Readers –Here’s what the police nydbrifrri
blotter Â in Johnson City, Tenn. describes as this mom’s crime:
On Thursday, June 7, 2012 April L Lawson, W/F, 27, 1104 King Springs Rd, Johnson City, TN was arrested by officers of the Johnson City Police Department and charged with child neglect. The arrest stems from a 911 call in reference to a missing child. During the investigation, officers discovered that Lawson had allowed her two children, ages 8 and 5, to walk to the playground at Mountain View Elementary School where they were without adult supervision and unattended. After sending someone to check on the children about an hour later, the mother discovered that the children were missing, at which time she called 911. The investigation revealed that the children had walked away from the playground and went to a house nearby, at which time they were accompanied back to their residence just prior to police arriving. The Department of Childrenâ€™s Services was contacted and responded to the scene. Lawson was placed in custody and transported to the Washington County Detention Center without incident where she is being held in lieu of a $5,000 bond.
HELD IN JAIL for letting her kids play down the street.
Well, some might say, weren’t they in danger? After all, the mom herself called 911! ReporterÂ Laura Halm at WCYB did a follow up story and learned Lawson’s family lives a block and a half away from the park. Lawson told her:
“So I walked them across the street, watched them walk up the block to the park and went back inside. When the kids didn’t come home I sent somebody up here to bring them home,” she explained.
So the kids had gone to another house. Like that NEVER happens to GOOD parents. Good parents ALWAYS knows where their kids are EVERY SECOND. There are NO MIX-UPS, EVER if you are a decent parent.
That explains why the Judge Robert Lincoln told Lawson she is facing felony child abuse and neglect charges.
What I need to hear from any of you who are up on the law, or civil disobedience, or Occupy Parenthood (just made that up but I like the sound of it!) Â is: How can we Â fight this kind of thing — this outrageous leap from “minor mix-up” to “mommy felon.” Â This leap from “Police are here to help” to “Police are here to judge.” And the leap from Child Protective Services to Family Â Destructive Services. Share your ideas! We need them! – L
Unfortunately the only advice I know of is to find a really good lawyer with a Free Range outlook. This is going to be a very long row to hoe for that mom. My sympathies go out to her! If this does end up going to trial, perhaps they could call you as an expert witness?
“Family Destructive Services” is right! Taking those children away from their home and their family even for one night does more harm to them than most people can imagine. Maybe the police and the judge should be held for child abuse for what they are doing to those children.
No good can ever come from involving the police.
Their purpose is not to serve and protect, it is to raise revenue through the issuance of citations, and to feed bodies into the prison-industrial complex.
Should any of your readers find themselves in such a situation in the future, they would be better off organizing a search party among the neighbors, and leave calling the police as an absolute last resort.
I also have to say that, in this case, my opinion is that the mother didn’t make the right choice about allowing her children to play at the park unsupervised. Before I allowed my (now 10 year old) son to play at the park alone, we laid out three simple ground rules: Don’t leave with anyone but me. Don’t leave with anyone but me. Don’t leave with anyone but me.
If the kids needed a restroom or something, they were certainly close enough to have walked home to use it. It sounds to me like appropriate rules were either not set or not followed in this case, which is going to make all of this much harder on the mom. My heart goes out to her!
Not much to this story, is there? Personally, I’m inclined to think that “Don’t go anywhere without checking in” is a basic rule for kids to follow. It’s pretty much the bare minimum for being allowed to play outside. Had this happened to me, with or without the cops, I know the kids would be grounded for quite a while for breaking that little rule.
It’s one thing to have a rule, quite another for kids to follow it 100%.
I can remember quite a few cases where my siblings or I decided to walk off somewhere without telling our parents. Stopping by someone’s house for a moment while on an outing or errand? We would totally do that, assuming we’d “get away with it,” not because we didn’t remember the rule.
The other day I caught my daughter doing something she absolutely knew was forbidden. When I called her on it, her explanation was “I didn’t think you were watching.” Awesome. Doesn’t anyone remember the way kids think?
Our parents never supervised us at the park, but besides that, what about going to/from school and so on? I recall at least three incidents when one or several of us “disappeared” after school. I can’t imagine my parents being criminally charged for such things.
To me, the message this sends is: don’t call the cops if you lose track of your kids. Because you wouldn’t have lost track of them if you were “supervising” them properly.
It seems very ironic that they think the solution to a mom’s “lack of supervision” is to separate her from her children.
Itâ€™s one thing to have a rule, quite another for kids to follow it 100%.
True enough. I’d still ground them. Ground them twice, once because it’s so annoying!
You wouldn’t have to ground them if the police got involved; the police and the “justice” system would do all the punishing for you.
Well, to be quite honest, I wouldn’t leave them alone at the park for a full hour at that age. So if they weren’t there, I’d be able to look around a little first before panicking.
Unbelievable. My 5 and 7 year old daughters go to the local playground on their own all the time. They also walk to their best friend’s house. In fact, they pretty much have free reign of our neighborhood all day long, only stopping home to tell me where they are going. And, while I would be quite put out, I would not be shocked if they “forgot” to tell me where they were going.
I’d look at the school bus system for one. Do any kids have to walk over 1.5 blocks to their bus stop or to school. If so, then how can that be considered unsafe? If a child has to walk 1.5 blocks or more to a bus stop and wait there for a bus then how is that any safer? Because there’s other kids there. Well one would expect other kids to be at a playground as well.
If it goes to trial I think it should be a requirement that all of the jurors be parents. The last thing she needs is a 20 something ideologue judging her.
Whether I’d leave my kids at the park together at ages 8 and 5 would depend on my kids’ maturity and the quality of the neighborhood. If it were in a neighborhod where I knew folks tend to notice and look out for young kids who hang there, that would give me comfort. However, maybe that is not the case here since the mom immediately called 911 instead of knocking on a few doors in the neighborhood.
Age 8 and 5 – I dunno. When I was a kid, our neighbor used to leave his 8-9yo home with his 5yo special needs child every day for much more than an hour, but the elder was kinda mature (I know because I was about the same age and felt he acted much older).
It’s hard to judge because when I was a kid, everyone just went to the playground during certain hours. There was safety in numbers, and the kids all knew each other, including which nearby homes housed which kids. Age 8 was definitely OK – kids could even go to the public swimming pool unsupervised at that age. Age 8 with a 5yo sibling? I think most parents would allow it in those days. And there were definitely some kids who showed up alone who were 5 and under.
