Verdict Reversed! Mom NOT GUILTY of Neglect for Letting Kids, 11, 9 & 5, Play in Park Across the Street

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Remember the mom put on Illinois Child Abuse Registry for letting her kids, 11, 9 and 5, play at the park outside her window?
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The state’s Appellate Court has thrown out the “child neglect citation” against her, after her mere two and half year fight against the Department of Child and Family Services. She was helped by the scrappy, brilliant Family Defense Center in Chicago. As Bonnie Miller Rubin in the Chicago Tribune Reports:

“I’m just relieved this is over,”‘ said Natasha Felix, a 27-year-old single mother…”I knew that I didn’t do anything wrong.”

In July 2013, the three children — then ages 11, 9 and 5 — were left under the supervision of the eldest boy. A passer-by saw the Felix boys, along with their 9-year-old cousin, playing and called the DCFS hotline, unaware that Felix was checking on them from the window of her East Ukrainian Village apartment every 10 minutes, she said.

The youngsters were unharmed, but she was cited for child neglect under a category called “inadequate supervision.” The state statute defines this as “a child under the age of 14 whose parent … leaves the minor without supervision for an unreasonable amount of time, without regard for the mental or physical health or safety of the minor.”

But this week, DCFS reversed course and has filed no opposition to this motion, according to court documents.

“Under the new leadership of Acting Director George Sheldon, the Department has determined that the best course of action is to unfound and expunge Ms. Felix’s case,” DCFS spokesman Andrew Flach said in an email. “Moving forward, the Department will be taking a closer look at similar cases to ensure that we allow caretakers to be prudent parents and considering changes to Department rules and procedures.”

Let’s hear it for George Sheldon! Go, George, go! Change those guidelines, the way Maryland did after that state was internationally embarrassed for  arresting the Meitiv family twice for letting their kids walk home from the park. It is honorable to recognize when regulations have gone too far, and to do something about it.
Here’s what Diane Redleaf, director of the Family Defense Center, wrote to me in an email:

It is urgent that child protection agencies stop investigating parents for making basic decisions as to when their children can be alone, can go out and play, and can be left briefly while the parent attends to the business of caring for them.

There need to be standards that say that children are not neglected unless their parents knowingly subject them to serious and immediate risks of harm–i.e. by blatantly disregarding the duties they owe their children.  Those duties to not require require parents to protect children from boogeymen who might conceivably snatch them if they are allowed to play.

We need to stop second guessing parents’ decisions by labeling decisions about parenting ‘neglectful’ when no harm to the child has occurred.  We’re spending far too much energy in America on investigations of parents who have not hurt their children, and not enough resources helpful to the children whose parents have actually abused them.

So, to recap: Last week we had national legislation passed allowing kids to walk to school, and this week we have a mom exonerated after letting her children play outside. Not bad! – L.

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You mean it's not a horrible, no-good parent who would let her children play outside???

Court rules that maybe you can let your kids play outside and NOT be a child abusing negligent n’er-do-well. 

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43 Responses to Verdict Reversed! Mom NOT GUILTY of Neglect for Letting Kids, 11, 9 & 5, Play in Park Across the Street

  1. Blaze Miskulin December 17, 2015 at 3:45 am #

    Great to hear that someone in system has some common sense on these things.

    When I read your posts about situations like this, I have to wonder about the childhood of those who seek to punish parents for giving their kids some freedom. Did they play unsupervised as children? Did they walk to school alone? Go to the park alone? Run around the neighborhood with their friends with the simple limit of “come home when the street lights come on”?

    If so, shouldn’t they be insisting that their own parents be arrested and incarcerated for “child endangerment” or “neglect”?

    That’s gotta be awkward at Christmas dinner.

  2. That_Susan December 17, 2015 at 6:32 am #

    This is wonderful news, and it’s largely thanks to your hard work, Lenore! Now I’m eagerly awaiting more good news about Maria Hasankolli’s case — being dropped, hopefully!

