Children in Virginia can now play outside without their parents getting investigated for neglect. Imagine that! (Connecticut readers — see bottom for action you can take TODAY.)
Sunday night, Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed what is colloquially called the “Reasonable Childhood Independence” bill — and was formerly known as the Free-Range Parenting bill. It passed both houses unanimously. (Democrats and Republicans AGREED on a PARENTING issue in Virginia? YES.)
The bill narrows the state’s neglect laws, which had been so vague and broad that parents were getting investigated simply for letting their kids walk or play outside.
“FOUR COPS FOLLOWED ME HOME” — ELSA HACKEL, 12, TESTFIES
The new law affirms that neglect is when you put a child in serious and obvious danger – not simply anytime you take your eyes off them, or anytime a disapproving neighbor or official can dream up a far-fetched peril.
This is great news for people like Elsa Hackel, 12. She testified to the legislature about the time she was walking home from the bus stop in Falls Church, VA., at age 9. Four police officers showed up at her door “before I could get my coat off!” she told the legislators. “They said they got a call about a kid alone in the cold seen going into this house.”
Elsa was terrified her parents would be taken away. “Since then,” she said, “I haven’t wanted to go outside very often.”
Her mother, naval architect Evelyn Hackel, testified, “I never imagined there would be more police involved for that then for when my neighbor was assaulted by a fugitive.”
“I WAS ACCUSED OF NEGLECT FOR LETTING MY KIDS PLAY IN THE FRONT YARD” MOM OF 3 TESTIFIES
Anna Fields from rural Pearisburg, VA., testified, too. She’s 9. About a year ago, she said, “My brother, sister, and I were all playing outside and a neighbor said we weren’t safe because we didn’t have any grown-ups around.”
The siblings were playing next door to their own home, Anna’s mom, Emily Fields, testified. But thanks to that neighbor’s call, “Child Protective Services showed up at our door. We were accused of neglect for letting the children play in the front yard. I was told that I personally have to be visible to my neighbors so that they know that my children are supervised.”
SUPPORTERS SPANNED THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jill Vogel (R., District 27, Warrenton), with chief co-patron Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D., District 33, Herndon), and co-sponsor Jennifer McLellan (D. 9., Richmond), changes that. It was supported by experts across the political spectrum, from parents’ rights and conservative women’s groups, to anti-poverty and racial justice advocates.
These included Will Estrada, President of the Parental Rights Foundation, and Valerie L’Herrou from the Virginia Poverty Law Center, with leadership by Debra Rodman, a former Democratic member of the Virginia House of delegates. Other supporters included Families Forward, ALEC Action, the Independent Women’s Forum, and the Legal Aid Justice Center. Your friends at Let Grow — the nonprofit that I run that grew out of Free-Range Kids — helped coordinate these efforts.
IT’S A PARENTS’ RIGHTS BILL AND AN EQUITY BILL
The sponsors testified that the bill will let Virginia parents breathe easier, especially families in minority communities, who have a higher rate of Child Protective Services investigations.
Sen. Vogel told her fellow legislators that this law saves precious resources by allowing Child Protective Services to focus on children in true danger, and it also saves families from “investigations that are unnecessarily traumatic or disruptive.”
Virginia becomes the fifth state to pass such a law, following Utah, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado.
“We need to stop believing that whenever parents allow their children out of their sight, they are endangering them. This is a family rights and human rights issue whose time has come,” said Diane Redleaf, a long time child and family advocate and Let Grow’s legal consultant.
If you’d like to help pass a Reasonable Childhood Independence law in your state, drop at note to firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t forget to tell us your state!
AND IF YOU LIVE IN CONNECTICUT, PLEASE WRITE YOUR LOCAL REPS TO SAY YOU SUPPORT “RAISED BILLl 1133/1048.” THEY ARE VOTING ON IT TOMORROW, MARCH 31! THIS LINK WILL HELP YOU FIND YOUR LOCAL LEGISLATORS.