer and not the winter. :)

  38. Kerry June 6, 2013 at 3:06 pm #


    Unfortunately, I don’t think I would have any legal recourse to report the neighbor. One thing I found out while researching the laws in my state is that anyone who believes a child is being abused or neglected is legally required to report it to CPS (not just police, social workers, etc. as in most states).

    On a personal level, I hope that this can be resolved more amicably than that anyway, since our kids like to play together. But I still can’t help wondering what else this neighbor might decide he’s ‘concerned’ about.

  39. Warren June 6, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    Next time hand the witch your phone and tell her to go ahead. Tell her to put up or shut up.

    Winter is just as fun, but with different activities.

    @Watson S
    Better yet, you come and answer the damn phone for me. I prefer to let my call answer do the work for me. Thank you very much

  40. Gene in L.A. June 6, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but I’m concerned by the compilation of “a list of ‘What age?’ answers.” Might such a list not be taken to the next level by an overzealous legal establishment and made mandatory? I hope the list will be clearly and unequivocally designated suggestions or recommendations. Children should be Free Range at whatever age their parents deem appropriate. Thanks for letting me vent.

  41. Jenny Islander June 6, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    Instead of age ranges, how about a list of prerequisites?

    If your child can walk without being tethered and not dart off impulsively, read the crosswalk sign, and identify the correct button to push, she can use a lighted crosswalk by herself.

    If she can walk without being tethered and not dart off impulsively, and tell you when traffic is slowing down, and always looks both ways before stepping into the crosswalk, then she can use an unlighted crosswalk or cross at a corner by herself.

    If she can read numbers, she can learn to operate a cell phone with your number taped to the back.

    If she can take herself potty, she can run around the park without you.

    If she can say politely, “That sounds cool but I have to call my mom first,” or loudly, “HEY, you’re not my MOM, I’m calling my MOM!” she’s good to go on her own.

    If she can use the crosswalk, operate a cell phone, take herself potty, and remember that she has to call Mom (Dad, Auntie, whoever) before going somewhere that wasn’t prearranged, she can go to the park alone or just with other kids.

  42. M.C. June 6, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

    Actually, I could name 1 child placement and four or five stressful investigations within 50 miles of kids from good homes. The problem in America is that there is NO LEGAL STANDING for children. They are not citizens, nor are they property. Child Abuse laws arose from animal abuse laws. The constitution and the supreme court say nothing on the subject of children (The Constitution I believe carries the default belief of children being property). Unfortunately, the states have used this to create a childhood police state. Governmental abuse of children is not only legal, but encouraged.

  43. Stephanie June 6, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    I can’t imagine dealing with that kind of situation. My kids don’t go alone to the park yet, but my older two wander all over while I watch the youngest. My older two could go on their own, but there’s never anyone for them to play with, it’s a long walk to get there, and too many local parents keep insisting that there are creeps there, hiding in the bathrooms. I’ve never seen any, but it makes it really hard to get other parents to let their kids go to the park without an adult.

  44. Kay June 6, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    Sometimes I have to take a break from this site every so often because I get too upset. We need more armor from stuff like this. I’m just waiting for my day. I hope your situation doesn’t get worse.

  45. Dmd June 6, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

    Obviously, kids playing in a park should be NORMAL behavior & mom should lawyer up to fight anything coming her way.

    On the phone thing, I hate caller ID for this very reason. Answer the phone. Say no Thank you & hang up if its a call you don’t want.

    I work for a large organization. When I call from my office phone it comes up as any number of things on a person’s cell phone. Sometimes a strange # somehow affiliated w/ our location (but no person is at that #); sometimes it says private; sometimes blocked; sometimes as any other person in my bldg that a person has put in their contacts. It’s so frustrating when I need to reach someone & they do t answer because it came up blocked. Answering might’ve saved this mom some headaches.

  46. Stephanie June 6, 2013 at 11:24 pm #

    Please don’t push a court-accepted age list through. As has already been pointed out it would, for one, take away a parents’ ability to legally make such decisions for their own children. Additionally, government authority, once given, is almost never given back. So maybe we do get a law that says “kids age 6 and over may do….”. What’s to keep that law from being modified to “age 10” and then “age 15”, for example? A law supposedly Free-Range friendly could so easily become a Free Range enemy down the road. It also lends legitimacy to the idea that the government should be making parenting decisions. A very scary slope.

  47. Katia June 7, 2013 at 12:25 am #

    I have heard stories of overzealous CPS workers removing children from good homes and wasting resources and causing misery on investigations of good parents… but as a foster parent who works with CPS daily, I see much more of the opposite. From what I have seen, in most cases, the rights of the parents to raise their own flesh and blood trump any child’s right to be raised in a safe home environment. It takes call after call after call after call after call, with stacks and scores of evidence, before CPS will actually get on with removing children from the home.

