Outrage of the Weekend: Authorities Threaten Mom for Helping Other Mom

Hi Readers! Glad a few of you sent this one in. I’m not sure it has to do with Free-Ranging exactly — it sounds more like regulations gone wild. Moreover, I bet it’ll be rectified soon. But in the meantime, let’s hear it for neighbors helping neighbors (rather than neighbors turning IN neighbors). Here is the article in its entirety from WZZM, the ABC TV station in West Michigan:


A West Michigan woman says the state is threatening her with fines and possibly jail time for babysitting her neighbors’ children.

Lisa Snyder of Middleville says her neighborhood school bus stop is right in front of her home. It arrives after her neighbors need to be at work, so she watches three of their children for 15-40 minutes until the bus comes.

The Department of Human Services received a complaint that Snyder was operating an illegal child care home. DHS contacted Snyder and told her to get licensed, stop watching her neighbors’ kids, or face the consequences.

“It’s ridiculous.” says Snyder. “We are friends helping friends!” She added that she accepts no money for babysitting.

Mindy Rose, who leaves her 5-year-old with Snyder, agrees. “She’s a friend… I trust her.”

State Representative Brian Calley is drafting legislation that would exempt people who agree to care for non-dependent children from daycare rules as long as they’re not engaged in a business.

“We have babysitting police running around this state violating people, threatening to put them in jail or fine them $1,000 for helping their neighbor (that) is truly outrageous” says Rep. Calley.

A DHS spokesperson would not comment on the specifics of the case but says they have no choice but to comply with state law, which is designed to protect Michigan children.

By all means, let’s protect them from being part of a helpful, friendly community! Phew! — Lenore

P.S. THIS JUST IN! A strikingly similar situation in England! Two women with girls the same age share a job. When one is at work, the other watches both kids. Now the government is saying this is illegal unless both women register as child care providers and undergo inspections! Best quote, by an onlooker opposed to this bizarre policy? “Something akin to a kind of anxiety-driven psychosis seems to have engulfed government policymaking in the realms of children and family life.”  

58 Responses

  1. So, I wonder who turned her in. “Received a complaint” probably means that some nosy neighbor felt it necessary to report this evildoer.

  2. This is one of the sickest, most anti-community actions I’ve ever heard of. The parents consented to the care, and this woman is kind enough to provide it. Is this merely another symptom of a society in which everything is privatized, criminalized or for profit? Some of us yearn for the exact opposite — for communities of people who help one another just because it creates a richer, better experience for all. We jump start a neighbor’s battery, and loan garden tools. Why wouldn’t we help watch children? It’s both necessary and normal. — Suz Lipman, founder, slowfamilyonline.com.

  3. Gaaah. As much as I love your blog, I get so discouraged reading these stories all the time! How stupid as a society are we going to get? Please, people, find some positive stories, some examples of sense and logic and reason winning out over this ridiculousness and send them in to Lenore, so I don’t lose hope completely! 🙂

  4. One wonders what causes law enforcement to focus their attentions so ineffectively in such instances.

    Most police that I know, in fact all that I know well, are dedicated, bright, pragmatic, and community-oriented… really can’t see them pulling a stunt like those described here.

  5. Playdates will be next.

  6. OK, retired cps worker wades in…this is crazy! What state is this? I understand the state needing to certify daycare providers that are a business, but neighbors helping out neighbors…this is truly nuts. Frankly I can’t help but wonder if this is a neighborhood beef situation where the mom watching the neighbor’s children has an angry neighbor out to give her grief over some other ongoing dispute or conflicts. Either that or a neighbor really hates little kids next door.

    The other problem is the state legislature wrote a dumb law if it is so vague that it can be interpreted in such an invasive manner in such an innocent situation. I am glad a legislator is helping work this out as that is probably where the problem began and where some new legal wording needs to be passed. At least the legislator doesn’t seem to be harrasing cps for enforcing a badly written law the legislature passed. Usually we get blamed by the politician when we (CPS, LEA, district attny, judges) have to enforce a dumb law and the voters start complaining. I hope this gets fixed quickly so authorities don’t have to waste time on such craziness.

