A reader just wrote to ask why do I keepÂ scaring Free-Rangers by publicizing the worst and rarest cases of cops and CPS overreach? Stories like what happened to the Meitivs kshkdidiyn
of Maryland, or the family of the 11-year-old in Florida, or Debra Harrell, the mom in South Carolina who spent a night in jail for letting her 9 year old play at the local park?
Okay, okay — I’ll stop. (Wait — how about this one in New Jersey?)
The answer is simple. My goal isn’t to scare — I actually wish I could avoid it. My goal is to shock. I’m trying to shock our country into realizing that at least some of those in authority now believe that any child not within an arm’s reach of his parents is in danger. That belief can turn any parents who take their eyes off their kids into criminals.
The underlying premise here is wrong. Our kids are NOT in constant danger. Pointing that out is, in fact, the mission of this blog and movement (see the statement on the right-hand side of this site)! As the Washington Post has pointed out: There’s Never Been a Safer Time to be a Kid in America. But until the authorities stop panicking, all parents who let their kids walk, play, or even wait a little while indoors or out, live under the threat of government intervention.
This must change. And the best way I know to do that is by shining Klieg lights on cases where good, loving parents are hounded by overbearing, danger-hallucinating authorities. Authorities who insist a child without her mom at the park is automatically “neglected,” or a childÂ playing a video game in the car for 3 minutesÂ is in danger of immediate abduction or dehydration. This kind of “tragical thinking” trumps the reality right there: Safe-enough kids having some free time, either by design or due to the kind of mix-up that simply happens sometimes.
And — drum roll please — this Klieg light approach is WORKING.
Last week, after all the attention it received from the Meitiv “Free-Range” case, Maryland’s Child Protective Services department clarified its marching orders, stating, “Children playing outside or walking unsupervised does not meet the criteria for a CPS response, absent specific information supporting the conclusion that the child has been harmed or is at substantial risk of harm if they continue to be unsupervised.”
Donna St. George, the Washington Post reporter broke the story of these changes, interviewed a Maryland CPS spokeswoman who told her, ” We are not getting in the business of opining on parenting practices or child-rearing philosophies….We see our role as responding when a child is harmed or at a significant risk of harm.”
That’s what we’ve been hoping for, working for, scaring for. I don’t want parents to feel nervous about Free-Ranging their kids. I want them to be able to send their kids outside without worrying about busybodies, boogeymen, or making bail.
Lately it feels like we are getting there. Fear not. – L
I don’t get scared when you post these storys, I think how safe it must be to be outside, if you are making a big deal of not being allowed to be outside.
p.s. loving my new bracelet:)
MD’s rule clarification is good to see since I live in MD. My kid is a toddler but I have dreams of him at 6 or 7 or 8 running wild through the woods around our house with other kids. There aren’t any walkable parks for him but at least I can’t have CPS called on me.
Thanks for the positive news! I will say many of the stories I read on your blog make me paranoid. So far, it seems like my city and school district has their priorities straight. I’m truly grateful not to have any of these experiences. I appreciate your work to bring the extreme cases to light and challenge people to think through their knee jerk reactions. So many people automatically respond with the idea that kids are in danger. When asked to be specific, they can’t really come up with a credible risk. How do we create a community where we know and trust our neighbors again?
What do you mean by the authorities? Could it be if you quit assuming what someone else means by certain words, especially those implying there’s some sort of division between us, such as governments, countries, cops, judges etc, and started asking what is meant by certain words or asking how you might help honorably (so nobody “loses”), there would be nothing to complain about?
Another good reason to make sure there is a good amount publicizing and pushback from these rare abuses, apart from the plain fact that any abuses by government entities should not be tolerated, is that every little bit of liberty that is meekly given up invites encroachment and erosion of another liberty.
Respectfully, I think you’re still slightly off the mark (but as always, pretty close). Specifically, the part of your essay that says “This must change.” The wording suggests that *before* we can fully practice free range parenting, CPS policy must change.
In order to be a free range parent, you must operate without being paralyzed by irrational fear. If your behavior is controlled by your irrational fear of crimes to your children, you can’t be a free range parent. If your behavior is controlled by your irrational fear that CPS will take your kids, you can’t be a free range parent.
The following are parallels:
I won’t let my child go to the park by himself because I don’t want him to get assaulted by a sex offender.
I won’t let my child go to the park by himself because I don’t want someone to call CPS.
How many times have you seen these comments on message boards or expressed by fellow parents? I feel it’s common. In both cases, it’s a shame because the risk is not borne out by the statistics in either case.
Terrible crimes do happen, but not very often. It is currently an acceptable risk to let children play outside. Vigilance by professionals and engaged members of the community is required to maintain low crime levels and possibly decrease them further.
CPS snafus do happen, but not very often. I appreciate the “klieg light approach” because it further reduces incidences of CPS overreach, but *change* isn’t necessary before CPS risk is acceptably low. To suggest otherwise is to be paralyzed by irrational fear.
