Earlier this year, Utah legislators unanimously passed the country’s first-ever law protecting “free-range” parents from prosecution. The law has received a large amount of support within the state, and other states across the nation are considering making similar legislative moves.
What is “Free-Range” Parenting?
While there is no clear definition of what “free-range” parenting is, prior generations may consider this approach to parenting as what was deemed normal during their childhood years. “Free-range” parenting is basically allowing minor children to do particular things without parent supervision. That may include walking to school, playing in a park nearby, going to a store, or wandering through a neighborhood creek or garden.
Over the past several years, parents have received visits from law enforcement officers and have even been charged criminally with child neglect for allowing their children to wander freely in their neighborhoods. In 2015, two Maryland parents were charged with child neglect when they let their 6 and 10-year olds walk home alone from a park (the charges were later dropped). A Florida mother was arrested and charged with child neglect in 2014 after letting her 7-year-old walk home alone from a park (those charges were also dropped).
Utah’s new law narrows the definition of child neglect and, therefore, allows a child whose basic needs are met and who is of “sufficient age and maturity” to be engaged in independent activities. These “activities” may include going to school, playing outside, going to stores, or staying home alone, among others.
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Florida Child Neglect Laws
Under Florida law, child neglect occurs when the minor’s caregiver willfully or negligently fails to take reasonable steps to protect the child’s welfare. Not surprisingly, child neglect charges are zealously prosecuted in Florida due to the vulnerability of our state’s minors. Caregivers owe a legal duty to make a reasonable effort to protect a child from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by another. They should also ensure the child’s care, supervision, and services needed to maintain his or her physical and mental health. These needs include, but are not limited to:
- Food and nutrition; and
- Essential medicine and medical services
A person who is charged with child neglect must be a caregiver under the law, which is defined as a parent, adult household member, or other person who is responsible for the child’s welfare.
Defenses to Child Neglect
Because the nature of Florida child neglect cases are subjective, there are several defenses available to someone charged with child neglect. The most common, but not all, available defenses include:
- The defendant’s acts were not willful, or sufficiently negligent or flagrant
- There is lack of proof as to the acts, omissions, or mental state of the defendant
- The harm suffered by the child in the course of the incident was not reasonably foreseeable
- The defendant used reasonable efforts to protect the child from neglect or abuse
- The defendant is not a caregiver under the law and, therefore, is not responsible for the child’s welfare
- The incident happened due to an accident, misunderstanding, or mistake of fact; and
- The defendant’s acts or omissions amount to mere negligence
Over the past several years, parents have received visits from law enforcement officers and have even been charged criminally with child neglect for allowing their children to wander freely in their neighborhoods.
Orlando Family Law and Criminal Defense Attorneys
If you or someone you know has been charged with child neglect in Florida, let the attorneys at Bogin, Munns & Munns fight to defend you. Contact us today to schedule your free criminal defense consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.
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