This year, Independence Day will be especially worth celebrating for families in Virginia, Connecticut, and Illinois. Just ask Evelyn Hackel.
“The law goes into effect on July 1, and I’m really excited,” says Hackel, a naval architect in Virginia and mother to a 12-year-old named Elsa.
Three years ago, Elsa decided to walk home from the library in Falls Church, Virginia. After she arrived home, the police knocked on her front door before she could even remove her coat. They told her mother that the girl was too young to be outside by herself.
Both mother and daughter ultimately testified before the Virginia Legislature in support of a bill that would enshrine the right of kids to enjoy unsupervised time—without getting their parents in trouble for neglect. This bill enjoyed bipartisan support, and in February, it passed in both legislative chambers. Illinois and Connecticut approved similar bills this spring.
Clearly, the country is fed up with having to treat kids like Ming vases. The first childhood independence bill passed in Utah in 2018; Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado followed soon after, making the score three red states and one purple state.
But this year “it’s been a bit of a blue wave,” says Diane Redleaf, legal consultant to Let Grow, the nonprofit that I founded. (Let Grow has worked to help get these bills approved.)
“We all want what’s best for our kids,” says state Rep. Travis Simms, a Connecticut Democrat who cosponsored the childhood independence bill with state Rep. Tom O’Dea, a Republican. Simms recalled how proud he felt when he started running errands for his mom as a kid.
“Regardless of whether we were 5 or 20, we all had our part to play,” he says.
In Illinois, the bill was particularly welcome because a confusing clause in state law made people believe no one could leave their kids unsupervised until age 14. The law didn’t actually say that—it said that by age 14, kids on their own would no longer be considered neglected by default—but it was often misinterpreted. Stories like this one, in which a suburban Chicago mom was investigated for letting her 8-year-old walk the dog, didn’t help matters.
Illinois’ new law allows “parents to take a common sense approach to raising their children,” says Nora Collins-Mandeville, director of systems reform policy at the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The bill passed in part as a social justice measure. It recognizes that when, say, a single mom working two jobs lets her kids come home with a latchkey, that’s not neglect—it’s an economic necessity.
Freeing kids to go out and play—without making their parents worry about legal consequences—clearly appeals to people across the political spectrum.
“Before passage of this bill, many parents had these permissions weaponized against them,” says Rep. Jennifer McClellan (D–Va.), who supported the bill as a state senator before winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Happiest of all, perhaps, are the homeschoolers, whose kids are often out and about.
“Homeschool families know that some of the best learning happens by doing,” says Will Estrada, senior counsel at the Home School Legal Defense Association. “Parents should be free to let their kids grow without fear of an unnecessary child protective services investigation.”
Until now, it has been too easy to dial 911, report an unsupervised child, and throw a decent family into chaos.
But this is a country founded on freedom. That includes the freedom of kids to play outside, climb trees, run errands, and just be kids, especially on Independence Day.