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.

Hey Teens! Start Walking!

Hi Readers — Here’s a little study I was just reading that said that getting teens to do more walking lowers their blood pressure. I guess that’s not a big surprise, but it is a nice reminder (to me, anyway, with a son about to turn 14), that walking should be part of his day. And maybe giving him a pedometer, as the article suggests, would goose him along.  (You’d think that here in New York City, where we don’t have a car, he’d be walking his patooty off. But we are surrounded by temptingly convenient public transportation.) The study also endorsed meditating. Which, come to think of it, I guess he could do on the bus.  — Lenore

Walking to School in Jeopardy

Hi Readers — This is the first email I opened this morning, and the writer needs help. Can we come up with some great ideas for him beyond my blindingly obvious one: Remind the school district that walking is good for bodies, minds, souls and maybe even test scores?  Hope so! — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a parent in a walking school district in Southern New Jersey and am interested in any help I can get from the Free-Range community.  Our school district is moving toward reconfiguring our three neighborhood elementary schools, each is K-6. The proposal is to reconfigure one school to K-2, the second will be 3rd and 4th grades, and the third 5th and 6th.

I am on a committee charged with investigating this concept and so far the only real benefits seem to be for teachers and administrators.  A major loss for parents and children is they will be forced to travel to schools beyond their neighborhoods, which will result in more children being driven — even those that once walked.  Plus, kids will change buildings three times during their elementary experience.  Can anyone give insights from personal experience regarding such a configuration, especially demonstrated educational benefits?  Please?

Support Safe Routes To School!

Hi Readers — To see  a line of cars snaking up to the door of school on a sparkling  fall day is disheartening,  especially when those cars disgorge perfectly able-bodied little kids who live just a few blocks  away.  But sometimes the problem is not parental hysteria. Sometimes, it’s that there are no crossing guards at a busy street, or no sidewalks. Safe Routes to School is a program that addresses just such issues to make it easier for kids to get THEMSELVES to school, safely. (As you might guess from its name.) Here’s a note from the deputy  director there on how we can help support its efforts: 

Join the Safe Routes to School “Dear Congress” campaign

The federal Safe Routes to School program is all about making sure that children can safely and independently walk and bicycle to school. With Safe Routes to School funding—which is $612 million over 5 years—communities are building sidewalks, bike paths, crosswalks, and other infrastructure improvements to make sure children have safe routes to school, separate from traffic.  Safe Routes to School funding also helps teach children safe behaviors when they are walking and bicycling, and encourages more families and children to get active on the way to and from school.

Congress is currently considering reauthorizing the federal Safe Routes to School program as part of the next transportation bill.  The Safe Routes to School National Partnership wants Congress to hear from children, parents, Safe Routes to School staff and volunteers, and school and city leaders about why Safe Routes to School matters to individuals and communities. 

Please take a moment to write a letter about how Safe Routes to School helps your child be “Free Range.”  Quick instructions are below. Write a letter that addresses the following points:

  • Start your letter with “Dear Congress,”
  • Thank Congress for the Safe Routes to School program
  • Why it’s important to you, as a parent, that your children are able to walk and bicycle to school
  • How it is important that your children walk and bicycle to school every year, up through high school, to build healthy habits
  • (if applicable) How Safe Routes to School has helped make it safer or easier for your child to walk and bicycle to school
  • What kinds of infrastructure improvements are needed in your community to improve safety for your children on their way to school
  • See if your children want to participate – ask them to draw a picture or write a short letter (crayon is ok!) about why they love walking and bicycling to school.
  1. Make sure you put your mailing address on the letter so that it can be matched with your Congressional district.
  2. Send your letters to Margo Pedroso with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership by September 24, 2009. You can scan and email electronic versions to margo@saferoutespartnership.org. Or you can mail letters to: Margo Pedroso, Safe Routes to School National Partnership, P.O. Box 442328, Fort Washington, MD 20749.
  3. Do not send your letters directly to your Members of Congress; the Partnership will bundle your letters together with those from other families and deliver to Congress as a package to have the strongest impact. 
  4. Pass the word to other individuals and organizations you know through e-mail chains and list-servs.

