News & Politics

Woman Threatened with Jail and 25-Year Secret 'Blacklist' for Letting Her Kids Play at Park

(Gwen R. Cario/The Awty International School via AP)

My mother would have been locked up in prison if she were raising me today. When I was a kid it was totally normal for me at the age of seven to take my 4-year-old neighbor to the park a block away and play for hours unsupervised. We would even walk farther and cross a busy street to go to the White Hen to buy candy if we had some change—without asking anyone’s permission. In our neighborhood, it was normal for packs of kids to be outside all day until the street lights came on. We would wander sometimes as far as two miles away from home, playing in the woods, visiting the nearby college running track, or biking to the library. Kids as young as four and five would be totally unsupervised except for the occasional older sibling checking in.

We also used to come home to an empty house without anyone from the bus garage calling our parents to see where they were. The other day, my car was in the shop and the bus garage called me to make sure I was home after the driver saw no car in the driveway when he dropped off my kids. I guess that should make me feel good, but it just makes me feel surveilled.

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Try to give your kids a 1980s childhood today and you’ll end up fighting for your life in court like an Arizona mom called “Jessica” as reported by Reason:

It was a little more than a year ago—right before Thanksgiving, as COVID-19 raged—that Jessica committed her crime: She let her 7-year-old son and his friend, age 5, play at the park while she went to buy a turkey.

For this, she faced criminal charges, as well as being listed for 25 years on Arizona’s Central Registry, a secret blacklist that functions similarly to the sex offender registry but is less publicly accessible.

My mother sometimes left us in the car in the grocery store parking lot for 45 minutes while she shopped. No one thought that was a problem in 1980. She was a model mother. Everyone did it and we were fine. The terror today’s parents feel in the middle of winter deciding what to do with a sleeping baby in a car seat when having to go into a gas station 15 feet away from a warm, safe car for two minutes is absurd. And in Arizona, what was done to Jessica should be considered criminal. Not only was her child hauled away, but she was charged criminally by police and was thrown into a battle with child protective services. (And read the whole article at Reason because some of the details will shock you—like she had two friends at the park who knew the kids were there and were keeping an eye on them.)

[Jessica was] criminally charged with two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a child. Each count carried a potential for six months’ jail time. This means that as punishment for ostensibly not supervising her child closely enough for a short time, the state was threatening to stop Jessica from supervising her child at all, for a year…

DCS declared that Jessica had placed her son “at unreasonable risk of harm for abduction, injury, harm from a stranger, exposure to drugs and death.”

The “blacklist” she found herself on is a little-known secretive list of “child abusers” that will keep Jessica on a watch list for the next 25 years.

According to Diane Redleaf, author of They Took the Kids Last Night: How the Child Protection System Puts Families at Risk, and legal consultant to Let Grow, not only are stories like Jessica’s too common throughout America, 25-year registers are the norm in many states. Moreover, guilty findings are commonly issued by caseworkers—that is, without a trial—and hearings to contest those findings are often delayed.

This is America now, home of the “free” with empty playgrounds. Parenting is probably the hardest job there is in 2021. Parents are relentlessly criticized for having 27-year-old basement dwellers, but has anyone considered that it has something to do with the fact that they’ve all been raised in a fear state with no autonomy or freedom? I could be wrong, but the overarching nanny state could have something to do with delayed maturity and the struggle today’s kids have to establish independence.