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Free Range Parenting – Legal in Virginia?

March 17, 2015 by The Parrish Law Firm

While this type of situation does not typically apply to cases we handle at the Parrish Law Firm, PPLC, it does affect many of us as parents. We found it interesting and thought we would pass it on to all of you.

A Silver Spring, Maryland couple is currently being investigated by Child Protective Services (CPS) for allowing their children who are 6 and 10 years old to walk to a nearby park without supervision. The article which brought this situation to light appeared in the Washington Post. The couple are educated professionals. One is a physicist for NIH and the other is a climate-science consultant and they have defended their actions and say that they believe in “Free Range parenting.”

Free Range parents believe that by allowing their children the freedom to make important decisions that they will develop self-reliance and grow up to be independent individuals. The Silver Spring couple believes that parenting is an exercise in “risk management.” They believe that a child is much more likely to die from a car accident than to be abducted because they are unsupervised. They strongly believe that the benefits that come with self-reliance far outweigh the risks of letting their children go unsupervised.

Northern Virginia parents may want to keep an eye on this case as many child abuse charges stem from leaving children unsupervised.

Children Home Alone

Virginia state statutes do not set a specific age after which a child legally can stay alone.

* Age alone is not a very good indicator of a child’s maturity level. Some very mature 10-year-olds may be ready for self care while some 15-year-olds may not be ready due to emotional problems or behavioral difficulties. In determining whether a child is capable of being left alone and whether a parent is providing adequate supervision in latchkey situations, child protective services (CPS) will assess several areas.

These areas include:

  • Child’s level of maturity. CPS will want to assess whether the child is physically capable of taking care of himself; is mentally capable of recognizing and avoiding danger and making sound decisions; is emotionally ready to be alone; knows what to do and whom to call if an emergency arises; and has special physical, emotional, or behavioral problems that make it unwise to leave be left alone. It is important to note that a child who can take care of him/herself may not be ready to care for younger children.
  • Accessibility of those responsible for the child. CPS will want to determine the location and proximity of the parents, whether they can be reached by phone and can get home quickly if needed, and whether the child knows the parents’ location and how to reach them.
  • The situation. CPS will want to assess the time of day and length of time the children are left alone; the safety of the home or neighborhood; whether the parents have arranged for nearby adults to be available in case a problem arises; and whether there is a family history of child abuse or neglect.

* Some localities have ordinances concerning the age at which a child may be left without supervision.

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A representative of the Parrish Law Firm, PLLC researched and wrote this article with Mr. Parrish’s consent. If you have any questions regarding the legal implications of what you have just read, please send us your question by clicking here so we can have our attorney review it.

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