policeman art

Who Decides When Kids are Old Enough to Walk to Dunkin’ Donuts?

A mom in Killingly, Conn., wrote to us a few months ago to tell us the story of Super Bowl Sunday, 2019: The day she and her husband let their kids, 7 and 9, walk to the local Dunkin Donuts about a mile from the house.

The kids hadn’t gotten more than two or three blocks in this quiet town when the police came to this mom’s door to say her kids had been stopped. Why? Because they were “too young” to be out and about on their own, the cops said.

You can read the whole story here. The mom and dad were charged with contributing to the injury of a minor (minors who were not injured by the way). And then they were investigated by child protective services.

I bring this up here not to enrage you — though I’ll bet that’s what’s happening — but really to engage you. At Let Grow, the nonprofit that grew out of Free-range Kids, we are working to change the neglect laws, state by state. Currently, most of them are so open-ended that parents are at the mercy of any authorities who choose to second-guess their decisions. The current laws say parents should provide “proper supervision” but who decides what is “proper”?

Our Reasonable Childhood Independence bill says that unless a parent puts their kid in serious, obvious and likely danger — a true no-no — the everyday decisions about what a kid is ready to do when should be up to the parents. After all, parents know their kids a lot better than anybody with a cell phone calling 911 to report (gasp!) a child outside. They also know their kids a lot better than any cop or social worker who knocks on their door with their own ideas of how to parent a child, and zero knowledge of the family’s particular situation.

When the mom sent me the police paperwork on the case — a case later, thankfully, dropped — it included this: A list of what the cops wrote up as “Next Steps”:

ISW [Intake Social Worker?] will contact the reporter.

ISW Review CPS hx of all adults given access (other states if determined appropriate)

ISW will complete criminal background checks on all adults given access (other states if determined appropriate)

ISW will make attempts to meet/schedule with the family each work day until initial safety determined/assessed and interview of child, according to age of development, has occurred in regard to reported concern.

ISW will consider patterns and chronicity of concerns including family dynamics and interactions.

ISW will request an RRG consult after initial contact if deemed appropriate.

ISW will assess for trauma history.

ISW will assess conditions and associations injurious and exposure to these conditions to determine impact.

ISW will assess parent interactions, barriers and custody issues.

ISW will request the family sign ROI [Release of Information?] for collateral contacts.

ISW will keep ISWS updated regarding concerns/barriers ongoing

Overkill much? It sure feels like one minor (or non-existent) parenting infraction and suddenly it’s open season on anything the family does, or ever did.
If you’d like to help us change the neglect law in YOUR state, just visit us at Let Grow and fill out the form at the bottom of the page. And if you have been shamed or investigated for a parenting decision, we’ve got resources for you, too (and sympathy!).
It’s good to care about children’s safety. It’s bad to assume that anytime they are allowed to do something on their own, it’s time to hunt down the parents and teach them a lesson.

2 Responses to Who Decides When Kids are Old Enough to Walk to Dunkin’ Donuts?

  1. Sonam Sharma February 4, 2023 at 4:08 am #

    This is very very helpful. I appreciate the way you put this article. Also, you attached links to useful resources. It is eye-opening.

  2. L C February 4, 2023 at 11:27 am #

    A symptom of overpopulation. The more people are crammed into the world, the more they’ll harass others out of irritation and competition for resources. We’re also being programmed to desire excessive surveillance, as if that will reduce the angst. And, all the toxins in food (Chinese, Indian, and similar imported foodstuffs… unlabeled, plus more pesticides here) and air increase anxiety.