  3. BL December 17, 2015 at 7:00 am #

    @Blaze Miskulin
    “If so, shouldn’t they be insisting that their own parents be arrested and incarcerated for “child endangerment” or “neglect”?”

    The stock response is always “things are different now”.

    In the most literal sense, that’s always true, which means it can be used as an excuse for absolutely anything, if allowed to stand as a justification by itself.

  4. Jill December 17, 2015 at 7:59 am #

    It would be nice if Mr. Falch’s email had said, “I’m sorry we made your life miserable for two years. We were idiots to have pursued this in the first place.”

  5. Molly December 17, 2015 at 8:01 am #

    Wonderful! The tide is turning??!!

  6. Mrs. H. December 17, 2015 at 8:26 am #

    @Blaze Miskulin, I think they would reply “well, times were different then.” Which they were: they were much more dangerous. A large part of the problem is the false perception that the world is more dangerous now, the Law & Order-ification of public perception.

    This is great news, although it’s pathetic that it took so long. Nice to read something hopeful though.

  7. MichaelF December 17, 2015 at 8:28 am #

    I agree with Jill, an apology for making the past 2 years of this mom’s life a living hell, or at least very uncomfortable, would be the proper thing to do.

    Nice to see someone is making headway against these overzealous regulations, let’s hope the ground keeps shifting.

  8. E December 17, 2015 at 8:53 am #

    Seems like the key phrase as Lenore has pointed out is “Under the new leadership…” Well done.

    And yes, the “things are different now” is the crutch. Even my mother, now in her 80s, who raised 6 FR kids has used it to me. I tried to point out that the thing that’s mostly different is that every single ‘scary story’ is on the news/internet.

  9. ChicagoDad December 17, 2015 at 8:55 am #

    Yay for this! It’s easy to become cynical, living in Illinois. I half expected a response from DCFS like, “we need to work to close this loophole so more children don’t fall through the cracks, we call on our legislators…..” It’s nice to be pleasantly surprised!

    I guess things can change for the better every once in a while. 😉

  10. Carl December 17, 2015 at 9:37 am #

    Congratulations on your advocacy, Lenore. I am sure your work has played a role in these changes, and will continue to do so.

  11. Ann December 17, 2015 at 9:56 am #

    I don’t understand how she was ever even charged with the citation if the rule is “an unreasonable amount of time, without regard for the mental or physical health or safety of the minor.” Just a quick chat with the mom should have ruled that out immediately. The Red Cross allows kids as young as 11 to take their Babysitting certification course. That older brother could have even been a Red Cross certified babysitter!!! This is all so frustrating. My 11 year old goes to the park with friends all the time. I’m glad this mom was exonerated, but she never should have had to go through any of this!

  12. Tina December 17, 2015 at 10:07 am #

    Instead of worrying about a mother who actually is taking care of her children how about dealing with the mothers like those that are torturing them and putting them in freezers. Idiots !

  13. Doug December 17, 2015 at 11:02 am #

    I’m happy Ms. Felix didn’t give up.

    George Sheldon deserves thanks, and I think there might be a Christmas donation on its way to the Family Defense Center.

    It’s good to remind everyone that groups like this require donations to continue their work.

  14. Dasy2k1 December 17, 2015 at 11:30 am #

    This should never have got this far…. By the simple fact that she had left an older child in charge and was checking from the window clearly shows she had due regard for the mental and physical health and safety of the minor!
    Not that checking out of a window should be obligatory by any means especially for an 11yo who I will assume is mature enough to cope with some responsibility from time to time, although having an adult close on hand (even if not directly present) eg checking from a window is definitely appropriate for the youngest in my opinion.

    This law is clearly designed to deal with parents who leave their kids to their own devices for extended periods of time without any thought to their wellbeing. Not for mothers who have considered the wellbeing and have put in place proportionate ways to ensure this

  15. Anna December 17, 2015 at 11:47 am #

    ‘@Blaze Miskulin
    “If so, shouldn’t they be insisting that their own parents be arrested and incarcerated for “child endangerment” or “neglect”?”

