Will Arkansas Embrace Free Range Parenting in 2019?

Depending on the whims of a police officer or a state worker, the types of activity that used to be normal for children a couple decades ago could mean big legal trouble for parents today. Legislators will consider a bill in next year’s legislative session to ensure that what is now called “free range” parenting is not criminalized in the state.

In prior generations, it was normal for children to walk to school, ride their bikes unsupervised all over town, stay home alone, or sit in cars unattended as parents shopped. Today, there are plenty of news stories that illustrate just how dangerous it is for parents to allow their children to undertake these activities.

Senator Alan Clark has pre-filed a bill, SB 12, to protect parents from being charged with neglect if they allow their children to walk to school or remain alone in a car for a short period of time. As the bill explains, its intent is to “protect a parent or guardian’s decision to grant his or her children unsupervised time to engage in activities that include without limitation playing outside, walking to school, bicycling, remaining briefly in a vehicle, and remaining at home.”

Specifically, the bill would clarify that the following unsupervised activities by children do not qualify as neglect, as long as the children are of sufficient capacity to avoid immediate danger or a significant risk of harm:

  • Traveling to and from school by walking, biking, or running
  • Playing outside
  • Remaining in a vehicle for fewer than 15 minutes as long as weather conditions permit
  • Staying home alone if parents are returning the same day

If this legislation sounds familiar, it’s because Senator Clark has introduced similar legislation previously. Here is a TAP post by former AAI President Dan Greenberg explaining why that bill was needed. In another TAP post, Dan then explains the absurd objections that some legislators raised against Sen. Clark’s bill. Ultimately, the scaremongering from legislators and others derailed that legislation.

It’s good to see Sen. Clark resurrecting his attempts to bring common sense to Arkansas’s statute on neglect. It makes no sense for parents to live in fear of a visit from a police officer when they allow their children to walk to school or wait in the car when they run into the store to buy milk.

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