Fantastic News (About a “Child Abuser”)

Hi Readers! Let us pause to celebrate a moment of sweet sanity. Remember Anne Bruscino, the young woman was put on New York State’s Child Abuse Registry for up to 25 years for the crime of accidentally leaving a toddler at a fenced-in, security-camera-monitored, daycare center playground for less than six minutes? (Here’s the original story, as reported by the Times Union.) Well now she has been officially taken off that list! She is free to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher!

Read the tale of this fantastic turn-around, just granted by a state appellate court. As the Times Union summed it up:

The state appellate panel’s decision [to de-criminalize the woman] underscores what some critics say is an inherently rigid system that can leave a person listed on a child-abuse registry for arguably minor errors involving children.

It was not just the the idea of minor errors getting a major punishment that appalled me, it was the reasoning behind this harshness. The original judge, Susan Lyn Preston, had argued this:

Clearly, Caitlin [the girl left behind] was at imminent risk of harm in this situation. The fact that the playground was surrounded by a chain-link fence does not eliminate the risk that Caitlin could have been abducted. A person with an evil intent could have easily gotten over the fence or lured Caitlin to the fence.

Easily?! As I wrote at the time:

Let’s see. What would it actually have taken for the girl to have been spontaneously abducted in the span of five minutes, as the judge so clearly believes was a distinct possibility?

First of all, a child abductor would have had to have been passing by the center at the precise time Caitlin was unchaperoned. Since, according to FBI statistics, there are only about 115 “stereotypical” abductions in the whole country each year (that is, abductions by strangers, intending to transport the child), this already would have been SOME rotten luck.

Then, that abductor would have had to immediately scale the fence, hide from the security cameras, avoid detection on the part of  anyone glancing out the office window, and pray that the child did not utter a single peep that might call attention to the crime. He’d also have to be out of there within about a minute, climbing back over the fence again.

This time while holding a 3-year-old.

Now, I’m not saying this could NEVER happen. If all the stars aligned AND the planets AND the world’s worst luck (and best fence-climber), there’s an extremely slight chance it could. Just like there’s a slight chance of getting hit by lightning in any 5  minutes you sit on your porch. But to say the child was in “imminent risk of harm in this situation” is the equivalent of saying that no matter how many fences, monitors and safeguards we put up, every child is at risk every single second an adult isn’t serving as a physical bodyguard. That’s a perception that is very common and really off-base.

Thank goodness the appellate court panel brought this case back to reality. The only unfortunate coda? Bruscino’s lawyer,  Kevin A Luibrand,  says he has seen at least  four similar cases in the past two years!

And so we fight on, for a world that does not believe our children are in terrible danger every time they are in public without an adult, no matter how briefly, no matter what the circumstances. — Lenore

Guest Post: “Caylee’s Law” Could Make Me a Criminal

Hi Readers! I’m busy filming my TV show, so I was glad to get this pithy guest post on Caylee’s Law. It’s a proposed law I’ve been disturbed by, mostly because often when we make laws named for tragic children, they seem to make sense only in very specific situations, and retroactively, to boot. Like, “If only we’d had a law against moms buying duct tape, this never would have happened!” Then we get saddled with a law that doesn’t keep anyone safer, but does impinge on everyone’s freedom.
So here’s an essay by suburban Chicago dad Mark Buldak, who says his motto is, “Common sense isn’t as common as it used to be,” and is active in the Facebook group “Ban Dihydrogen Oxide.” — L
.
“CAYLEE’S LAW” COULD MAKE ME A CRIMINAL, by Mark Buldak
.
The knee-jerk reaction to bad motherhood being proposed, labeled Caylee’s Law, is a blow to Free-Range Kids.
.
As proposed, the law would make failure to report a missing child in a timely manner a felony.
.
I’ve received numerous requests from friends on Facebook to “join the cause” and sign the online petition favoring the passage of this bill. I refuse.
.
I have problems with “in a timely manner.”  That’s vague and open to whims of interpretation. For example: My 13-year-old daughter tells me, “Dad, I’m going over to Brittney’s house for the afternoon.  I’ll call you later.”
.
Four hours have gone by.  I haven’t heard from my daughter, so I call Brittney’s mom.  She tells me, no, my daughter isn’t there and, in fact, has not been there all afternoon.
.
I call my daughter’s cellphone; no answer–only voicemail.  Of course I don’t have Brittney’s number—why would I need that?
.
Seven hours after she left, my daughter walks in.  I’m relieved, and a little angry.  I demand to know where she’s been.
.
“Dad, I’m sorry!  We ran into Madison and decided to spend the afternoon at the mall.  I tried calling, but I forgot to charge my phone.  It was dead, and Madison’s and Brittney’s couldn’t get signals.  You know the mall took out its pay phones last year.”
.
With Caylee’s Law and an eager district attorney, I could be charged.  After all, my daughter was missing for seven hours.
.
Granted, Casey Anthony did not graduate from the June Cleaver School of Motherhood.  That’s no call to punish all other mothers and fathers out there. — M.B.

