Colorado Approves Law That Gives Kids ‘Reasonable Independence’

Earlier this week, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed the Reasonable Independence for Children Act into law. “We certainly don’t want parents getting in trouble because their kids were playing on the playground,” he said.

Colorado has now become the fourth state to pass what was originally dubbed the Free-Range Parenting Law when Utah passed it in 2018.  Texas and Oklahoma followed suit last year.

But Colorado is the first blue state to pass the legislation. That’s great, because at Let Grow, the nonprofit that grew out of Free-Range Kids, we have always maintained that childhood independence is a bipartisan issue. Many Republicans appreciate our work to promote can-do kids and keep the government out of everyday family decisions, and many Democrats appreciate the same exact thing.

The new law narrows the definition of neglect, making it clear that a child is not neglected simply because a parent lets them engage in normal childhood activities, like playing outside without adult supervision or staying home alone for a bit.

At the signing, Polis was surrounded by the bill’s bipartisan sponsors and other advocates, including a girl once reported to the police for enjoying a run around the block.

“We want to let parents be parents,” said state Rep. Kim Ransom, a Republican. As she stood on one side of the governor, her friend, state Sen. Janet Buckner, a Democrat, stood on the other. The two legislators had long wanted to sponsor a bill together, but this was the first one they could finally agree on.

They co-sponsored the bill in 2020 and watched it sail through the state House with unanimous support. But then COVID-19 shut everything down just days before the vote in the state Senate.

This time around, the original sponsors were joined by another bipartisan team, Sen. Jim Smallwood, a Republican, and Rep. Mary Young, a Democrat. Young, a child psychologist, noted that perhaps the bill had passed both houses unanimously because “this is the first time we’ve had a bill with the word ‘reasonable’ in the title.”

When Buckner sponsored the bill the first time around, she wrote in an op-ed how incredible it felt the first time her mother let her run an errand by herself: going to the store to get baking powder. “I am still thankful for that, because it helped me gain confidence knowing that my mother and father felt I was smart enough and strong enough to be given that freedom,” she wrote.

It’s exactly that kind of confidence that Brinley Sheffield was experiencing a few years back when, as a seven-year-old, she decided to just take a fun run around the block, with her mom’s permission.

Just as she was rounding the block to return home, a car started following her. As she testified to the Colorado legislature a few weeks ago, “I thought about knocking on someone else’s door to ask for help, but I wasn’t very far from my house, so I decided to just run home.”

Minutes after she arrived, so did the police. “My first thought was that they found the person who followed me and were going to put them in jail,” she said. “But then I realized that the officer was at our house because of me! The person who followed me called the police because I was outside running by myself.”

While the police did not charge her mom with anything, it still changed their family’s thinking. “For many years after this,” Brinley testified, “I didn’t want to run around the block.”

The new law will reassure parents who are worried about the “often times vague and confusing neglect laws,” said Ruchi Kapoor, founder of Kapoor Law +Policy. Kapoor was part of a group of parents and advocates convened by Let Grow in partnership with the Colorado nonprofit Elephant Circle.

Of course, actual neglect is still forbidden—say, letting a two-year-old play in the street, or leaving a six-year-old alone for a week. But the new law takes a weight off parents’ minds. Said Let Grow’s legal consultant, Diane Redleaf, “Helicopter parenting cannot be the law of the land. And one by one, states are starting to make sure it isn’t.”

Up next? Reasonable Independence bills are being introduced in Illinois, Nebraska and South Carolina.