British Columbia government forces Vancouver dad to end his kids' free-range city bus rides to school

For the past two years, Adrian Crook's four eldest kids (aged 7-11) have ridden Vancouver's public transit to school together, traveling as a group from the bus stop in front of his condo to the bus stop in front of their school.

Crook's kids learned to ride the bus through a methodical process that started with full adult supervision that he gradually dialed down until the kids could make the whole, 45 minute ride on their own. The kids carry GPS-equipped phones that let him track them if they get off the bus early (and also helps him recover the phone if they lose it). There is no minimum age for kids to ride the Vancouver transit system on their own, and Crook gets fan mail from regular bus-riders to tell him what a well-behaved inspiration his kids are.

Then, some anonymous person contacted the Ministry of Children and Family Development to complain that Crook was putting his children in harm's way. A social worker was appointed to look into Crook's case, and Crook presented a wealth of information to show that his kids were safe, Vancouver's buses were safe, and that everything was fine.

In the end, the social worker admitted that Crook was right about everything…and that he'd have to stop letting his kids out of his sight unsupervised, anyway. They couldn't even play in the courtyard of his condo, let alone walk to the corner store, on their own.

When I was eight, I used to walk to our local swimming pool with my friend who was nine, crossing two major roads with a traffic light. When I was nine, I started riding two buses and a subway to school on my own. Toronto had a much higher violent crime rate then than it does now. There was no question of parental negligence: indeed, the small public alternative school I attended then used to kick all the 10-and-up kids out every second Wednesday afternoon to roam the city (a group of my friends and I once spent months trying all kinds of different Chinese restaurants for lunch, all over the city, and turned it into a report on Chinese regional cuisine).

Crook has learned that in the years since our childhoods, Canada's provinces have enacted a bizarre, inconsistent set of minimum ages for children to be left on their own: in Ontario, children can't be home alone until they are 16.

The social worker who handled Crook's case candidly admitted that once there was an anonymous complaint about his parenting, they were always going to order him to stop letting his kids out in public on their own, no matter what the evidence, because of the risk that something bad would happen to them later and the Ministry would then take fire for failing to act on a tip.

Crook is raising money for a legal challenge to the social worker's ruling.

Being a divorced, single dad who has his kids 50% of the time, I have little recourse to challenge the Ministry's decision. Disobeying it even in the slightest (i.e. allowing a trip to the corner store by my 9.75 year old), could result in the Ministry stripping me of equal custody of my children, a remarkably draconian outcome I would never risk. The Ministry has effectively mandated I either spend hours each day driving or busing with my kids, or hire a nanny to do that for me – an outcome they'd be hard pressed to recommend if I were a full-time single parent without the financial resources to accommodate this request.

The result in this case is the Ministry once again reinforcing the damaging trend of "helicopter parenting" that robs our children of agency, independence, and responsibility. There's no weight given to the long game of good parenting – allowing kids to earn independence at a younger age, so they turn into better humans later in life. Instead, constant supervision and prevention of all risk on a minute-by-minute basis is the government's gold standard for parenting.

I've already done some legal groundwork to challenge this determination, not for myself, but as a defence of children's freedom of mobility by public transit in Canada.

Public transit is safe for kids, cost-effective (especially for low-income families), builds confidence and affords freedom to kids and parents alike. It's a vital public service that shouldn't be taken away from responsible families.

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[Adrian Crook/5 Kids 1 Condo]

(via Dan Hon)