At least on state has passed a law to protect “free-range” parenting. What about Colorado?
Free-Range parenting is the latest buzzword in an ongoing and divisive debate about how to raise children. In one of the first cases to raise a national debate over this “new” concept, a couple in Maryland was charged with child neglect in 2015 when their two children were allowed to walk home from a park unattended. In that case, Child Protective Services found them guilty of unsubstantiated child neglect. Indeed, it wasn’t until the case was appealed that the parents were ultimately vindicated.
But that didn’t end the ordeal for the parents. Child Protective Services came after the them a second time . . . for the exact same thing. Though again cleared of any wrong-doing, it appears Maryland grew tired of a rogue Child Protective Services and ultimately “clarified” its view of child neglect.
But What About Other States?
While it would be easy to say that such problems are a result of over-zealous agency in one state, the potential for rogue a Child Protective Service agency employee or employees exists everywhere. To protect against this, the State of Utah recently passed a law stating that “it is not a crime for parents to let their children play unsupervised in a park or walk home from school alone.” As the Maryland mom correctly noted though, “[t]he fact that we need legislation for what was once considered common sense parenting a generation ago and is considered normal in every other country in the world is what surprises me.” Nevertheless Utah, understanding of the need to protect parents made it very clear that
“[n]eglect does not include . . . permitting a child, whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities, including: (A) traveling to and from school, including by walking, running, or bicycling; (B) traveling to and from nearby commercial or recreational facilities; (C) engaging in outdoor play; (D) remaining in a vehicle unattended, except under [certain] conditions; (E) remaining home unattended; or (F) engaging in a similar independent activity.”
So Where Does Colorado Stand?
Right now, “[i]n Colorado, child abuse laws are purposefully vague, designed to let parents make decisions for their kids, but also let law enforcement charge them if they go too far.” The problem is – this assumes DHS will do their job properly. As we saw in Maryland, this may not be true.
Under C.R.S. 19-3-102, a child is neglected or dependent if, among other things, the child lacks proper parental care through the actions or omissions of the parent, guardian, or legal custodian. But what is proper parental care? Apparently in Maryland, DHS thought that meant not letting kids walk home from the park.
Additionally, under C.R.S. 18-6-401, a child is abused if, among other things, a parent permits a child to be unreasonably placed in a situation that poses a threat of injury to the child’s life or health. This broad definition arguably gives Colorado the power to prosecute a parent in very almost limitless situations. For example, what is “unreasonably placed in a situation that poses a threat of injury to the child’s . . . health”? In my view, that definition is so broad as to include letting your child eat potato chips. After all, we have a national crisis of child obesity, right? While I would hope such a charge would not occur – look at the Maryland parents who were charged, twice, for letting their kids walk home from a park.
Nevertheless, Colorado does not appear to have any plans to narrow these definitions or pass a free-range parenting law. This is despite at least “[o]ne MSU Denver Child Development expert. . . saying free-range parenting is a rejection of ‘helicopter parenting,’ which has been proven to have negative effects on children including anxiety disorders and inability to recognize danger.”
As happens in our country, the pendulum continues to swing. If you find yourself on the wrong end of that pendulum, give my office a call. All initial consultations are free of charge and we can discuss the best way to assist you in your case.
 Don’t even begin to ask how one can be guilty of something that is unsubstantiated.