  7. This is why places like museums have to have rules or programs to deal with unaccompanied minors. Of course the whole thing is stupid.

    I’m guessing they have a neighbor like my former upstairs neighbor that thinks all children should shut up and be out of his eye sight at all times. (We were right next to the pool fun times dealing with him).

    Of course if the woman wasn’t supervising the children – then the parents would be charged with child neglect.

    What if someone just wants to take their kid and some friends to the zoo do they have to get a day care license.

  8. My friend and I swap babysitting every week. Are you telling me this is against the law unless we’re licensed?

    Nevermind. I really don’t want to know. I need my day away from the kids. I’ll take my chances.


  9. Even if it’s really true that the law is so badly written that it “requires” this kind of nonsense, there’s an easy way for DHS to protect itself while declining to enforce it: take care of the piles and piles of real abuse and neglect cases they have in backlog (since every CPS office in the world has a backlog), and THEN, in the time they have left (haha) they can go after the evil neighborhood bus-stop babysitters.

  10. On the one hand, I got really annoyed hearing that slogan “it takes a village to raise a child” everywhere. On the other hand…isn’t jailing the village a bit of an overreaction?

  11. It’s sad that a neighbor felt it necessary to call DHS. It’s also sad that now we have to create legislation that will allow neighbors to help each other. Geez.

  12. My mother provided after-school care for two boys our age whose parents both worked outside of the home. Honestly, everyone benefited and no one was harmed–even though the parents paid her a set amount every month to cover the costs of anything they ate at our house.

    She also used to take groups of children to local events and attractions. We lived in the D.C. area, and she’d take six or eight of us to visit our congressperson’s office and tour the Capitol, or visit a museum, or what have you.

    When she died, any number of my childhood friends said, “She was like another mother to me.” Not one of them said, “She was like an unlicensed day care worker.”

  13. Just nuts. So, what, now if my 4 kids each have a friend over after school to watch TV and eat snacks because it’s raining outside I have to have a daycare license?
    This world is becoming insane.

  14. I think most people (not just free rangers) would agree that this is nuts… My concern is that the proposed exemption might not go far enough. What constitutes a business? Is a 13 year old baby sitter a business? A high school sitter? A 22 yr old college student part time nanny? And what if the mom did take in a couple bucks? I went to a friend’s house after school every day as a 1st grader, and my mom did pay her…that’s not day care. It’s babysitting. Next they’ll expect 13 yr oldsters to pay taxes on baby sitting money.

  15. This is insane. A teenager can be hired to babysit for an evening, but a responsible adult cannot watch kids at a bus stop?!


    The most dangerous words a person can utter are “there ought to be a law.” Because we all do this, we create a system of government so complex, you must have a law degree to shop for groceries.

    Bad things happen at times. Face it. Move on. The alternative is to let the paranoid and risk averse sap our nation of any creativity, spontaneity or adventure.

  16. Fortunately MOST people who say “there ought to be a law” don’t really mean it. Ok maybe they do. Had to say something, I forgot to subscribe to comments. Actually I also get a shudder of horror and disbelief when someone says that.

  17. >“She was like another mother to me.” Not one of them said, “She was
    >like an unlicensed day care worker.”

    OK – I know this is a serious topic and I hope you don’t feel this disrespectful to your mother but that is one funny line.

    I actually had an image of a 30 to 40 something adult coming up to a similar age person dressed in black morning the loss of the their mother and the first person saying: “She was like an unlicensed day care worker to me.”

    Every time I think about that seen I grin.

  18. @pqbon, I don’t feel that’s at all disrespectful, and I’m glad you found it funny! (I was trying to hit both notes–serious and funny–and it’s good to know that I did.)

