This year, Independence Day will be especially worth celebrating for families in Virginia, Connecticut and Illinois. Just ask Evelyn Hackel.
“The law goes into effect on July 1, and I’m very excited,” says Hackel, a Virginia-based naval architect and mother of a 12-year-old girl named Elsa.
Evelyn is referring to SB 1367, also known as the “Reasonable Childhood Independence” bill.
Three years ago, Elsa decided to walk home from the library in Falls Church, Virginia. After she got home, the police knocked on her door before she could remove her coat. She was told her mother that the girl was too young to be outside by herself.
Both the mother and daughter eventually testified before the Virginia Legislature in support of a bill that would enshrine the right of children to enjoy unsupervised time, without getting their parents in trouble for neglect. This bill had bipartisan support and was approved in both legislative chambers in February. Illinois and Connecticut passed similar bills this spring.
Clearly, the country is fed up with having to treat children like Ming vases. The first child independence bill passed in Utah in 2018; Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado followed soon after, making the score three red states and one purple state.
But this year “has been a bit of a blue wave,” says Diane Redleaf, legal consultant for Let Grow, the nonprofit I founded. (Let Grow has worked to help get these bills passed.)
“We all want the best for our children,” says state Rep. Travis Simms, a Connecticut Democrat who cosponsored the child independence bill with state Rep. Tom O’Dea, a Republican. Simms recalled how proud he felt when he started running errands for his mother as a child.
“Regardless of whether we were 5 or 20, we all had our part to play,” he says.
In Illinois, the bill was particularly welcome because a confusing provision in state law led people to believe that no one could leave their children unsupervised until the age of 14. The law didn’t actually say that, it said that at 14, boys on their own was no longer considered careless by default, but it was often misconstrued. Stories like this, in which a suburban Chicago mother was investigated for letting her 8-year-old son walk the dog, didn’t help matters.
The new Illinois law allows “parents to take a common-sense approach to raising their children,” says Nora Collins-Mandeville, director of systems reform policy at the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The bill was passed partly as a social justice measure. She acknowledges that when, say, a single mother working two jobs allows her children to come home with a lock, that’s not negligence, it’s economic necessity.
Releasing children to go outside and play, without their parents worrying about legal consequences, clearly appeals to people from across the political spectrum.
“Prior to the passage of this bill, a lot of parents had these waivers against them,” says Rep. Jennifer McClellan (D–Va.), who supported the bill as a state senator before winning House elections. of US Representatives
The happiest of all, perhaps, are homeschoolers, whose children are often away from home.
“Homeschooling families know that some of the best learning happens by doing,” says Will Estrada, senior counsel for the Homeschool Legal Defense Association. “Parents should have the freedom to let their children grow up without fear of unnecessary investigation by child protective services.”
Until now, it’s been too easy to call 911, report an unsupervised child, and throw a decent family into chaos.
But this is a country founded on freedom. That includes the freedom of children to play outside, climb trees, run errands and just be kids, especially on Independence Day.