Personally I would not leave my two 5yos at the park alone for an hour (even in a pro-free-range community), because I don’t trust them to stay for that long without an adult anchor (and I live too far for them to walk themselves home). I sure hope this will change by the time they are 8.
Wasn’t there a “name-of-kid-attached-law” passed somewhere that makes you a criminal for NOT involving the police? Hate to say “I told ya so” but I’ve been harping on the police aspect of this problem for a long time. You’d almost have to start your own law firm dedicated to ridding the U.S. of these nonsense laws. (hint hint).
By 8, I was roaming the neighborhood unfettered until the street lights came on. Including going to the park – way farther than a block and a half – by myself for as long as I wanted. I did not have a 5 year old sibling in tow, though. And, oddly enough, none of my neighborhhood friends had little sibling either.
I let my 6 year play at the playground, such that it is, outside my building by herself when she comes to work with me. I’m in the 3rd floor and the playground is not visible from my office. She stays for as long as she wants and walks back to the office when bored.
What a wonderful thing for a kid to grow up with: your mom is in jail because you didn’t go home on time.
Can we say ‘guilt trip from Hell’, everybody? Sure we can!
I live in this region. Parents are arrested every few months for allowing their children to go for walks, play in the yard unsupervised, or being left alone when asleep at night while the parent pops out for some reason.
Here’s one from April where two mothers’ children were “playing near the roadway”. A concerned neighbor called police who came out and determined both mothers had had a beer. Both were arrested and charged with child neglect and public intoxication.
Here’s other, arrested last year for playing outside while mom and dad were asleep. They make a big deal that there was dog crap in the house. Gross yeah but a lot of dog owners are like that. Both parents charged with misdemeanor child abuse/neglect and the father gets felony child abuse/neglect since he’s the father. Realize the child is not beaten or starved! The only thing is she was playing outside while the parents were asleep. Neighbor saw this and kidnapped the child by removing from the parents’ property and placing the child in the neighbor’s car, then calling 911.
Typical comments by locals is to refer to the children as precious angels and call for extremely harsh penalty for the parents.
A few months after that one last year there was a Roxycontin addict woman who the police wouldn’t bother because she was a drug informant and was trading favors with officials for leniency. She tortured her boyfriend’s daughter to death. They refused to even charge her with the murder until after the autopsy results came in. It took several months for some reason and then she pled guilty to murder this last March.
But let the kids play in the yard and it is charges and jail time immediately.
@Pat At least one of the posts on here has said that some communities are demanding that parents walk or drive their kids to the bus stop, and wait with them. That’s fairly ridiculous in itself, of course. But it weakens the argument that kids are expected to walk a block and a half if that’s the case where this mom lives.
I was 4.5 when we moved to the house I spent most of my childhood in. From that time on I spent every summer day outside roaming the neighborhood, sometimes several blocks. I don’t even recall checking in. And there was nothing special about our neighborhood – I’ll bet every kid I knew did the same thing. And I was a kid when people randomly poisoned Tylenol bottles and stuck razor blades in halloween candy and things like that. Not to mention Etan Patz, etc. It was way more dangerous, but people were also way more rational.
I grieve for my son’s lost childhood.
“where they were without adult supervision and unattended.”
Love the duplicate phrasing. Not really, If people are judged for letting a 13-year-old babysit, how exactly are “without adult supervision” and “unattended” different?
With mommy rotting in jail, those kids will be scarred for life. The judge needs to think about the damage he’s doing to those kids. In fact, he deserves to go to jail for child abuse himself. There’s nothing worse than separating kids from a loving family for no good reason.
And another case that will make parents think twice before they ask the police for help.
I must admit that it took me a few goes before I was confident that I had conveyed the rules about going to or staying somewhere by herself to my daughter. The first time I left her alone at the park with some neighbourhood kids – to walk the dog around the block – they were all gone when I got back 15 minutes later. We finally found them in her bedroom, showing off her toys.
And I’ve had other panicky moments. Like the other day when I didn’t get a phone call at work on the day my daughter walks home and waits for me. I raced home to discover that the phone was unplugged. She now knows how to plug in the phone.
And the other day I left her outside at the supermarket to eat her icecream and she wasn’t there when I came out. I eventually found her IN the supermarket, because she followed a class mate in. She got scolded for that one too and she now knows she has to come find me and tell me if she is not going to be where she said she’d be or else she will have to stay right next to me for at least a week.
I would never call the police that quickly though. Even though horrible thoughts go through my head when I can’t find my child immediately, I know rationally that it is far more likely for there to be an innocent explanation than that she has come to any harm.
And we know that most of the calls about missing kids are cases of parents panicking if they suddenly realise they don’t know where their kids are and that in the vast majority of cases the kids turn up soon after and usually they just wandered off. Whether or not they wandered off after they had been given permission to go to the playground by themselves is completely irrelevant.
There must be something in the water in that area. The adjacent city of Elizabethton is where a mother was threatened by police for allowing her ten-year-old to bike to school on residential streets.
Here’s a pic of downtown Johnson city tenn: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Johnsoncitydowntown.jpg
Looks like it’s small town USA to me. Probably they know everyone on their street. If your kids can’t play here without direct supervision, where can they?
Everyone should be concerned about this. It’s like being jailed for not having sex with your husband — what exactly is the point of police getting involved?
I really wonder though – the police are trained to respond quickly to find kids, because the first few minutes are crucial..
However the child neglect thing is really overblown. My son raced a triathlon when he was 10…. That meant he swam half a mile on a lake, was on a bicycle, on an oncontrolled road, with no adults nearby, for 15 miles or close to an hour at his speed, and then ran 3 miles, again, on a largely uncontrolled road with traffic. He was out of my sight for 2 hours. He had a blast.
At what point will that be considered child neglect?
The thing that really bugs me is that the police took a happy ending – kids are safe, community is fine – and made it into a teachable moment that says: “Don’t ever, under any circumstances, call the police when your kids are missing.”
Is that the message they want? And is this a good use of taxpayer dollars?