    So, while it’s certainly possible the mother here in this story could be running up against one of the rare CPS workers who remove kids for virtually no reason at all, the truth is that most CPS jurisdictions are overworked and have few resources to spend on wild goose chases for parents whose only “black mark” is a single call regarding possible lack of supervision of kids playing in the park.

    However, bear in mind, this is often exactly how actual neglect cases come to light. Your kids may be playing in the park because you allowed them to – other kids may be playing in the park alone because their parents are passed out on the floor after a drug binge.

    The fact that there is a legal mandate to call CPS after an encounter with the police is likely because the cops generally don’t have access to CPS’s casefiles on families already on CPS’s watchlist (because except in extreme cases, they practically never remove kids on the first, fifth, or even tenth encounter with CPS workers), and don’t have the expertise or resources to provide to families who truly are in need. CPS is – for all its flaws, and believe me, they have many – in the business of doing just that.

    That said, by all means, call a lawyer, or get their name, in case you need it.

  48. Helen June 7, 2013 at 4:30 am #

    Dear A – I am so sorry you are going through this stressful situation. I have no practical support, but want to let you know my thoughts are with you.

    Lenore – I add my voice to those concerned about an “official” list of ages, especially the risk that once an age has been set it’s easy to raise it, as you recently highlighted in the case of minors riding trains. I would much prefer a campaign highlighting the fact non-free range parenting (and its sort of enforcement by government agencies) is a RADICAL departure from our cultural background and HARMFUL to children and good families.

  49. Yan Seiner June 7, 2013 at 9:03 am #

    All this reminds me of a picture I saw in National Geographic some time ago. A group of kids sitting around a fire in the jungle, with the caption “Children make dinner while their parents are away at a party in the neighboring village, 2 days’ walk away.”

    From this I assume these kids, 14 and under, were left alone for at least 5 days, and survived quite well. In the jungle surrounded by wild beasts that EAT you.

    Now if we only could shed our over-civilized way of life once in a while.

  50. Natalie June 7, 2013 at 10:07 am #

    I’d buy her a copy of Lenore’s book and explain the philosophy behind your parenting. I just started letting my 2 1/2 yr old play outside unsupervised because she knows not to go into the street and doesn’t. So I know it’s okay. She asks me or her older 6 yr old sister to get a ball with her if it’s gone into the street. And we don’t have a fence. That may not work for every 2 1/2 yr old but it does with mine for whatever reason.
    My mom doesn’t agree with this. I’m sure many parents wouldn’t. But it’s not their decision.
    If you want to maintain friendly relations with your neighbor I’d try explaining to her what you’re doing and why, what you hope to achieve and why it is good for your daughter’s development. Maybe you’ll make a free-ranger of her, too.

  51. Warren June 8, 2013 at 10:04 pm #

    Or your office could address the issue and fix it so your company name appears in the caller id.

  52. Jynet June 8, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

    Jenny Islander, on June 6th, 2013 at 4:19 pm Said:
    Instead of age ranges, how about a list of prerequisites?


    Yes, this please! A developmentally delayed 15 year old might not be ready for the things my daughter was ready for at 7. Lets have some guidelines for common sense instead of zero tolerance rules.

  53. George June 9, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    Whoa! We need to be really careful with the words we use! Are we really advocating that kids play unsupervised?

    Here’s the rub: child neglect laws that I’ve read often stipulate that children need to be adequately or appropriately supervised.

    Websters says that you supervise someone or something when you oversee or have direction over. CPS (in my horrible experience) tried to equate a child needing to be supervised to needing to be accompanied. Since this isn’t what the legislature voted for, then it shouldn’t be what’s enforced.

    A lot, if not all of us, have had jobs, so we’ve had supervisors. Recall that your supervisor typically doesn’t (I hope not!) stay with you all the time, making sure that you don’t make a mistake. If so, it would be a tremendous waste of time.

    Likewise, supervision a child’s play doesn’t require staying with them. Assuming adequate training and circumstances, knowing the answers to basic questions like who, what, where, when is sufficient.

    So, please, carefully consider when you use the words “supervised” or “accompanied” when talking about these issues. Let’s make sure that we’re saying what we mean as we advocate our position.

  54. Walt June 16, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    With respect to the blocked cell phone, it’s certainly possible to make a phone give a different number on caller ID than its actual number. It might take a little work but I guarantee that the cellular company could do it.

    So what the police should be doing is issuing cell phones that give a name of “Anytown PD #1234” (1234 being the officer’s badge #) and a phone number that’s their main non-emergency number. Problem solved.

  55. from Alberta, Canada July 9, 2013 at 10:50 pm #

    I am with George, the language is important. At the same time, when free-range parents say “let the kids play unsupervised!”, I believe they mean ‘unattended’ but trained, adequatly equiped with taking this responsibity and enjoying this freedom.

    To the other free-range parents in Alberta: How can we connect? I’d like to meet you, and speak with you in ways other than via public media.