Could the USA be turning a corner in the global fight to defend children’s right to play? A remarkable pair of legal moves certainly makes it look this way. They add further support for the view that the tide is turning fast in a country with a poor reputation for upholding children’s everyday freedoms.
The first move is the overturning in the Illinois courts of a high-profile child neglect ruling against a mum whose ‘crime’ was to let her three children aged 11, 9 and 5 play together in a park within sight of her home. The details are in a post published yesterday on Lenore Skenazy’s Free Range Kids website. Commenting on the case, a Director of Child and Family Service spokesman said, “The Department will be taking a closer look at similar cases to ensure that we allow caretakers to be prudent parents and considering changes to Department rules and procedures.”
The second move is from the White House itself. Last week President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act. In doing so – again according to Lenore – he has enshrined in law the first federal free-range kids legislation. An amendment added by Senator Mike Lee states that:
“…nothing in this Act shall…prohibit a child from traveling to and from school on foot or by car, bus, or bike when the parents of the child have given permission; or expose parents to civil or criminal charges for allowing their child to responsibly and safely travel to and from school by a means the parents believe is age appropriate.”
Sen. Lee provided a supporting quote that should be in the back pocket of anyone pushing for a more balanced approach to children’s everyday freedoms in the USA:
“Our amendment protecting parents who allow their kids to walk to school is definitely a silver lining. Unsupervised moments are a huge part of how children learn, grow, and build the skills that prepare them for the rigors of citizenship and the adventure of adult life… America faces great challenges today. Kids walking to school with their parents’ permission is not one of them.”
(I know that some worry about focusing on the school trip, seeing it as a symptom of a wider tendency to ‘schoolify’ children’s lives. And they have a point: children’s freedom to get around and explore is not just about getting to school and back. But it is an important journey for children, and also a gateway to wider policy change. The Danes showed this in the 1970s, when their government imposed a duty on local authorities to improve safety on the school journey. Today, Danish children have a great deal of freedom to get around their neighbourhoods without adults. I expand on this revealing policy story in my book No Fear.)
I would like to give Lenore Skenazy – whose tireless, spiky, super-smart campaigning is surely a factor in these latest victories – the last word. As she says in yesterday’s post: “Last week we had national legislation passed allowing kids to walk to school, and this week we have a mom exonerated after letting her children play outside. Not bad!”
Seasonal greetings from me, and let’s hope that 2016 brings more progress in expanding the horizons of childhood.
Image from Getty Images (which has a huge library of images available for free non-commercial use)