SC legislature considers ‘free-range parenting’ bill, would change state’s child neglect laws

SC legislature considers ‘free-range parenting’ bill, would change state’s child neglect laws
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A bill gaining attention in the South Carolina Statehouse would have the potential to change the laws in the state for parents and crimes related to child neglect.

The bill, S.79, refers to child protection and permanency but has been nicknamed the “free-range” parenting bill. Seen as the opposite of “helicopter” parenting, it would decide if the parents are responsible for harm or neglect if the child is left alone at a certain age.

"Free-range" parenting is the idea that kids can be left without supervision as long as their basic needs are met. The current South Carolina law could be interpreted to include "free-range" parenting as a form of neglect.

"'Child abuse or neglect' or 'harm' does not occur if the parent, guardian, or (an)other person responsible for the child's welfare permits the child, whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities, including," going back and forth from school, playing outside, home alone, or "engaging in similar independent activities."

The bill has been referred to a subcommittee after being voted favorably on by the Senate Judiciary Committee in January. It's left some legislatures asking how old should a child be before they are left on their own.

During a subcommittee meeting, Sen. Katrina Shealy (R-Lexington) moved to have an added amendment saying children under the age of 9 could not be left home alone. Ultimately, an age requirement and subsequent language were removed from the bill, news reports say.

While there aren’t any firm rules on how old a child should be when they are left without parental supervision, the American Academy of Pediatrics gives a “soft suggestion” of 11 and 12 years old. Those ages are suggested because children should know how to handle emergencies.

The AAP suggests the following questions be answered to determine their child's readiness:

  • Is there a law in your state?
  • Does your child obey rules and make good decisions, even in emergencies? Does the child know when to call 911?
  • Is the child physically and mentally ready?
  • How long will the child be alone? If it is during a mealtime, can the child fix a meal?
  • How often will the child be left alone?

Utah is the only state that has a free-range parenting law, and it was signed in 2018.

The if voted on and passed, it would need the governor’s signature to become law.

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