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Readers — Why do I keep blogging? It’s to remind us, literally daily, that there are HUGE CONSEQUENCES when we believe the BIG LIE that our kids are in constant danger. One consequence is that we interpret normal parenting behavior through the lens of both sanctimony and fear, seeing danger where there’s just the usual chaos of raising kids. The consequence of that consequence? Read on:

Dear Free-Range Kids: When my son, now 15, was about a week shy of his fourth birthday, I ran out to pick him up from his preschool, located four short blocks from home, with just my keys and no purse, something I had done many, many times before.  (I know — stupid.  No ID.  REALLY stupid.)  I picked him up, and in the course of walking home, he decided he was going to have a meltdown because he wanted to walk down a street that would have taken us far out of our way, and I was in a hurry to get back, so I said “no, not today.”

Well, he proceeded to try and run down the street he wanted to take, screaming and crying, and almost ran headlong into oncoming traffic because he was so worked up that he wasn’t paying attention to anything.  I grabbed at him to keep him from going into the street and caught the hood of his jacket and yanked him back to me, whereupon he screamed louder.  Out of nowhere, a woman materialized, yelling, “I saw the whole thing!  She’s beating that child!  I was across the street and down the block and I saw the whole thing! Call the cops!” 

A crowd began to gather, screaming at me and telling me what a lousy mother I was, which of course terrified my son, and he clung to me, but he was still sobbing and crying.  I yelled at the crowd to please leave us alone, couldn’t they tell that my son was upset, that I wanted to calm him down and go home, but they kept converging and screaming and flinging invectives at me — it was terrifying.  I sat down on the sidewalk and cuddled my son to me, and he began to calm down…until three police cars and no fewer than TWELVE cops, guns drawn, descended upon us, wrenched my screaming child from my arms (at this point he was struggling to get back to me and yelling, “Mommy! Mommy!  I want Mommy!”), tackled me, HANDCUFFED ME behind my back and forced me to await the arrival of a city ambulance. 

A man in the crowd did take pity on me and let me use his phone to call my husband at work (which HE had to hold up to my ear, since they would not undo the handcuffs), but the cops would barely let me speak to him and it was hardly enough time to let me tell him what was happening.  They would not tell me where my child was, and of course since I had no ID on me (I have NEVER done that again, lemme tell ya! Stupid!), they apparently branded me a crazy woman who was trying to beat and abduct a child. The ambulance came, and they hustled me into the back (all the while refusing to tell me where my son was) and took me to the PSYCH WARD at the hospital, where they kept me for several hours in a room locked from the outside and refused to let my husband (who had arrived by that time) in to see me, though apparently he had gotten enough information to track down our son, who had been taken to the precinct and was being guarded by a detective.  We found out much later that he had been “examined” for physical and sexual abuse PRIOR to my husband’s arrival — which I believe is illegal.  They did let me call my therapist, who, thank God, answered the phone — but it was all she could do to get them to release me to my husband.  Fortunately, they HAD released my son to him instead of slapping him into foster care — I shudder to think what would have happened if not.

We were eventually allowed to go home, but I was contacted several days later by a worker from Child Protective Services, who said he was required to visit us, unannounced, every couple of months for a year to be sure that our son was not being abused. The first night he came to see us, I had a chicken roasting in the oven and even offered to feed him if he wanted. What he WAS required to do was look at our son’s bedroom to be sure he was being cared for (he had a big bed with lots of stuffed animals and shelves full of games and books, which I actually think surprised the guy, given what he was probably used to seeing in his work), examine our son physically to be sure there was no evidence of abuse, and ask him some very pointed questions about whether Mommy or Daddy ever did nasty things to him.  (He was FOUR, for God’s sake!!  Admittedly a precocious and highly intelligent four, but holy crap…the continual insinuations of sexual abuse turned my stomach!)

Anyway, of course no signs of any kind of abuse were ever found — but we lived for SEVEN YEARS with the threat of having him taken away from us, because that is how long these cases stay open on the books.  We worried about every bump, every bruise, every argument we had — because of course he was also smart enough to know that he could hold it over us and threaten to “tell at school” if we had an argument, not understanding what the consequences would be if someone believed that we had hit or abused him, or if someone at school noticed a bruise or scrape on his body and thought we had inflicted it.

I swear to you: all I ever did was grab my kid’s coat and yank him back to prevent him from flinging himself into traffic because he was screaming himself blind.  He was four, he was having a meltdown. But a bunch of total strangers who were “down the block and across the street but who saw the whole thing” and called the cops as a result could have totally and utterly destroyed our family and ruined my son’s future.  He was, and is, a smart, beautiful, charming, talented boy; he has gone to gifted programs throughout school and currently attends a magnet high school, and he has nothing but promise ahead of him. But the actions of one “well-meaning” stranger who thought that a mother struggling with a screeching four-year-old was her business and that she had to “protect” the child, and who was able to draw a crowd around her, could have ripped a family apart and destroyed that child forever.

