The Utah State House and Senate unanimously passed a bill aimed at preventing parents from being punished for child neglect if they allow youngsters who have demonstrated maturity to do things such as visit a playground without parental guidance, ride a bike to school without supervision or remain in the car when out running errands with mom or dad.
These and similar actions on the part of parents have recently been scrutinized in various parts of the country, which has led to the question of whether or not such activities should be classified as child neglect. The law takes effect on May 8th, 2018, and is referred to as the “Free-Range Parenting Bill.” It was signed into law by Governor Gary Herbert on March 23rd, 2018.
The sponsor of the bill, Republican Representative Brad Daw, stated that although parents in Utah have not been investigated for neglect for allowing their youngsters to participate in the aforementioned activities, he is concerned that the trend of tighter controls on children’s freedoms may lead to such action in his state.
Daw cited instances in other areas of the country where authorities were called merely because a girl was seen waiting in an automobile for her mother who was in a store, and a boy who was observed playing basketball unsupervised at the end of a cul-de-sac.
Free-Range Parenting is a term created by parents whose goal is to raise self-sufficient children, who learn about certain dangers by specific ages and act responsibly without continuous parental supervision. However, fierce controversy surrounds what constitutes an appropriate amount of freedom for a child and the age at which such freedoms should be granted.
Democrat Senator, Luz Escamilla, said she is relieved that individuals report unsupervised or neglected youngsters, though she acknowledges that some reports may be overzealous.
Some individuals claim that “Free-Range Parenting” is simply the way children have always been raised until society went “overboard” with regard to child safety issues and began citing negligence if a parent allowed a child to walk to a friend’s house alone or play in a park without a parent.
Some proponents of the law regard it as a preventative action and argue that having such legislation in place prevents parents from being arrested, fined, or having their children removed from their home under wrongful circumstances.
Others question whether this law is truly necessary. For example, Salt Lake County District Attorney, Sim Gill, has stated that authorities in Utah have no plans to micromanage parents. However, he believes that the law has the potential to become a loophole for parents in child negligence cases and that allowing children to look after themselves in certain situations is often dangerous.
Republican Senator, Lincoln Fillmore, states that these concerns are addressed by specifying that youngsters must have the maturity to engage in certain activities without placing themselves at risk. Specific ages are not cited in the bill, which allows authorities to handle possible neglect or abuse on a case-by-case basis.
Utah is currently the only state to have signed the Free-Range Parenting Bill into law. A similar bill was taken into consideration by Arkansas lawmakers in 2017, but it was rejected. It remains to be seen if other states throughout the country will adopt this or similar laws concerning unsupervised children’s activities and the role of parents in their level of freedom.