Don’t Arrest Parents Who Let Their Kids Go Outside

I am in Boston giving some talks, and once again, some parents tell me that one reason they’re not sending their kids outside is the fear that some busybody will call 911. That is why we must make it not only normal, but blazingly, officially LEGAL to give our kids some independence, a point the Texas Policy Institute’s Brandon Logan and I make in this piece of ours that appeared in the Austin-American Statesman.

Commentary: Giving kids an old-fashioned childhood is not abuse

By Brandon Logan and Lenore Skenazy – Special to the American-Statesman

A few years back, children’s book author Kari Anne Roy was visited by both the Austin police and Child Protective Services for allowing her son Isaac, then 6, to do the unthinkable: play outside, up her street, unsupervised.

Though eventually the charges were dropped, it wasn’t before Child Protective Services interviewed all three of Roy’s children. Afterward, Roy’s daughter, age 8, told her mom that the interviewer had asked if her parents ever showed her movies with naked people in them. “So, my daughter, who didn’t know that things like that exist, does now,” Roy later said. “Thank you, CPS.”

But it was Roy’s final exchange with the caseworker that should chill any Texan’s heart. “What do I do now?” Roy asked, regarding her kids. Simple, replied the investigator, “You just don’t let them play outside.”

Um, what?

In Texas, we like to believe we are free to raise our children as we see fit. But we worry that parents today can’t allow their children the independence to flourish without running afoul of the state’s child neglect laws.

Currently, Texas parents can be investigated for improper supervision if they put a child in any situation authorities believe “could have resulted in substantial harm.” This hopelessly broad and speculative standard allows state authorities to turn ordinary and safe parental decisions into a panoply of potential disaster.

The issue is this: While there has never been a safer time to be a child in America, there’s no such thing as a zero-risk activity. So, the fact that letting your kid walk to school could result in substantial harm — no matter how unlikely — means that the state can pretty much investigate any parent anytime they let their kids do anything other than settle into the La-Z-Boy to play “World of Warcraft.”

As parents, we believe it is our job to let our kids take a few, simple risks. Not nutty ones, like base jumping into a pit of rattlesnakes, but things like learning to use a pocket knife or ride a skateboard.

Are many Texans really getting investigated for letting their kids play outside? That’s hard to say. But in the last 20 years, CPS investigations for all forms of abuse and neglect have remained flat — or even declined — while investigations for neglectful supervision have tripled, based on a Texas Public Policy Foundation analysis of CPS data. In fact, investigating parents and removing children for “neglectful supervision” is now 70 percent of what CPS does. As recently as 1996, it was less than 40 percent.

If authorities are removing children from parents who run meth houses, great. But if they’re removing them from people like Kari Anne Roy, we’ve got a problem.

Read the rest here. And consider trying to get your state or town to pass the Free-Range Kids Bill of Rights. Give kids back the right to play outside! – L

This should never be considered a crime!

16 Responses to Don’t Arrest Parents Who Let Their Kids Go Outside

  1. EM October 6, 2017 at 6:33 pm #

    Has the Free-Range Kids Bill of Rights been enacted in any state or town yet? Asking for a (free-range) friend…

  2. Theresa Hall October 6, 2017 at 8:32 pm #

    Why they can’t stick with the supposed crime instead hoping to find something else out?
    Birds and bees and anything else that falls in that are for parents to teach kids about.
    If you’re called to see about kids being outside then stick with that category and don’t put anything in the kids heads that shouldn’t be there.

  3. common sense October 7, 2017 at 5:40 am #

    Theresa it’s because they’re trying to make a case against the parents any way they can. after all if you are so bad a parent that you actually let your child out of your sight for 1 second who knows what other perversions you might commit on them! you might let them use the bathroom by themselves[or by yourself, heaven forbid] or you could of gotten into the habit of going to sleep at night and not standing guard over them while they sleep.

  4. Donald October 7, 2017 at 11:09 am #

    if the police or cps gets called, they have to investigate. They’re concerned about safety – THERE OWN SAFETY!

  5. Charlie M October 7, 2017 at 11:57 am #

    If they get a call reporting abuse, they have to investigate abuse of any kind. If they get a neglect report they have to look for any signs of neglect. Local busy body called dcfs on my husband for letting our 9yo son play on his phone in the car on a 60 degree day while hubby picked up take-out. The caseworker showed up confused because there actually is a law about that but the minimum age is 6, but she still had to look through the house and talk to the kids. She said she still had to investigate the neglect accusation. She was very nice and on our side, but she had to make sure the medicine was in child proof bottles and there were no drugs or poisons lying around.

  6. Diane October 7, 2017 at 2:43 pm #

    @Charlie M, that’s so silly, with the child proof bottles and poisons, since your child is 9 years old. My kids knew how to open those bottles when they were 6 and if they’d had the inclination, they could have found household poisons no matter where I put them! It’s like they must have a checklist that has nothing to do with the age of the children in a household.

  7. pentamom October 7, 2017 at 3:43 pm #

    At nine years old, my kids helped clean the bathroom, which means they USED the “poisons.”

  8. Donald October 7, 2017 at 6:23 pm #

    Charlie M

    You hit the nail on the head. That’s precisely the problem. This is the drawbacks of bureaucracy. It’s mechanical. I.E. non-human and often insulting. However, it doesn’t know it’s insulting, bringing on resentment, or know how to deal with the overzealous people.