We are lucky — truly lucky — that eventually cooler heads did prevail and he was allowed to come back to us immediately.  I know that in some cases, this does not happen, and it’s a nightmare for the family to get the child back, sometimes going on for years. But let me tell you that I TOTALLY understand the fear of the mom who wrote to you when she said she was afraid that the woman who yelled at her outside the post office had called the police and that they were going to track her down…because I LIVED something like that.  It is, quite possibly, the most terrifying thing that can happen to a parent. And I must ask when it became everyone ELSE’S business regarding how to be a good parent to one’s own child.  It’s hard to be any kind of a parent these days, especially Free-Range, but we MUST stick to our convictions and raise our kids as we, their parents, see fit.

Thank God for this blog. – Shaken Mom

A toddler screaming, a busybody assuming the worst, and then -- the authorities.

A toddler screaming, a busybody assuming the worst, and then — the authorities.

Readers — Here’s my piece that’s in today’s New York Post! The site doesn’t take comments, but if you want to write a letter to the editor, drop one to: letters@nypost.com.

NJ court takes ‘child neglect’ to extremes

by Lenore Skenazy

Did you ever wait in the car while your mom ran an errand? New Jersey says you were abused — and your mom was a criminal.

In an appeals court decision last week, three judges ruled that a mother who left her toddler sleeping in his car seat while she went into a store for five to 10 minutes was indeed guilty of abuse or neglect for taking insufficient care to protect him from harm.

Not that the child came to any harm; he seems to have slept through the whole non-incident.

But when the mom emerged from the store, she was confronted by cops, who’d been summoned by a mall guard when he noticed the sleeping child.

She was arrested and placed on the child-abuse registry — even though a Division of Child Protection and Permanency agent visited her home that day and found the kids well cared for.

If this had been the law back when I was a kid, Rahelen Skenazy — the lady who loves me more than the stars — would be on that registry. …

Read the rest here!

Unattractive clip art that nonetheless illustrates the story.

Unattractive clip art that nonetheless illustrates the story.

Readers — The idea that our kids are only safe if they are under literally constant supervision is one that subtly but surely keeps changing childhood. Watch it at work in suburban Seattle:

Dear Free-Range Kids: Hello! I want to share, but I really feel the need to stay anonymous, because clearly Free-Range children are not the norm, even if they should be.

This Tuesday my 6  (nearly 7) year old daughter held a lemonade stand. She planned it very carefully, making mock-up signs until her spelling was perfect, making a list of supplies and arranging to purchase, borrow, or rent them. She contracted with a friend who runs a non-profit to rent a big drink dispenser for 5% of the proceeds.

She also asked the retired couple (fire fighter and school bus driver, who spend their summer days reading on their front porch) if she could set up on their corner two doors down from us. This was our suggestion because we knew that the neighbors would be around and watch out after the proceedings as well as enjoy the happy noise the kids make. She helped me make lemonade from scratch, bake cookies, and make sun tea too.  We were super proud of her really taking responsibility for thinking this out.

So, on the day of ,we (we also have 4yo and 2yo daughter) took several trips to and fro in our wagon, hauling things out to the corner, the bigger girls running ahead of me. After I got everybody settled, we realized we had failed to grab the sunblock, water, and the littlest needed a diaper change. So myself and the smaller two headed up the hill (two doors down). While I changed the diaper in my trunk, I could still see my entrepreneur. I sent the 4yo into the house grab water. I told her it was okay to walk thru the neighbors’ yard and deliver the water as I was loading the toddler back onto the wagon with the sunblock.

I followed her directly. Somewhere in that time, K sold a couple of lemonades. At this point I couldn’t be prouder of how responsible my girls were all being.

Half an hour later the police rolled up.

Two armed police officers got out and questioned me about the children being alone on the corner. There had been a call from someone who was concerned for their safety because they were all alone. They wanted to know how many times I had left the girls, and how long.

I smiled big and explained calmly that we lived two doors down and I could see the goings on the whole time. I guess I’m lucky a friend was visiting us when they came, because as they left they reminded me to make sure I left an adult in charge if I walked back to the house again, still only two doors down. The fact that my friend was standing there really seemed to make them feel like I could comply.

Honestly, if I had been alone with the children I do not know if that would have turned out so well. They then backed away and addressed the girls about the hot day, and if they were having fun, then offered them stickers. The girls offered them lemonade, but they declined, and left.

