EDITORIAL: Congress should approve Free-Range Kids provision

If you pay attention to the Internet, social media, cable TV and our 24/7 news cycle, you’d think that child abduction has reached epidemic proportions in this country. There is no evidence to support such irrational fear, however, and one Republican senator has introduced some common-sense legislation in response.

Back in April, two kids walking home from a Montgomery County, Md., park were “€œabducted”€ by Montgomery County police and Child Protective Services, who responded with three squad cars to a resident tip that —€” gasp! —€” the children had been seen walking outside without direct adult supervision. The children, ages 10 and 6, were simply following their parents’ instructions to be home by 6 p.m., and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the police and CPS were working together to send a message to parents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, who already were under double-secret probation and accused of neglecting their kids for letting them do the same thing back in December. If federal legislation proposed by Republican Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is successful, however, local officials could be prevented —€” or at least deterred —€” from harassing parents who want to give their kids similar freedom.

Lee, a supporter of the Free-Range Kids movement, has gotten a free-range provision into the Every Child Achieves Act, which governs the funding and regulation of elementary education in the United States.

Under the Free-Range Kids portion of the legislation, kids would be allowed to walk or ride their bikes to school at an age their parents deem appropriate, without parents facing the threat of civil or criminal action. (It should be noted, however, that the Meitiv children were returning from the park, and not school. But, really, is that any different from walking to or from school?)

Lee’s legislation makes sense. Child abductions are exceptionally rare, and the few that happen increasingly are carried out by busybody child welfare officials in their all-out war against old-school, free-range parenting ’€” a bygone approach that gives kids the independence previous generations enjoyed. In a 2013 report for Discovery News, Benjamin Radford noted that “€œthe vast majority of ‘€˜missing’€™ children are taken by family members, often when one divorced parent absconds with a child during legally sanctioned visitation.”€ David Finkelhor reported in a 2013 Washington Post op-ed that less than one-hundredth of 1 percent of all missing children are abducted by strangers or casual acquaintances.

The Senate has passed Every Child Achieves, and the next step is for the House and Senate to reconcile any discrepancies between their respective education bills before revoting and sending the legislation to President Barack Obama. While the level of federal involvement in local education is in general too high, Lee should be applauded for including his amendment, which the House and Senate should make sure to include in the final version of the bill they pass. The crackdowns on kids walking or playing without adult supervision have gone too far, and families have a lower standard of life because of it.

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