Bring Free Range Parenting Law to Manitoba
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In 2016, I was astounded when I read a Winnipeg Free Press article about a mother who was reported to CFS for allowing her children to play by themselves in her fenced-in backyard.
Then something similar happened to me.
One day this summer, my children were excited to go to the bakery at the end of our street to buy bread. My kids tend to be cautious, so I welcome their desire to develop independence when the opportunity arises.
They do not have to cross any streets to get there, and they are well-known both by neighbours and the bakery staff. So I gave them money, stood on the sidewalk and watched them go till they rounded the corner, then waited for them to come back, watching. They left my sight for about 3 minutes. However, someone saw them and deemed it suspicious (despite seeing me watch as they came back).
A month later, CFS showed up at my door, telling me that my kids should not be allowed to go anywhere unsupervised until the age of twelve. When I inquired about children walking to school on their own, or in groups, I was told that that is also unacceptable.
Upon sharing this story with friends and neighbours, I came to realize that there is widespread fear among parents who want to safely equip their children for the world by allowing them brief moments of independence, but who fear the possibility of CFS involvement or receiving criminal charges.
This is hugely problematic and out of touch with reality.
- Most parents I know allow their kids some measure of independence in settings they consider safe for their children, gradually increasing their radius. That usually includes walking to school, visiting a friend a couple of blocks away, and going to the bakery or store on the corner.
- Kids need to be able to safely practice their independence and become confident and competent in the world, gradually building up the skills needed to make good choices when they are twelve and allowed a larger radius
- Parents need to be able to make intentional parenting choices based on what we feel is safe, reasonable, and appropriate for our children, their level of maturity, and the circumstances.
The paragraph in question is Section 17(2)(g) of The Child and Family Services Act , and it states that a child is in need of protection, if, “being under the age of 12 years, [the child] is left unattended and without reasonable provision being made for the supervision and safety of the child.” Clearly, “reasonable provision” is left to both a parent’s and CFS’s judgement, and there will sometimes be differences of opinion about this. I support CFS’s need to follow up on a call from a concerned community member, but I take issue with CFS telling a parent that there are no circumstances under which it is okay for a child under the age of 12 to be left unsupervised.
If this is how CFS interprets and enforces this law, then I believe it is time to amend it.
Utah has already done the legwork. In May of this year they passed a bill, which expressly permits "a child, whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities such as going to and from school by walking, running or bicycling, going to nearby stores or recreational facilities and playing outside."
We believe that the Child and Family Services Act in Manitoba needs to be updated to specifically allow kids under the age of 12 more freedom, similar to the bill passed in Utah, because as it stands,
- it is out of touch with reality, as most parents allow their children some independence long before they are twelve (as I believe they should)
- it is not in our children’s best interest—it does not allow for them to learn the skills needed to safely navigate the world, and thus is ultimately detrimental to their safety and wellbeing
- it does not allow discretion for parents to take into account their child’s maturity or the context in which we allow them out of our sight for brief periods of time
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