The Short of It
Child Protective Services (CPS) in Florida picked up an 11-year-old boy who was playing basketball in his driveway while waiting for his parents to return home from running errands. His parents were arrested for child negligence when they arrived home, and both their preteen son and his 4-year-old brother were removed from the parents' custody for one month.
When the boy arrived home before his parents, he decided to shoot some hoops in the driveway while he waited for them. The parents, who were out running errands, had been delayed by heavy traffic. He played in front of the house for about 90 minutes and did not go inside because he didn't have a key.
A neighbor saw the boy outside alone and called police. When the parents got home, they were arrested for felony child neglect and fingerprinted, strip searched and held in a jail cell overnight. The child neglect statue says, "A person who willfully or by culpable negligence neglects a child without causing great bodily harm, permanent disability or permanent disfigurement to the child commits a felony of the third degree."
In an email sent to the Free-Ranged Kids website, the mom explained the alleged crime:
"The authorities claim he had no access to water or shelter. We have an open shed in the back yard and 2 working sinks and 2 hoses. They said he had no food. He ate his snacks already. He had no bathroom, but the responding officer found our yard good enough to relieve himself in while our son sat in a police car alone. In his own yard, in a state, Florida, that has no minimum age for children to be alone."
Child Protective Services placed the boy and his brother in foster care, then with a relative, and then back in foster care. During a court hearing where CPS requested the boys be kept in foster care, the 11-year-old "begged" to speak to a judge and pleaded to go home. The judge agreed to let the boys return home if the parents admitted they didn't know it was wrong for the son to be home alone, but now do and won't let it happen again. The parents repeated a statement their lawyer had advised they make and were given their children back.
Although the first hearing was in civil court, the parents will have to appear in criminal court and plead "not guilty" to the child neglect charge. They also have to attend parenting classes and go to therapy. Their oldest boy is required to attend a day camp this summer, and his younger brother must go to a daycare facility.
Calling the police was a complete overreaction on the neighbor's part. I was certainly allowed to be home alone at age 11; I started babysitting when I was 12!
I'm hopeful Florida and other states will follow the lead of Maryland, home of free-range parents the Meitivs, which last week clarified its view about children playing or walking alone in a new policy directive that says Child Protective Services should not be involved in such cases unless children have been harmed or face a substantial risk of harm. Perhaps we should all make sure our neighbors know this policy, too.
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