Actually Lenore is on point. Things do have to change. The frequency of which these cases occur is seemingly on the rise. And will continue to rise with all the states trying to make new laws about child safety. Specifically about kids in cars.
What has to change is the direction society is heading. If left unchecked, and nobody fights back, in less than a generation you will see parental rights all but completely stripped away.
Why? Because its fun!!
Seriously though, unless you see how bad the extremes are and can react, they become the norm. Then we’ll all be treated like the families that get noted here.
It has been my experience as a parent that the most annoying people I’ve dealt with are meddling strangers, most often older women, who pretend to be “well meaning” but are really just busybodies. Let me give you just one example.
When my kids were 2 & 4, we went to nearby park with our cocker spaniel puppy. We were the only people in the park and it was in a very safe secluded neighborhood.
The kids and I ran around with the dog to wear her out (the dog had endless energy) but then they got tired and went sit on a park bench about 50 feet away from where I was. I had to keep throwing the tennis ball to get the puppy to fetch it until she was worn out while the kids watched. Again, there was no one in the park until this older woman who was walking showed up and went up to my kids and asked them “are you here alone? what happened to your parents?” The kids pointed to me. I walked over to them and the woman had pursed her lips and gave me a comment like “you should not let your kids be alone like that. It’s dangerous” and walked off with a superior air.
I was so angry I couldn’t speak. I have no doubt that if she had a cell phone back then she would have called 911 instead of bothering to ask me what was going on. The kids were in no danger, any problem she imagined was just that — in her imagination.
I’ll bet that how most of the authorities got involved in the above incidents — some meddling busybody without enough to do other than stir up trouble.
An additional primary purpose of getting CPS to back off of stupid cases like these, is that it will free up their caseload to work on the problems of children who *are* in desperate need of their help. These stupid non-dangerous cases are sapping the strength and time of CPS, who then turns around and says their caseloads are too high and they don’t have the resources they need.
Quote: “We see our role as responding when a child is harmed or at a significant risk of harm”.
The question is, how does CPS define “a significant risk of harm”? Some people claim that a 7-year-old child walking 6 blocks to school by himself would be at a significant risk of harm which, of course, is BS. This kind of mentality toward unsupervised children is pervasive in America and it needs to change. Until it does, I’m afraid you will see more cases like that of the Meitivs and others.
I submit this goes much deeper. There are many laws that are founded upon what “MAY” happen in a given circumstance. It is not Because a thing happened ONLY what May happen. I had heard there were 13 DUI arrests here over the weekend. It is considered antithetical that one proposes if this were a necessity. First of all did any of those drivers create an accident. Was any one of those drivers actually impaired in their driving. We didn’t pass laws to test whether or not a person is Actually impaired but “influenced”. Influence isn’t action. Because the purpose is misguided those who are “overly” influenced, that is, literally drunk and incapable, they do not suffer the consequences that are measure for measure. There are quite a number of cases where incapacitated drivers are leniently punished even though it resulted in death. This result is that ALL DUI cases are treated the same no matter the outcome. The same laws that seek to apply worst case scenarios to DUI apply to state determined parenting skills. People think of these parents no different than those who fail a DUI test.
I suggest that the comparison to DUI is not apt.
Free range parents believe [should] that neglect is a crime which should be punished (even if no immediate “harm” occurs), just like DUI is a crime which should be punished. What free range parents believe is letting your kids go to the park unaccompanied does not constitute neglect.
Since you bring up the notion of BAC measurement, I reject the notion that neglect is necessarily easy to measure on a sliding scale where “kid at home = 0”, “kid alone at park = .3”, “kid alone at crackhouse = .9”.
Greg, do you mean that we have to wait until an inebriated driver kills someone before we arrest them? Have you ever driven near a person who is driving drunk and almost caused multiple crashes? How drunk driving compares to parents who leave their 11 year old outside for an hour is beyond me, sorry.
I am glad to see a positive change in the CPS rules ‘n regs out of MD as well. To see that what parents do and how they respond can make a difference, is inspiring.
I think Warren and Brian are both right – we need to continue to parent free range despite the risk of attracting negative attention AND things need to change.
Speaking up does work. I’m a firm believer that the reason why people and the world seem that much more ignorant, is because more people keep ignoring the issues. Until the issues become the new “norm”, then the old “norm” suddenly comes under fire. Let’s continue to speak up for our children, and THEIR well being and future. NOT ours. The more we can show the illogical and unreasonable way of thinking of much of society, is neither warranted, nor helpful. Too often we see that it actually causes more harm than good. And when it causes harm, those involved don’t want to have any accountability.
Back in the day, “nosy neighbors” were actually helpful neighbors. Instead of calling the cops when they saw kids up to “no good”, or they were being an “annoyance”, or the neighbor felt a little concerned for their well being, they didn’t call CPS or the cops, they walked over to the family’s house, knocked on the door, and spoke with the mother or father about her concerns. And right there and then, the issue was resolved.
