News / Vancouver

Order for dad to stop allowing kids on buses by themselves worries expert

Mariana Brussoni argues it's healthy to teach kids to be independent

Vancouver parent Adrian Crook says his children are capable of riding the public bus to school by themselves but that a B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development caseworker ruled otherwise.

Adrian Crook / Contributed

Vancouver parent Adrian Crook says his children are capable of riding the public bus to school by themselves but that a B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development caseworker ruled otherwise.

A developmental child psychologist who advocates letting kids play the old fashioned way is horrified a Vancouver father was ordered to stop allowing his four children, aged seven to 11, to ride a city bus by themselves.

“We do a lot of work with parents and we even have an online tool for parents to help them let go, so they will let kids do stuff like this,” said Mariana Brussoni, associate professor at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health.

“One of the fears that’s really powerful for parents is that somebody will call social services on them.”

One particular detail in Adrian Crook’s story (that Metro reported Wednesday) is of special concern to Brussoni: according to Crook, social workers from B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development told him that “their decision (to require the children to be supervised in or outside the home until they turned 10) was based primarily on a B.C. (Supreme Court) case that dealt with an eight year-old staying home alone.”

Setting an arbitrary age limit could actually put children in more danger, Brussoni argues, because some parents may then believe that once their child turns 10, they are able to stay on their own. As parents know, every child is different — so that may not be the case.

In a blog post about the situation, which started with a member of the public making a complaint to the ministry, Crook describes the steps he took to gradually train his kids to be competent bus riders.

That’s exactly what Brussoni advocates and what her online tool, Outsideplay.ca, teaches parents to do.

“If parents think, OK, my child has turned ‘X’ age, they’re ready, but they haven’t done the homework like this dad did about gradually increasing the level of independence, the kids aren’t going to be ready,” she said.

Crook has started a GoFundMe page to fundraise for a legal challenge, but Wade MacGregor believes Crook will have a long legal road in front of him. MacGregor is a lawyer in Terrace, B.C. who represented the mother of the eight-year-old child who was being left alone for two hours after school. In the 2015 court case, the ministry argued the boy needed to be supervised, while the mother maintained he did not.

MacGregor lost the case and he believes Crook will lose at the provincial and Supreme Court levels, because of legal precedents that say judges should “give great deference to the opinions of social workers.”

But MacGregor, who thinks the status quo is wrong and needs to be challenged in court, believes Crook may have success at the Court of Appeal.

“My view is that when presented with a conflict between a social worker who knows basically nothing about the particular child,” MacGregor said, “and a parent who is really, really expert on that particular child, the court should defer to the opinion of the parent unless given a compelling reason to believe that the parent is wrong.”

Crook’s story may be causing anxiety and fear for parents who want to encourage their children to their children to take those first independent steps. But Brussoni says the consequences of overly protective parenting are worse for children’s health and development.

The Ministry did not confirm the details of Crook’s blog but sent Metro this statement:
“Everyone has a duty to report a situation in which a child may be at risk. In assessing the nature of that risk, social workers exercise their professional judgement within the parameters established by ministry policy and the Child, Family and Community Service Act.”

There is no specific age requirement, provincially or federally, that dictates when a child can be left unsupervised.

With files from Wanyee Li

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