‘Free-range’ parents plan to file lawsuit after police pick up children: “We must ask ourselves how we reached the point where a parent’s biggest fear is that government officials will literally seize our children off the streets as they walk in our neighborhoods”

I think the judgement of the actions in this story relies on the context. Some neighbourhoods are safe and some aren’t. The police are framing their actions in the context of the children being ‘abandoned’ in a dangerous area, i.e. a parking garage frequented by homeless men. The parents are framing the story in terms of the children being safe, despite being alone. Safety is of course very subjective. In a small town or village, children may be considered much safer than in a downtown urban environment, especially one with known crime and anti-social issues. While a child could be considered safe walking along a broad, well-frequented street to come home, the same children may be in danger if left to walk along a deserted street littered with abandoned warehouses and crack-dens. Some parks, such as the one I grew up next to, are perfectly safe, with other children and families always present, and in a good neighbourhood. Other parks I wouldn’t go in alone as an adult, let alone leave children in.

The question is, what is the area like and were the children in any danger along their route from the park, or in the park itself? While it may be perfectly safe to drop a child off alone at a park and allow them to walk home alone in one context, in others it may be dangerously irresponsible. The parents made one judgement call, based on their understanding of the area, the police made another. We cannot assume either one is correct just from their stories.

From this source we know that the parents dropped their children off in Ellsworth Park It’s hard to know what a park is like just from looking at it. But we can see from satellite and street view that it is not a big, open, enclosed stretch of green. It is wooded and winding and mixed in with parking and houses. The small play area which we can assume the children were dropped off in, has no fences or other barriers to prevent anyone from wandering in and out, and no open sightlines from houses or well-frequented streets to dissuade anyone from approaching and attempting to entice a child away. The park is close to two streets, one of which appears to be a main road. I don’t know the area, but just from the look of the place, and these factors, I wouldn’t be comfortable leaving any child in my care there alone.

The police say they picked up the children at a Fenton Street parking garage, which was a few blocks away from the parents’ home, which in turn was only a mile away from the park. From these clues, we can reasonably suppose the parking garage in question is the Fenton Street Village Garage. I have highlighted the children’s likely route home from the park in the map. The route takes the children through downtown Silver Springs, along what appears to be the main street of the town. This is an area that is broad, well frequented, and full of restaurants and businesses. There is a lot of traffic but if the children have been taught how to cross the street safely, then as routes go, just from the look of the area, I can understand how someone who knew it well would perhaps be comfortable allowing children in their care to travel along it on their own. The police may be more aware of crime and potential dangers though, so their judgement should not be discounted automatically.

However, if the children had entered the parking garage, especially the inside area rather than the outside lot, then this would be more dangerous. This is a poorly-lit area, away from the sight of passers-by, probably unattended if homeless people can enter at will. Anyone could be in that garage, I would not consider it to be a safe place for children on their own.

There is no need for the children to have entered the garage to reach their home. This may have been the children exploring or playing. If the children were here they may have betrayed their parent’s trust by not keeping to open, well-frequented areas, or the parents may not have given these instructions and they could routinely allow their children to play in unattended parking garages alone. The police and the CPS cannot know either way so they have to investigate further to ensure the children are safe. If the police found the children playing here, they may well have felt the children were in danger, even if they were close to their home.

It will inevitably be up to the courts to weigh the different subjective assessments of risk made by the parents and the police, and decide who was right. The parents feel that the park and the route was safe, and the children were mature enough to keep to the safe areas without wandering of into dangerous places along the way. The police feel that the fact that the children were in an unattended parking garage shows that the parents were wrong to make that judgement call, and the children were in danger, either due to the route they took, or their detour into the parking garage itself. Personally, I cannot tell just from looking at the pictures of the area. But I would feel uncomfortable leaving a child alone in that park, and I would have had to be certain that my children knew not to wander around parking garages before letting them walk home along that route.

/r/news Thread Link - ashingtonpost.com