'Doing our children a disservice': Winnipeg mom petitions for 'free range parenting' in Manitoba
A frustrating visit from child and family services has Winnipeg mom Katharina Nuss on a mission to see the law changed, giving more power to Manitoba moms and dads.
It started after a normal day back in July turned into an unexpected encounter weeks later.
Nuss said she was getting ready to make lunch for her three kids and noticed they needed bread. Her 7-year-old daughter was excited to walk to the bakery, which is half a block down the road, and her 3-year-old son was eager to tag along.
Nuss said she knows all of her neighbours along the way to the bakery, and even the bakery staff.
“I thought about it, and I thought, ‘Yeah, he’s three, but they’ll be together and if I stand on the sidewalk and watch, I can see them. They’ll hardly leave my sight. I’ll be close by,’” said Nuss.
She said her kids didn’t need to cross any streets to get there and the only time they’d be out of her sight was while they were in the store. If something were to happen, say one of her children fell, Nuss said she could have sprinted to them in seconds.
Once they were off, she watched their whole journey, which is something they were all proud of -- Nuss is big about welcoming opportunities for independence for her children when it’s safe to do so. But there was one consequence she hadn’t anticipated.
A month after the trip to the bakery came a knock on the door from child and family services.
“I explained the situation. I said what happened. I said I was watching them and he said, ‘Yeah, but you can’t let them do that. They shouldn’t be doing that.’ I said, ‘Well, when can they go half a block to the bakery?’ And he said, ‘Oh, not until they’re 12.’”
After that visit, Nuss started researching the Child and Family Services Act.
“I realized that there is this law and that it’s interpreted in a very rigid manner,” said Nuss. “I find it out of touch with reality because many parents I know allow their kids these incremental bits of independence and freedom, as they should, I think.”
The law Nuss is referring to falls under the CFS Act and states, “A child is in need of protection where the child, being under the age of 12 years, is left unattended and without reasonable provision being made for the supervision of the safety of the child.”
The province clarified in no way does the act say you’re never allowed to leave a child under the age of 12 unattended, it just means there needs to be some form of reasonable supervision.
The province said Manitobans have a responsibility to report any concerning situations to CFS, and anytime CFS gets a complaint it has to exercise due diligence and look into it.
Nuss said she has nothing against that, but believes parents need to have the right to parent. She believes the way the section of the law is interpreted is doing children a disservice, and is not in their best interest.
"It doesn't keep them safer in the long run if they don't have these opportunities to learn skills, and gain confidence and become competent in the world. By the time they're 12, they're almost teenagers, and that's a lot of missed learning opportunities."
Nuss is now petitioning the government to bring a ‘free range parenting’ law to Manitoba.
Earlier this year, Utah became the first state to pass such a law. It gives parents the freedom to allow their children to do more activities independently, like walk to school or play outside, without fear of being penalized.
Provincial Families Minister Heather Stefanson said the government is currently reviewing its Child and Family Services system, and welcomes suggestions from Manitobans.
“We’ll take situations like this into consideration,” said Stefanson.
It’s been more than 15 years since the province last made significant changes to the system.
“I think we need to apply a common sense lens to this and ensure that there’s a balanced approach when it comes to situations like this.”
Stefanson said there is no timeline set for when recommendations on the CFS system will be tabled. She said consultations still need to take place, which will take some time.
Nuss is happy the province is working to review its system, and hopes positive changes will come.
Even though she’s pushing for it, Nuss said it seems strange a term like ‘free range parenting’ exists at all.
“Even a generation ago it was considered just normal life, normal parenting, and that's how I look at it too,” said Nuss. “It's like yes my kids play outside, as they should, my kids climb trees, my kids run down the block, and they play with the neighbour kids outside.”
So far, Nuss’ petition has garnered more than 8,000 signatures.