By Joe Sosnowski
State Representative, 69th District
The line between parental discretion and the heavy hand of government intrusion has grown increasingly blurred, as evidenced by the recent case reported on by the Chicago Tribune about a Wilmette mom who was investigated by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for letting her 8-year-old daughter walk the family dog around the block. Investigators interviewed the family pediatrician and interrogated the young girl herself before concluding no charges would be filed against the mom.
The Tribune has highlighted numerous other specific cases where routine day-to-day parenting decisions triggered inquiries by local police and/or DCFS investigations. The amount of time and taxpayer resources expended on these baseless and unwarranted inquiries is absurd. Legitimate fears about human trafficking and child abductions have heightened to the point where, among too many people, fear has overtaken common-sense when it comes to interfering with how a parent raises their child.
It’s time we confront this troubling trend by letting state law protect parents and by reaffirming our own attitudes toward each other that parents should be allowed a reasonable degree of discretion when making day-to-day decisions. Parents know when it is safe to leave a child unattended for a short amount of time; parents can give a growing child the freedom and responsibility to engage in character building tasks like walking a dog.
Back in January, I filed legislation that took a step towards strengthening the rights of parents and protecting them from unnecessary and wasteful government investigations into decisions that should fall within the realm of parental discretion by introducing House Bill 4296.
This bill would help protect single and working parents from a harsh state law under which they can be charged with neglect and lose custody of their kids for leaving a minor under the age of 14 home without supervision. Illinois has by far the most restrictive law of its kind in the nation.
My bill would reduce the threshold to children under the age of 12, recognizing that working parents who struggle to afford child care should not live under the fear of losing their kids simply for working hard to support their family.
In an August 27 article published in the Chicago Tribune, “Chicago’s kids often commute alone. Here’s what parents need to know”, it is noted how children as young as age 7 ride Chicago’s public transit system alone each day to and from school. It is estimated that Chicago public transit provides more than 130,000 rides per day to the city’s schoolchildren.
If we allow Chicago’s single and working parents the discretion to send their kids to school alone on CTA buses and trains, surely we can give Illinois parents the right to leave a 12 or 13-year-old home alone for a reasonable amount of time to look after themselves and siblings.
My bill was unanimously approved in committee on a bipartisan basis back in April before it was bottled up in the legislative graveyard known as the Rules Committee. I am undeterred. I plan to re-introduce my bill again in January and work to build bipartisan support to make it law. Together we can restore to parents the rights they deserve.