Natasha Felix cannot volunteer at her children’s school and has trouble finding work as a home health aide because she let her children play outside as she watched them from her window — something millions of parents have done.
In this instance, they were playing in the park across the street — a park she could easily see.
That was when a stranger called the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which decided that Felix was neglecting her sons, ages 11, 9 and 5.
The incident happened two years ago, and she’s still fighting it.
“It has been extremely stressful,” Felix told The Chicago Tribune. “It makes you paranoid about every decision you make.”
Her troubles began when she sent her sons to play in the park across the street from the family’s Chicago apartment in 2013. The two younger boys were under the supervision of their older brother and the park was in full view of Felix’s window. Yet a stranger believed they were unsupervised and reported it to DCFS, which cited her for “inadequate supervision.”
Now, Felix’s name pops up in a state database that shows her as a neglecting parent even though she has never been convicted of a crime. That keeps her from volunteering at her kids’ school, and it can keep some employers from hiring her as a home health aide.
“They took a lot away from me,” Felix said. “I can’t even volunteer at my kids’ school. If I was neglectful, don’t you think there would have been a problem by now? That neighbors would have seen something? Honestly, I believe the only reason that this happened is because I’m low-income. In my heart, I just don’t feel like I did anything wrong.”
A nonprofit legal group, the Family Defense Center, has sued the state on behalf of Felix. Felix’s attorney, Diane Redleaf, argues that the state’s definition of neglect is too vague.
Illinois defines neglect as a child “under the age of 14 whose parent … leaves the minor without supervision for an unreasonable amount of time, without regard for the mental or physical health or safety of the minor.”
“Without clear standards, half the parents in Chicago would be investigated and indicated for child neglect,” Redleaf told The Tribune.
Parent Threatened Because Child Rode Bicycle to School
Sadly enough, as readers of Off the Grid News know, Felix is far from alone. Parents all over the United States are now living in fear of social service agencies because of seemingly innocuous behaviors our grandparents would have taken for granted.
A classic example is this letter an anonymous parent sent to Lenore Skenazy’s popular Free Range Kids blog:
“Dear Free-Range Kids: I almost got reported to Child and Family Services today. Some parents and a daycare staff person say that if they see me riding with my 3-year-old sitting behind me on my bicycle again they will have to report me.”
The mom noted that parents in many other countries, including Denmark and Holland, regularly haul children around on bicycles and nobody seems to care. The mom acknowledged her daughter was not wearing a helmet, but she says they were going very slow and she sees a double standard in society.
“I suppose I should be grateful that they gave me the heads up before they made the report, but I’d like to give our whole culture a head SHAKE,” she wrote. “How much do you want to bet that if I push my 3-year-old to school in a baby stroller with an iPhone in front of her face tomorrow morning, no one will bat an eyelash.”
America’s families, it seems, are increasingly living in fear of the agencies that are supposed to protect children.
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