When Corey Widen let her 8-year-old daughter take the family dog for a short stroll alone, she probably never expected it to cause an uproar.
The 48-year-old mother from Wilmette, Ill., a Chicago suburb, told “Good Morning America” on Friday she thought it was important to start giving her young daughter, Dorothy, a little more independence. Plus, she told the Chicago Tribune, it was all part of the deal; when her children wanted to get a dog, she agreed on one condition — everyone had to share the responsibilities, including walking it.
As Dorothy was out doing just that earlier this month, a neighbor called the authorities. Police and child welfare officials said the caller, who was not publicly identified, reported there was a child — maybe 5 years old — walking a dog all alone.
Wilmette police responded to the home, and Illinois’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) launched an investigation into the incident, according to CBS affiliate WBBM. Although no charges were filed and the investigation was later dropped, Widen told “Good Morning America” the ordeal was traumatizing for her children.
And now, Widen said, she is being “mom-shamed.”
“Every 8-year-old is different, every neighborhood is different, and every parent is different, so you can’t make an overall judgment like that,” Widen explained on “Good Morning America.”
Widen could not immediately be reached by The Post.
Shortly after Widen’s daughter and the dog, Marshmallow, returned home Aug. 2, officers came to the door.
Widen’s initial thought was it was about some fundraiser.
Her 8-year-old daughter, however, said she was scared.
“I saw the police just there, like the police’s car,” Dorothy told WBBM, “and I heard the like sirens going off.”
Wilmette Police Chief Kyle Murphy said in a statement to The Post that authorities received a call from someone who was “worried” for the child’s safety, saying it appeared a 5-year-old was walking her dog alone, and the caller did not see her return home. Officers responded to the scene, but Murphy said after speaking with the child’s mother, the officers determined there was no issue.
The authorities did not contact child welfare officials about the incident, but Widen said the neighbor did.
“Apparently whoever call the police didn’t think the police were a good enough judge of what was okay and not okay. Then they called DCFS. The police did not call DCFS,” she told WBBM.
The Chicago Tribune reported the mother said DCFS opened a weeks-long investigation into the incident, interviewing family members, friends and even the Widens’ pediatrician.
A DCFS spokeswoman told The Post someone called the agency’s hotline, reporting the girl appeared to be 5 years old or younger and the police had been called in the past when she was spotted playing alone in a parking lot.
The spokeswoman said the agency has no way of knowing whether a concern is legitimate without investigating it. In this case, she said, the agency found no wrongdoing and closed it.
Over the years, similar situations have cropped up around the country, setting off a debate about what’s known as “free-range” parenting — the idea that children should be given the freedom to function without constant supervision to teach them how to be more independent. In what is believed to be a first, Utah enacted a law earlier this year, supporting parents who choose a more hands-off approach.
According to The Washington Post’s Meagan Flynn:
The measure, sponsored by Utah state Sen. Lincoln Fillmore (R), exempts from the definition of child neglect various activities children can do without supervision, permitting “a child, whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities …”
Those activities include letting children “walk, run or bike to and from school, travel to commercial or recreational facilities, play outside and remain at home unattended.” The law does not say what the “sufficient age” is.
Following the incident — and national media attention — Widen expressed frustration that someone would “waste” state resources to question her parenting.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” she told “Good Morning America.” “You don’t know every situation, you don’t know every child. When you do things like this, you overwhelm an already overwhelmed system with nuisance calls like this, and kids and families who really need help don’t get it then.”