A mother who let her 8-year-old daughter walk the family dog by herself near their home is speaking out after being investigated by the police and child services when a neighbor reported the girl was unaccompanied by an adult.
Corey Widen, 48, a mother of two from Wilmette, Illinois, said she allowed her daughter, Dorothy, to walk their dog, Marshmallow, around the block when a neighbor called police and erroneously reported that a 5-year-old was out by herself.
"She was gone for about five minutes and the next thing I know the police were at the door,'' Widen told Kristen Dahlgren on TODAY Friday.
The police investigated and found nothing to pursue, but then the family was contacted by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services two days later after the same neighbor called the agency, according to Widen.
"It was an obvious false report, it was obviously not true that I was neglecting my kids,'' Widen said. "You can see it when you walk through our door. I felt they should have pursued charges against the person who filed two false complaints."
The DCFS investigation found no wrongdoing, a spokesperson told NBC Chicago. The family's ordeal has spurred Widen to call for reform to the child welfare system.
"Even if you're not 100 percent on board with your child walking around the block, most people are confident that a North Shore mom who stays at home with their kids, who's devoted their life to them, has got good enough judgment to decide when her child is ready or not ready to do that,'' Widen said.
The family's ordeal raises the question of how young is too young to be unsupervised outside the home.
"The main thing that we have to bear in mind is that we are training our kids from early on to be independent adults,'' Anne Marie Albano, a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, told TODAY. "Picking out their own clothes by age 4, walking the dog by age 8 or 9, these are appropriate things for them to do in a safe place around your home or neighborhood."
The laws regarding leaving children alone vary by state and can be vague. Illinois law stipulates that children under 14 cannot be left unsupervised for an unreasonable amount of time.
The instance in Wilmette is the latest in which police or child services have been called and investigations launched after children have been left unattended for a few minutes or within short distances from home.
In 2013, a 4-year-old child being left in an SUV for 15 minutes while her mother ran an errand in a nearby store resulted in a 911 call that led to the woman being fined $500 and nearly facing jail time after an investigation by child services.
A Maryland couple were found "responsible for unsubstantiated child neglect" by local child protective services in 2015 after their their children ages 10 and 6 walked home alone from a playground a mile from their home.
In April, Utah became the first state to pass a "free range" parenting law that prevents parents from being prosecuted for giving their children freedom to roam.
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