I spent the rest of the hot day on the corner as I had promised my daughter could stay open till 5PM. The baby never got another diaper change and she missed her nap, but I did send the 4yo back for more water while I stood over-obviously in the intersection making sure everyone knew I knew where they all were.

I’m completely sickened and shocked. Totally afraid to even let the girls pick raspberries on our own yard unless I’m standing over them now. Not because of what might happen, but because of what someone else will think MIGHT happen.

I hate the nearly constant insinuations that I should have a full-time nanny now that I have three kids (even tho I’m a work from home mom), so that all of my children have constant supervision because of all of the things that MIGHT happen. It seriously happens all the time. Why is our world so full of hateful thoughts about each other? Please keep doing what you are doing, because it makes me feel sane in the face of insanity. — The Lemonade Mom

Lenore again: I’m letting  Ben Miller from Common Good weigh in. His organization  fights the kinds of rules that stifle the human spirit:

“Judging by the restrictions and regulations against them, you’d think lemonade stands were one the top threats facing America. Every summer we hear about children fined or banned for operating lemonade stands that fail to comply with bureaucratic requirements. Heaven forbid our children should have the freedom to be entrepreneurs—apparently that’s just not safe.”

Go inside, little girl, where you’re supposed to spend summer! – L

What’s wrong with this picture? NOTHING! Remember that, America!!

Readers — If this is the land of the free, why are cops treating happy-go-lucky kids like escaped convicts?  When did giving kids an old-fashioned summer become a crime? – L. 

Dear Free-Range Kids: This just happened to me. My six year old daughter and her friend went for a walk on their own and now we are getting a fine. The cop wasn’t at all interested in what we had to say just said we were getting a fine in the MAIL. In PA there are no laws regarding what age to leave your child alone, this cop was a douchebag! The kids were TWO blocks away and were gone no more than five minutes when the police came. Someone had seen them walking and called them.

When I was six in 1985 I would walk to the store to buy my dad CIGARETTES. I refuse to be a helicopter parent, they need to learn independence for good or bad. Moral is – shove your kids up your butt  or let them zombify in front of the TV.

Now I’ve got a summons to go to court. – Mama N.

All I can say is: This is not a crime. This is called “childhood.” In the summer, it often takes place outdoors, and, with the proper training of the child, does not require constant supervision. – L. 


What's wrong with this picture? NOTHING!!

Two kids outside without a parent? Call the cops! 

From my mailbag…straight to my stomach, which is knotted in fear and anger:
Hi Lenore, my name is Christina Moon. I am a 32 year old mom of two girls, ages 7 and 4. A few weeks ago I had to make a return at a jcpenney near our home in Michigan. My four year old begged me to let her wait in the car and watch her movie so I let her, I left the car running with the ac on and the doors locked. I parked my car in front near the handicap spots. It took a lot longer than I had anticipated because of Mother’s Day. When I came out there was a woman and a police officer standing by my car. I had been in the store approx 15 minutes. I am now facing criminal charges and have been investigated by child protective services. I live in a nice community and was aware of my surroundings. This has created such stress on our family and I can’t believe the lengths they are taking. My daughter was safer in our locked vehicle than most children in America. This is so infuriating to me. And to top it off the police officer called me a bad mom in front of my daughter. Thought I’d share this with you after reading your articles….
To which I replied: I am so sickened by this …. Remember, what you did was not TERRIBLE. It was a normal thing that parents have done for generations, and if your errand took a little longer than you expected, that’s what happens in life. It’s not a tragedy, it’s a blip! I am so sick of “Good Samaritans” handing parents over to the AUTHORITIES instead of doing their bit by just watching the kid, if they’re so worried!
To which she replied: Yes you can share my story. It has been a nightmare for our family. Even the CPS worker said my daughter is very mature and that I should be proud of how I’ve raised both my girls. The case with them is now closed. However, I have an arraignment June 7th and could possibly face 90 days in jail and $500 in fines.  Again, my daughter was buckled in her car seat, car locked, ac on, windows up, movie playing on headrest. The police officer said someone could have stolen my car by busting in the window. I say shoulda, coulda! I take a shower in my home while my four year old watches cartoons in my room or her playroom, what if someone broke into my home or there was a fire or? I can’t stand that “what if” mentality! I am very safe with my girls and they are my life, I just can’t add unnecessary worry to the normal worry us moms have on a daily basis! Thank you for your support! I definitely need and appreciate it!
By the way, it’s not the fine that worries me. It’s the irreparable damage that will be caused if I’m sentenced to any jail time. I’m fearful the judge will try to make an example of me as this law is so new in Michigan. I had no idea it was illegal to leave her alone, I’ve done so before when I went to the ATM at the gas station or picked up carry out somewhere.
Wanted to get your opinion on whether I should plea guilty or not? I am not getting a lawyer & all the research I’ve done points to a better outcome for me if I plea not guilty. Any insight will be helpful! 
Folks — TOMORROW is Christina’s trial. She tells me she is pleading not guilty — because (of course)  she ISN’T guilty. Maybe if  we all write about the times WE let our kids wait in the car, this could be used as a bit of evidence, as in, “Normal, decent parents let their kids, even under age 6, wait in the car. It is not the parents who need to change, it’s the law.” If you agree, chime in — now! – L 
Kids have waited in cars for generations. (Okay, maybe not at the steering wheel...)

