Manitoba

Letting kids walk to neighbourhood bakery 'felt like a reasonable choice,' says mom investigated by CFS

A Winnipeg mother says she was reported to Child and Family Services for letting her children walk by themselves to buy some bread.

Winnipeg's Katharina Nuss wants province to relax rule that says children under 12 can't go out unaccompained

Katharina Nuss believes the province should allow for children, if sufficiently mature, to be unaccompanied even if they're under the age of 12. (Samantha Samson/CBC)

A Winnipeg mother says she was reported to Child and Family Services for letting her children walk by themselves to buy some bread.

"I was within earshot, I could see them," Katharina Nuss said of the summertime outing her children, ages seven and three, took to the neighbourhood bakery.

Her kids knew the neighbourhood and employees at the Wolseley store, she said, and she was watching her seven-year-old daughter and three-year-old son from a half block away.

"I could have been there in less than a minute if anybody had fallen, if anything had come up. I deliberately decided to let them go and it felt like a reasonable choice."

Apparently, the Child and Family Services employee who showed up at her door a month later with questions felt it wasn't.

Children under the age of 12 cannot be left or allowed to go out "without reasonable provision being made for the supervision and safety of the child," according to the Child and Family Services Act.

It's not at all within a kid's best interest to shelter them.-  Katharina  Nuss

Nuss said she was warned by the CFS worker.

The file is considered closed, the province said.

Upon sharing her story with others, Nuss found many parents gradually give their children more independence as they grow up.

They were surprised they might get a visit from CFS for allowing independent trips, like a walk to their friend's place, Nuss said.

She wrote letters to the Child and Family All Nations Coordinated Response Network, the child welfare system's first point of contact in Winnipeg, and Families Minister Heather Stefanson, arguing it shouldn't be a crime for parents to let their children play or walk unsupervised.

The concept has been described as "free-range parenting," which is now protected in Utah by a law passed earlier this year

Both agencies say they're following Manitoba's legislation, though the province told Nuss the act may be amended as part of an ongoing review.

To pressure the province, she launched an online petition in support of free-range parenting, signed by 3,200 people and counting as of Friday.

Deprived of freedom

"The way it's interpreted, we're depriving our children of an important opportunity. And we're not ultimately keeping them safer — if they don't learn the skills, they won't be safer," Nuss said.

"It's not at all within a kid's best interest to shelter them."

Nuss said she isn't at all advocating three-year-olds be left alone at the park.

She gave a lot of thought to letting her three-year-old son tag along with her big sister — who Nuss describes as eager and responsible — to the bakery. They wouldn't have to cross any street during the trip.

"I thought this is a great confidence-building experience for them," she said. "My kids tend to be cautious, so I welcome these opportunities when they arise."

Sandra Stoker, executive director of the All Nations Coordinated Response Network, said the agency has an obligation to investigate any instance where a child is unattended. 

But parents and guardians are afforded some latitude, she said.

"That section [of the act] is often misinterpreted by 12 being a hard and fast rule," said Stoker.

"It's really about the child's capacity and the parent's capacity and what safety plans are in place — say if they're walking to school with a group of friends."

A provincial spokesperson said the government will consider suggestions from the Nuss family and other Manitobans as part of its review into the Child and Family Services Act. 

With files from Samantha Samson.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is covering the Manitoba provincial election for CBC Manitoba. He previously has reported on provincial politics and breaking news in Winnipeg, Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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