“This Law Gives Texas Kids Back Their Childhood,” Says Let Grow President Lenore Skenazy

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New bill means parents won’t be accused of neglect for trusting their kids with some freedom

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“Bottom line: This law helps anyone giving their kids some reasonableindependence – by choice or by necessity,” says Lenore Skenazy. “No wonder it has such overwhelming support.”

Texas parents can turn cartwheels and so can their kids -- legally: A law passed over the weekend states that parents can let their kids engage in normal childhood activities without being accused of neglect.

This makes Texas the third state to affirm that children have the right to some unsupervised time, and parents have the right to give it to them without getting investigated. Utah passed the first so-called “Free-Range Kids” law in 2018. Oklahoma passed a similar law a few weeks ago, and the Texas bill became law on May 15.

“Hallelujah!” said Lenore Skenazy, president of Let Grow, the national nonprofit promoting childhood independence that has been working in these states. “Kids aren’t bonsai trees. They miss out on developmental milestones when they don’t get a chance to play and problem-solve on their own. Now Texas parents who want to raise independent kids don’t have to worry about the authorities second-guessing their reasonable parenting decisions.”

In September, when the Texas law goes into effect, 38 million people – more than one tenth of all Americans – will be protected by laws Let Grow helped to get passed.

HB 567 enjoyed bipartisan support, sailing through the Texas Senate unopposed, and winning the House with a vote of 143 to 5.

“You had the most right-wing members of the legislature signed on with most left-wing members,” said Andrew Brown, distinguished senior fellow for child and family policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The bill was so popular, he said, “because it’s a commonsense reform.”

The bill certainly would have helped Austin mom Kari Anne Roy, whose case made headlines in 2014. Roy’s 6-year-old was playing within view of the house for about ten minutes when a woman marched him home and called the cops. Police officers paid Roy a visit, and a week later Child Protective Services interviewed each of her children separately. They asked the boy, 12, if he had ever done drugs, and the girl, 8, if she had seen movies with people’s private parts – something she’d never even heard of. “Thank you, CPS,” Roy said.

The statute now enshrining childhood independence is part of a bigger children’s services bill ensuring Texans that the state will not intervene and place kids in foster care unless the danger is so great and so likely that it outweighs the trauma of entering the foster care system.

“Removing a child from his or her family causes immense harm to the child and should only be done when absolutely necessary,” said Rep. James Frank (R., Wichita Falls), one of the bill’s co-authors. This new law -- “the product of years of work from stakeholders of all types and legislators of both parties” – gives the authorities those marching orders.

It does so because it “changes our definition of neglect,” Representative Gene Wu (D., Houston) told the Texas State Assembly. From now on, kids will be removed only when “they’re actually in danger, and not just the possibility of danger.”

This way the law not only protects parents who want to let their kids play outside, says Diane Redleaf, Let Grow’s legal consultant. “It also enables parents struggling to make ends meet to make child care arrangements that make life easier rather than harder.” In other words, it prevents poverty from being mistaken for neglect.

For instance, in Houston in 2015, mom Laura Browder was arrested for having her kids wait 30 feet away from her in a food court when she had a job interview there and didn’t have time to line up child care. The arrest came after she had accepted the new job.

In Texas, says Brown, “If you are a child living in one of the 25 poorest counties in Texas you are statistically more likely to enter foster care for an allegation of pure neglect – not abuse – than if you are one of the 25 richest.”

“Bottom line: This law helps anyone giving their kids some reasonable independence – by choice or by necessity,” says Skenazy. “No wonder it has such overwhelming support.”

About Let Grow
Let Grow is a nonprofit promoting childhood independence as the key to resourcefulness and resilience, founded by Free-Range Kids pioneer Lenore Skenazy, research psychologist Dr. Peter Gray, former chairman of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Daniel Shuchman, and NYU Prof. Jonathan Haidt, co-author of “The Coddling of the American Mind.” Let Grow’s thought leadership, school programs, research, writing, speaking and legislative advocacy give parents, educators, and communities the tools and confidence to step back, so kids can step up. Let Grow has been featured in The New York Times, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard, PBS and more. To learn more about Let Grow, visit letgrow.org.

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Lenore Skenazy
Let Grow
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