    Let’s say that I’m a work colleague of yours. As a way of wanting to make friends, I bring in a cake to work for everybody to share at morning break. This is met with suspicion. You and several others treat me with, “How do I know it isn’t poison? How do I know this isn’t a terrorist attack? Prove it to me that you don’t have murderous intent”!

    This is an extreme case but it describes the privacy laws in Australia. Business is reluctant to give information out. (so far so good. That’s what they are supposed to do) However, they take this to the extreme that I described in my social gathering scenario.

  9. Invader October 8, 2017 at 8:24 am #

    This highlights exactly what needs to change, I find it appalling that CPS has to chase baseless leads because the laws tell them they must. This is a huge waste of time and resources, that could be better used to help real kids in real peril. This takes time away from those who need it, and in a busybodies mind they have done something good. Never mind it has done far more harm than good, and gets worse if they are a repeat reporter.

  10. Kim October 8, 2017 at 1:07 pm #

    I’m in Austin and my 6 year old just started riding her bike, alone, to her friend’s house 2 blocks away. She is so proud of herself and now her friend has started coming to visit our house on his own, too. I think the real harm is in not giving kids some freedom and sense of accomplishment. To watch how proud she is of herself for traveling alone through the neighborhood is awesome. My neighbors pretty much all know her and us, so sure hope no one around here finds it necessary to call CPS.

  11. Claudia October 8, 2017 at 5:49 pm #

    I sometimes wonder if one thing that might help was if a group of freerange parents could organise and meet with a senior local police person to make the case that neglect should not be assumed if a child is unaccompanied? And to try to come up, together with a sane and proportionate protocol for child protection? We know police often act on an assumption of worst-first, and this creates unnecessary work for child protection professionals as well as obviously causing distress to parents and children.

    One approach, for example, if a lone child is reported, is that the police might, at most, go and check that they seem happy, are not in any immediate danger and know where their parents are. Or ask the concerned citizen who is phoning in to check this with the child? (Though presumably they won’t want to talk to the child because surely they should never speak to strangers… oh well) Because if all those conditions are satisfied, especially the latter, I think it’s pretty clear there’s not a problem. Obviously it’s another matter if the child is distressed, doesn’t know where their parents are and when they’ll come back etc. But I think with unaccompanied kids, it’s best to start from the assumption that the parent has made a risk assessment, even one as simple as ‘Yes, I think she and her sister can manage the roads between here and the park’ rather than just chucked their kids into the street because they couldn’t be bothered with them. (Which was, of course, considered a perfectly good reason to chuck your kids out into the street a generation or two back because you couldn’t do the chores with a bunch of kids under your feet)

  12. James October 9, 2017 at 11:55 am #

    “If they get a neglect report they have to look for any signs of neglect.”

    That right there is a major problem by itself. It presupposes that there are no cases of harassing reporting to police–that ALL reports are legitimate. And that’s simply not true. Not all reports to police–of any nature–are created equal; ask any 911 dispatcher! I get that you need to have standards for this–it’s easy for bigotry to seep into such an organization as CPS–but the instant the investigator heard that the child was 9 in Charlie M’s story they had proof that no crime had been committed and should have been able to dismiss the report on those grounds alone. If a child is alone outside, unless there’s actual evidence of harm, there’s no crime–and therefore any reports can be dismissed on those grounds. The fact that we have an organization that is required to find evidence of fault any time someone makes an accusation is a perverse inversion of the notion of “innocent until proven guilty”, and attacks the very foundation of our legal system.

  13. MonicaP October 9, 2017 at 9:09 pm #

    It’s about broken incentives. No one ever made a career or got a pat on the back for NOT trying to save a child. If CPS doesn’t investigate and something is really wrong, it’s their asses on the line.

  14. Mike Tang October 12, 2017 at 7:53 pm #

    I also want to add that for those who unfortunately do get arrested and/or convicted for simply letting their children walk outside–

    Take a stand and fight tooth and nail for your rights. It might seem like the road less taken, and it might cause more immediate hardships on your family or career, but if everyone does this, perhaps someone will finally do something. Remember, this country was founded from protest and rebellion. If everyone simply gives in w/o a fight, then cops and busybodies will think parents are low hanging fruit to boost their monthly arrest quota.

    –Mike Tang

  15. Sarah October 31, 2017 at 6:44 pm #

    Ugh! Leaving kids alone for ANY amount of time ANYWHERE (even in your own house) is abuse AND neglect!

    Anything could happen!

    They could get hurt!

    They could see something naughty!

    I know a lady who left her 36month old daughter alone in the living room while she went to the bathroom.

    Turns out the child switched tv stations and saw an ad for UNDERWEAR!!!! the child was scared for life!

    Another friend took her twenty-four month old to the store.

    She. squatted down to get something on a low shelf


    had she not turned around and sped off the child would have gotten kidnapped raped and murdered!

    You have to ALWAYS be watching your child!

    Even as they sleep.

    After all polly klass Elizabeth smart jon benet Ramsey Madeline McCann Delmar vera

    They were all taken while they were sleeping and their parents weren’t WATCHING THEM!

    Wherever I go my kid goes. I NEVER leave her! It’s just dangerous!

    At night I stay in her room and watch her sleep!

    My child is 15 years old and has NEVER gotten sick or injured!

    I homeschool.

    She’s never been exposed to ANYTHING naughty like sex ed or boys or men.

    She is 100% pure and innocent!


  16. Jon DeGeorge August 26, 2018 at 4:27 pm #

    Is that sarcasm? Because I can’t tell if it is. (but I really hope that it’s sarcasm.)

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