"If this had happened 20 years ago, we wouldn't be here," the lawyer for a Sacramento mother said, and she's probably right. Sonya Hendren is facing jail time after neighbors called child protective services to report that Hendren's 4-year-old son was playing alone at their apartment complex's playground.
According to the mother, 4-year-old Tomahawk Hendren had been showing signs that he was ready to play outdoors alone. She'd allow him to go into the gated apartment complex, and he'd return a few minutes later to tell her he was OK. So last month, when he wanted to play on the playground 120 feet from her front door, she allowed it.
That's when her neighbors called the authorities. Sonja Horrell and her daughter, Brandi, saw Tomahawk playing outside unattended for 15 to 20 minutes and were concerned. They told Tomahawk to go home, but he insisted he wasn't done playing. So they made the call.
"I just thought she would get a warning, and then she wouldn't let him be out alone again," Horrell said.
But Hendren is now facing a CPS case, and the authorities are investigating if they will press child endangerment and neglect charges. She was offered a reduced sentence of 30 days in jail and one probation, but Hendren rejected the plea deal. She's now facing a maximum penalty of six months in jail and three years probation.
"Of course I love him, I do everything for him," Hendren said. "I breastfed for 28 months. I cloth-diapered, you know, obviously I'm avoiding helicopter parenting. I'm doing everything."
This isn't the first time a parent's embracing of the free-range parenting movement has resulted in run-ins with the authorities. Earlier this year, Florida brothers were taken from their parents after the 11-year-old boy played in his yard by himself for 90 minutes when his parents were stuck in traffic. And last year a South Carolina mother was arrested and her daughter was taken from her when she allowed her 9-year-old to play at the local park while she worked at a nearby McDonald's.
Parents' — and children's — lives are being forever changed by following the rules we grew up with, rather than social norms of today. Perhaps it's time to let parents parent their kids a bit, rather than jump to conclusions and scar them for life.
"We have a CPS case now, and anytime he's not in my visual sight we're in violation," Hendren said. This from a mom who seems to be doing everything she can to raise a responsible, outdoors-loving child.