THIS is how neighbors and communities should be. It’s not about getting the parents in trouble, and making the person calling in feel superior because of a sanctimonious attitude. It’s about what is best for the child in the long run. Any sane, level headed, non-paranoid person would not have seen this as an issue at all. If I were that neighbor, I would have just kept an eye. If I saw that some cosiderable time had gone, and he was still out there, I would have gone out to see if they were ok, and needed anything while they waited for their parents. I would even go as far as invite them to my house to wait, especially if the weather got bad. THAT would be a good neighborly thing to do.
The only time I would ever call CPS or the Police, is if the kid was really in danger, and neglected. eg. The parents came home, and they made the kid stay out there for another few hours, and the child looked like he was in distress. Even then, I would approach the parents to find out what’s going on. If they came off as curt, and told me to mind my own business, then I would be forced to get the authorities involved. Not before then.
Whoop! Whoop! Lenore! Thanks for helping kids and families grow. Recently I was warned by another adult that my 13 year old son might be left alone for a few minutes. I said that it was fine and he would be fine. This adult was uncomfortable with my response. I told her I walked to school without an adult at six years old. She thought that was irresponsible of my parents. The schools at the time encouraged children to walk to school. This was in 1976. No wonder we have pollution and anxiety issues now!
It’s not fear-mongering to discuss these cases. It’s important to shine the light on governmental overreach and the best way to effect change.
To constantly discuss and publicize extremely rare criminal acts (such as stranger abduction) does nothing to effectively change it. Human nature being what it is, there will always be those who act criminally, as unfortunate as that may be. But forcing those in power to behave responsibly, and if necessary, enact or change laws so as to allow parents more leeway in raising children as they see fit, is the purpose of this type of exposure.
That being said, I am fortunate enough to live in an area where kids are out walking, on bikes, or on skateboards, without parents, at fairly young ages. And the police are level-headed as well. That type of community does exist!
CPS is a government entity that does not operate by an objective standard. I have a suspicion that if there is an ongoing series of mistakes and over-reactions on the part of a particular CPS office, it probably is the supervisor that is at the heart of it. When you have a calm leader who address issues in a fair way, the people under that manager will behave in a calm and fair way. When a leader is reactionary and unfair around the office, you can expect the other workers to be at least as reactionary and unfair, if not more so.
I think CPS leadership on the county and state levels need to be elected positions. This won’t solve every problem, but it’s too much power to just hand over to unelected official.
I believe that this policy that a neighbor can call the cops on an unsupervised child and remain anonymous is more trouble than it’s worth. It is relevant to an investigation to understand the relationship between the accuser and the accused and if there is a history of animosity between the two. The accused should also have the right to know their accuser and press charges of harassment if they were accused falsely.
There should be a limit or a fine for calling in non-emergencies to 911.
Every American, but especially CPS case workers, need to read classic American literature (books at least 30 years old) about children and childhood. Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn, The Ramona Series, To Kill a Mockingbird, Boxcar Children, etc. Let them have a look at what childhood was like when adults usually settled their social disputes (including differences in opinion on proper parenting) without government intervention. They might just get this idea that most children can survive less than perfect parenting, and to only intervene when it’s obviously needed.
Our society has to change, and until people realize the folly that overprotective parenting has engendered it won’t. On the positive side, up here in Canada the Toronto Star (highest circulation newspaper in the country) published the following masthead editorial: “Parents should set kids free to play outside” So we are beginning to see a backlash… though we’ve still a ways to go!
Honestly, I was feeling the same way and was getting ready to write about it. I actually had to stop reading the blog because I didn’t used to worry about CPS but recently found myself getting really paranoid that someone would tattle on me. The horror stories were putting me on edge, especially as a resident of Maryland. But i was thrilled to hear about MD CPS’s clarifications. I love #1: “an unattended child does not qualify as neglect.” Woo Hoo!!!
And I just came across THIS story. Do NOT, do NOT take your kids on extended camping.
That’s why I mentioned how one responds. The DUI laws INCLUDE those who are NOT inebriated. Those who want to dismiss my comparison then read again. Evidently you haven’t grasped the point.
JulieC: “Itâ€™s not fear-mongering to discuss these cases. Itâ€™s important to shine the light on governmental overreach and the best way to effect change.”
I completely agree, but I felt there was a momentary slip in the message (or a mixing of two messages). Maybe I’m making too much out of nothing. I truly appreciate the effect of the wider conversation and the movement, especially Lenore and her blog.
It’s just my personal conversations with other parents can be frustrating. Some people are scared of abduction [overblown] and won’t give their kids some freedom. Others claim to have overcome that fear [because they’re oh so rational], but substitute a vague fear of “someone calling CPS” [also overblown] to justify why they still won’t give their kids some freedom. Some people assess the risks and actually give their kids some freedom.
