Here's Why Utah's New Free-Range Kids Law Will Help Parents of Color

"They call it 'free-range parenting.' I call it 'the rights of parents.'"


Utah kids
Matthew Hayward / Dreamstime

Jessica Calarco, a sociologist writing in The Atlantic, says that Utah's new Free-Range Kids law represents an "unfair double standard" because parents who are poor, working class, or people of color will be less able to take advantage of it.

"A major shortcoming of their otherwise well-intentioned movement is that the people who have the most to gain from it—poor and working-class parents—will find themselves held to a different set of expectations," she wrote.

But the law strives to protect all parents: those who free-range by choice and those who have no alternative but to let their kids play outside, come home with a latchkey, or wait briefly in the car because mom or dad is busy earning a living.

To bolster her point, Calarco mentions the case of Debra Harrell (a case the country first heard about here at Reason). Harrell, a mother of color, had been thrown in jail for a night and had her child taken away for 17 days simply because she let the girl play in the sprinkler park while she worked her shift at McDonald's. Here is a tape of the harrowing interrogation Harrell had to endure.

I wrote that it was terrible for the state to treat a mom who made a rational, loving parenting decision like a criminal. Judging from the outcry, most of America felt the same.

The new Free-Range Law gives moms like Harrell a leg to stand on. In Utah, at least, it is no longer considered "neglect" to let your kids play outside alone.

The Utah law would also have helped a middle-class family, the Meitivs of Maryland, when they were accused of neglect for letting their kids, 10 and 6, walk home from the park on their own (a story I was also the first to report).

This across-the-board benefit is appreciated by Joyce McMillan, head of the Child Welfare Organizing Project Watkins, a non-profit that works to keep families intact in the face of over-reaching authorities. McMillan became active on free-range parenting issues after authorities took her infant daughter for nearly two years. As she told me in a celebratory phone call about the new law, "They call it 'free-range parenting.' I call it 'the rights of parents.'"

Which is not to say that there isn't a problem with the way some authorities may interpret the law. Calarco's concern is that the law says parents can't be arrested for giving their kids some unsupervised time, provided the kids' "basic needs are met" and the kids are of "sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or an unreasonable risk of harm." She worries that some authorities will interpret poverty as neglect.

That is a worry of mine, too. That is not the fault of the law. That is the fault of anyone with an inflated idea of "unreasonable harm" or "basic needs." As Diane Redleaf, legal director of the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, points out on her blog: if a mom is homeless, clearly her children's basic needs are not being met the way anyone would wish. But that cannot be interpreted as negligence.

In Illinois, Redleaf was influential in making sure neglect laws now specify that parents must have "blatantly disregarded" their child's care, not that they were too poor to afford better circumstances.

Like Calarco and like me, Redleaf believes that this needs to be made clear in law and practice across the country. But, she adds, this is "not a defect in the free range law at all. … Free range parenting laws are a good start precisely because they can benefit all children. But they aren't a solution to poverty."

Alas, that's true. But they exist to help the Debra Harrells of the world as much as the Meitivs in Maryland.

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  1. Everything about this new “of color” term is fucking infuriating, as if all non-white people can be lumped together. It is actually racist and patronizing. It is explicitly designed to foster white guilt and collectivism over individualism. I hate how progressives and the media have forced people into using this, at risk of being called a racist white supremacist otherwise.

    1. Solution: i refer to everyone as “Beverly.”

      1. I call everyone “Shirley”.

        1. “Shirley” is too gendered, shitlord.

          1. Do you think Lindsey Graham dots the “I” in his name with a heart? Or is that only used when a girl is named Lindsey?

            1. I have never been more sure of anything.

          2. Until the early 19th Century, Shirley was always a boy’s name. It didn’t really come to be considered solely a girl’s name until the 20th.

      2. I knew a guy once whose name was Beverly. He would be an elderly man now, he was born in the late 20s. He wanted to be called “Monte”.

        1. I knew a guy once who had a woman’s first name and he hated to be called by it. His last name was ‘Growe’ and everybody called him ‘dumb knee’. But he was white so it was OK.

        2. Remember, John Freaking Wayne’s name was Marion.

    2. It’s just a way for the left to create a political coalition around skin color, because class warfare often doesn’t have the intended effect.