Let’s face it everyone times have changed, its not really safe to leave small children playing at the park alone, more kids going missing each year than ever before and if those kids had really been missing or worse yet kidnapped everyone would want to know why the police weren’t involved sooner! You can’t blame to police for what happen in this case, they are a small part of the system and in most states charges can’t even be brought without a call to the district or states attorney’s office. It’s tbs state that presses charges not the police, the police are taking orders and when things go truly wrong the police are the first you look to for help. Nevermind that police have children of their own and are making and facing many of the same parenting choices as all of you. What I’d like to know is if this mother was home and right down tbs street why wasn’t she with her kids spending time with them in the park? That’s where I’d be if I didn’t have to work… Just saying..
@Kristin: times have changed, it’s actually safer now than ever before to leave kids unattended. Fewer kids go missing, and the number of kids missing is much smaller than, say, the number of kids who die strapped into car seats or the number of kids who get diabetes from junk food.
Please don’t buy into the hype and panic. Do the research. Fewer than 200 “go missing” with strangers every year. About 10x that many die “safely” strapped into their car seats.
I was roaming the neighborhood and going to the park by myself or with other kids when I was 5. Mom’s rule was that I had to tell her where I would be, but that was usually forgotten in the summer. My plans could change (the friend I was going to see might be on vacation and not at home) and I didn’t want to go all the way back home to tell her. As long as I was home in time for supper everything was okay.
@Kathy there has never been a case of someone handing out poisoned Halloween candy, that is an urban legend.
@Kristin yeah more kids are going missing than ever before… because the meaning of “missing” has changed and now means “out of Mom’s sight.” Kidnappings and crime have gone down. Mom was not at the park because she thought her kids capable of playing without her eyes on them at all times! If you aren’t at the park with your kids either, then you can not fault her for not being, no matter your excuse.
Letâ€™s face it everyone times have changed, its not really safe to leave small children playing at the park alone, more kids going missing each year than ever before and if those kids had really been missing or worse yet kidnapped everyone would want to know why the police werenâ€™t involved sooner!
Times HAVE changed. The crime rate has been dropping since my early teens, and continues to do so. After the very high crime decades of the 70s – early 90s, we’re now down to about 1960s levels in terms of crime.
Kids aren’t being kidnapped more frequently than they were either, and most stranger abductions involve teens and preteens, not small children. This just makes logical sense. Even most rapists and murderers aren’t interested in little kids.
You canâ€™t blame to police for what happen in this case, they are a small part of the system and in most states charges canâ€™t even be brought without a call to the district or states attorneyâ€™s office.
And who makes that call?
Itâ€™s tbs state that presses charges not the police, the police are taking orders and when things go truly wrong the police are the first you look to for help.
And they have a lot of autonomy when they’re doing their job. We trust them to make decisions, not to just follow orders on everything.
What Iâ€™d like to know is if this mother was home and right down tbs street why wasnâ€™t she with her kids spending time with them in the park? Thatâ€™s where Iâ€™d be if I didnâ€™t have to workâ€¦ Just saying..
She probably WAS working. Parents who stay home with their children aren’t always sitting on their butts, watching TV and eating bonbons. She may have been cleaning the house, cooking dinner, setting up doctor’s appointments or paying bills, doing the week’s laundry, putting away the groceries, or staying home with a younger child who (perhaps for naptime?) couldn’t go to the playground.
Are you suggesting that we should let all these important tasks slide so we can go have fun with the kids? Or that children should stay in the home with mom until the half hour or so of time that she has free?
People act like the choice to go out with your kids rather than sending them alone is cost-free. Well, it’s not.
@Kathy there has never been a case of someone handing out poisoned Halloween candy, that is an urban legend.
No, but there WAS a case of poisoned Tylenol bottles and there HAVE been cases of people putting pins and razor blades in apples, although generally not the ones they were handing out. (You can check the latter out on Snopes.)
Kathy didn’t mention poison in candy. That really hasn’t happened, although in my memories “examining the halloween candy” is an essential part of the holiday. Go figure.
Lenore’s question was “How can we fight this?”
Here are a few suggestions:
1) Send your kids to the park and other places to play (if you are comfortable with their maturity). They can’t arrest all of us, and the system couldn’t possibly take all of our millions of kids and add them to the ones who really should be removed from their families. Show them that this is the norm, not the fear.
2) Rally around these parents who do nothing wrong (other than a simple mix-up) but get the “felon treatment”. Go to their home and bring them a meal. Bring the media. Bring a crowd. Leave your kids at the same park she did and have a nice demonstration on her lawn, showing the world that we won’t sit back and watch the “authorities” abuse this family.
I live in this area, east Tennessee. Parents are arrested and charged with misdemeanor and felony child abuse and neglect several times a year for similar cases. If your children are found walking down the street, that is abuse. If your children are found playing near a street, that is abuse. If your children are in your front yard which is near a street and you are inside your house taking a nap, that is abuse. If your children are in the yard playing and you drank a beer earlier in the day, that is abuse and public intoxication. In all cases parents are arrested, charged with these crimes and there will never be a jury trial. They don’t have jury trials in this area. Instead, in one of the small town in this area for example, the prosecutor hit arrested people with massive amounts of ridiculous charges and then offered to drop all but one if the person accepts a plea AND has sex with the prosecutor. Yes you heard that right. He was fired as district attorney for sex misconduct, then was rehired as prosecutor and continued as before. Eventually when the state police came in he was charged, but not with rape under color of authority (the correct charge) but a single count of misconduct which was later dismissed.
One of the women he made deals with murdered a 3 yr old child last year after torturing her. Oh that woman wasn’t charged with child abuse originally, she was a drug addict and dealer whose would do things like go on internet dates and take the guy to a remote location where he would be beaten and robbed by her and her gang. She was babysitting a small girl who the local judge had taken custody away from its mother from. The judge is currently in jail with over 60 charges of theft, robbing from the state, his clients, and churches.
This is standard for this area. People who take care of their kids and allow them some freedom are arrested, while drug dealers and rapists are not only left to run free but in a number of cases are the judges, police and prosecutors themselves. The general public approves of the situation and gleefully denounces mothers whose children walk to the park or play in the yard as bad parents who should “rot in jail”, and support the children taken away and given to others who then receive foster care payments from the state as a form of additional income.
“Letâ€™s face it everyone times have changed, its not really safe to leave small children playing at the park alone, more kids going missing each year than ever before”
The times have changed. Crime is down. More kids are not going missing every year. And “missing” tells you nothing. Almost all “missing” kids were taken by family members in a custody dispute, ran away or are much like these kids who were found perfectly safe within a short period of time and the result of wandering off, breaking curfew or communications errors. Only about 115 or so kids are truly kidnapped every year.
