The next attack on "free range parenting"

Another incident out of Illinois caught my attention this week, the latest is a series of stories about parents getting in trouble with the law for alleged abuse of their children. The form of abuse this time? Allowing a child to walk the family dog around the block. On August 2nd, Corey Widen, of the village of Wilmette, made the mistake of allowing her daughter (age 8) to take their Maltese puppy for a walk around the block. The walk was uneventful and both child and dog returned home without incident.

This would have been an unremarkable moment in virtually any American household, and it seemed to be just that… until the police arrived. Someone had seen her daughter out on her walk unsupervised and called the cops. The police investigated, interviewed everyone involved and left without filing any charges. That would have been bad enough, but the story didn’t end there. (Daily Mail, emphasis added)

The anonymous tipster who had called the police on Widen then reached out to the Department of Children and Family Services.

Caseworkers from the agency visited the Widens’ home, interviewed her 17-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter, as well as their pediatrician and other family members.

Two weeks into the investigation, the DCFS informed Widen’s attorney that officials have found nothing to suggest child neglect and closed the case.

Widen says the entire process has caused her family undue stress, but officials with child services point out that they have an obligation to the public to look into all complaints.

This is all too reminiscent of the stories we heard from Lenore Skenazy, author of the book, Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children. It’s a difficult subject, as is anything having to do with the safety of children, but there’s a point to be made about how too much protection can leave children unprepared to face the real world when the time comes. It’s definitely true that authorities have to investigate all complaints, but they have to be able to use their own discretion. In the end, it’s the responsibility of the parents to make these decisions, taking factors such as the safety of the neighborhood into account.

In this case, Ms. Widen probably didn’t have that much to worry about. The village of Wilmette is not that far to the north of Chicago, but it’s nothing like the inner city. It’s a little town of roughly 27,000 people. Looking at, the village has one of the lowest crime ratings on the scale. In 2016 they had a grand total of zero murders, three rapes, three robberies and five assaults. (Oh, and there were eleven cars stolen, just to be fair.) Noplace in the country is 100% safe, but Wilmette is pretty calm. Ms. Widen can see nearly the entire block her daughter walks around with the dog from the windows of their home.

When someone sees a child walking a dog, should their first reaction be to call the police or to perhaps ask the kid where she lives and maybe even check with the parents to make sure everything is okay? Even if they do call the cops, once the police investigate and determine that everything is alright, calling CFS and having them open a (permanent) file on the family seems over the top. At that point, the good Samaritan has become a nuisance.

I understand that a child abduction can happen anywhere. Believe me, I get it. But if you’re at least somewhat vigilant and know your neighbors and your neighborhood, it’s a manageable risk if that’s how you want to raise your child. Have we really fallen so far in terms of a cohesive society that we have to raise our children in bubble wrapped rooms until they turn 18? They need to be aware of their surroundings and learn what to do if a stranger approaches, but never allowing them a moment alone can’t be good for them either.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on December 09, 2022