Hit & Run

Utah May Legalize Free-Range Parenting

Lawmakers want to roll back penalties for childhood freedom.

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The Utah State Legislature is reviewing a bill that would decriminalize the actions of responsible parents who let their kids walk or play outside.

If the lawmakers pass SB65, parents who want to give their kids a smidge of childhood freedom won't have to worry about a knock on the door from cops or child protective service workers second-guessing the decision to send their kids outside without a security detail.

Sen. Lincoln Fillmore (R) will present the bill. As he explained in the Deseret News:

Loving parents who empower their children to practice and learn from a bit of independence should not be subject to criminal penalties. We all want to protect our children, and sometimes that means protecting them from government agencies that may use flimsy pretexts to undermine parental rights and remove children who are merely experiencing something called "childhood."

Utah is ahead of the curve when it comes to giving kids—and parents—their independence. It was U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) who passed an amendment to the Every Child Succeeds Act two years ago that said that parents shall not be exposed to "civil or criminal charges for allowing their child to responsibly and safely travel to and from school by a means the parents believe is appropriate."

But that federal law added that "nothing in this…shall be construed to preempt State or local laws.'' So to make sure parents are not prosecuted for simply letting their kids take advantage of the very safe era we live in—the crime rate dropped yet again in 2017—Utah is now weighing similar legislation of its own. Every state should follow Utah's lead.

Utah's Libertas Institute supports the bill, saying:

This important parental rights legislation can steer Utah clear of the many notorious examples happening nationwide where police and bureaucrats intervene, separate children, arrest parents, etc. all because of reasonable activity (sometimes called "free-range parenting") that many of us engaged in as children.

Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute (and father of two), says he was disturbed by stories about parents being arrested simply for letting their kids play outside, or even wait in the car a few minutes on a temperate day—another thing the Utah bill would allow, at least for kids supervised by someone over age 9.

The stories that disturbed Boyack include the cases of parents such as South Carolina's Debra Harrell, whose 9-year-old daughter was taken away for 17 days by the government after Harrell let her play in a popular park without parental supervision; Connecticut's Maria Hassankolli, who was handcuffed and arrested after she overslept and her 8-year-old walked to school alone; and Texan Kari Anne Roy, whose children were interviewed by caseworkers after she let her 6-year-old play 150 feet from home. Roy's 12-year-old daughter was asked if her parents ever showed her movies with people's private parts—something the girl had never heard of. And who can forget the Meitivs in Silver Spring, Maryland, investigated twice for letting their kids, ages 10 and six, walk home from local playgrounds on their own?

As for arresting parents who let their kids wait briefly in the car, these cases are too numerous to detail. But if you want to get mad, read about Evanston, Illinois, mom Julie Koehler, who let her kids—ages eight, five, and four—wait in the minivan while she got a Starbucks coffee. A passing cop saw the vehicle and when Koehler came out, he threatened to have her children taken away. Two days later, a child protective services rep showed up at Koehler's door and insisted the children be examined by a pediatrician for signs of child abuse.

All of these parents were eventually cleared, but only after suffering through terrible ordeals at the hands of overreaching officials.
Utah's parents deserve the right not to worry that government authorities will disrupt their families' lives simply for giving their kids some freedom.