  19. “State Representative Brian Calley is drafting legislation that would exempt people who agree to care for non-dependent children from daycare rules as long as they’re not engaged in a business.”
    WTF!? You don’t need legislation. The law should already state “if it is a business,” which would mean you are already exempt if you are not a business.
    You’re right that this isn’t strictly speaking FreeRange material, but I think it speaks to what, outside of fear fear fear, contributes to more of a need for FreeRange.

  20. Meagan: I’d say the dividing line for what constitutes a “business” is whether or not the person will perform a service for all comers, as opposed to only people with whom she has an existing personal relationship. In other words, are they offering a service to the general public.

    BTW, teenage babysitters ARE, by Federal law, required to pay taxes on their earnings [1], and those who hire them are required to withhold taxes, make a matching Social Security/Medicare contribution, and make quarterly deposits to the IRS. This became widely known during the “nanny scandals” involving some early Clinton administration appointees.

    [1] It would be a fairly rare teenage babysitter who would earn enough to actually have any tax liability; most would get everything that was withheld refunded when they filed their tax returns.

  21. @ebohlman The problem is it doesn’t matter how YOU define it. If it’s not legally defined, it’s open to interpretation (and even then… it’s open to interpretation). And I for one would call it a business say, if someone cared for the children of more than… oh… 4 kids, more than10 hours a week, and gets paid. Even if the person has relationships with all the parents. It’s all open right now, the law is not defined by common sense. That is the problem anytime we say “this law is ok because we will only apply it this way,” or “it’s not a problem because I think it just means this.”

    Also, I realize everyone who makes income is technically required to file income taxes, but currently, no one actually expects it of babysitters.

    Unrelated: is your screen name from Last Exile?

  22. There must not be enough people out there that are really abusing and neglecting their children that DHS has to be involved in this.

  23. This is close to where I live, and I was just saying yesterday how the people in Grand Rapids seem to be a little saner than in many other places. It has it s downsides for sure, but people do tend to be a little more relaxed about their kids. Kids ride bikes, and move around in groups. TONS of kids outside in the summer and after school.
    Then, just a couple days ago there was an interesting even just a couple of blocks away, which again made me appreciate where I live.
    A mom had left her sleeping child in her vehicle just outside the laundromat. I know this laundromat. It’s a wall of windows, and there are doors at each end. You can’t NOT see your kid.
    So, the vehicle gets jacked while mom is switching from washer to dryer. She runs out screaming just as the police chief and his highest ranking deputy drive by on their way to lunch. The vehicle is still in sight, the chief hits his siren and the gas, the person who jacked the truck slams it into park and runs…
    The deputy gets in, drives the car back to the laundromat, and his remarks to the mom who left her little one in the vehicle? Not, “That’s child endangerment!” not, “What were you thinking!!” Nope. He said something to the effect of, “Little guy didn’t even wake up. As far as he knows, nothing even happened. Glad we were here.”
    From what I gather, that wouldn’t happen everywhere. And then this bit of ridiculousness from just east a smidge. Like 30 miles. Ack.
    The longer I live where I live, the less I want to leave.

  24. Off topic, but here’s a bit of a positive antidote. I was driving near our neighborhood school on a recent afternoon and observed first a group of middle-school girls riding home on their bikes, then a group of boys walking home. Not an adult in sight, except for the crossing guard. It seems both parents and the school in my local community trust the kids to get home safely under their own steam. Huzzah.

    Lenore, when Boing Boing posts a particularly awful story, they follow it up with a “unicorn chaser” to help us all feel better. Maybe you should post a free-range chaser, even if it’s just a tiny example of something positive going on, like the one I gave above.

  25. This is insane.

  26. I had something weird happen to me on Friday, that this story reminds me of. I needed a criminal record check done for employment reasons as a licensed financial advisor. The official letter that I was given by the place requiring the criminal record check states that “the Applicant would not be involved with children or dependent people”.

