Two children, 10 and 6 years old, were recently taken into custody by police in Montgomery County, Maryland, after an anonymous report that they were seen playing unattended in a park around 5 p.m. on a Sunday an hour before their parents expected them to be home. When the children failed to return home as expected, the parents began looking for them. The authorities didn’t let the parents know where their children were until 8 that evening and refused to release the children into their parents’ custody until 10:30 that night. The story in the Washington Post is here.
These parents are raising their children as “free range” kids who experience the sort of freedom growing up that most of us took for granted as children. Often now, any child without an adult minder present is somehow thought “neglected” and in need of governmental interference and “help”. It’s as though no child should ever be “off leash”.
We have represented parents in factually similar cases in Oregon. For instance, we represented a single mom who had asked a neighbor to keep an eye on her 10 year old son while she went to the store. At the time her son was outside playing with the neighbor’s kids. During the twenty minutes our client was gone, an anonymous caller reported to local police that our client’s son was playing unattended. Our client arrived home at about the same time as the police showed up on her front porch. Because her son had been seen outside “alone”, she was charged with criminal neglect.
The district attorney refused to dismiss the charges against our client. After a trial, the jury finally and quickly found our client “not guilty” of any crime. Still, the expense for our client to defend against the charges was both economically and emotionally substantial.
As Megan McArdle recently noted, the current demand for constant adult supervision of every child is pathologically “insane”. It essentially criminalizes the way that most of us grew up as children. She discusses some possible reasons for this development and wonders why we tolerate the resulting waste of government resources spent stopping kids from being kids here.