    The stock response is always “things are different now”. ‘

    Just what I was going to say. Also, I’ve noticed that the grandparents I see out with kids these days tend to be even more over-anxious and over-protective than the parents. I’m continually hearing them warn kids not to run, climb trees or boulders, etc. I think age naturally makes people more nervous.

    My mother-in-law – whose son did a 5-mile paper route at 5 a.m. from the age of 10 – now tells me in all seriousness my 4-year-old could get “snatched” if I let him ride his tricycle on our front sidewalk and look away for thirty seconds. And yup, you guessed it, she explained “It’s a different world out there now.”

    Anyway, congratulations to Natasha Felix, and good work, Lenore, in helping to publicize her case.

  16. that mum December 17, 2015 at 12:27 pm #

    wonderful news, congrats to Natasha and her kids. One more win for freedom!

  17. Havva December 17, 2015 at 1:14 pm #

    “Moving forward, the Department will be taking a closer look at similar cases to ensure that we allow caretakers to be prudent parents and considering changes to Department rules and procedures.”

    This right here is how we stop the madness. Because it is not really the LAWS, that gave us what we have today. Neglect laws have been around for ages. But thinking an 11 year old can’t keep an eye on a 5 year old with the help of a pair of 9 year olds, and adults close at hand. That is new. The idea that kids are completely helpless and completely fragile and completely irresponsible is new, it is not enshrined in law only in department policy. And that policy can change back to the way it was. Back to were a school age kid could spend a little time in their own neighborhood with their loving parents at home near by. Where kids could spend a few hours home alone before puberty. Back to policies where none of that normal stuff would be considered “an unreasonable amount of time” to spend without supervision.

  18. John December 17, 2015 at 1:32 pm #

    We’ve been reading a lot of “good news” type articles on your site lately Lenore. So maybe there is hope for American kids after all. Bravo and hopefully we’ll see more of these type of articles in 2016!

  19. Vaughan Evans December 17, 2015 at 1:33 pm #

    I live in Canada.
    In 1979, I taught a group of children to play ‘Run, Sheep, Run!
    It is a hide-and-seek game-that is played in teams.
    Soon he WHOLE of the local school was playing it.

    I would like to introduce-to children-and to adults-a game called ‘Red Rover'”
    Many of my acquaintances had played it-as a child
    Many schools will not let the children play it.
    They are afraid of being sued-in case a child gets hurt.
    -The people who used to play it found it only slightly rough.
    Any injury was just incidental(minor)
    I

  20. Maria Hasankolli December 17, 2015 at 2:22 pm #

    This is awesome! I’m so happy for this family. I find hope in this mom’s exoneration. I’ve been compiling all of these cases to bring with me to court on the 6th of January, 2016 for my neglect case. Thank you to all my predecessors for fighting this great fight and to some of you, for prevailing. There truly is strength in numbers. I’m overflowing with emotions; mostly happiness and pride in our willingness to stand together and fight for our freedom. Thank you Lenore, for leading the advance, I’m so very grateful <3

  21. lollipoplover December 17, 2015 at 2:23 pm #

    The stock response is always “things are different now”.

    My go to answer when I hear this:

    “Yes, yes they are! The rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, and depression have SKYROCKETED due to less active children.”

  22. Maria Hasankolli December 17, 2015 at 2:25 pm #

    * risk of injury to a minor,

  23. Donald December 17, 2015 at 2:45 pm #

    Congratulations Lenore!

    This is your win. I don’t think this verdict would have been overturned if it wasn’t for your book, blog, and public speaking.

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  25. That_Susan December 17, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

    Please keep us updated Maria!

  26. Marianne Lappin December 17, 2015 at 4:01 pm #

    Fantastic because she is not guilty of anything.

  27. Havva December 17, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

    “If so, shouldn’t they be insisting that their own parents be arrested and incarcerated for “child endangerment” or “neglect”?”