I understand (but don’t agree with) the first group. I like the third group. The middle group drives me crazy!
“The question is, how does CPS define â€œa significant risk of harmâ€?”
If the kids have to walk by Hell’s Accountants!!
(from the comments on the Meitiv story)
I am curious about the comments by CPS officials that they are required to investigate every complaint. Is that actually true? Or just complaints made by mandated reporters?
Years ago, when my first born was just a baby, I belonged to a new moms group that had as one of its members a gal who exhibited some questionable behaviors. For example, she always brought alcohol to every play group (at a local park, where drinking alcohol is against the rules). She was the only one who drank, It was weird. But what had all of us concerned is that she talked many times about leaving her baby at home in his crib alone, while she went out to run errands (actual errands involving driving and shopping, not running to the mailbox at the front of the house). A number of us were alarmed by that and tried to talk her out of it but she didn’t see a problem with it at all. So one of us called our county CPS to ask the question. They said unless they had actual proof of this occurring there was nothing they could do. They did not want to know her name or address. So, my question is, is this a new thing in response to well-publicized lapses in CPS oversight? Or is this just the bureaucrat trying to justify over-reach?
I’m not sure the takeaway here is to never take your kids extended camping. If they had been camping in the nearby state park, this would probably have never happened. Because it was on someone’s private property, some other person saw them and ASSumed they were squatters who had no right to be there. It sounds like the sheriff was just doing his job, but the CPS worker’s allegations are ridiculous, as was their subsequent treatment of this family. I hope these folks lawyer up and file a lawsuit against this local CPS office.
Twenty one days in foster care for nine days camping is bad enough. It’s both scary and frustrating that the kids only just got returned to their parents because the mother just happened to have a genetic connection to the Tlingit tribe. Apparently if she had been any other ethnicity, they would still be in state custody.
I don’t know the answer to your question but I do hope that the parent who made the futile call to CPS stayed involved beyond just making the anonymous call. Too often people expect “the government” to handle everything. The right way to handle the issue that you mentioned is to try to befriend the young woman, offer to watch her child occasionally and model good behavior.
As you know parenting babies is so difficult and overwhelming until you get the hang of it.
Trying to help someone instead of gossiping or turning them in to authorities is so much more charitable.
It isn’t clear that Greg was equating drunk driving to these child issues. It appears to me that he is referring to the lower and lower BAC levels that are legal and the blanket penalties for violation.
I am not an advocate of driving drunk. But, the lower and lower limits coupled with spot checks means that more and more of the “drunk drivers” being arrested are coming home from a family picnic or work soirÃ©e – not bashing around after a Saturday night of bar hopping. When a pre-dinner glass of wine puts my BAC over the limit, I am probably in better shape than before my morning coffee. And, stopping these drivers and the spot checks themselves do nothing to stop the vast majority of repeat offenders that are neither stopped by the worry of a drunk test nor a suspended license.
Good thing for me that I am mostly a homebody that doesn’t drink much and rarely behind the wheel before my morning Java.
keep it up we need to stand together for the rights of all parents & when these things happen we all need to take action.
You have an understanding of my point. I have heard reactions on radio programs that are comparable. People will react to kids in a park as strongly as those with low BAC (and this was the point). Many on the radio have suggested all these parents should be put in jail.
We have too much response in the extremes. Locally here we have areas that have a murder rate, per capita, that is higher than Chicago. In those neighborhoods No One will speak up against the criminals. Then we have THIS extreme whereby leaving kids in a park, or camping for an extended time has the other extreme. Where has thinking in moderation gone. I have also remembered all the cases of children in schools who use their finger as a gun, and similar situations where police are called. We need to step back and see where we are headed.
Greg, I couldn’t agree more with you. For years I was a Guardian ad litem in the court system. The stories of true parental neglect are unbelievable and HEART BREAKING. I couldn’t take it after awhile and have taken a few years off.
There are terrible terrible parents out there and no one is reporting them it, meanwhile well-meaning parents are targeted.
Good for you, Lenore! Let’s get back to letting kids play outside without fear of some spiteful, self-rightout person calling CPS. Let’s fill those empty swings in the park with happy kids.
Because you’re a witch and you can’t help it?
These events are NOT rare. They happen tens of thousands of times per year in every state. Anyone who doubts this should look up the number of child abuse “referrals” that are received by CPS in their state. You will find that the overwhelming majority of these referrals are baseless. However, one improper remark may set the Nazi regime into motion, in an effort to ruin you.
Our government knows everything about terrorists, because it employs a lot of them. This is the way it works. They screw over a few people, seemingly at random, so that you’ll be expected to get on your moral high horse and figure you’re “not like them” and that “it’ll never happen to me, because I’m not doiing anything wrong.”
