A recent bill by local Rep. Chad Caldwell that would allow parents the freedom to let their children play outside or engage in time-honored childhood activities without fear of being reported for child abuse or neglect is also being lauded by child advocacy experts for its narrowing of the definition of neglect.

Caldwell’s bill coincides with a national effort aimed at allowing parents to let their children have appropriate freedom and independence without getting arrested or being investigated for neglect. According to the national Let Grow organization, in many states, neglect laws are so broad and open to interpretation that some parents have been investigated for simply letting their children play outside.

The reason this measure is supported by Prevent Child Abuse Oklahoma and other child advocacy organizations is that narrowing the definition of neglect also helps in preventing parents from being investigated for neglect or losing custody of their children simply because they are poor or from a struggling single-parent home.

Children and family support organizations nationwide have been worried about society’s strong attachment to the assumption that poverty alone reflects as a caregiver’s failure to provide a positive home for their child and that poverty should be addressed through authoritarian intervention by government.

This bill is a first step in narrowing the definition of neglect primarily so that poverty is not considered neglect. As Oklahoma works toward improving the child welfare system and focusing more funding toward prevention rather than reaction, bills such as Caldwell’s can spur further public-private partnership efforts to help create the conditions where families can thrive and children are free from harm.

The News & Eagle Editorial Board meets weekly to form the newspaper's stances on mostly local and state and occasionally national issues.

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