As I wrote in my last post, recently Maryland State Child Services rendered a "clarification" on the law that states that children under the age of eight cannot be left without a responsible person 13 years or older. The new directive says that "children younger than 8 in a building, enclosure or vehicle must be with a responsible person who is at least 13."*
This "clarification" raises more questions for me than it makes anything clearer.
1. Why is a less-than-eight year old considered safer outside than inside?
There are planty of hazards lurking outside and being inside at least they have shelter, access to a bathroom, access to drinks and (maybe) access to temperature control.
2. Why is a less-than-eight year old considered able to cross streets up to eight lanes across where adults routinely die by getting run over by themselves but are not considered capable of unbuckling a seatbelt, unlocking a door and opening it to get themselves out of a parked vehicle?
3. Does this mean that if mom doesn't want to take the kids into the grocery store she cannot leave them in the car (even if the temperature will be safe) but she CAN let them play on the sidewalk outside of the store or in the parking lot?
4. If a parent is going to arrive home from work after their child gets home from school or activities, the child needs to stay outside the house and walk or play because if they go inside to use the bathroom, watch tv, start their homework or get a drink they are in more danger than hanging around outside of their house?
5. Is a child left inside while their parent is outside doing something in more danger than a child who is allowed to play outside (potentially in the street) while their parent in inside doing something?
This is a ridiculous "improvement" to our understanding of the law and how it will be addressed by law enforcement. It doesn't make our lives as parents easier. It doesn't clarify for people in public who see a child who they think might need help decide whether or not they should call the police. And it doesn't clarify for law enforcement when they should get child services involved.
Here's what I don't get about this whole situation. Why can't child services investigate and analyze the situation when called in the first time to determine whether or not a child actually was in danger and choose not to take any action at all? Why is the first call to child services always followed by parents being led away in handcuffs?
Here's what I think. I think it's because this law was created with racism and classism as an underlying intent. I think the when the law was written it was with poor, single mothers (who let's face it are predominantly not caucasian) in mind. The underlying assumption being that we just don't know what THOSE people are capable of so if we get a call that someone has found a problem we have to come in and lay down the law immediately or else the next time the call might be to the ambulance or the cororner. I think that many people of color and many people who lack financial resources have had this law applied egregiously and have probably had no ability to challenge it. BUT now that the parents who feel they were wrongly accused are white, middle class parents with a social agenda. Well, no, THAT IS different, isn't it?
If white, middle class people who claim to be "free range parents" want to neglect their kids, they should be able to, but if a single mom/dad who is just trying to keep a roof over her/his kids head gets held up at work or called in at the last minute and needs to leave his child at the playground near his work, in her house, or in his car, THAT's a crime.
As far as I am concerned, this decision has just made the situation worse for everyone. It may be claimed as a victory by the "free rangers" but it is a step back for everyone. They have taken a law that was objective, and clear and made it into a muddy, subjective minefield that leaves lots of room for people of color and people of low financial income to be oppressed. This is not over. I guarantee you. It is NOT over.
*Md. officials: Letting 'free range' kids walk or play alone is not neglect, By: Donna St. George, Washington Post online, June 11, 2015