Mom Charged with “Child Endangerment” When Tot Wanders Off

Hi Readers!  According to this story by Terri Sanginiti in Delaware Online, a mom  put her 3-year-old down for a nap and then went to take one herself. Unbeknownst to her, her daughter then got up and managed to get out of the house. When police found the little girl later, they went looking for the mom and charged her with child endangerment.

Agreed: It is not a good idea to have a 3-year-old wandering around the nabe. But I disagree that this means the mom endangered the child. Sounds more like the mom underestimated her child — didn’t realize the girl could or would get up and go!

So how about giving the mom some of those babyproofing thingies that make it hard for a child to open a door? Or an alarm that sounds if the door is opened? In other words, how about helping the mom — and child — rather than making this sound as if the mom is a no-good parent who needs to be punished? As it doesn’t seem like there was any evidence of drugs or alcohol, sounds to me like we’re talking about a parent who simply had something go wrong, which can happen to even the “best” of us.

When we criminalize the ups and downs of normal life, we start making it seem as if living that normal life (which inevitably involves some mistakes and surprises) is criminal. That’s when we start believing we need to take extraordinary precautions against unlikely events, and hovering over our kids out of fear for them and fear for ourselves — we could be blamed!

I hope the charges against this mom are dropped, and that she gets some childproof doorknobs. That should be the end of the story. — L

OUTRAGE OF THE WEEK: Cops Say It’s ILLEGAL for Kids to Play Outside, Unsupervised

Hi Folks — Here it is again. The creeping idea that anytime our kids are outside without us they are in DANGER, thus it is CRIME to take our eyes off them. The writer of the note below, from Western Maryland, also pens this blog. Here’s what’s happening out by her:

Dear Free-Range Kids:  Our kids have always been “Free -Range.” Unfortunately, today, someone called the police because of the “unsupervised children” running around the neighborhood.  My son is six (seven in September), and we allow him to ride his bike to friend’s houses up the street (we live in a small, three-street neighborhood far from any major roads), rollerblade down the road, play with friends in the little patch of woods across the street from our houses, play in sprinklers with the neighbors, etc.  There are constantly kids running around our neighborhood, playing with their friends — kids of all ages.

The officer said that kids under ten, by law, are not allowed outside, unsupervised except in their parents’ yard.  The officer did not come to our house, but visited the mom of two of my son’s good friends.  The people who called reported that all the way back in the winter, a “whole bunch of unsupervised kids were sled riding down the hill” that is across from our townhouse units.

It’s true — there were 10 or 12 “vagrant” children sledding in full snow attire with NO PARENTS present for hours, with some stops to run home for bathroom breaks and hot cocoa.

I don’t know who reported our kids.  The officer was very kind and said he understood, but still said that if there were more reports they would have to take more aggressive action than just a warning.  I have no idea what to do about this. My husband and I have been looking for the law online and found nothing.  All I know is: it’s not fair for us to have to keep our kids inside or in our backyards for the entire summer.  Any insights? — Maryland Mom

Dear MM: This requires a fight — for the sake of your family and for the sake of the neighborhood. If there really IS a law, you and your neighbors must protest. If there isn’t a law — and I certainly think you could ask the local precinct to actually show it to you — then you have to remind law enforcement that we live in a free society where parents are allowed to determine the way they want to raise their kids. Oh, and by the way, it is GOOD for kids to go find their friends outside and play. Not bad. Good. — L

CPS Took My Kids Because I Don’t Hover

Hi Readers — A long, sad and infuriating story. Here goes:

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I noticed you sometimes talk about Child Protective Services (CPS) or other official intervention and Free-Range children. I have to admit, I did always wonder if I’d get in trouble for being the only mom who doesn’t wait at the bus stop each morning or overbook my kids with extracurriculars, but intellectually I knew I wasn’t breaking any laws or even engaging in any overly questionable parenting. However, it seems the school disagreed, and they compiled a pretty extensive (if weak) case against me with CPS and CPS tried to put my kids in foster care. They’re with my parents now, and our lives have been pretty much destroyed indefinitely.