Of course, you do not get to pick what is “wrong,” nor do you have the right to read a rule or standard that clearly states your obligations. When a social worker or a cop gets pissed off at you, they can pull something you did wrong out of their ass and screw you over with it.
Until Americans get outraged by any injustice to one person, then they’ll continue to deserve a government that craps on them selectively to show them, daily, who’s boss.
Social workers and their Napoleon Complex is the child protection version of cops shooting unarmed black people.
I support what Lenore is doing, because if no one speaks up, before long we’ll have the gas chambers or the “residential schools” that the Canadians now are having such national anguish about.
One more time and then I’ll shut up.
I acknowledge that the risk of horribly unjust overzealous CPS action is not zero. I will not let the existence of that risk by itself change my decision to let my daughter walk to school by herself. I do not believe that my family is in constant danger from capricious CPS action. If either the frequency or the nature of overzealous CPS actions were to change, I reserve the right to reevaluate my position. I advocate that other people use a similar mental model.
I support efforts by Lenore and others to resist a culture of fear-based parenting. I also support efforts by Lenore and others to highlight failures and abuses of CPS overreach so as to effect policy change.
These are different but related efforts. I think in our discussions of CPS overreach, we should strive to not overstate the risk of governmental mis-action (not zero) lest we supplant media-driven irrational fear of predators with media-driven irrational fear of CPS harm.
While I don’t completely disagree with you, I do not completely agree with you either. You mention that you do not want Parents to be nervous about free ranging their kids, but the reality of the matter is that they SHOULD be nervous about it – mainly because of the way things are now. I personally believe with the “progress” of technology (the internet, social media, etc.), that the temptation to up the anty for busy bodies, pedophiles, and other people that would otherwise keep to themselves has dramatically increased. This has made society more dangerous than when I was a kid.
Also, and take it from me (I lived this nightmare), DCSF can and WILL take your kids away even at a completely false accusation. I had a family member get upset when we cut her off from our children (she was a very bad and destructive influence on my eldest child), and called DCFS to report that we were horrendously abusing our child. It was a lie, but DCFS came to my door at 2am with four armed officers and took away our children. Her goal was to get custody for herself. Even with the best attorney, the court did not grant us custody for 3 months until things were sorted out. Thank you for highlighting these CPS stories, but please do not encourage parents to rebel against the way things are now and put their children at risk. I can guarantee that my kids have lasting trauma from being ripped out of their beds in the middle of the night by a crazy CPS woman with cops.
Politicians are vote chasers. If taking a tough stance on sex criminals gets them more votes, they will. Some will even put 10 year olds on a sex registry for life! However times are changing. They still chase votes but as the public change their views, so will the politicians.
Politicians will start to stand up for Free Range parenting. Whereas the old enemy was, parents that allow children to wander 15 feet away unsupervised, the new enemy will be the mindless rules that have encroached on parents rights.
I love stories about how police, bureaucrats, and politicians do the right thing. We even saw an insurance advert that tells you that it’s ok to take risks! That’s almost like the Pope preaching Hindu!
Times are changing.
I wonder if you could compile the numbers to see if there are actually more examples of over reach by authorities than there are stranger child abductions nowadays.
CPS (and the court system) has to work with the information it has, and the information it gets is not always accurate. Very few people will accurately present their parental shortcomings when questioned by the bureaucracy, so the bureaucracy is well used to people insisting that everything is fine, no need to get involved, etc. regardless of the actual situation in the home. Given that the information sources are not good, there are bound to be cases where the actions of CPS (or the court system) are wrong.
Sometimes, our criminal-justice system identifies the wrong person as the culprit, and, despite a system which is designed to find the truth as best as is possible, the wrong person gets convicted. This isn’t a sign that the system is wrong, just that the system is not perfect (as no system designed and operated by human beings can be.)
At the CPS, a lot depends on what made the news most recently… if what made the news was a case where the CPS authorities failed to remove a child from a home, and suffered or died as a result, then CPS will be hyper-vigilant, and is likely to over-react to some reports. If the last thing that was in the news was a horrible CPS over-reach, with children removed from a perfectly good home, they’ll be less-likely to pull kids. The pendulum swings back and forth.
All of which should have no effect on raising children to be self-confident, capable, and independent. Give the child all the freedom they ask for THAT THEY”RE CAPABLE OF HANDLING RESPONSIBLY. A child that knows WHY they have the freedom they have can explain this reasoning to adults, whether of the law-enforcement, educational, or busybody variety. A child that has been pushed into too much responsibility, too soon, is no better off than one given inadequate self-autonomy.
My own (very brief) intersection with the state’s child welfare authorities turned out well for me and my daughter, and I credit several reasons… notably, I was non-confrontational, and It was clear my primary goal was my child’s well-being and not my “rights”.
