BOISE — Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, has written a bill that would protect parents who want to give their children less supervision. The Reasonable Childhood Independence Act was presented to the House State Affairs Committee for consideration Wednesday morning. The committee voted to introduce the bill.
“The intent of this is to help parents feel comfortable that they can let their kids grow up and experience life in a relatively independent way without the threat of being accused of being neglectful parents,” Nate said.
In 2018, Nate’s former home state of Utah became the first and only state to enact legislation protecting parents’ rights on this issue by amending its definition of neglect. Under the new definition, neglect in Utah does not include allowing children to “engage in independent activities.”
Nate is taking the same angle in Idaho. He wants to amend the definition of neglect. Under Nate’s new definition, a neglected child is a child who is in an “obviously dangerous situation” due to “conscious disregard of obvious needs or obvious dangers” by a parent or caretaker. That “action or omission” must result in “bodily injury” or “a substantial risk” of either bodily injury or “immediate and grave harm.” The law must take into account “the child’s level of maturity, physical condition, or mental abilities.”
The imprecision of the new definition is intentional. Nate said he wanted to use phrases such as “conscious disregard” that can be left “up to interpretation.” He also decided not to put age or time limits on independent childhood activities.
“Once you start putting those numbers in there, you’re saying, ‘All right, beyond this number you’re a bad parent,’” Nate stated.
Nate’s proposal states no child will be “considered neglected by virtue of engaging in independent activities.” Independent activities include, but are not limited to, unsupervised children traveling to and from school, playing outside, going to nearby businesses and recreational facilities, bicycling, remaining at home unattended and remaining in a vehicle unattended if the weather is not “dangerously hot or cold.”
Nate began his presentation by describing how his children grew up playing in the backyard, hanging out near canals and going around to stores in town collecting free samples. They did all of this unsupervised. Nate said he had a similar childhood.
“We didn’t have an adult watching us all the time. And certainly, my kids didn’t have an adult watching them all the time,” Nate said.
Nate believes parents are now afraid to give their children similar freedoms.
“First of all, there’s fears of safety. But, more importantly, there’s fears of being accused of being a neglectful parent or not being a proper parent. And parents recognize they can get in trouble for something as simple as leaving their kids in a car while they go and get a soda pop from the Maverik,” Nate said.
Idaho receives 23,000 calls per year regarding “suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment,” according to the state Department of Health and Welfare. About 12,000 of those end up being dismissed.
Nate told the Post Register this bill is mainly preemptive. He has not heard concerns from constituents on this topic. He could not think of an instance in which someone in Idaho was arrested or charged due to allowing a child to engage in independent activities but noted it has happened in other states.