Nicole Jensen is a mom of a 7-year-old in Westbrook, Maine, who now faces a charge of child endangerment in a case that could revive the debate over “free range” parenting that surfaced earlier this year, when a Maryland couple was cited for neglect when they allowed their two kids to walk to a nearby park alone.
That couple, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, said that they were being punished for a deliberate parenting choice and that their decision to allow their two children to walk in their neighborhood without an accompanying adult was “considered perfectly normal one generation ago.”
After several months, Maryland Child Protective Services elected not to press a child neglect charge against the parents.
But Nicole Jensen says that her parenting style is not even “free range,” yet police snatched her daughter, Brooklynn, from a park that’s roughly the length of a football field away from their house.
Now, Jensen says, she has to answer her daughter’s questions about why the police took her and held at her the police station in this small, southern Maine city of about 18,000 — while fighting the charge that police have leveled at her, a charge of endangering the welfare of a child.
“She was terrified,” Jensen told TV station WMTW. “They brought her to the police station when her house is right there… She did nothing wrong. She’s followed all of my rules.”
Police say their officers received a 911 call about a child left alone in the public park, playing by herself. When they got there, they found that Brooklynn had been by herself for about an hour.
“That’s a long time for a 7-year-old girl to be by herself in any location, let alone a public park,” Westbrook Police Chief Janine Roberts said.
But Jensen protested that her daughter was never really alone — that she requires the child to check in with her every hour, plus, she has a clear view of the public park from her own back porch.
On top of those measures, the mom says, parents in the neighborhood have all agreed to look after each other’s children when they play outdoors in the park.
“I can usually count on at least a dozen that I know and that she plays with,” Jensen said. “We watch each other’s kids. I don’t just send her over here and ignore her all day.”
Police say that they simply found Brooklynn by herself, and no sign of a grown-up anywhere.
“If we’re not able to locate the responsible adult and reunite the child with that person, then we’re going to bring them back where we’ve got the resources and the facilities to watch her and care for her,” Chief Roberts said.
Nicole Jensen has vowed to contest the child endangerment charge, even taking the city to court if necessary.
[Images: WMTW TV Screen Grabs]