Three members of the Free Play Matters Task Force traveled to Hartford on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, to testify at the state legislature on an issue that is near and dear to their heart.
Wilton Schools Superintendent Kevin Smith, Colleen Fawcett, coordinator of Wilton Youth Services, and Vanessa Elias, president of the Wilton Youth Council, members of the Free Play Matters Task Force, spoke to the Children’s Committee in support of Senate Bill 806, titled, An act prohibiting a finding of neglect in certain circumstances.
They were joined by Lenore Skenazy and Dr. Peter Gray, members of the Let Grow children support organization.
The body of the bill, which was proposed by the Free Play Matters Task Force, is brief: “To prohibit a finding of neglect if the allegation of neglect is based solely on a child's participation in independent activities and such child is of sufficient maturity, physical condition and mental ability to avoid engaging in conduct that carries a substantial risk of physical harm.”
The bill clarifies what constitutes “neglect” in cases where children are engaging in independent activities, such as playing in a yard or walking a dog.
“We want to encourage parents to give their children appropriate independence and don’t want to set them up for judgment or getting involved with police or child protective services for giving their children that independence,” said Fawcett, chair of the task force.
The task force is a group of parents, social workers, educators and community organizations whose mission is to inspire and educate the community about the critical importance of free play to children’s development.
“We think we have more chance to create a culture shift to see more children outside and playing independently,” said Fawcett.
State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-Wilton), State Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-New Canaan) and State Sen. Will Haskell (D-Westport) co-sponsored the bill and also testified in support of it.
“The issue of free play seems to resonate with everyone we spoke with,” Fawcett said. “It was an interesting process to see policy shaping in action,” she said.
The next step, she said, is the Children’s Committee will decide whether to move the bill along or kill it.
For more information on the Free Play Matters Task Force, email Fawcett at firstname.lastname@example.org.