Long story short: in mid-February, my 8-year-old daughter and I got some ice cream and watched Romeo + Juliet on a Saturday night. Six days later a group of kids cornered her at recess and she got upset and said she wouldn’t be in school Monday because she was going to kill herself. A serious thing, yes, but probably influenced by watching the movie.

The school asked us to get counseling, and I said we were applying for Child Health Plus, which takes up to seven weeks to become active. After three weeks, the school reported us to CPS for “failing” to get counseling, despite the fact I told them four times, in writing, that we did not have money to pay for it out of pocket and were trying to get insurance. (I’m a single mom.) My daughter and her brother (10) were questioned at length, and she said that a single time when she’d had a tantrum, I used a pillow to block her punches. In court documents, this was worded as “on a daily basis, the mother pinches the child’s nose shut while holding her mouth closed and putting a pillow over her face, placing her in imminent risk of death.” This is patently false, but the words were deliberately chosen, because otherwise they could not remove the kids.

CPS workers later told me that the pillow allegation was a pretense to allow them to remove my kids from the home, because the counseling thing had raised a red flag. (I have a recording of the CPS worker saying he did not report the pinching/suffocating allegation, and was surprised to see it in the motion.) I was given a list of other “red flags,” things that are frightening in their averageness:

-That since I work from home, I spend “all night typing on the computer while my kids run wild.”

-That my children walk 300 feet to a bus stop unattended, although I watch from the window. They are 8 and 10 and go together.

-That when my daughter made the suicide threat, close to the end of the school day, I was unavailable by phone because I was on a business call. Apparently, this is a crime worthy of terminating parental rights, because there is an adoption date of 12/2011 on my first court paper. Seems mothers must never be more than five feet from a (non busy) phone at all times.

-That my children “never do their homework,” when in actuality, I don’t do it for them and cut it off at bedtime. If they don’t do it, they miss recess. This happens about twice a month, tops.

-That they “never have school supplies,” because my son lost a notebook once and it stayed lost for a week.

-That I said I could not commit to picking up their homework at the school each day because it would interfere with my work and asked the teachers to email me if there was a problem.

-That I communicate via email, and some of the emails have a timestamp after 2am. This became the “typing all night” thing.

None of the relations I had with the school prior to CPS involvement were hostile or even contentious. I had no reason to believe that such drastic measures would be taken. Never in a million years would I have believed that missing a phone call, allowing kids to walk to the bus stop, letting them go to school with incomplete homework or sending late emails would be grounds to place a child in foster care, but that’s exactly what happened to us.

Since this happened, most people who know us well have reacted with shock and sympathy, but an alarming number have said: “Why didn’t you take them to the bus? ” “Why didn’t you do their homework if they didn’t do it?” “Why are you up late?”

I know all this is insane. No one should be forced to raise their kids in consideration of appearances if the children are happy and healthy. I just hope you don’t get too many emails like mine. — Worried on Long Island

Dear Worried: I am sickened an appalled by the way this has unfolded. What everyone reading this site should know, however, is that I posted this story NOT because it is common — it’s not. I posted it because it shows what can happen if we allow “helicoptering” to become the only acceptable way to parent. If not walking the kids to the bus stop becomes a form of abuse, we will be living in a very different country. So for those of us here, let us keep reminding our friends and associates that our kids are NOT in constant danger, that after a certain age they do NOT need constant hands-on supervision, and that there is a range of parenting styles that work for a range of kids. 

Also, if there are any reporters reading this who would like to follow up on this story, or explore the idea that sometimes CPS conflates confident parenting with criminality, please contact me and I can steer you to the letter writer. — L.

Is a Child “Unaccompanied” if the Parent Is Close By?

Hi Readers! Here’s a recent letter that makes me hot under the collar (but not hot enough to turn on the A.C.). — L. (who can’t figure out how to get rid of this LINE!!)


