A mom let her four-year-old play outside alone inside the gated community where they live in Sacramento, California. A “concerned” neighbor called CPS, and now that mom is facing charges.
Sonya Hendren says her son Tomahawk was running around a playground that’s 120 feet from her home, inside their gated community. The neighbor who reported her told KTXL that she didn’t mean any harm. “I thought she would just get a warning … and she wouldn’t let them be out alone again,” said Sonja Horrell. Horrell and her daughter said they were worried because the boy was left unattended.
Tomahawk was taken away after the incident but Hendren has since regained custody of her son. Their “situation” continues to be monitored by Child Protective Services. “We have a CPS case now and every time he’s not in my visual site we’re in violation,” Hendren told KTXL.
Her charges have been reduced to misdemeanors, but she’s fighting to have them dropped. She recently rejected a plea deal for 30 days in jail. Hendren believes she’s being judged for her “free-range parenting” lifestyle. “I breastfed for 28 months,” she explained. “I cloth diapered, and, you know, obviously avoided helicopter parenting. I’m doing everything.”
Even after all that’s transpired, one of the women who called CPS said, “I’m not mad that she has to do things now to teach her because what if somebody did take him away?”
Actually, somebody did take him away. The CPS agent you called.
“Well-meaning” onlookers who make assumptions about the safety of children may be doing more harm than good. Journalist Glenn Fleischmen outlined some very interesting research in his article, Stranger-Danger to children is vastly overstated. In it, he drives home the fact that the scenario we are most often afraid of when we see young children playing alone outside — a stranger snatching up a child — actually happens in less than 3% of kidnapping cases.
There are plenty of people who wouldn’t be comfortable with their four-year-old playing alone in public — myself included. But before you call CPS, you better be damn sure that the child you are so “concerned” about is actually in danger. This child was playing 120 feet from his house at a playground inside a gated community. His mother was obviously okay with that. What you’re doing when you make a call to CPS is essentially saying you think the children you are speaking of would be safer in foster care. Because that’s what happens when children are taken out of their homes while these cases are being examined.
“Concerned neighbors” are turing people’s lives upside down. The concept of “the village” raising a child is a great one — but wouldn’t it be better if instead of calling CPS when we see something like this, we just actually keep an eye out, too? That’s a “concerned neighbor,” right? Before anyone makes the type of judgment that leads to a call to authorities they should be really sure they are acting on concern and not judgment. There was nothing in their comments to the news that hinted that this was a part of a pattern of concerning behavior or that they had seen the child in any real danger. They just decided the boy being outside his home by himself was danger enough.
Maybe the only dangerous strangers in this scenario were nosy neighbors.