      1. Class warfare is a functional draw in places like Europe that continue to have vestiges of a legit rigid feudal class structure. It doesn’t fly so much in the U.S. because, to the extent that social or even economic classes exist here, they’re still extremely fluid.

        (Sorry, Bernie.)

    3. Indeed. Just yesterday, I was listening to a piece on the local NPR affiliate, deploring the paucity of minority teachers in various school districts relative to the minority enrollment in those districts. One of the people pushing for increased recruitment of minority teachers argued that students learn better when they’re taught by “a teacher who looks like them”.

      Our earnest interviewee seemed to be lumping all minority students together, as though the same teacher could simultaneously “look like” a black kid from the projects, a DACA beneficiary with a 100-word English vocabulary, a Yezidi refugee, and a kid from the Lakota reservation?just so long as that teacher wasn’t white.

      The logical outcome of this looks-like-them argument is that schools should be rigorously segregated by race, sex, and income level, so that every school has a homogeneous student body, with teachers selected to match.

      1. One of the people pushing for increased recruitment of minority teachers argued that students learn better when they’re taught by “a teacher who looks like them”

        This is actually generally true. However, they seem to miss the fact that this behavior is obviously learned, and as teachers, it wouldn’t be their job to accommodate such a learned behavior, but to correct it.

        It is a rare example of accommodating a learning deficit instead of correcting it, and you can clearly see why they choose to pretend it is a benefit that students are hamstrung in certain learning environment.

        They are in no uncertain terms sacrificing the readiness of students for their politics.

        1. And as an aside, it would also be their job to correct the bahavior if it were somehow innate.

      2. If you ignore gender, my teachers all looked somewhat like me, and I was a terrible student.

        Maybe I should sue my schools for not giving me all male teachers?

    4. It is explicitly designed to foster white guilt and collectivism over individualism.

      Personally, I’ve never had a problem with white guilt and collectivism doesn’t intrinsically bug me.

  2. I’m kind of torn on this. I feel it somewhat sets a precedent that individuals need to be granted permission through legislation in order to parent how they see fit. I think judicial branches (through dismissing cases) and executive branches (through curtailing agency overreaches) could be much more impactful. I really don’t see those things happening any time soon, though. I guess this is the best we can hope for under the current dynamics.

  3. “Here’s Why Utah’s New Free-Range Kids Law Will Help Parents of Color”

    don’t care.

    1. I like your style. Just Say’n

    2. You have to care! If it isn’t of benefit to our Most Sacred People of Color, then what good would it be? What are ya, some kind of Nazi, or what?

  4. I want the brilliant legislators in Utah to explain to me how their new free range parent law will help parents of color in a State that is 98% saltine cracker.

  5. “Harrell, a mother of color

    Fuck you for trying to propagate this garbage.

    1. You know, mother of color. Like mother of pearl. She probably owns Crayola.

  6. OT: Breitbart has a story about Trump’s guy Duterte threatening to arrest an ICC prosecutor who’s investigating the outright murder of ten of thousands by Duterte’s forces in the drug war. Go read the comments.

    1. Duterte is Trump’s guy? It’s not just that the Philippines is a strategic partner for the US? Duterte and Trump have similar personalities, but are we playing the game where we pretend that no American president has ever worked with a strongman? Cause that’s a fun game

      1. Just like with the outrage that Trump congratulated Putin on his election. Obama did the same thing. Zero outrage.

  7. White is also a color.

    1. White is the additive sum of all colors, which is why we are …

  8. I’m commenting on Hit & Run in order to buy sex.

    Anybody got a problem with that? I’m asking you, FOSTA/SESTA!

    1. I miss craigslist too…

  9. I note that the first commentator cited in the article states that the law creates an “‘unfair double standard’ because parents who are poor, working class, or people of color will be less able to take advantage of it.'” So the issue really is not “color” but economics. Reason, however, in its ongoing push to be hip and responsive to the SJW sentiments du jour must emphasize the “color” issue over the class issues, continuing its own descent into the muck.

    Skenazy “worries that some authorities will interpret poverty as neglect”, but this interpretation has historically been rejected in the courts, and there is no reason to believe it will gain life under this law.

    And BTW, the oldest civil rights organization in the country is still called the NAACP, not the NAAPOC.

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