Winnipeg mom is investigated for letting kids play alone in backyard

child in backyard
CC BY 2.0 Amanda Tipton -- What's the point of a backyard if a child is not allowed to play?

When an anonymous neighbour complained that Jacqui Kendrick's kids were 'unsupervised' outside, a caseworker for Child and Family Services showed up to investigate. Why is this even an issue?

A mother from Winnipeg, Manitoba, was investigated in early April for allowing her three children to play outside in their fenced backyard. An anonymous complaint was made to the local Child and Family Services agency, expressing concern that Jacqui Kendrick’s children were unsupervised. This was sufficient evidence for a caseworker to show up at the house, saying that a “well-being check” was in order.

Kendrick’s children are 10, 5, and 2 years old, and frequently play in their backyard after school. Kendrick is often with them or watches them from the window; but it has never been an issue because she felt “completely comfortable” letting them play outside. Kendrick told CTV:

“We’ve taught both the (older) kids so far that you look after each other. That’s kind of the point. The older ones should be looking after the younger ones. My 10-year-old is very responsible. We’ve taught the older ones already [about] the whole ‘stranger danger’, and they know what to do. When my five-year-old is out there, she knows she’s not supposed to go up to the gates.”

The caseworker’s arrival came as a complete shock to Kendrick, as did the intense grilling on parenting practices, described below by the Globe and Mail, that eventually reduced her to tears:

“(The worker was) asking me about if we’ve ever dealt with CFS before, what my childhood was like, how I punish my children. She had to look to see where my kid slept. She had to see if we had enough food in the house.”

Now that a file has been created by CFS, Kendrick is terrified that it could easily be reopened and could result in her children being taken away.

“In the age of the Internet, everyone feels entitled to give an opinion on what their neighbours are doing, rationalizing their behaviour as simple concern for the welfare of children."

This is insane. On one hand, we have policy-makers and educators encouraging parents to get their kids outside, to get them more active, to lose weight and burn off excess energy, to interact with nature, and to encourage independence. On the other hand, the parents who actually do so are punished in horribly invasive and humiliating ways, with insinuations of irresponsibility and neglect.

If “unsupervised play” is truly the only reason why the Manitoba Child and Family Services investigated Kendrick’s family, surely the organization can find better things to do with their time. When I looked up the province’s CFS website and clicked on “Who do I call if I think a child is being harmed or neglect?” the list of “types and signs of child abuse” was far more extreme than simply playing outdoors in a fenced-in backyard. How the CFS can justify its “well-being check,” I do not know.

As one commenter in the Globe and Mail stated, “[CFS] management should look back on this incident the next time they complain that they do not have enough money for staff to operate effectively.”

Perhaps forcing callers to identify themselves would help. Even though complaints are always confidential, having to identify oneself and provide a callback number may cause nitpicky neighbors to think twice before notifying authorities; or, at the very least, encourage them to address genuine concerns face-to-face, thereby avoiding a whole lot of emotional trauma.

Winnipeg psychologist Dr. Toby Rutner responded to Kendrick’s story, telling CTV that “in the age of the Internet, ‘everyone feels entitled to give an opinion’ on what their neighbours are doing, rationalizing their behaviour as simple concern for the welfare of children. He also said he believes that kids should be as independent as their abilities allow.”

As a mother who allows her own children to play outdoors unaccompanied (but always supervised from afar), I can understand Kendrick’s sense of rage and betrayal at this unnecessary treatment and investigation.

The Manitoba Child and Family Services Act states that a child 12 years or older can be left home alone unsupervised, but there is nothing said about children playing in their own backyard – perhaps because there there should be nothing wrong with it?

(Note, the photo on top is for the purpose of illustration and is not the yard referenced here.)

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