“You canâ€™t blame to police for what happen in this case, they are a small part of the system and in most states charges canâ€™t even be brought without a call to the district or states attorneyâ€™s office.”
This is not even remotely true. Do you really think that the police call the DA every time they want to arrest someone? The court system would screech to a halt. The DAs would be too busy advising the police as to whether to arrest drunks for DUI and men for beating their women to actually appear in court.
In the vast majority of cases, the police arrest per their own opinion of the law. It will be several days before anyone at the DAs office even gets the paperwork and knows the person was arrested. There are an EXTREMELY SMALL number of cases where a DA is involved prior to arrest. A missing kid is not one until, possibly, it blows up into a genuine stranger kidnapping case.
It is true that the DA chooses whether to continue the case or not. But this decision is made WAY after arrest. You’ve already been arrested, booked into jail, made bond/spent weeks and even months in jail if you can’t afford bond, and had your name in the paper as a criminal before the DA will ever get around to deciding whether you are going to be formally prosecuted or not and for what charges.
The police absolutely ARE to blame. THEY choose who to arrest. THEY initially choose whether it is a felony or a misdemeanor (although their choice is not determinative of the case). In general, only people arrested by the police are prosecuted by the DA (occasionally the DA pursues it’s own investigation but it’s a rarity) so no arrest by the police, no prosecution at all. In fact, it is highly unlikely that the DA will ever know that the event happened unless you are arrested. They are not monitoring police radios to see what is occurring in town. The police don’t answer to the DA. The DA does not supervise the police (beyond occasionally telling them their cases are shit and they need to do better if they want them prosecuted).
The DAs Office is also to blame. The have the power to not prosecute charges brought by the police.
Kristin, aside from the fact that you’re wrong on your “facts” (as others have pointed out), the whole philosopy of free-range is that it’s actually good for kids and developmentally appropriate for them to be unsupervised part of the time. Also, it is not appriopriate for such big kids to be playing with mommy when there are other kids around to play with. The whole point of a park or playground is to provide a safe place for KIDS to play – not for parents to play with their kids. I don’t know where people got the idea that things designed for kids are not appropriate/safe for kids, but it makes no sense.
Today my 5yo was out to prove something and she ended up falling on her face from about 4.5′ over wood chips. She got a bloody lip and ate some dirt. I cleaned her up and told her that this incident proves how safe the playground is – that the bars are not dangerously high and the wood chips are great for cushioning falls. Thank goodness I was the only adult there, because so many would have said “see, this proves that what you encourage your daughter to do is unsafe.” It’s all in one’s perspective of what’s normal / appropriate.
I want to make sure that when my kids *need* to do things without me, they will do so with confidence. In school for instance, don’t want them to be the “babies” who can’t do anything or are afraid to try or who want their mommy. I want them to be fully engaged in every experience available to them.
After reading Tennessean, I think that perhaps a few phone calls should be made. These are where the calls should be made to: 60 Minutes, Frontline, National Public Radio, This American Life. In that order.
These are shows/news outlets that look at outrageous things happening, and take people to task for them. “The Dukes of Hazard” should be just a TV show, not real life (although, Dukes seems tame compared to what is going on if even half of this is true.)
“What Iâ€™d like to know is if this mother was home and right down tbs street why wasnâ€™t she with her kids spending time with them in the park? Thatâ€™s where Iâ€™d be if I didnâ€™t have to workâ€¦”
Really? Your children need you to play with them at the playground? They can’t entertain themselves with tons of equipment designed, engineered and intended for kids to be able to play on alone? Well that’s just sad.
Further, this “spending time” with your kids at the playground almost always consist of the parent standing/sitting to the side with the rest of the parents watching kids play. And that is the way that it should be (well parents shouldn’t be there at all if possible). Kids need opportunities to play with other kids and exercise their own abilities. They don’t need parents hovering over them trying to “spend time” with them at the playground.
I prefer to define “spending time” with my kid with more meaning than simply being present in her general vicinity while she plays on her own or with other kids. “Spending time” with my child involves reading a book together, playing a game, baking cupcakes together or something that involves one-on-one interaction, not simply watching her play from a distance.
And kids need time away from parents to test their abilities and to try to figure things out on their own. You needing to be there every minute you are not at work is about what is best for you and not what is best for your kids.
â€œThe Dukes of Hazardâ€ should be just a TV show, not real life”
We had a case in our county where the step-mother routinely allowed her 10 year old step-son to play Dukes of Hazard. She would drive down the driveway and allow him to run and dive into the moving car through the window. As will happen, the kid missed one day and was hit in the head by the car, causing head injuries. She was originally charged with a misdemeanor and came within minutes of pleading to that misdemeanor before a new DA came into office and decided to increase the charges to a felony. But for, the former DA becoming a judge and a new DA coming into office during the pendency of this case, she would have a misdemeanor conviction and not a felony for majorly bad parenting judgment.
And this woman was arrested for a felony for letting her children go to a park. No injuries. No clearly idiotic conduct by the parent. Typical kid wandering off behavior.
This just shows that it is all about the attitude of the police and DA where you live. In some places allowing your kid to go to the park alone is a felony where in other places, you can play Dukes of Hazard with your kid and only get convicted of a misdemeanor.
I was looking at this on Google Maps. The house and the play set (it’s not a park, it’s a play set at the elementary school with a fence around it) are in a residential neighborhood. The park is on the same street as the house, on the other side of the road. It is between 1000 and 1200 feet away from the house. There is a sidewalk running the entire distance from the house to the park. If you stand on street view and look up the street, you can see the mother’s house. So the mother’s claims she can see them from her house are completely true. According to the police report linked to, her house is at 1104 King Springs Rd Johnson City and the elementary school is just a bit to the west.
It’s obvious that the sidewalk was built with the specific intention of allowing children in the neighborhood to walk to the elementary school.
According to the local news reports about this, the mother is a monster for allowing her children to play at the park or to walk outside of the house.
Here are some comments from the local paper about what others think about allowing your children to walk 1000 feet along a sidewalk:
“Every day I read the news I feel sorrier and sorrier for our precious children. There are a whole bunch of people out there who should be sterilized!”
