It was Martin Luther King Day in the US and as I traveled through a neighborhood adjoining a local school, something just didn’t seem right. I was expecting to see kids riding their bikes, playing with their friends on their driveways, or just running around having a good time. Instead, I was shocked to find it empty of kids enjoying the great weather outdoors on a day off from school.
Where were the kids?
My answer to this question suggested four possibilities:
- All the kids were out of area at babysitters or day care
- They were inside their homes looking at TV, playing video games etc.
- Their parents were afraid to have them play outside or go to the local playground unsupervised
- They were sick in bed
Obviously choice #4 is unreasonable. What about the others?
Believe it or not, choice #3 is a viable choice. It’s also connected to choice#2. Many parents are scared stiff to let their kids go outside to play. The recent case in Maryland is a good example. An article from ABC Action News in Philadelphia on January 16, 2015, outlines the case of a highly educated mom and dad who are being investigated for neglect because they allowed their two children to walk without them. The kids have been trained to walk without their parents and are bright, independent, capable children who their parents say know the boundaries and rules when exploring.
Are child welfare workers being sucked into the fear-based, media-induced situation that appears to be growing in our present day culture? I say “fear-based” and “media-induced” because of comments I’ve heard recently from several different sources, from well-educated professionals to scared-t0-death moms afraid to let their kids out of their sight.
People are calling the police when they see children walking on the streets without parents. Instead of asking questions of the kids, their knee-jerk reaction of calling the police has serious implications for parents who are being taken to court to defend themselves. Some of the stories indicate heavy handedness on the part of the authorities and severely shocked parents who question the charges being laid against them.
What is the goal of a child welfare agency? To protect children and, not only that, to help to keep kids in their own homes, helping parents to make adjustments in situations that might be less than favorable. But, the goal is not to take kids into care without doing everything possible to keep them in their homes with their own parents. Caseworkers with experience know this and give ongoing support to parents before the final decision to apprehend children and take them into Care or go to court.
Good foster homes are in short supply. They need to be used in cases of real neglect, not filled with kids apprehended for walking alone.
Some suggestions for parents:
- check the laws in your area re: the minimum age children can be left alone
- if you believe your kids are mature enough to walk alone in your neighborhood, make sure they’re equipped with your contact information at all times
- most abductions take place by family members, not strangers, but be sure your children have a codeword to use in case a stranger approaches and teach them how to use it
Maclean’s magazine (in Canada) has recently published an article saying that we’re the most fortunate society to date and there’s never been a better time to be alive. (see Maclean’s issue of January 12, 2015). Written by Scott Gilmore, the article says that 2014 was “the safest, healthiest, happiest year in human history”. It goes on to say that information technology exposes us to stories and images that keep us on the edge of our seats with fear and trepidation.
Let’s examine our response and that of child welfare officials to kids being kids and allow children out of their homes and away from their screens to walk and play in their neighborhoods.
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