Free Range Parenting or Child Endangerment?

criminal lawLiving in the ‘big city’,  I was always hyper vigilant about keeping an eye on my kids.  Just my style.  I was, and am, the type of parent who pays attention to my kids in restaurants, etc.  I like being with my kids, so for me, it was often more about together time than about ‘protecting them’, yet that has always been a high priority for me. If I go to the park with my kids, they are not out of my sight for more than 10 seconds. Personally, I don’t understand the concept of allowing a child to go to a park without direct immediate parental supervision. Certainly not in a city neighborhood where there is actual criminal activity occurring with any regularity.

Would I feel this way if we lived in an upscale neighborhood like Mount Lebanon, or Upper St. Clair, or Fox Chapel? I honestly don’t know. However, I raised my children in the east end of the city of Pittsburgh and there’s no way they are out of my sight.

That said, there does come a point when a parent must acknowledge their child is becoming their own person, and one has to accommodate that. I still take precautions, yet, my own daughter is almost 14 now, and despite my need to protect her, I feel I have to encourage her in her quest to be self-reliant, and for the first time the other week I allowed her to ride her bicycle to a friends house in Highland Park. At the same time, the freedom I give her is tempered by rules she has to follow to keep her privileges (and keep my wife and I from becoming nervous wrecks). She has to call upon arrival, no “detours” on the way, so we know if she’s later calling than she should be, that sort of thing.

She has even gone with her friends across town in Mount Lebanon, and walked with them to get ice cream or other things. And in all candor, it’s largely because it is a very low-crime neighborhood that I felt comfortable with the idea. I am also fortunate in that I have a very sensible kid.

Regarding the Maryland couple who had their children taken away for allowing them to walk home from the park, I’m not clear that the children displayed any signs of distress, but because there was a report filed by a citizen, the police are obligated to follow up on it– especially in cases of child endangerment. I think most police would rather not be babysitters, and I doubt there’s any budgetary item for scooping kids up from a playground, so if anything this particular instance may be more a case of CYA – if the authorities don’t scoop up the kids and something bad happens…

No doubt for some this issue raises the specter of “Big Brother” and government over-reach, but the fact is, parents have the duty to provide care and supervision.  A parent failing to do so could be charged with Endangering Welfare of Children.  The sad truth is, these agencies like CYS, etc., exist for a reason.

As for authorities stepping in on issues of protective, child related law, things like curfews have been deemed reasonable and are not unconstitutional.

We see here locally, in Clairton, a group of young people are petitioning to have a 10pm curfew law lifted for the summer months. They are admittedly a creative and dynamic group, but it remains to be seen if the authorities there will take any chances. Let’s face it, if one child is hurt or worse, killed, as a result, there would be hell to pay.

Does all this mean, teaching your child self-confidence and self-reliance, etc., constitutes endangerment? That would ultimately be speaking in generalities.  Is teaching those skills bad?  Of course not.  Is teaching those skills by dropping the kid off in the middle of the woods 10 miles from food and shelter bad?  Yes.  It is criminal.

Is my attitude affected by what I have seen in our criminal court system throughout my career? No doubt, that has something to do with it.

But in a professional capacity, keep in mind that Lawyers, like physicians and police officers, rarely have the luxury of morals when executing professional responsibilities, beyond those proscribed by their chosen field.  Homicide detectives do the same casework if a drug dealer kills a rival as they do if a drunk driver kills a child. How they personally feel about drinking or doing drugs is irrelevant and is trumped by the demands of professional conduct.

Do I have personal lines I can’t professionally cross? Absolutely.

I have taken an oath to defend a client to the best of my abilities, yet even then, something like Kiddie porn is pretty messed up.  One of the few times I find myself telling agents “you are doing God’s work.” I think I’d have to be pretty firmly convinced of someone’s innocence before I could take a case like that. The only cases I absolutely won’t take for personal reasons are for infanticide.

And in all candor, attorneys should turn down cases if they have a strong moral issue.  But, if that happens a lot, those attorneys probably shouldn’t be practicing criminal defense, if you think about it.

The fact is, there are bad people out there, and parents must be vigilant. If they are not, agencies like Child and Youth Services are going to step in. That is the world we live in today.

View the Clairton Curfew Story on KDKA Here.

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