    When I went to the police station, the forms to fill out were three pages long. The second and third pages both were for people who would be involved with “children or dependent people”. I didn’t fill those out, and the woman taking the form told me that I had to. I showed her the letter stating that I wasn’t applying for that sort of check, and she went and talked to another woman in the back room. She then came back and said that when she had small children, she took them everywhere with her, and that therefore I may well have contact with children and should fill out that part of the form.

    I decided against arguing with her…

  27. This makes me think of my wonderful neighbors when I was elementary aged (one of whom just died after a 20+ year battle with breast cancer) who helped out when my mom had to work late and picked me up from school when my sister broke her arm. I’m quite sure they weren’t licensed as a daycare or latchkey facility!

  28. I never could understand why the State has to tell parents who can mind their children. It’s really absurd. I don’t like this sort of government intrusion.

    I irony is that in many states it’s very easy to set up a small elementary school, the teachers don’t need to be certified, and there’s often not a whole lot of regulation. But setting up a pre-school is a landmine of red tape and regulations.

  29. This sounds like a spiteful daycare provider was turned down or a cranky neighbor who resents having noisy kids around. She probably turned them in just to cause trouble and a lazy government bureaucrat turned the wheels.

    Hopefully, this one will go away after more reasonable heads prevail. Please follow up if they do. Too often we hear about the crazy side of a case when it initially gets reported. Then, no one ever reports the back page story when it resolves in a more sane manner. Like when charges are dropped.

  30. Here’s the British story. I love the UK but their bureaucracy is even more smothering than ours.


  31. Impressed by how crazy this was, I went and looked up the law for my home state of Massachusetts. It’s the same thing here: if you’re going to regularly look after kids who aren’t yours at your own home, you have to have a license. The law doesn’t distinguish between business and non-business child care. So, legally, grandparents who regularly host their grandkids are required to have a child care license.

    Luckily, it isn’t that hard to get a license. You just need to:
    Get a criminal background check.
    Submit evidence that you’re in good health.
    Attend a family child care orientation (with an additional 15 hours of training every 3 years)
    Have training in CPR and First Aid.
    Provide a written plan of daily activities that meets the developmental, cultural, and individual needs of children.
    Maintain written attendance records for all children in care.
    (There are more, requirements, but those are the highlights.)

  32. Rachael Schreiber wrote: “There must not be enough people out there that are really abusing and neglecting their children that DHS has to be involved in this.”

    This is Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy in action. Just think how much more budget they’ll need to track down and punish all this illegal babysitting? How many more staffers and supervisors for those staffers?

    The only beneficiaries of this kind of mindless overreaching is our ever growing government bureaucracies….certainly there’s no benefit to the families involved.

  33. This is ridiculous! I can not believe that someone reported this on a neighbor. (I’m thinking it was probably a neighbor who is licensed and felt slighted that this woman didn’t bother to “follow the rules.” She probably didn’t realize the woman wasn’t getting paid. Petty.) Does this mean I have to be licensed to allow my children to have a sleepover? For a birthday party where the parents do not stay? When we have the hockey team over for a get-together? I am so tired of this. Sad, just sad that someone can’t help out her neighbors without someone reporting it.

  34. I am so glad you heard about this! When my grandma told me about it today I could not believe it.

  35. “Provide a written plan of daily activities that meets the developmental, cultural, and individual needs of children.”

    That doesn’t exactly fit my definition of “not that hard.” Grandma’s supposed to provide a written plan indicating that she’s meeting the developmental, cultural and individual needs of children? She can’t just make cookies and put them to bed on time?!

  36. @pentamom

    I believe he was being sarcastic.

  37. @harmil2 — It’s Michigan.

    I agree that it’s a nosy, cranky neighbor.

    My husband and I had CPS called on us *twice* by a neighbor. We don’t even *have* kids yet.

    We do, however, have a dog, and we care enough for him to talk to him, which usually includes something along the lines of “Daddy will be home in a couple hours” or something similar, as we’re walking out our door that leads into the garage. What puzzled me about the matter was that we leave via the garage (our townhouse buildings all have individual, attached garages), which means the neighbor, who’s a couple doors down, would have to be near the opening of the garage and hear us say those things either before the garage door is opened, or while its opening.

