Maybe you have heard the story about the Georgia mom arrested for trusting her 14-year-old to look after her four younger siblings. I originally wrote about it atÂ Reason.com — here’s the link. My story has since gone ’round the world.
The basics: Mom Melissa Henderson had to go to work the day COVID-19 shut down the daycare center she’d normally take her little ones too. So she asked her daughter Linley, 14, to babysit, and went off to her job.
Henderson’s 4-year-old somehow got out of the house and went across the way to play with his friend. He was gone 10-15 minutes before Linley noticed he was missing. At which point she figured, correctly, “He’s probably at his friend’s house.”
She went to pick him up — but not before the friend’s mom had, for some reason, called the police.
Long story short, Melissa was arrested — and handcuffed, and thrown in a cell — for trusting her daughter to supervise the young ‘uns. After all, “anything” could have happened to the 4-year-old including (the arresting officer said) his being kidnapped, run over, or “bitten by a venomous snake.”
All of which is not to say that 4-year-olds should be wandering off.
But the rationale for the arrest stems from these four absolutely incorrect assumptions:Â
1 – The belief that any single second a child is not directly supervised by an adult, they are automatically in grave danger.
2 – That the ability to imagine a danger — however farfetched — somehow makes it real and likely.Â (Here’s a great NJ Supreme Court decision stating the opposite.)
3 – That no decent parent has ever had a child wander off.
4 – That parents can always make the perfect childcare arrangements.
Let Grow, the nonprofit that grew out of Free-Range Kids, is working to narrow the neglect laws so this kind of thing cannot happen. Right now, the neglect laws are so broad and ambiguous, they leave a whole lot up to the authorities’ discretion. In this case, the cop could imagine snakes biting the boy and kidnappers snatching him (maybe simultaneously!!!), making Melissa into the kind of mom who’d drive off and let that happen.
A “Reasonable Childhood Independence” bill says neglect occurs only when a parent puts their child in obvious, serious, and likely danger.
The issue here is that we are dealing with the REAL WORLD consequences of a cop’s IMAGINATION:
Imagining there’s a perfect world where kids never wander off.
And imaging a literal snake pit of a world, where kids routinely die walking two houses down to a friend.
Let Grow says that we can’t arrest or investigate people based on someone imagining the end of the world every time a parent or kid is not “perfect.”