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Opinion: Should letting your kid play outside be illegal?

What does it take to get a Democrat and a Republican to co-sponsor a bill?

A little joy and a little outrage. Joy at finding an issue we could work on together — we’ve been friends for years.

Outrage at some of the stories we’ve heard from friends and constituents, moms and dads who simply took their eyes off their kids for a few minutes and ended up investigated for neglect.

Janet Buckner

And frankly, we both remember some of the hoops we’ve jumped through as moms ourselves just to make sure no one mistook us for bad parents.

The bill we are co-sponsoring, HB20-1147, would ensure parents could allow their children Reasonable Independence. We want  Colorado parents to be able to give their kids the kind of independence almost all of us over age 30 grew up with – the freedom to walk to school, play outside, come home with a latchkey and so on.

Kim Ransom

Both of us believe in the importance of our child protective authorities. They perform a crucial service and keep kids safe. Now we’d like to make sure they don’t waste their time investigating parents who make a rational, everyday decision to let their kids do something on their own.

Because the sad fact is, some Coloradans have had their lives turned upside down by unnecessary investigations.

For instance, we learned about a mom named Christa whose elementary age daughter wanted to run around the block — the start of her new exercise plan. Sure beats staring at a screen all afternoon. 

Her mom could see her for most of the way, but in that minute or two that she was out of Christa’s sight, a stranger spotted the girl and followed her home.

This stranger wasn’t out to snatch the girl (though shaming her mom might have been on the agenda). But simply seeing a child by herself in her own neighborhood seems to have been enough to prompt a call to the police, and soon an officer came out to investigate.

In the end, no charges were filed. But ever since, the girl has been afraid to go running around the block. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

How has that made anyone’s life better? In an era of rising childhood obesity, diabetes, depression and anxiety, teaching kids to sit inside and fear the world is the opposite of what they need.

And yet, we’ve heard from a constituent who has a child with autism. She is terrified someone will mistake his behavior for the behavior of a child who is being abused. Another constituent has a young child who likes to bolt.

If he manages to squirm away and get half a block ahead of her, will that prove she’s a terrible mom? She’s worried a call could open a case on her. Bring up this topic at your water cooler today and it’s likely someone will share a story like this – often a story they’d been too ashamed to tell. 

As moms, we relate. Rep. Ransom here: When I was widowed, I had four kids under the age of 11. Parents know their children best and there are children 8, 9, 10 that are perfectly capable of walking to school by themselves. But the parents load them up and drive them because they’re afraid to be charged with neglect, and I think I overcompensated out of fear, too. 

What happens when parents have to practice “defensive parenting,” and never let their kids out of their sight? Rep. Buckner here: I remember how proud and grown up I felt when my mom started having me go to the corner grocery to get things for her, like the baking powder when she was making a cake.

I am still thankful for that, because it helped me gain confidence knowing that my mother and father felt I was smart enough and strong enough to be given that freedom. 

Both of us believe that kids rise to the occasion when we start giving them some independence coupled with responsibility.

But the threat of an investigation means parents can’t use their common sense. And minority moms have even more reason to worry: Fully 53% of all African American kids will be investigated by child protective services sometime in their childhoods.

The vast majority of all these parental investigations end up “unfounded.” But that doesn’t mean no harm was done. Kids and the parents who’ve been through an investigation are traumatized.

A stranger has come into their home, opened their cabinets, interviewed their kids. Imagine fearing that your family might be torn apart simply because you let your child run an errand, or come home with a latchkey because you’re working two jobs and knew she’d be perfectly fine getting a snack and doing her homework. 

Parents need the freedom to make these types of decisions. They know what is in their family’s best interests. 

For these reasons, we are honored and excited to sponsor HB20-1147. It’s not a right-wing or left-wing bill. It’s a commonsense bill that lets kids be kids and parents be parents. 

Rep. Janet Buckner, Democrat, is Speaker Pro Tempore and represents the 40th District. Rep. Kim Ransom, Republican, represents House District 44.  


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