If you’re wondering if it’s legal or illegal to let your kids walk to the park in Silver Spring, Maryland, the answer is yes.
On the one hand, yes it is legal. Donna St George in the Washington Post quotes a memo drawn up by Montgomery County police and human-services officials in response to a query by the County Council about local policies. It states:
“If the officer does not believe the circumstances constitute neglect, the officer can notify a parent or guardian about the situation… Again, the facts and circumstances of each case would drive the decision-making process and, simply, age is a consideration. A police officer may drive unattended children home or wait for a parent or caretaker to pick the child up.”
But then again, St. George also reports:
…in another section of the document, officials cited a county police directive requiring officers responding to neglect calls to notify CPS, remain at the scene, cooperate with CPS in an attempt to locate parents and take children into protective custody if requested.
Obviously the problem is that “neglect” is left in the eye of the beholder, and sometimes that eye is wearing “Law & Order” contact lenses that see danger and mayhem where the naked eye sees only sidewalks and trees.
The solution is to forbid what I call “Fantasy as Policy.” Just because an authority can imagine something gruesome or terrifying happening to kids, that’s not enough justification to find the parents guilty of endangering them. The danger has to be immediate, indisputable and likely.
This solution would also work in cases when parents are investigated for letting their kids wait in the car. If the errand is brief and the kids are not broiling hot or in a high crime area, the chances of them dying are about the same as the chances of any of us dying while stuck in a car in a traffic jam. Kids die when they are left in a car for hours, not minutes.
So to criminalize the mom who lets them wait while she runs in to pick up the pizza is “Fantasy as Policy” again – fantasizing an extremely danger and criminalizing the parent for not acting as if it were likely.
Fantasy should not dictate policy. Where it already does, it needs to be repealed and replaced by the idea that if a danger is not immediate, indisputable and likely, it is not a “danger,” period. – L