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State Senate committee hears bills intended to protect child independence

A recently-refurbished North End park.
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

A pair of bipartisan bills in the Michigan Senate would exclude "independent activities" from the legal definition of child neglect. These activities would include traveling back and forth from school, playing outside, or being home alone without an adult.

SB 547 and 548 have support from both Democrats and Republicans. The bill is still in committee. Other states like Connecticut and Virginia have similar laws.

“Parents and guardians who allow their children to do regular childhood activities, such as going to the park or walking home from school or being home alone for a certain amount of time ... should be judged as safe independent childhood activities,” said Ed McBroom, a Republican state senator and bill sponsor.

“CPS and law enforcement would not have to take on an entire investigation just because somebody has phoned in a complaint that they saw someone's child playing alone at the park or walking around the block,” he said.

McBroom said he's heard anecdotal reports that such situations had happened, but “the law enforcement and the Child Protective Services folks have generally handled these with discretion and have recognized that there isn't a case here.”

McBroom hoped the bill would allow authorities to focus on “actual dangerous situations rather than spending a lot of time on these regular childhood experiences.”

Sarah Clark is a research scientist in the Michigan Medicine pediatrics department. She is also the national director of C.S. Mott Children's Hospital’s National Poll on Children’s Health. She said parents often want to allow their children independence but fear legal trouble.

She hopes the bill will protect parents “acting in the best interest of their kid ... making reasonable decisions. It should protect them from charges of neglect.”

“When we don't allow kids … opportunities to develop new skills and then apply them independently, we are prohibiting kids from this really necessary developmental course of transitioning to becoming independent adults,” she said.

A.J. Jones is a newsroom intern and graduate of the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Sources say he owns a dog named Taffy.
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