Good, I’m glad the Meitivs had the guts to fight, maybe this will lead to some common scene interpretation by not just CPS but also the police and the courts in other states. I wish my wife and I had the guts to fight when we got charged with something similar right across the river in Virginia. Our lawyer recommended not fighting and accepting the punishment (one year supervised probation and parenting class) because the outcome could be a criminal record and losing our kid.
I’m thinking that when I was about 10 years old, I would have had a ball reading through all this stuff.
I might even imagine myself at that age, having a few opinions of my own, on the subject.
Of course, what I wouldn’t have been able to express back then – (but still would have had a gut response to) is the fact that one of the most important voices in this debate……..is missing. Almost entirely.
Seen, thought about, concerned over, debated over – but never heard.
Voiceless and soundless, as if there are no brains, ideas, thoughts and feelings in there.
And they are all, every single one of them, citizens of the land. Not adults. Kids.
But treated as citizens? I wonder………
What is free range for, anyway?
Opinion states that it is all for a healthy growth, toward adulthood. I don’t disagree.
But I think it is more than just that. It is a celebration of what freedom really is.
And I mean freedom, in a singular sense. And independence that is most selfishly craved.
As any person who is raised in such a way as to learn how to value exactly what that is.
A kid just knows……what their natural inclination leads them to.
They don’t know in an adult way – they haven’t arrived yet.
But that doesn’t mean they have absolutely no idea about it, at all.
So while a lot of adults squabble, I can well imagine a lot of kids yearning for freedom – from exactly that.
Waiting for adults to grow up. But long before that, they tend to grow up, themselves.
Of course – freedom for kids never meant license. Smart kids know they don’t run the show on their own.
Which is why our particular “show” is so important to them.
Do we cower behind collective defeat to the imaginings of all the bogeymen in paranoid sublimation?
Or do we step up a collective public will to make changes? Changes that are good for kids. And families. And the parents they are dependent upon. In the communities within which they live.
I still say, if I were a tall dark stranger visiting the 21st century from a not-so-distant past……my first and obvious question would be: “How did we evolve into such a strange, child-centered but “child-fearing” society? And in such a relatively short time…..” (My lifetime, that’s for sure!)
Kids are safer than adults. Saturday I took five kids to a large park, and while I was busy chasing the three-year-old around the other four (age 9-10) disappeared. I knew they hadn’t been kidnapped, they merely wandered out of sight. So I brought the little one home, and had to listen to the mom scold me for “losing” the other kids. When they came home, I scolded them for getting me into trouble!
Lenore is changing hearts and minds. While most of us here are on board, she arms us w/ info to share the “good news,” so to speak, that the kids are all right. And it’s working. I addressed it again at an office event. Kids in danger came up and how it’s “so bad” now. I spoke right up about how it’s not so bad. Yes, in our area, there are some truly AWFUL neighborhoods and I wouldn’t let my dog out there let alone my kid. But we don’t live there. We live in functional neighborhoods. And you know what happened? SOMEONE ELSE joined me in trying to convince this parent! She brought up the incident in Fla. It was so great to have back up.
The mom tried to turn the convo by saying she was worried about the child molesters but of course we came right back w/ the fact that child molesters are almost always someone you already know! I don’t know if we changed her mind, but at least having 2 of us on the FR side gave a lot more credence to it. It was great!
So you’re at an event. During conversation, someone says “things are so bad for kids today!” But you know better. Lenore to the rescue: “Fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.” Another FR parent even backs you up!
Great! The message is getting out!
Except, what? “She brought up the incident in Fla.” What relevance does a CPS incident in Florida have to the conversation you were trying to have? The kids are either in constant danger from [crime and ordinary life experiences], or they’re not.
Is the message pro-free range parenting, or anti-CPS overreach? And if the latter, since when?
“Is the message pro-free range parenting, or anti-CPS overreach?”
By necessity I think the message has to be both. If you aren’t anti-CPS overreach, one over zealous CPS agent can squash free-ranging for years by telling a hand full of families they could loose their kids for it. I don’t know how the rumor started in my neighborhood, but it was there very recently. And it inspires a sort of hopelessness that started before my daughter was even born. I was feeling like a protective mom when I said to a neighbor how nice it was that our soon to be born children would be in the same grade and thus able to walk to elementary school together. The mom freaked and fled. Another neighbor called my idea of normal, even protective ‘illegal.’
Lenore and the Meitivs have shined a bright light on the difference between ‘illegal’ and upsetting to a CPS agent/against CPS’s off base guidelines. What I had proposed was only against CPS guidelines. So I felt a little courage to ask about kids walking alone when a cop came to talk to the neighborhood association. I used the Meitiv case as a common reference point. There was a lot of muttering in the room about how kids should be going to the park, and the cop after a moment of utter confusion as to why anyone would call the cops over this echoed the same. After some more discussion he turned to the neighborhood watch coordinator and said “this is why we do what we do.” And when the evening ended he apologized for the gloomy talk of danger and assured everyone that the area was very safe.