Dear Free-Range Kids: Well, I did it again: I sent my 4.5-year-old inside the library to walk the 20 feet to the elevator and make it to the children’s floor without me… and, like the last few times, I was twenty seconds behind him.  But this time I was accosted by the librarian at the check out desk: “Was that YOUR little boy?! He MUST be ACCOMPANIED!”
.
I replied as calmly as I could, “Thank you for your concern, but it builds his confidence to navigate a bit by himself.” She looked angry and then pounded the desk with both hands (I’m not kidding!) while announcing, “Under 13 must be ACCOMPANIED. It is POLICY.”
.
Now, I didn’t drop him off and go to the grocery store, I simply let him out, parked the car in a very close parking spot, and walked directly inside. It’s also not like she’s never seen us before, we’ve been at that library several times a month since my son could look at the books without chewing them.
.
Then, I got upstairs and found my son had been detained by a police officer and told to sit and wait for me! Again, not kidding.
.
Now, these are my questions for you and for the readers: First, while I understand that it is policy that under 13 be accompanied, was my son really unaccompanied? Does being twenty to thirty seconds behind him count?! Second, what do I do with that pit-of-the-stomach feeling that I had been caught doing something naughty and was going to the principal’s office? I know intellectually that teaching my son to navigate in simple situations (like a familiar library) is a good thing, but it took me several hours to get over that feeling. Also, my son was clearly confused by the situation and thought I had instructed him to do something wrong. How do I handle THAT?
.
I need some clarity as this is the first time I’ve had my Free-Range Parenting challenged. — L.A.
.
Dear Rattled Mom: My sympathies and suggestions. As for the policy at the library, see if you can talk to the head librarian. Tell him or her that you find this rule a little anti-literacy (at least I do), in that it discourages all children under 13 from coming to the library on their own. Ask: Were there problems with some disruptive kids? If so, suggest the library’s rules be changed to address that — “Anyone disruptive will be asked to leave” — rather than forbidding anyone under puberty from using the library solo.
.
Also ask to talk about the idea of accompaniment: Does the adult have to be physically attached to the child for it to count as “accompanying”? If not, then how about some sensible leeway?
.
As for the pit-of the-stomach feelings, all I can say is: I get those, too. I’m not sure they’re avoidable, but if you CAN possibly engage the police officer in a chat about his own youth, you MAY be able to get him to remember that no one’s mom was expected to be as hovering as today. And once he’s all jolly about his reminiscences, tell him that’s just the kind of childhood you want to give your kid, too. The kind his mom gave HIM. Leave him to chew on that (not a book).
.
And remember: You ARE a good girl and did nothing wrong. It’s just our crazy, terrified, anti-community, eager-to-blame culture you’re up against. That’s all. — L

Past puberty? Then YOU can enjoy the library without your mom. 

“You Are a Horrible Mother” — Letter

Hi Readers: Just got this note tonight. Thought I’d share it. The writer must have recently stumbled on “Why I Let My 9-year-old Ride the Subway Alone.” — L.

[To Lenore]: In my opinion you are a horrible mother. You knowingly put your child in harms way. Yes its true, chances are its not going to happen but why give it the chance to happen. It is your job to protect your child until he/she is old enough to protect themselves. At nine yrs. old he is not going to be able to defend himself and I can’t believe that you didn’t give him a cell phone because you were worried about him losing it. Isn’t your childs life more important then your cell phone. You can replace your cell phone but your son is priceless but maybe you don’t see him as that way. You are a horrible mother and even reading your story made me wish someone would take him away from you  immediately. You dont deserve him and I hope for his sake that he does get taken away from you and with someone who actually cares.

Beware the Vultures

Readers: This is a topic we have visited before, but it continues to grow as an “issue.” Today in my inbox I got this notice from “Safe Kids,” urging people to call 911 whenever they see a kid in a car, and using this tragic story as its rationale — the story of a mom who forgot her child in the car for 10 hours.

Seems to me there is a rather huge difference between accidentally forgetting your child in the car, and deliberately choosing to leave him there for a short while while you run an errand. But the “Safe Kids” people obscure that and — as is so popular in our culture today — paint every kids-alone situation as a disaster waiting (perhaps seconds) to happen.

So then what you get is this other letter I got in the mail today. Read on! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: This is going to have to be anonymous because I learned I could actually get into serious trouble with social services for this??!! My 4-year-old goes to pre-k. My 9-month-old had an ear infection and an upper respiratory infection. It was a 20 degree windy day, and it is a 100 foot walk from the car to the building, so I decided to leave the baby in the heated car while I took her sister in, so she wouldn’t be exposed to the wind.

