Texas Changes Child Neglect Laws

Lenore Skenazy advocates for free-range children.

People with grey hair will often recall a childhood of playing outside after school all afternoon long, and a parental requirement to be home when the street lights came on. They might remember having to get to after-school activities on their own, often by bicycle. They might remember the adventures of youth captured by filmmaker Rob Reiner in “Stand by Me.”

Parents today are too fearful to give kids the free-reign to be free-range children, afraid of escalating crime rates or being reported as neglectful. Micromanagement of children’s time has come to be seen as a hallmark of good parenting. Where did we go wrong?!?

States across the country started thinking in the 60’s about those roustabout kids. Child welfare and parental neglect laws started popping up in the following decades, and then parents reported knocks on the door by police asking about a child playing alone in the yard. To be certain, there are legitimate concerns about unsupervised and neglected children who require laws’ protections, but kids need the free time, and the open space, to be kids, and Lenore Skenazy took up their cause in 2008. She’s been fighting for them since, encouraged by a new law the Texas legislature passed this spring. “First I have to salute Texas, because you have become one of just three states that have decided to narrow the neglect laws,” she tells KTRH News.

Neglect laws have come to vaguely attach the notion of “unwillingness” to “supervise” a child as neglect. As if a mother just home from work cooking dinner with a load of laundry in the washer allowing a child to play outside is “unwilling” to do more “supervising?”

Skenazy turned her online platform into a non-profit called Let Grow and is giving kids room to be kids and learn and grow: free range children.

“The law just changed in Texas narrows the neglect law,” she highlights. It was passed by the legislature in May and goes into effect in September. The new law requires a parent’s actions cause “actual harm” or create “immediate danger” before neglect can be alleged. Utah and Oklahoma have also passed similar laws.

It might well be called the Child Liberation Law, because the hope is it will liberate children to imagine, to wonder, discover, explore and experience life’s challenges and splendors on their own, much as their grandparents did.

photo: Getty Images

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