I believe I have two key jobs as a dad.
- Keep my kids alive
- Raise my kids up to be capable contributing adults.
Today I read this blog post by Adrian over at 5Kids1Condo about his experience with government bureaucrats who believe that he is giving his kids too much freedom.
It made me angry.
I appreciate that child welfare staff have a hard job to do investigating the number of complaints that they receive and doing what they think is in the best interests of the child. I believe that they usually get it right. We also know that there are many times that they get it wrong. This is one of those cases.
Adrian is a dad who is doing the same as me – trying to raise independent kids and keep them alive. In this case he helped them learn how to take public transit to school. Things were going well until someone made an anonymous call to child welfare about his kids being on transit themselves. Long story – short, they ruled against him and his parenting, citing ridiculous rules like saying that kids under ten aren’t allowed to be alone by themselves at home or outside and that kids under 12 aren’t allowed to look after siblings.
They also cited a rule in Ontario about kids under 16 not being able to be left home alone – turns out that is a real rule. It is Point 3, section 79 of the Ontario Child and Family Services Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C.11
“Leaving child unattended
(3) No person having charge of a child less than sixteen years of age shall leave the child without making provision for his or her supervision and care that is reasonable in the circumstances.”
This leads to some confusion given the information provided by Children’s Aid Societies.
The Ottawa Children’s Aid Society includes the following information in one of their brochures.
“Who can babysit?
Adults or children over the age of 11 who have demonstrated that they can care for the children and can act responsibly if there is an emergency. It is against the law to leave a child under the age of 10 to care for other siblings or children. We recommend that only children 12 and over be allowed to care for other children.”
“When can I leave my child alone?
The Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa recommends that children less than 12 years of age not be left alone without supervision. This means at home, the mall, the pool, etc… The parent/adult in charge must also make sure that the supervision and care is sufficient for the child.”
Which is right – the law or the agency responsible for acting on the law? Where does common sense come into play?
By the time I was 16 I had:
- been babysitting for at least four years
- served as captain of my school’s safety patrol – the team of kids who served as crossing guards
- already held two jobs and started my third
- started working as a lifeguard
- trained as a camp counsellor
So I was allowed to save lives, but not legally stay at home on my own…
I have written on this topic in the past. We have to teach our kids how to evaluate risk and then let them take risks.
This past year we have allowed our two oldest kids (8 & 10) to walk to school together and sometimes on their own if one of them is sick or has an appointment, etc. They loved the freedom. This summer we have allowed them to walk to friends’ houses together or on their own. They have been going to the park together and often this summer they also took their three year old sister.
We are comfortable that they are being safe. We live around the corner from the park and if there is any sort of emergency one of them can run home for help or even cut through one of the neighbours back gates to get home faster. They are ok and it is our choice to allow them this freedom.
Learning Life Skills
Kids need to learn basic life skills to function. I wrote earlier this week about some of the areas of responsibility that we are looking at transferring this year to help them learn to fend for themselves.
In this story, the dad taught his four kids how to ride public transit. As a regular transit commuter I consider this an essential life skill for those living in cities. I am generally comfortable using public transit in any city. I have done it in a number of cities in Canada and around the world. That is because I used it as a teenager to get to work and learned my way and built my confidence.
Who is Responsible?
Clearly there are cases of parental neglect where the state needs to intercede to protect the lives of children. There are also cases where parents don’t think through potential consequences where some education would be useful. Then there are cases like this one where parents make carefully considered decisions and preparations to provide their kids with some independence and life skills.
I don’t think the state should be able to overrule the parents who are demonstrably good at their job. The civil servants interpreting the law are looking at their own interests and erring on the side of caution because if they don’t and something were to happen to those kids it would be a messy issue to clean up and some of them might lose their jobs.If we are to raise independent kids, we need to teach them how to manage risk.Click To Tweet
What Are We Afraid Of?
The decision in this case is based on fear. The parents are not letting their fear of potential risks infringe on their job to raise independent humans. They took steps to manage those risks and help their kids manage those risks. The government is making a decision based on fear of those potential risks.
We need to accept risk and fear and look for opportunities to manage those real risks and get over the imagined ones.
We need to teach our kids to live and enjoy their lives – not to be afraid of the world.