Father told kids can't ride bus to school or go outside alone until age 10

Yet another bizarre, fact-free, and infuriating ruling has been handed down by British Columbia's Ministry of Children and Family Development.

For the past two years, Adrian Crook has been teaching his kids (ages 7, 8, 9, 11) how to ride the bus to school each day, a 45-minute trip. It went great, until earlier this year. The kids were friends with the bus drivers, familiar and confident with their route, and even got an emailed compliment from a stranger who was impressed by their competency.

But then, everything changed with a single phone call. An anonymous complaint was made to the Ministry of Children and Family Development (a.k.a. Child and Family Services or Children’s Aid) from someone who was concerned about the appropriateness of these four children riding the bus together without an adult. An investigation was launched.

Crook, who runs a website called 5 Kids 1 Condo, was well equipped to defend himself. He has written numerous articles on the subject of why he thinks teaching transit skills is important and on his pro-independence parenting views. Friends gave detailed character references. Crook even suggested that the Ministry shadow his kids on a bus ride, but they refused.

Throughout the decision-making process, Crook was given a ‘Safety Plan’ by the Ministry. As he writes in a blog post, this stated “that the kids wouldn’t take the bus alone until the investigation was completed. I returned to spending several hours a day transiting the kids back and forth from school, a reduction in freedom the kids didn’t understand.”

Perhaps the Safety Plan should have been a red flag, but the final decision still came as a shock. The Ministry ruled that Crook’s children should not be allowed to ride the bus alone:

“Ultimately, the Ministry had checked with their lawyers ‘across the country’ and the Attorney General, and determined that children under 10 years old could not be unsupervised in or outside the home, for any amount of time. That included not just the bus, but even trips across the street to our corner store, a route I can survey in its entirety from my living room window. Furthermore, the Ministry advised that until my oldest was 12 (next summer), he could not be deemed responsible for the other children.”

This has had a huge impact on the family’s life. Now Crook must spend several hours a day accompanying his kids across the city and he cannot allow them even to go across the street to the corner store, despite being able to watch the entire trip from his living room window.

What grates most, however, is the lack of evidence for the decision. The statistics simply do not support keeping kids indoors and under constant parental supervision. And continuing to believe it does is actually harming many kids, say some experts.

Crook points out in his post:

  • In the U.S. an average of 10 school bus passengers are killed annually, compared to 2,300 children in the home by accidents such as choking, suffocation, drowning, submersion, falls, fires, burns and poisoning. Clearly, leaving kids at home is not safer.
  • Car accidents are the leading cause of death for children between 2 and 14.
  • Bus kidnappings are incredibly rare. “A 2003 study in Canada found just one case nationwide of a stranger abducting a child, in the entire two years prior.”
  • Bus is the safest mode of transit (lowest fatality rates by far).
  • Kids in other parts of the world (especially Japan) are allowed to use public transit, sometimes as young as 6.
  • It’s safer now than ever before. There has been a steady decline in criminal incidents since the early 1990s, and as of 2015 (when the graph shown was published), numbers were down to 1970-equivalent levels.

But none of this matters to the Ministry. Why?

“It became clear that once this issue had been reported to the Ministry, they had no choice but to fall back on whatever tangentially related case law could be found, despite there being no issues with the kids taking the bus for two years.

It’s a ‘Cover Your A**’ culture, where even if a trivial issue is reported the Ministry cannot condone it, lest they be responsible for future issues. The Ministry has no incentive or ability to dismiss a report or allow a situation to continue – regardless of how many steps a parent has taken to ensure the safety and well-being of their children.”

This baffling story is yet another example of how a suffocating helicopter-style of parenting is becoming the norm in Canada (and the U.S.), despite evidence that it makes no statistical sense, nor is it particularly beneficial for child development.

Crook plans to challenge the decision and has launched a GoFundMe campaign. He says he wants to do this not for himself but “as a defence of children’s freedom of mobility by public transit in Canada.” I’m all in favor of that.

Tags: Kids | Transportation | Vancouver

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