A Chicago mom who let her three kids play for half an hour, literally across the street, WHILE SHE PEEKED OUT AT THEM every 10 minutes was found guilty of child neglect. She has lost her job in home health care because, of course, if you look her up, she looks like the last person you’d want around your family. Now her case is being appealed by Chicago’s Family
The Center exists to aid parents in just such cases. It was founded by Stanford Law graduate Diane Redleaf in 1984 to fight for the rights of parents to raise their kids without fear of a government sledgehammer. As its mission statement says: “We advocate for families…threatened with losing their children to foster care.” And it adds: “Any family can be the victim of a false, harassing, or misguided Hotline call.”
That’s what happened to this mom (boldface mine). DCFS = Department of Children & Family Services in Illinois. The whole story appears in the center’s newsletter.
Family Defense Center and pro bono firm Winston & Strawn LLP claim decision discriminates on the basis of disability.
Natasha F. did not expect that allowing her kids to enjoy a summer afternoon would lead to years of strife and an unfair child neglect label against her. On July 29, 2013, Natasha’s three boys were playing outside with their cousin. Natasha’s children were 11, 9, and 5 years old, respectively, and their cousin was 9. The nine-year-old child’s mother is a close friend of Natasha’s, and the women were inside with a third friend, regularly checking on their children through the window. The four children were playing in a park, located in the lot adjacent to the apartment, and Natasha had left her oldest child in charge.
Natasha checked from her window that the children were fine every 10 minutes. And the children were doing fine and were only outside for about half an hour. Natasha and her friends all approved of their children’s using their energy in playing in the park, and believed this form of play helped them. But when a preschool teacher visited the park with her class that teacher assumed the children were completely unsupervised. Instead of simply asking the children to be careful, or asking them where their parents were, the preschool teacher left the park with her class and placed a hotline call to DCFS, apparently unaware that caring adults were a moment away.
Natasha’s ordeal is not over, and at each stage of the case, critical factual and legal errors have been made, according the Center and pro bono attorney Kathleen Barry of Winston & Strawn LLP, who is leading the appellate effort. DCFS decided to indicate Natasha and her friend for “inadequate supervision.” Natasha appealed that decision through DCFS’s administrative process, and at the hearing she received, the DCFS Administrative Law Judge rested the decision against her on the teacher’s statement that she had seen one of Natasha’s children sliding the youngest boy under parked cars on a skateboard. But this report was contrary to the initial Hotline call, and Natasha testified it was entirely false: her two older children were playing on a scooter, which has a pole preventing it from fitting under parked cars, making it impossible to believe the teacher’s account.
The Administrative Law Judge also relied on the fact that Natasha’s two older boys have diagnoses of ADHD and were not taking medication for it at the time. The judge concluded that the 11-year-old therefore should not have been trusted to watch out for the well-being of his younger brothers. But the Center contends that ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed medical conditions in children, and it does not prevent children from learning how to develop responsibility and forethought. Indeed, the DCFS investigator had agreed that the oldest boy, who had been left in charge, was mature enough to be trusted outside alone and acknowledged he was aware of safety rules to keep in mind when watching his brothers. Moreover, the boys had stopped taking ADHD medicine during the summer at the doctor’s recommendation because the medicine caused medical complications and unpleasant side effects.
None of the four children experienced any harm in the half hour or so that they spent outside. Yet DCFS investigators concluded that the children were neglected due to Natasha’s “inadequate supervision.” For a parent to be indicated for inadequate supervision, a minor must have been left “without supervision for an unreasonable period of time without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of the minor.” In this case, three children playing in a park within eyesight of their home was deemed to be child neglect.
Read the rest here, if you can stand it. The mom got put on the child abuse registry and even on appeal was found “guilty” again. Now she is afraid to let her kids even take out the garbage. What if someone tattles to DCFS about them being outside unsupervised?
On a personal note, as the mom of a boy who also had a diagnosis of ADHD in middle school, who also went off his meds for the summer, I can attest that his “disability” did not turn him into a non-person, incapable of interacting with or helping other kids.
The main issue, increasingly, seems to be this: It cannot be considered neglect or abuse to give our children some unsupervised time. Parents must be allowed to raise their kids the way they believe is safe and good, so long as they are not putting the children in obvious, immediate, and indisputable danger. Not “What if something bad happened?” danger. REAL danger. -L.