“I am really appalled at how many people think this is a safe thing to do in our day. Crime has risen in this area. I work in a place where we’re made painfully aware of how many sex offenders live here. All it takes is a second for a child to go missing and then found dead.”
“Anything could have happened to them. Thank heavens they are safe. I think she deserved to be arrested.”
More from an article. I’m only not providing links because when I do this blog comments holds it for moderation and it can’t be seen. My first post had links, but it is invisible.
The mother says: “I walked them across the street, watched them walk up the block to the park and went back inside. When the kids didn’t come home I sent somebody up here to bring them home.”
Judge Robert Lincoln explains why felony abuse and neglect charges were filed against her: “If the abused child is eight years of age or less the penalty is a class D felony.”
If you guys want to read up on the law enforcement in the area I spoke of, the names to google are “Prosecutor Doug Godbee” (sex for leniency), “Judge James Taylor” (corrupt judge), “Detective Brad Depew” – narcotics detective stealing narcotics, “Amber Beth Gibson”, drug informant and thug with close connections to officials who tortured and murdered a 3 yr old.
“James and Melissa Strahan” – parents arrested for child playing outside while they napped
“Sarah Reilly and Amy Harris” – two mothers arrested for children playing near road after they had each had a beer
Also, the corrupt officials I mentioned are in Hawkins County which is a county over and TBI is there constantly. A few years ago the TBI rounded up most of the officials in Unicoi County. Johnson City is in Carter, Sullivan, and Washington Counties and is in the same area, the problems are not limited to certain cities but infect the whole region. The arrests of parents for children being unsupervised, playing at parks, and going for walks happen throughout the region, there is a general consensus that any parent that allows their child out of their sight for more than a moment is guilty of felony child abuse and neglect and the child should be taken away and put in foster care and the parents imprisoned. It’s not just the officials, the general public in this area strongly believes that.
Final thought, in thinking about how they always charge them with “abuse” which historically has meant beating and physical harm, and “neglect” which historically has meant things like not feeding your children, or making them stay in a cold unheated shed during the winter.
It’s interesting because it’s almost never heard of to arrest parents for beating their children. We have people that beat their kids at WalMart, at their houses, out in restaurants. Many of the schools here still practice corporal punishment which is sometimes done with a wooden paddle. If you report your neighbors for actually beating their children and the neighbors are related to anyone important you’ll be told to mind your own business, and be considered a heathen who does not attend the proper church since “discipline” is necessary to “raise them right in the Lord”.
Where are you seeing comments on this story? Neither the article nor the blotter have any comments that I can see.
Tennesseean, if that’s how kids are being sheltered in your neck of the woods, I worry about the future of that area. 12 years from now those kids will be needing jobs. What responsible jobs will they be able to perform?
Things are about half and half where I live – it’s a lot different from when I was a kid, but at least you don’t see cops every time a child putzes off “alone.” When a child goes missing, you don’t hear “it was the mother’s fault, put her in jail.” I guess I should be very thankful.
Beth, if you paste the quote you’re interested in into Google it should take you to the sources – my comments here get held if I post links. Let me know if any you try don’t work that way.
SKL, it was extremely extremely different when I was a kid, but I grew up elsewhere. I think different for this area as well given that there was that sidewalk leading up to the elementary school where the play equipment was that this lady’s kids were playing. My childhood was so radically different that it seems to me the US is a repressive foreign culture compared to the basic freedoms and common sense not too many years ago.
I was pondering more how it is that it is OK to smack or punch your kid, or brutally beat them is “discipline”, but letting them play at playset down the block that can be seen from the mother’s kitchen window is “felony child abuse”.
At WalMart many kids who ask there mother for stuff, or who grab at things are smacked rather than reasoned with. This is how “discipline” is done. Hurt someone, beat them, cause them pain. That’s what is approved of. How is it consistent with the park punishment?
1. This mother is seen as the evildoer. She is doing wrong according to “rules”, whether or not such rules exist is irrelevant, and she will be punished by putting her in jail and taking her children away, and publish shaming. The children who touch things at WalMart are likewise breaking unwritten rules and must be hurt badly to stop them from doing whatever they are doing.
2. Children at WalMart touch things because they are curious about them. Children at the park by themselves are learning self independence and are motivated by curiosity. In this area curiosity and self motivation are seen as very very bad things that come from Satan. The only thing that is respected or desired is “hard work”, as unpleasant and dull as possible, blindly following the directions of the boss at the factory who tells you exactly what to do. If you do anything wrong, it is his fault since you were only doing as you were told. If you fail to do something because the boss did not tell you what to do, then that is his fault for not telling you. You follow directions and then pick up your paycheck. If there are benefits that is a bonus.
If you are looking to hire people who are able to think for themselves or take any self initiative, this is not the area to be looking for it. That is beaten out of people at a young age. Idle hands are the devil’s playground and if people start thinking for themselves they might start questioning authority.
So that’s the common theme. Curiosity is bad and should be punished because people need to learn their place, which is to engage in mindless obedience of authority. The end.
Well . . . I am not against corporal punishment (of course depending on the severity and how it’s used). But ironically, if this mom had smacked her kids around enough, theoretically they would have been obedient enough to keep their mom informed of their whereabouts. And then she would not be in jail right now.
I wonder if she was new to the neighborhood.
“So thatâ€™s the common theme. Curiosity is bad and should be punished because people need to learn their place, which is to engage in mindless obedience of authority. The end.”
Which is why I care so very much about opening people’s eyes to their role in creating this top-down, power-over, authoritarian structure in our society. We are all complicit in continuing this.
When one person’s need for understanding isn’t met, mine isn’t met. There is no separation between us, and all our needs are universal. The way our laws and judicial and correctional systems work are not acknowledging any of this.
I mourn for this family, for this mother, for all of us. This is not supporting child welfare in the least.
So. I do my part by giving voice to the idea of solutions that work for everyone, how when certain strategies, like jailing a mother of young children, clearly is not supporting well-being or nurturing, to say it in those terms, in the language of values, instead of, “This is insane,” “everything is going to hell,” “It’s not fair,” etc.
Point out to people, whether lawmakers, law enforcement, judicial or corrections people, what you imagine are the values they are aiming to support, then ask them if their laws / actions are actually working in the service of those values.
Labelling laws, actions, and people gets us nowhere. Speaking about values might.