    I think we underestimate what is going on. And I think there *are* CPS workers who really do thing their own parents, should have at least been threatened with arrest and incarceration, and maybe yes been incarcerated. Because yes they were that seriously neglected.

    “Things are different now” is the stock response of the masses. But that stock response is starting to fall away in the face of arguments we have been making. I’m hearing more and more people replying “actually they are, and they are safer” or “Yes, yes they are! The rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, and depression have SKYROCKETED due to less active children.” Or they still believe things are more dangerous, but they pause and give thought to “But the kids have to grow up and leave home sometime, when do they learn?”

    As the masses soften up on the topic, another group become more shrill and noticeable (perhaps the driving voices behind hyper-protection). And this group responds… “So what if things aren’t different now. Your good ol’ days stunk.” And they completely fly off the handle at the idea of free-range parents, and those giving up on the ‘things are different now’ line and contemplating when, if, or how to ease up a bit. And they shriek at those weighing the costs and benefits that they are naive.

    This group seems to be composed of grown feral children whom no one helped. Kids who’s parents told the community there was something wrong with the kid, that the kid was a pathological liar or worse. Often the parents had a place of respect and authority in the community. And these now grown feral children had near misses or worse, and their parents told them that they must have deserved it, and to suck it up, and sent them away.

    This group don’t seem to understand that other kids out in the world don’t necessarily lack support the way they lacked support. This group doesn’t see how being publicly known as a pathological liar according to their own parents painted a target on their back. They don’t even see that their parents didn’t love them, and excuse it as the parents really not believing them out of some naive world views. Somehow they think that if someone had just forced their parent to keep an eye on them, things would have been better. The group seems to think that if someone had forced the parents to let the kid into the house, the parent would have let the kid into their heart.

    And even as adults they fail to understand, that being in the house rather than out of it, doesn’t change the supportive factor, the power their parents had to get others to ignore all the evidence of their abuse. That being caged, in addition to being unloved, would not have improved their situations, and might have caused their very broken parents to have become (more) directly abusive.

    And I think these sorts are very compelled to work in child protection agencies. I think it might explain why the same agency can see a day in the park in view of the house as a horror of serious proportions. And yet can turn around and take reports from multiple witnesses of a toddler being knocked upside the head with his own tricycle and just add it to a multi inch file of such abuses by that family and move on. Because I think some of these workers are still harboring a messed up little kid who was so desperate for parental attention that they would tolerate being beaten to get that attention. And they walk away from the serious cases thinking. Okay the parent snapped, but at least they are *there* and trying.

  28. Kate December 17, 2015 at 5:48 pm #

    If this keeps up, Lenore will be out of a job 🙂

  29. Emily December 17, 2015 at 6:04 pm #

    @Kate–if Lenore works herself out of a job because Free-Range Kids becomes too successful, I’d assume that she’d just live off the royalties from her book, or maybe go back to the New Yorker and be a journalist again. I’m sure Lenore must have thought of this a lot more than any of us would have, so we should let her make her own decisions, and not helicopter her.

  30. Emily December 17, 2015 at 6:11 pm #

    Did I say the New Yorker? I meant the New York Times. Yeah, if Free-Range Kids becomes so successful that it becomes a way of life, then I’d assume Lenore would go back to the New York Times.

  31. Sam December 17, 2015 at 11:21 pm #

    “We need to stop second guessing parents’ decisions by labeling decisions about parenting ‘neglectful’ when no harm to the child has occurred.”

    This is slightly confusing, since for every 1,000 unharmed kids there may be 1 who gets harmed, e.g. crossing the street or engaging in some other normal activity. Should his parents now get punished, in addition to the natural suffering they are experiencing due to the injury of the child?

  32. James Pollock December 18, 2015 at 12:23 am #

    All we need is a system that can tell, immediately and with 100% accuracy, which parents are bad and which are good. Perhaps we can license the Santa technology and adapt it to use on parents instead of children.