Since then the mom who fled has let her oldest kid out to play basketball (alone) in his front yard. I’ve seen a lone elementary kid walk past my house in the mornings. I’ve driven past kids waiting for the bus with no parents around. I’ve seen a dozen elementary kids get off a bus without a parent in sight. I’ve seen kids going up and down the sidewalk on scooters (alone). I’ve seen elementary age kids waiting alone next to cars near daycare. I’ve seen a passel of kids in the park descend (with no obvious parental presence) on a woman walking her dogs. Turns out she was their 3rd grade teacher.
All of these were unthinkable 4 years ago.
Four years ago the yards were empty. The elementary kids walking to school past my house stayed so close to mom it was like they were huddled under a non-existent umbrella. Four years ago every kid was escorted to the bus stop with hands held, and every child received at the door of the bus upon return. The sidewalks were devoid of kids, and the bigger kids were hauled into the daycare to pick up the little ones. And most tragically even on nice days the playground was often empty. That is changing rapidly, despite wide understanding when you say “Meitiv.” I might even say because of the wide understanding when you say “Meitiv.”
Yeah, these these stories can scare people. Some people will always be scared of something. But what is even more frighting is rumors, empty streets and playgrounds, and felling that your neighbors think you are crazy for proposing an unknown transgression to unwritten ‘laws’. With the outrage over the Meitivs, it becomes possible to hear the neighbors, and local cops say “kids should be walking to the park.” And with that more kids walk out the door, and kids outside start to become normal again.
“Since then the mom who fled has let her oldest kid out to play basketball (alone) in his front yard. Iâ€™ve seen a lone elementary kid walk past my house in the mornings. Iâ€™ve driven past kids waiting for the bus with no parents around. Iâ€™ve seen a dozen elementary kids get off a bus without a parent in sight. Iâ€™ve seen kids going up and down the sidewalk on scooters (alone). Iâ€™ve seen elementary age kids waiting alone next to cars near daycare.
All of these were unthinkable 4 years ago.”
All of these things have been happening, with regularity, for decades. I’ve no idea why you claim these things were unthinkable. In the mornings and afternoons on school days, I can tell what time it is by the age of the kids walking past my house. High schoolers go first, then the grade-schoolers, then the middle-schoolers last (going the opposite direction, because they’re walking to and from a bus stop, while the others are walking directly to and from school.)
Lenore, please, please give these stories a place to be told.
I’ve had enough of the “If it saves one” mentality that is taking over our ability to think rationally. Right now, I am pulling my hair out getting things ready for the end of the year party tomorrow. Sadly, I’m the only volunteer. I don’t mind throwing the party (old school outdoor games like relay races and water balloon tosses), but when I got home tonight, I found this email about the requirements to volunteer next year.
I honestly don’t think I’m going through the hassle.
This is RIDICULOUS to require someone to have this to VOLUNTEER.
They are children, not nuclear bombs.
New volunteer requirements in Pennsylvania:
“1. PA Criminal Record Check â€“ Required by all volunteers â€“Access this website to complete your online PA Criminal Record check: https://epatch.state.pa.us/Home.jsp
a. Completed online, instantly available to print, save and/or provide electronically.
2. PA Child Abuse History Clearance – Required by all volunteers â€“ This is the website you will use to access the online application for your PA Child Abuse Clearance:
a. Completed online and will be mailed and emailed within 14 days.
3. FBI Federal Criminal History Record Check â€“ Required by some volunteers â€“ This is the website you will use to access the online application for your FBI fingerprint check:
This is a 2-STEP process â€“ (1) register and pay on-line (2) go to a fingerprinting site to have your fingerprints submitted electronically. You may also schedule an appointment through the district to have the fingerprints completed.
b. Volunteers are exempt from this requirement if they:
Â· Have resided within Pennsylvania consecutively for the past 10 years; AND
Â· Complete and return the attached Volunteer Affidavit on page three.
c. Volunteers who have not resided within PA for the past 10 years must complete.
Â· Registration is completed online, a physical appointment is necessary.
Â· A receipt with the registration number must be provided to Human Resources.
State Police and Child Abuse clearance fees will be waived by the state effective July 25, 2015. New volunteer clearances must be dated within one year. By law, if you do not have these documents submitted on or before their expiration date, your ability to volunteer will be in jeopardy.”
In the very next paragraph I explained, in part, why this was “unthinkable’ four years ago.
Congratulations on your area having never lost basic sanity. Not every area is or has been like that in the recent past.
I made no claim that it was universal, long term, or a standard in history. In fact the situation that existed here four years ago would have been considered crazy in this very neighborhood one generation earlier. I know this from talking to grandparents who asked me why the park was empty. They were horrified and in disbelief when I quoted the CPS guidelines.
