The sight of a child left alone in a car while parents hit the local convenience store might send shock waves down the spine of adults declaring that instance as an example of neglect. But Utah law makers have some advice for those protective guardians: Just chill.
Thanks to the state's Bill S.B. 65, which puts restrictions on the definition of neglect and became law March 17 and takes effect May 8, parents will be off the hook in cases involving children being unsupervised. It took six amendments for the Utah State legislature to tweak what is meant by neglect, and in doing so, the state became the first in the U.S. to pass a law that legalizes free-range parenting.
Gov. Gary Herbert put his signature to the act, which excludes some aspects of child-rearing that would otherwise be illegal. According to the new law, the definition will not take into account "permitting a child, whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities..."
Those activities include allowing children to go to school or a commercial or recreational establishment and back home unaccompanied by an adult. The revised definition also permits kids to play outside without supervision and be left alone in a car, although some conditions can overrule these revisions.
While the redefinition won't be welcome news to protective parents fearing that children will become more vulnerable to child predators, others will likely favor the law as a backlash against what they see is increasing government interference in the lives of families, dubbing it the "nannystate" trend.
Utah politicians believe that the law will not only encourage more independence and maturity in children, it'll also cut down on handling complaints from whistle-blowers alerting police about finding unattended children, thus freeing enforcers to handle more serious cases. Additionally, Utah has never had to investigate parents who may previously have been deemed neglectful in instances now covered by the new law.
Other states have been more zealous in taking free-range parents into account, such as a 2014 case when an Indiana mother was busted after police found her seven-year-old son playing without supervision in a nearby park. A similar situation triggered Children's Protective Services in Maryland to take two children away from parents in 2015.