I was in the building out of view of the 9-month-old for approximately 30 seconds — at worst it could have been 45. The car was locked, the car alarm set. I return and the 9-month-old is sleeping peacefully exactly where I left her. I move on with my day and forget about it.

The following week I pull into the pre- k and a cop blocks my car into the parking space and proceeds to interrogate me about my “dangerous habit” of leaving my child in the car. He threatened me with “consequences” if it continued. This, in front of an entire parking lot full of curious, staring parents and children, the former probably wondering if I was dealing meth or crack to their 4-year-olds…

What exactly did they think was going to happen in that 45 seconds? Was a giant vulture equipped with a huge can opener going to swoop down and extract the baby from the car? Is a terrorist going to blow it up? Will she be kidnapped in spite of the car alarm in 45 seconds in broad day light from this suburban parking lot? And as a parent, could my presence have protected her if she was? And more importantly for me: who, exactly, has so much time on their hands that they are peeking in other peoples’ car windows checking for unattended babies and monitoring the behavior of their parents? And why isn’t this person being properly medicated for THEIR condition? (signed) — Mik

OUTRAGE OF THE WEEK: Mom Ticketed for Letting Son, 14, Watch Brother, 3, for 30 Mins

Hi Readers — Just as we were rejoicing about sanity across the sea (see below, regarding Britain’s re-evaluation of its excessive background checks), comes this story, from The Express:

A MOTHER who left her son of 14 to mind his three-year-old brother while she went to the shops was given a police caution for “cruelty” and was suspended from work.

…Although there was no “incident” and they were not believed to be in danger, the mother was cautioned by officers for “committing an act of cruelty on a child or young person.”

You want cruelty? How about the cruelty of treating a mom like a criminal for knowing her son is a responsible young man? How about the cruelty of making a mom unemployable? How about the cruelty to all her fellow citizens  who maybe even remember BABYSITTING at age 11 or 12, but now feel compelled to treat their own teens like imbeciles? Or the cruelty to young adults who want to do something in the world besides playing videogames, but are being told, “No! You are a baby yourself!”

This is positively stunting to children, and shackling to adults, who are apparently never allowed to leave their children’s side till the kids go off to college.

Remember when the rallying cry for a generation was, “Never trust anyone over 30”? Now it’s, “Never trust anyone UNDER 30.” Or at least under age 16 —  the minimum age England’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children recommends babysitters be. (It also says kids should be 14 before they are allowed to stay home alone!)

This idea that teens are unable to take care of kids for even half an hour flies smack in the face of evolution, which has spent the past 300,000 years or so making teenage homo sapiens into parents. And somehow the species arrived at today. Glorious today, when we treat young children as infinitely endangered, and older kids as dangerously inept. — Lenore

We only want babysitters who are old enough to drive!

“For the Good of the Children”??

Hi Readers — Just had to share the story I heard yesterday when I went to get some blood drawn. (I’m fine.)

The phlebotomist and I started chatting and somehow she ended up telling me that three weeks ago her 6-year-old son badly burned himself when he accidentally spilled a bowl of soup into his lap. His dad rushed him to the hospital — they got there at 10 at night. And there they waited for three hours, the boy crying and crying.

“My husband is not very loud,” explained the phlebotomist, meaning, her husband is not very assertive. So it took her arrival, three hours later (she was at work, far away), to shake things up. “WHY HASN’T MY SON BEEN SEEN BY A DOCTOR?” she screamed.

The answer? (Sit down.) “The social worker hasn’t arrived yet.”

Yes, the social worker. Who apparently had to interview the child about  whether his parents had done this to him — scalded him — BEFORE the hospital could treat him.

Maybe this was legally required. If so, damn the law. Maybe it WASN’T legally required. If so, damn the hospital. But basically: Damn us. Damn a society that is so obsessed with abuse that it ends up abusive.

It’s fine to ask the kid what happened. I’d like to ferret out abuse, too. (I do worry about, deliberately or not, the child being mislead into an accusation. But that’s for another post.) My point is: USE COMMON SENSE! Do this AFTER someone has taken care of the child’s PAIN!

The idea of a 6-year-old going through that is hell. But hey — at least the hospital was following protocol. — L.