Another, huge factor I believe are the schools. I was at a county planning council meeting when the conversation veered to school board policy, and a board member, who lived in sight of the school told about the day she wanted to let her daughter walk to school on her own. The principal wouldn’t release the girl (if I recall correctly she was around 8) to walk back home. The council member had to fight it out with the school board, and that only got her kid permission to walk. Eventually the ‘safe routes to school’ group lobbied until the school board took the decision out of the hands of principals all together.
Ahhhhhh. But that’s just it. They ARE nuclear bombs.
A kid can blow up a life.
Which is why, sadly, childlessness looks so attractive to so many, now.
We have somehow managed to attach a fuse to every one of their heads…….it’s just a matter of which fool has the matches to light it.
Where have you gone, Volunteers of American…..
I always figure I show my age in here. I am that cranky granpaw. (With excellent long-term memory.)
Me and my kids got through two whole entire generations, without being touched by all this horsehooey.
We were lucky accidents of birth, I guess.
Standards of common sense that were once…….common, I suppose – are thankfully being re-discovered, from what you describle.
It’s a good fight. It’s hardly begun. And it’s going to take a whole heap of concerted effort to ever turn it around.
In between those little pockets of sanity here and there, are massive mountains of nonsense.
But I’ve always said, it’s a good fight. The kids are worth every effort. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t be.
Years ago my baby daughter developed a high fever and cough on a Sunday afternoon. Of course the drs office was closed, so I called the hotline to ask if I should take her to the ER. The nurse advised that doing so would likely trigger a series of aggressive diagnostic protocols which might include blood work, chest xrays and maybe a spinal tap. Given that possible scenario, I might want to simply monitor her closely and call the office first thing next morning for a regular appt. I appreciated her spelling this out for me so I could make my own decision. (We waited.) Couldn’t 911 dispatchers be trained to give those who call re: unattended kids the same kind of info? “Yes, we could send officers over–but know that this would likely trigger a CPS investigation of the family, questioning of everyone in the household and the possibility of all children being placed in foster care while a more in depth investigation takes place.” My guess is that many callers really don’t know that this is what they may be unleashing on a family and might choose other strategies if they did know.
I don’t presume to tell Lenore or her readers what she “means” but my take on it is that she is neither intends to over-hype the danger from CPS taking kids away from their parents or underestimate the possible dangers. CPS performs a valuable service when it is operating correctly and with common sense. Some, but very little, stranger danger is legitimate. What seems to me to be the real problem is the current zeitgeist, driven by over-publicizing the rare instances of stranger danger and also over-hyping the awful consequences when CPS or other “authorities” get involved. We should not be drawing lines around our children and not allowing them to step outside them. We used to live in a world (I grew up in that world and so did my children) in which children played outside until called in for dinner. We used to live in a world where groups of children walked to school together, thus affording a natural protective cover. We lived in a world where the purpose of parks was to allow children to run and play freely. Now we live in the brave new world of fear and danger more or less voluntarily because the zeitgeist has taken over from common sense.
I am now a grandmother with mostly grown grandchildren but a I have a couple of young ones. I live in a townhome in a suburban neighborhood of mostly single-family homes with front yards and swimming pools and sparsely traveled streets and cul-de-sacs. It has a beautiful open field park—a village green—which borders a school. It is an ideal neighborhood for children to walk to school, to play outside, to ride their bicycles, to go to the park without crossing a single busy street, even to play in some of the streets, as we used to do, since cars are rare and almost always local. But where are the children? If I am driving home at the right time, I occasionally see a few children on their way home from school. But during the day, even on Saturdays and Sundays, there are no children playing outside. On weekends, there are sometimes a few children with their parents in the park, but it’s mostly filled with dog walkers.
This is what I mean when I say the danger zeitgeist has taken over. It’s not about the fairly rare instances of people calling the cops on normal parents or the extremely rare instances of actual danger. It’s about our collective perception of what COULD happen, which makes us live AS IF those awful things were actually happening all the time. We have been thrust into living fearful and constrained lives—hiding not only from the largely imagined danger but from those who might ruin our lives because of their abnormal fear of the imagined dangers. And sadly, our children are trapped because other children are trapped, and who wants to break through the fear lest they be the ones who face the consequences. It’s a lot like pre-war Nazi Germany, isn’t it?
I don’t blame Lenore, but I do feel like this is starting a whole new kind of “Fear” for me. I do worry some nosy busybody is going to call CPS on me for something stupid and it does somewhat effect my actions. I won’t spank my kids in public. I am too worried CPS will get called. I am scared to take my autistic son in public now because he elopes and I could see someone calling CPS on me for that if they saw me chasing him around trying to catch him. So I wanted to put a harness on him to prevent the eloping, but then I am afraid I would get CPS called on me for that too. It is a never ending cycle of worrying because we are at a point in our society where people thinks its okay to call CPS for no reason. I go to other boards and they throw that around all the time.
Concerned about something minor with someone else’s kids that is not really your business? Call CPS. Inlaws mad at you, they call CPS on you. It is a thing to fear at this point.