  33. Sue Luttner December 18, 2015 at 1:31 am #

    What great news. Thank you for letting us know, and thanks to the Family Defense Center for pitching in. They do good work.

  34. That_Susan December 18, 2015 at 6:59 am #

    “All we need is a system that can tell, immediately and with 100% accuracy, which parents are bad and which are good. Perhaps we can license the Santa technology and adapt it to use on parents instead of children.”

    LOL — OR, since our modern Santa culture pretty much just assumes that ALL children are good and worthy of gifts, why not apply that same “benefit of the doubt” thinking to parents? If modern government (and “concerned” neighbors) treated parents the way modern Santa treats most American children — wow, what a wonderful concept!

  35. That_Susan December 18, 2015 at 7:07 am #

    P.S. One thing that modern Santa and modern CPS have in common, is that the wealthy tend to get much better treatment than the poor. 🙁

  36. Anna December 18, 2015 at 11:53 am #

    “P.S. One thing that modern Santa and modern CPS have in common, is that the wealthy tend to get much better treatment than the poor.”

    Yes, I think that’s what was most offensive about this case: the whole point of building a playground adjacent to a low-income apartment building is so that it can function as a substitute backyard for the kids who live there. If parents aren’t allowed to use it that way, what’s the point?

  37. That_Susan December 18, 2015 at 12:35 pm #

    Great point, Anna!

  38. lollipoplover December 18, 2015 at 1:49 pm #

    “Yes, I think that’s what was most offensive about this case: the whole point of building a playground adjacent to a low-income apartment building is so that it can function as a substitute backyard for the kids who live there. If parents aren’t allowed to use it that way, what’s the point?”

    Urban planners design parks like this because they want kids to play in them. Otherwise, they should be charged with luring the kids with the false promise of an outdoor play area to incriminate their parents parents.

  39. Emily December 18, 2015 at 8:20 pm #

    I agree with Anna. For kids who live in apartment buildings, playing on the playground adjacent to the apartment complex is the equivalent of a children from single-family homes playing in their backyards.

  40. HELEN PISCHERA December 18, 2015 at 9:15 pm #

    IF I COULD HAVE A MAGIC WAND, I WOULD WISH THAT EACH CHILD IN TODAY’S’ WORLD BE GIVEN THE CHILDHOOD THAT I HAD. WE WALKED ALL OVER TOWN—-WE PLAYED IN OUR YARD–AND, EVERY YARD THAT BELONGED TO OUR FRIENDS’. WE WERE SAFE—WE WERE TRUSTED AND WE HAD RULES TO FOLLOW. THAT WAS “MY WORLD”—–IN THE 40’S. PLEASE GIVE PARENTS A CHANCE===IT WILL NOT BE TOO HARD TO RECOGNIZE THE CARING ONES, AND IT SURE WILL GIVE US EXTRA GROWTH TIME TO HELP THOSE WHO STILL HAVE TO LEARN THE VALUE OF THEIR CHILDREN. .

  41. Jennifer R December 19, 2015 at 1:27 pm #

    Many people start babysitting at 11! I have friends who were babysitting infants for hours at a time at that age, so I find it completely ridiculous that suddenly an 11 year old isn’t even old enough to watch a preschooler at a park. What has the world come to??

  42. James Pollock December 19, 2015 at 1:47 pm #

    Is this the case where the ability of the 11-year-old to supervise the younger children was discounted because he has ADHD?

  43. That_Susan December 19, 2015 at 4:10 pm #

    “Is this the case where the ability of the 11-year-old to supervise the younger children was discounted because he has ADHD?”

    If it is, then I’m glad the folks at the Appellate Court saw fit to discount the previous dismissal of an individual with ADHD as unfit to supervise a child — possibly because one of them, or someone else they know, has an ADHD diagnosis and is still succeeding in life and parenting.

    Either that, or they’re reasonable enough to realize that a 9 and 5 year old are not toddlers and are old enough to play outside on the playground adjacent to their home.