 Thank you so much for your help in making sure that Safe Routes to School continues—and is able to get more children walking and bicycling to and from school!  If you need additional information, please visit http://www.saferoutespartnership.org/national/299443 or contact Margo Pedroso with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership at margo@saferoutespartnership.org . 

That’s it! Sounds good to me — Lenore

What Age Can Kids Start Walking to School?

Here’s my take on the issue, published in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune. Some of it will sound a little familiar to Free-Range Kids regulars, but it bears repeating: 

Most of the world’s kids walk to school by themselves starting in 1st grade. But here? Are you kidding? While the majority of us parents walked to school, today only 10 percent to 15 percent of kids do. How come?

The usual reason parents give is, “Times have changed,” and that’s true. Surprisingly, they have changed for the better.

Nationally, according to U.S. Department of Justice figures, we are back to the crime rate of 1970. In the ’70s and ’80s, the crime rate rose.

It peaked around 1993 and has been going down ever since, dramatically. So if you played outside any time in the ’70s or ’80s, your kids are actually safer than you were.

How come it feels just the opposite? When our parents were raising us, they were watching “Dallas” and “Dynasty.” The biggest crime was big hair. Today’s parents are watching “Law & Order” and “CSI,” shows overflowing with predators, rapists and maggots. TV has gotten so gross and so graphic, “I don’t think there’s a single episode of ‘Law & Order’ that could even have been shown before 1981,” says TV historian Robert Thompson.

Those scary shows — coupled with cable stations running off to Aruba or Portugal every time a white girl disappears — make us feel as if kids are being abducted 24/7. But the truth is: If, for some strange reason, you actually WANTED your child to be abducted by a stranger, do you know how long you would have to keep her outside, unattended, for this to be statistically likely to happen?


Now guess again.

Oh, forget it. The answer is 750,000 years, according to Warwick Cairns, author of “How To Live Dangerously.”

So what age can your kids start walking to school? Same age that you did. And that goes for waiting at the bus stop and taking public transit too.

The rest of the piece deals with what age kids can make lunch, learn to cross the street, and play outside.

Here in New York City, school doesn’t start for another three weeks, but it is zooming toward us faster than a science fair project  deadline. Let’s try to make this a year that our kids learn to do something new on their own.

Including, maybe, the science fair project! — Lenore

Free-Range Kids Outrage of the Week: 10-year-old Forbidden to Cross Parking Lot

Hi Free-Rangers:
Here’s a note from a mom who just wants her son to NOT be treated like a baby or invalid. But…that’s against camp rules. Voila:

My 10 year old is going to an art camp being held at the museum. Each child is suposed to be dropped off and picked up, complete with sign in/out sheets, by a person with the appropriate identification card issued by the camp. No card, no pickup. And if you’re late, they fine you.

I have no problem with this if it makes someone comfortable or if they have young children…however, my boy is not younger and I am fine with him leaving after his last class and walking across the very small parking lot to wait for me at the library where I may or may not be late depending on work. [Italics mine — Lenore]

I sent a letter stating that he had permission to leave unescorted, as per their instructions. Would you believe they have charged some intern to walk him across the parking lot?! The point of my letter was that my boy was fine, I was fine, and that he didn’t  need to be a bother to anyone there. The library and museum area are about as safe as you can get around here: Plenty of people, lots of foot traffic, very small parking lot so not a lot of vehicle traffic. The grocery store parking lot is twice as big and he’s been returning the carts for years!

First day, I ask the intern why he’s with my son and he said he just wanted him to make it safely to the library. I explained that wasn’t necessary and thanked him. The next day, my son slipped out without him, met me right smack out front and then asked if he could meet me at the library. I decide to move my car to a shadier spot and find my son on the library steps with the intern who’s followed him. Geesh people. He’s TEN!

In the non Free-Range world, alas, ten is the new two.  — Lenore