Seems this thread has digressed into issues about how to discipline children. I think discipline is a little off-topic from the subject here.
I don’t understand how this is abuse or neglect unless the judge or prosecution can prove that the children were in imminent danger. As those who read this blog on a regular basis, the concept of “stranger danger” is a myth, and therefore the children were in no danger at all. That being the case, I’d say the mother here has a good case for a civil suit against Johnson City.
Mollie, the problem is that solutions are not universal. Yes the desire to nurture children is nearly universal. The definition of what constitutes “nurturing” will vary by person. For some it means young children never go to the park alone. For some this mother was absolutely not nurturing her children and her children are better off if she never does this again, even if because she is in jail.
The fact is that many people in the US don’t mind our laws and criminal justice system exactly as they are. If they want any changes, they want MORE law and order. More prison. Longer sentences. More death penalty. It is a small minority that are crying for less laws and less prison. Few screaming to outlaw the death penalty.
We are complicit in creating this system. But majority rules, and many like the system just as it is. Most of the rest don’t really care enough to change it unless they happen to run afoul of some law.
@JC: I think you have the gist of the idea. We have moved the “think of the children” mindset to the point where if I can somehow imagine that the children might at some point have potentially been in danger, or could have possibly been in danger, then the parent(s) are negligent.
No actual threat or injury has to take place. Thoughtcrime has reached new levels. And I thought George Orwell’s 1984 was pessimistic.
And the danger is that no politician is willing to speak against stuff like this since being “tough on crime” and “thinking of the children” are always good for stricter enforcement of the laws.
I’ve noticed that a lot more free-rangers are responding to this story (to most stories in fact) than responded to Lenore’s call for hosting a free-range picnic.
So, people, one of the things we need to do is turn free-range parenting into the “norm” to fight ridiculous happenings like this one above. And one of the ways we can do that is by joining together in our neighborhoods and cities to become a unified group. Which will attract more attention and get more people THINKING about their parenting choices. Which is why Lenore called for people to host picnics.
That article of Lenore’s calling for picnics had a record low number of comments (20-something?), while you’re all willing to wade in here and TALK.
Stand behind all your talk: sign up to host a free-range picnic in your area. (See Lenore’s post from about a week ago).
Some 25 years ago, on the 4th of July no less…we had come back from the neighborhood picnic. My brother, who was about 8 or so, went off to play with some friends. When dinner time rolled around and he did not come home, my mom went out to look for him. We checked all the normal places, rang door bells of friends/neighbors to see if they were playing insides somewhere, checked the neighborhood pool, etc. After about 90 min and no sign…my mom called the police. They came out and helped search the neighborhood. Turned out he HAD been at a friends house, in the basement playing games and the older sister was home and just did not want to answer the door when it rang! The police left, my brother got a nice lecture on being home when told, and we all went on our merry way. No one accused my mom of being a bad parent, or child abuse, or threatened to take her jail or anythings else, The police were just happy to have found him safe and sound and return him home. Why have things changed so much that we don’t trust the parents to make choices for their kids (barring ACTUAL abuse and neglect)?
That article of Lenoreâ€™s calling for picnics had a record low number of comments (20-something?), while youâ€™re all willing to wade in here and TALK.
This is probably because we mostly all comment on the most recent post. This is yet another thing that a proper messageboard would solve.
Genny, that reminds me of a day at the county fair when my kid brother was 7. He was supposed to be hanging out with a couple of older siblings, but he wandered off. He was a habitual wanderer, never coming straight home from school despite being told to, so this did not really concern us right away. We figured we’d eventually cross paths again – probably when he got hungry.
It got close to closing time and he was nowhere to be seen. I went to the police booth and had him paged, to no avail. The fair closed and we searched everywhere. Finally we walked home, assuming he’d show up there once he had nothing else to do. My parents were already in bed and we were afraid to tell them that we’d lost track of little bro. We started to worry, walked around town looking for him, and went back home to wait some more.
Finally around 2am little bro shows up at home. “Where were you?!” “There was this guy who was looking for an open bar. I took him to Bar X but it was closed, and Bar Y etc. . . . Finally we got to the Wooden Nickel and it was still open. So then I came home.” He was completely undaunted.
We then spent the next half hour telling little bro horror stories of what can happen to kids who walk off with strangers in the middle of the night. When we saw that he was properly horrified, we all went to bed. We never did tell our parents.
I wonder how many felony counts we would have racked up in some jurisdictions that night.
I looked it up on google maps and the kids were only about a tenth of a mile from their house, less than my old driveway.
We live in the woods and our driveway is two tenths of a mile long. Can you imagine if permitting our young daughters to pick up the mail at the end of the driveway got my husband and me felony child abuse charges?
@Genny, these are the stories that should be collected and used to argue that it is unfair to expect parents to just know that the interpretation of the law has changed so dramatically since they were kids. Because as far as I know, the laws themselves have not changed, so how is it acceptable to punish a parent so harshly for something that wouldn’t have got their parents even a lecture back then? From a legal perspective, surely that is not a tenable position?
The police blotter stated â€œThe Department of Childrenâ€™s Services [aka CPS] was contacted and responded to the scene.â€ This case would appear to be the result of mandate reporting laws turning CPS guideline into defacto laws.
This could happen to anyone who doesnâ€™t strictly adhere to CPS guidelines, should a mandated reporter find out. Regardless of the reporterâ€™s opinion, CPS became arbiter.
I know lots of us here are familiar with our state and even local laws on child supervisionâ€¦ but how many of us really know what CPS says?
Tennesse courts website (http://www.tncourts.gov/courts/juvenile-family-courts/faqs). Says, â€œThere is no legal age for children to stay at home alone.â€â€¦. â€œObviously, young children under age 10 should not be left without supervision at any time.â€
Maybe a legal search in you state says similar thingsâ€¦ But that statement about no legal age, is meaningless, when someone is mandated to tell CPS about a 9 year old home for 10 minutes and CPS calls the kid â€œneglected.â€
Because Ms. Lawsonâ€™s 5 year old was presumed â€˜aloneâ€™ CPS considered this a life threatening emergency situation. Had the youngest been 6, or the event been reported to CPS after the children were safely home it would fall to the lowest priority report type.