    She called CPS twice, convinced that we were leaving a human child at home, alone, all day. Because….you know….even if we did have kids, there couldn’t have possibly already been someone in the house to babysit….

    The second time CPS contacted us, my husband explained that no, we didn’t have any kids, and our guess was that she was hearing us talk to our dog (and I think, the first time CPS came out, they looked through the house and confirmed that if we were hiding a child, we were doing a damn good job at getting rid of the evidence).

    CPS put a note on our file that the lady’s nuts and apologized for the trouble.

  38. On a better note, did anyone happen to read the comments on the site the article was originally hosted on?

    Those who said that anyone – not just free-rangers – would find this insane were spot-on. I didn’t go past the first page of comments, but every single one on the first page was lamenting the insanity of the situation (and some encouraged a neighborhood-wide shunning of the busybody). I suspect the majority of the rest of the comments are of the same nature.

  39. Dragonwolf– your neighbor sounds like a gem. At least CPS has her on file now, she’ll be sure to cause trouble once you have kids.

    It’s amazing how disconnected neighborhoods are these days, where people don’t even know how many people live next door to them. Really sad…

  40. What’s next? Making grandparents, aunts and uncles get certified? Making parents get a license before they can have kids? When will it end? Will my 16 year old sister in law have to get a license to watch my kids for two hours so my husband and I can go see a movie?

    This is ridiculous.

  41. “Is this merely another symptom of a society in which everything is privatized,”

    No, quite the opposite. Rather, nothing is private – the state believes it has the authority to regulate everything, including your childcare arrangements with neighbours.

  42. An article (talking some sense) from a UK newspaper about the UK case:


    I really despair at what’s happening in my country…

  43. I think this is to me the most disturbing story we’ve had yet. Probably because it hits closer to home than a lot.

    Also, I was really bothered by Sarah’s comment. The worker’s reasoning was that anyone who is in the presence of her children, even if she is also there and the other adult is having nothing to do with them, needs a background check? Insane.

  44. Then maybe the next step is a background test to become a parent in the first place. There are people who would definitely support it. The State could set the criteria and fine people who disobey…

  45. Whoa, I’m glad this didn’t happened when I was young. My house was THE HOUSE to be at during my growing up years (late 60s, early 70s). All our (5 siblings) friends would gather at our place to do homework, get snacks and hang out till their parents got home, and my parents knew everyone elses parents. I’ve done it with my 2 kids, only their friends came from mostly single-parent homes, so most days they were home alone, sometimes till late at night. The neighbors thought that was great because they always knew the first place to call/look for their kids was at our house. We never had any complaints. They felt safe with us, and we had simple rules to follow otherwise they’d not be welcomed back. And believe me, they wanted to be there, because they felt wanted and needed (I had them help with the younger kids and cleaned up the kitchen after making their own snacks) and they always looked out for one another. I could never turn their friends away, especially after meeting some of their parents, who thought it was more important to dump the kid at home before heading out to party than to make sure they were safe and taken care of. I had one child who asked if we would adopt her, her parents where so neglectful. It broke my heart.

  46. Not really a “free range” item, but referring to threats of fines or jail time. Back in the 70’s, my first wife and I were not on the best of terms. i stayed away from the house as much as possible, and it finally got to the point where the city “environmental inspector” sent me a list of deficiencies that needed to be corrected. When I didn’t move fast enough, I received a letter from the city’s contract lawyer, advising me that failure to “abate” these conditions could result in my being cited under certain sections of the Municipal Code, violations of which were punishable by a fine of not more than $1000.00 or more than six months in jail. This got my attention, so I conferred with the inspector about minimum standards to bring the premises into compliance. When all the work was completed, and the inspector “signed off”, I asked her, “Now that this is taken care of, I have a question: has anybody done hard time in the slammer for neglecting their house?” And she admitted that no case had ever gone that far. My thought was that putting someone in jail would just mean that the property would become even more decrepit, and the city would rather people spent money on paint and lumber than on paying fines. I see jail time for matters like this is a “club in the closet” or a “doomsday weapon” that rarely, if ever gets used, but it will scare most middle-class citizens.

