Op-ed: Fix Utah law to protect ‘free-range’ parenting

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Some may consider a child walking to school unsupervised as parental neglect

In July 2013, Natasha Felix let her kids — then ages 11, 9 and 5 — play at the park adjacent to her apartment building, peering at them every 10 minutes from her window to ensure things were OK.

A passer-by saw them playing without apparent parental supervision and called a government hotline. Soon a caseworker was at Natasha’s door, informing her she was under investigation for child abuse and neglect. She was cited for child neglect based on “inadequate supervision,” a charge that landed her on the Illinois Child Abuse Registry.

As parents we have different opinions about almost every facet of parenting; discipline, extracurricular activities, appropriate television and how closely they are supervised. With the 24-hour news cycle and social media fueling the view that our kids are in constant danger, it is easy to understand why some parents are more comfortable with very strict supervision. There is room however, for loving, responsible parents to have a less strict supervision structure; more “free range.” (A website called Free-Range Kids curates cases like Natasha’s from around the country.)

Of course there are lines that we can all agree are neglect or abuse, and we can all agree there are times for organizations that protect children to step in. However, having a different opinion does not necessarily make a parent neglectful.

Many adults can happily reminisce about the freedom they experienced as youths, whether riding bikes for hours, walking a couple miles to the mall, or playing at the park until the sun went down. And while it’s easy to feel that there are more threats to children today, the data simply disprove this idea. Fewer children go missing, fewer are struck and killed by cars, and overall child mortality rates have fallen by nearly half since 1990.

Utah’s government, through the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS), rightly has authority to remove children from homes where they are being abused or neglected. But the statutory definition of “neglect” is broad enough that one could claim an unattended child playing at a park a block away from…

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