You can see these priority codes here: (http://www.tn.gov/youth/dcsguide/policies/chap14/PriorityResDef.pdf) 1c) â€œLife threatening situations or significant injuries (i.e., child under two (2) not being fed properly; under the age of six (6) currently left alone)â€
3d) â€œLack of supervision (not currently alone or over six (6) years old) and abandoned). â€œ
If we want to stop future cases like this from happening we need to raise a legal challenge to such defacto laws. We would need psychologists willing to stand against CPS to prove that normal 9 year olds (or 7 year olds in my county) can, and moreover should be with out adult supervision for 10 minutes and more. We need to prove that CPS must lower the ages or have ability/knowledge based standards. Further we need to put pressure on our legislators (who probably didnâ€™t or donâ€™t follow such guidelines with their own children) to place CPS back in the role of supporting cops, doctors and families, when a caregiver puts children in true danger, rather than CPS telling cops that this case outranked non-emergency room cases of medical neglect, and domestic violence.
This won’t stop until the agents of the state — the police, teachers and CPS — start acting like adults and refuse to get involved in trivial matters that do not concern them.
Hey, even the Prime Minister of England can make mistakes as a parent… (I don’t see him being carted off or social services being called either.)
I think it is a great disservice to kids all over that we do not hold them accountable for their actions. In my mind it’s too bad that the police officers who arrived on the scene did not give a firm talking to those two kids about how important it is to follow the rules and stay where you are supposed to be. I have a feeling that would be a much more effective learning tool than throwing their mom in jail. At 5 and 8, when children are still developing a sense of cause and effect, I can’t imagine the warped view those two are getting.
Not all police departments jump to charging the parent. My oldest at 7yo walked away from home. He was mad at mommy about doing homework and walked outside. She thought he was just cooling off and she was dealing with the other two. Turns out, he kept walking. She was searching with a neighbor when I got home and searched as well. As it got closer to dark and he had an hour head start, making the search area ever larger, I called 911. The police were great. I told them he was very capable of walking along streets with traffic. He has walked with me in every direction to stores, school, and parks and had once threatened to walk to gramma’s (5 miles, but he knows the way). I felt confident he could reach any of those destinations safely, but I just needed more help to cover all those areas while leaving someone close to home. Turns out he had gone to a park (3 mile round trip) and came back on his own. He had even been questioned by another parent, but lied and said we knew where he was. After all that, the officers gave him a little talking to (followed later by mine) and were all very nice as they returned the pictures and left.
When I was 8 I could go to the park up the street, but that wasn’t nearly as much fun as roaming the woods across the street. It’s about two blocks by two blocks and ended at an orchard. My parents trusted me to play safe. I don’t know how many times I came home with soaked shoes from playing in the creek and looking for crayfish. I think letting an 8 year old go to the playground a block and a half away is fine.
Lesson (re)learned, for the 10,000th time: Involving the authorities always, invariably, makes things worse. Never talk to the police. NEVER TALK TO THE POLICE. There is no way it can help you.
As far as I know, there isn’t any law that prevents parents from letting their kids go to the park on their own. But it seems that they can put a spin on it using “child abuse” and “child neglect” in the broadest view. That’s would be like charging EVERYONE who jay walks, litters, spits on the ground. The only difference is, the aforementioned are law, well by-law, but law none the less. I didn’t actually start my “free range” upbringing till I was 6. As well as most kids back then. From 6 years and on, we all got to walk to school on our own. Stick around after school to play. Go to the park or playground on our own on weekends and summer vacation. As long as we followed the rules we were given (be home by dinner, watch each other, call home if there is a problem – using a payphone, and if we are going any where else other than where we said we were going to go, to let any of the parents know, and don’t get into trouble), we got to pretty much do what we wanted. Cops wouldn’t even bat an eye, seeing 6-10 year olds on their own doing kid stuff. It’s ridiculous how people’s mentality these days have been so easily manipulated and changed in the last 15-20 years. And for no reason. Yes, no reason.
My question though is, did the kids really walk over to another house, or did some busy body neighbor take matters into their own hand and took the kids to “safety”? This isn’t, by definition, child abuse or neglect. The extra kick to the balls about this whole incident, is that now this mother is forced to live a life of fear for her kids. Who wants to bet she will start helicoptering over her children now, not allowing them to do kids stuff without being hovered over. This is how this over protection and paranoia thinking has started, and this is how it continues to be perpetuated. It’s a sad state of society when parents get in trouble for being…well…parents, real parents that is.
Its a sad sad day to read this. Man I surely would have been arrested for letting my kids go cart down the street 20 years ago even though we lived on a dead end street and all the kids on the street played together. then of course they had friends a block over and they would walk straight through the woods to their house. I don’t thin I was a bad Mom for that. I just trusted them I guess. Good parents beware!
People deserve what they tolerate.
Donna said, “Mollie, the problem is that solutions are not universal. Yes the desire to nurture children is nearly universal.”
I agree totally. Solutions / strategies are not universal, but the values are. To focus on values, and to say, “We agree that children must be nurtured, that the well-being of children is important to all of us,” and then, “So when I let my kids go to the park without me, that is nurturing and well-being for me,” and to say, “I understand there are others for whom nurturing means being at home playing video games. We have different strategies to support the same values.”
“The definition of what constitutes â€œnurturingâ€ will vary by person.”
Exactly. This is why it’s so important to get away from labelling people and calling them “irresponsible,” “lazy,” or “helicopters.” We all want the same thing: children who thrive. We have different ideas about what that looks like, how to get there. By speaking to lawmakers and others in the judicial and law enforcement systems in the language of values, I think we’ll get farther toward solutions that work for everyone.
“For some it means young children never go to the park alone. For some this mother was absolutely not nurturing her children and her children are better off if she never does this again, even if because she is in jail.”
I’m doubtful that a person who says, “These kids need nurturing, so it’s better to put their beloved parent in jail, yes, that’s the best strategy I can come up with to support nurturing and well-being for these kids” will stay with that strategy for long, once they’ve really connected to what it means to the kids to be put into the foster care system. It’s worth it to spend some time letting that person really experience their own connection to what matters to them: thriving children. Then to say, “And how does the strategy of separating mom and kids work in this situation to support that?”
I think all people want fairness, meaning, and predictability, but there’s a lot going on with our societal “standards of parenting” that are missing the mark for everyone, especially kids.
@Mollie: I have to disagree with you on the “We all want children to thrive”…. I’ve been told more than once that I should drug my kids so they’d be “easier to handle”. In other words, having active kids who think for themselves is too much work, so get them a ‘script for Ritalin or something so they “calm down”.