Kids have waited in cars for generations. It’s not negligence if you are simply running an errand!

Hi Readers! This note comes to us from Nandini Ramakrishna, who was raised Free-Range in India and now lives in Phoenix, AZ. She writes the blog Cactus Chronicles. and tweets at CactusChron. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Four years ago, I was involved in an incident where the state questioned my competence as a parent. After two stressful months, the charge of neglect  was dropped. I quickly pushed aside memories of this incident, until I read some distressing posts here about Free-Range parents misjudged as negligent. Those led me to write about my ordeal.

I joined the Free-Range parenting network many months after the event had ended. Even so, I got much solace from knowing that there are many parents who do not view lower vigilance levels as indications of negligence, nor hyper-vigilance as the gold standard. This validation from Free-Range Kids was invaluable, because when your parenting skills are scrutinized and judged by people, it shakes you to the core.

Today, my uber-vigilance over my kids is not the result of fears of abduction, but from the awareness that the public views round-the-clock vigilance as the norm. Having been bitten once, I now do as the Romans do.  However, while complying to avert imaginary dangers, my mind is aware of the real dangers:

Within one generation we have already managed to trigger tectonic shifts in our sense of security. We used to derive our sense of security from intangible powers – from our inner confidence, from the feeling of belonging in a community and faith in it. Now we have externalized our sense of security into the purely tangible: It has morphed into the ubiquitous devices that rule our lives – cell phones, security cameras, gates, etc.

We used to think we had a responsibility towards our children and others’. Now, whenever we see children not perpetually supervised, we reach for our cell-phones and turn into appendages of the police state. We accuse other parents of being unfit, forgetting that we are being remiss in not looking out for each other’s children.

Our sense of purpose too, has changed. We no longer value spontaneous, unsupervised play.  Instead, we prefer scheduled activities that purport to foster intelligence and talent. But a few decades ago we honed our own intelligence and talents by exploring our environment on our own child-like terms: We climbed trees and scaled walls. We played alone in parks and on streets. We made spur-of-the-moment decisions to convene in somebody’s house — decisions not pre-arranged by our parents.

We are bringing up our children on a corrosive diet of fear: fear of strangers, fear of the unknown, and fear of failure. We overlook statistics that confirm we live in safer times now than ever before. We ignore research showing that experience with handling failure and obstacles early in life is essential to building self-confidence.

With constant vigilance and parental intervention, how will our children learn to negotiate small and sudden changes that life is bound to throw their way? How will they learn to deal with the catastrophic changes that life sometimes brings our way? In short: How will they grow up?

Thanks – Nardini

Call on your compassion, not the cops.

Readers — This is the continuing story of the 6-year-old detained by the cops for walking outside. It is disturbing and distressing. The family needs pro bono legal help. If any of you are lawyers or know someone who can help, please let me know and I will forward the info to the family. Remember: I am posting this story NOT because it is common and we should all worry about being hounded by CPS if we let our kids go outside. I am posting it in utter outrage at the idea that a child on her own could be considered neglected or in danger when she is so obviously, clearly, and indisputably neither. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids: A few days ago CPS served my wife and me with a complaint alleging that we are neglectful.  They want to take custody.  Here is the chain of events that has led to this:

Day 1:  Six-year-old “Emily” walks three blocks by herself to the post office for the second time.  This is after having made the trip with her many times in past through our quiet, residential neighborhood.  All the streets have sidewalks, and the walk requires crossing one ‘T’ intersection that has a stop sign and crossing at a traffic light.