  47. Have you read Hold Onto Your Kids by Drs Mate and Neufeld? Essentially it’s all about attachment and the need for a culture of attachment around children. Stupid laws like this DESTROY our ability to genuinely provide our children with that culture of attachment. As I read it I kept thinking that an issue in all this helicopter parenting is that the generation having kids now grew up with the skewed peer orientation that they’re warning about. The result of which is that for the most part our generation doesn’t trust themselves and look for external validation (licenses) for EVERYTHING. Here in Canada we’re wrestling with societal disintegration in our First Nation communities and it’s root in residential schools and the loss of unconditional love and parenting skills. I think our entire society is suffering under a similar cloud. It needs to be turned around NOW!

  48. […] am on September 29, 2009 | # | 0 Tags: government, law, malfeasance, stupidity Outrage of the Weekend: Authorities Threaten Mom for Helping Other Mom « FreeRangeKids […]

  49. Welcome to socialized Obamaism. This is a good example of government running and controlling every aspect of people’s lives. See what you get with socialist control? Next the woman will be arrested and jailed and her kids turned over to the state DSHS because of her massive abuse of the law. Then they will let out a child molester to make room for her in jail. Typical Socialist control at its best. Let’s have some more teachers indoctrinate children on Obama’s Socialist state.

  50. Club or no club this is the result of electing radical socialists and their lawyers to government office. Being controlling is the job of socialists and they are good at it. We have already lost many of our freedoms and rights to the government and by electing Democratic socialists to office we will complete the takeover attempt and submit our lives to them. It really comes down to our choice after all. We ultimately choose freedom or slavery.

  51. @Ray-
    You seem to have confused socialism for fascism. It’s a common mistake.
    Pity. Also, it is quite possible to have socialized programs (such as education or health care) without being a socialist country, or for that matter, a socialist president.

    And FYI: The types of regulations which penalize small businesses more than corporations are often ENCOURAGED by big businesses who are otherwise “anti-regulation” because it helps them put competition out of business. Not necessarily saying this law is a result of that, but it could quite as easily be put there by capitalism as your odd definition of socialism.

  52. Well, Meagan, government regulations to help big business aren’t exactly “capitalism,” either. That’s more like fascism, too.

  53. All I can think about is how, way back in the seventies, my mom had the buss stop moved from the corner of our block to our front porch. Many of the kids showed up early and ate breakfast at our house. The girls often asked my mom do their hair in french braids because she was very good at it. Most had parents that were off to work early, and our house was the place were everyone was welcome. It remained that way through our high school years. I’m glad I am not a kids now, but, boy, it sure is hard to be a parent with all these crazy rules and regulations meant to “protect us.”

    And Ray T – the Michigan child care laws became effective December 7, 2006. That would be 3 years before the socialist obamanism you rail against, but under the big brotherism of Mr. Bush.

  54. This is so ridiculous. We didnt even have seatbelts and I sat in the front of the car as a child. Now, you can get in trouble if your kid isn’t facing backwards, in a child seat in the back seat of the car. Seriously, what happened to this country.

  55. If there were state-provided, decent, affordable childcare, we moms wouldn’t need to be breaking any laws. Tell that to the administration of the last eight years, Ray T.

    and @momof2, thank you for being coherent to Mr T there, as I actually am too angry to be.

  56. It’s sad that a neighbor felt it necessary to call DHS. It’s also sad that now we have to create legislation that will allow neighbors to help each other. Geez.

  57. our garden tools are always made by Stanley Tools because they are the best when it comes to quality and durability-*;

  58. […] has a lot of pull.  England is notorious for being crazy about child abductions.  Neighbors can’t even babysit for each other without a permit and a background check.  It was the first company to jump into war with us in Afghanistan and […]

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