I’ve run into too many parents like that. I look at helicopter parents as controlling and untrusting, neither one of which allows children to thrive. And they’re the ones telling me to drug my kids.
You can be concerned without being controlling and untrusting. But how does micromanaging your kid nurture them? When you plan every minute of every day and manage every activity and never allow your child a voice in their own life, that’s stifling, not nurturing.
I still hear parents of 14 year olds saying things like “We are going to put our son/daughter into XYZ activity”. What, are they a potted plant that you put into a blue pot this season?
In other words, kids are looked at as either a resource to be managed and shown off as an example of parental prowess, or as a pain in the butt to be drugged. But nurturing them doesn’t enter into it.
Oh geesh, where does the insanity stop? My youngest daughter is 6, she’s been going to the park with her older siblings since she was 4 1/2 (they would have been 10, 9 and 8). She’s 6 now and walks herself there and back. It’s about 1 block from our house to the start of the park but the playground is on the other side of it (about another block). The park is always filled with unsupervised kids of all ages. Even my almost 2yo son goes there without me thanks to his older sibs (they are almost 12, 10 and 9 and take him all the time).
Last Friday me and my husband went out to run errands and left the 10yo (who was home from school because he busted his knee up and couldn’t walk) home alone with the 6yo (she didn’t have school) and the 1 1/2yo. For like 3 hours. Nothing happened except the watched TV just like if I had been there (originally I had only planned to be gone an hour but things took longer, the kids didn’t even notice).
It’s almost 7pm here and still sunny and the weather is gorgeous. The older 3 kids are out, no idea where. They’re either at the park or one of their friends’ houses. The 6yo and 1yo are in the yard. Normally the 6yo would be at the park, too. In the summer they usually don’t even come home until 9pm because that’s when it starts to get dark here.
Jen: A lot of what you describe, while actually fine, has been made explicitly illegal in parts of the US.
In Maryland, for example, there is law on the books (that people will quote to you and act on) saying that a kid below the age of 8 cannot be out of your sight — ever — and younger kids can not be watched by anyone under the age of (I think) 12 or 13.
So sending a 6 year old to the park with a 10 year old (which I do myself) is illegal in Maryland, and WILL GET CPS CALLED ON YOU thanks to the terribly nosy, judgemental people who live there. I know this from very unpleasant first hand experience.
So watch your back.
In Maryland, for example, there is law on the books (that people will quote to you and act on) saying that a kid below the age of 8 cannot be out of your sight â€” ever â€” and younger kids can not be watched by anyone under the age of (I think) 12 or 13.
I prefer explicit laws to “guidelines” myself. At least you know exactly what you’re dealing with.
Vanyali: So unless physically watch your child sleep, you are breaking the law? You can’t leave them with an adult sitter? Mind boggles
I also disagree that all parents want their kids to thrive. My stepkids mother has a completely different parenting philosophy. Her philosophy is family/love first. That means that you are ALWAYS together – the kids have missed school, extra curricular activities, etc. to watch movies at home together. She does everything for the kids (dresses them, bathes them, feeds them, etc.) because that’s how she shows love – heck, her parents handle all of her laundry and childcare because that’s how they show love. Activities like playing outside and encouraging independence in the kids is frowned upon because it takes away from “family time”. In fact, my 9 year old SS is often stunted in what activites he can do because if my 6 year old SD can’t also participate then it’s not appropriate. Camps are a no-no because it’s better to spend time with 70+ year old grandparents because it’s FAMILY so the kids spend all of their summer inside, watching TV with the grandparents.
She fully understands that the kids won’t develop independence and responsibility because of this parenting style. Her response is “why does it matter? – family is the only thing that matters!”.
She threatened to call CPS on us because her daughter once went into a friends backyard without telling us and we looked for her for 5-10 minutes before finding her. She also thinks that we are “nazi’s” for having a 6 and 9 year old carry their own backpacks, expecting the 9 year old to shower alone and the 6 year old with some assistance (I check her hair), not wiping the 6 year old after using the toilet and other ridiculous nonsense. According to her, parents do these things for their kids to show that they love them and this is how you put family first.
My MIL was over on the weekend and then drove the kids to their mom’s for us on her way home. She couldn’t get over the contrast in lifestyles. She said that in our house the kids are vibrant, engaged, independent, sensitive to others, carry themselves with some decorum, etc.
I really need some advice on how to handle free-range parenting when there are two seperate households with such different parenting styles. It must be hard for the kids to go back and forth between the two – but I also don’t think that providing them with a less dynamic environment to grow up in is the answer. They actually call our house the “funhouse”, although they have waaaay more responsibilities and expectations (they help set/clear the table, make their beds, put groceries away, put away laundry, etc.), they love the fact that they can go outside and climb a tree, ride around the block with their friends, walk to the corner shop together for ice cream, do crafts, roller blade down in the basement, etc.
I think we should comment on these articles every time they are published. Link the Wall Street journal article, talk about how we were raised, about the insanity and pain of separating a child from his/her mother and family.
We can all make a difference this way if you do it every time. There will still be the shrill voices of people that follow their instincts to a destructive extreme and we won’t be able to silence them, but shows of solidarity make a difference.
When you comment, don’t judge either the parents or the arrestors, but the facts. Don’t ascribe motive, as this can be argued.
So it’s not even kids who are in “danger” of playing in the park, it’s us parents. Wowee …
If anyone is still reading this thread, this is exactly why we need a Parental Rights Amendment. As it happens there is one in committee that should have a hearing soon. Get your Senators and Representatives to support it!
Wow, that is so stupid and wrong. That prison is privately owned is it? Revenue raising.
Well, luckily here in Washington State it’s not illegal and even if it was they’d have a hard time enforcing it around here. They’d have to arrest every single parent in our neighborhood because all the kids are out at the park without adults around from the age of about 5 on up. The younger kids are usually under the supervision of older siblings or friends who might only be 2 years older. It’s all very normal around here.
Of course, we probably pushed the limits of the law leaving the 10 1/2yo to babysit the 6yo and almost 2yo while we went to pick up our truck at the shop last week. We were gone 3 hours. And nothing happened. The kids didn’t even notice it was that long until they got hungry and realized it was lunch time and we weren’t back. They just sat and watched TV