Day 2:  ”Emily” and I are both walking back from the library.  She wants to do it herself, so I let her walk separate from me some of the time.  The cops get a phone call from a concerned citizen who says there’s a strange guy talking to a little girl.  Three officers respond and cite a concern for Emily’s safety in crossing the street.  I confirm that I am her father and give my name, as is required by law.  They refuse to state any reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed or say what law has been broken, and so, in accordance with my 5th amendment rights, I refuse to answer any questions.  We are detained for over half an hour before being released.  (I asked many times over the course of the detention whether I was “free to go” and I was told that I was not. We were told that we were being held for an “investigative detention.”)  The sergeant who responded to the scene stated over the radio that he wanted to “hook this guy” for child endangerment. (The recording of radio traffic during the encounter was later received through a public records request that I made.)

Day 6:  I call the sergeant who reported on Day 2 to ask if we were still under investigation.  He responded that we were not and that an “incident supplement” had been filed by the reporting officer and “that was all.”  He confirms in that there is no law prohibiting a school-age child from crossing residential streets.  That afternoon we let Emily walk to the post office to mail a letter.  (That’s the story that was shared before on this blog.)  The same officers who responded on Day 2 remove Emily from the post office and detain her.  Contrary to the complaint that is filed later, they do not contact me — I go looking for her when she doesn’t come right back home — and they refuse many times to release her.  According to the complaint, Emily, who has known her phone number and address for quite some time, refuses to give them to the officers, but the officers know who she is, who I am, and where we live.

Day 7:  A social worker with CPS leaves a letter at my door addressed to a different person than anyone in my family.  I mail it back.

Day 12:  CPS leaves a letter addressed to my wife and I that cites unspecified concerns about the children.

Day 13:  I call CPS twice and leave a message.  The phone call is not returned for two days.

Day 14:  We give Emily the Free Range Kid ID card to function as a sort of “permission slip” so that she can demonstrate to other people that she has not merely escaped unnoticed.  Then we let Emily go to the post office again.  When she is just around the corner from the house on her way home, she is stopped by a city utility worker and a school bus driver (though she is not enrolled in public school).  She calls me on the cell phone since the bus driver is preventing her from leaving, so I go get her.  That night two officers knock on the door, but we do not answer.

Day 15:  I talk with the supervisor at CPS on a recorded phone call.  I refuse to answer any questions or make any statements.  Though he did relay that he was concerned about a child “roaming the streets of [Our City, OH],” he refuses to tell me what law has been broken.  We go around and around for about 25 minutes.  I find out through my employer shortly after the phone call that if I do not “cooperate” CPS is threatening to seek an ex parte* order, which would allow CPS to take custody without a hearing, to separate us that Friday (and then keep Emily all weekend since a hearing would not have to be held until close of business on Monday).  Note that I have cooperated to the full extent required by law.  The Home School Legal Defense Assn. is very helpful in getting CPS to agree not to seek an ex parte order so long as Emily does not go outside again by herself.

Since then CPS has knocked on the door many times.  I did answer the door when the CPS supervisor came by–I thought that he was a delivery guy or what not since he didn’t have a uniformed police officer with him–but otherwise we have simply ignored them.  There is no law requiring someone to answer their door, and since I had no interest in talking to them or getting detained by the cops simply ignoring them seemed the best course of action.

Day 41:  We are served with a complaint alleging neglect and dependency.  The County wants to take Emily into “protective supervision” or “temporary custody.”  The complaint contains many factual errors and inaccuracies.

There is also a motion for “pre-dispositional interim orders.”  As I understand it, this is a mechanism by which CPS can intervene even before the merits of the case against us for neglect are even heard, but less decided.  It is scheduled to take place more than a month before the hearing on the neglect charge.  It asks the court to force my wife and I to “allow ______ County Children Services to complete an assessment with the family.  This is including allowing the agency access in the home, allowing the agency to interview the children, and participate openly in the assessment process.”  In other words, they want to search our house, interrogate the children, and force us to testify.

We are trying our best to raise Emily to be responsible, curious, and capable.  We have chosen to include teaching her about using the library, navigating the neighborhood, and mailing letters as elements of her homeschooling.  Needless to say, this entire ordeal has been quite distressing for the entire family, and we view it as a threat to our homeschooling her, our parental rights, and both my and Emily’s civil liberties.  Since our family is being threatened by legal action, I have tried to confine my comments to a dispassionate statement of known facts.

*When at least one party to a legal action isn’t represented, the result is an ex parte order. In this context, CPS would have asked a judge to issue an order to get custody of Emily without allowing any rebuttal to their accusations of neglect.  In other words, they considered it so dangerous for Emily to continue to live with us that they didn’t think there was any time to wait for an emergency hearing in which everyone would be represented.

P.S. To write directly to the dad in this post, drop a note to: ohiosidewalkkid@gmail.com

I'm afraid you're coming with me, young lady.

I’m afraid you’re coming with me, young lady.