When Corey Widen heard a knock on her door in early August, she expected it to be her 8-year-old daughter Dorothy’s playmate. Instead, there was a uniformed police officer and a squad car waiting outside, the Wilmette, Illinois, mom wrote on Facebook.
The reason? Someone had noticed the girl walking her dog Marshmallow around the block — and had called police.
It was just the start of a two-week ordeal for Widen, who had to explain to police and child services that she was not neglecting her child by letting her walk the dog around the neighborhood.
“For something like this to happen to me, there’s something really wrong,” Widen told the Chicago Tribune. “The funny thing is … I’m a joke with my friends because my kids are around me all the time.”
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Widen wrote on Facebook that she had no idea who had called the police but that the surprise visit traumatized her daughter.
“She cried for an hour and now refuses to go outside with her dog. I told her she did nothing wrong – but she said she must have or someone would not have called the police on her,” Widen wrote.
The mother talked it over with an officer, who quickly realized nothing was amiss and left without taking any action, she wrote on Facebook.
“The officer told me that there was no violation for an 8 year old and that she sees much younger kids out walking in this neighborhood (so have I),“ Widen wrote.
Then the mom got a phone call.
“Apparently whoever (called) the police didn’t think the police were a good enough judge of what was OK and not OK. Then they called DCFS (child protective services),” Widen said, according to CBS Chicago.
The agency began an investigation, and Widen hired an attorney to clear everything up, which took about two weeks, according to the station.
In a statement obtained by People, the Department of Family and Children’s Services said the caller had reported a 5-year-old playing unsupervised in a parking lot.
“We went out and investigated, and the investigation has already been unfounded. We don’t control the calls that come into our hotline. Something made someone think there was a concern, and we don’t know without checking it out,” the statement said, according to the site.
Widen received comments and messages from other moms who told her they’d gone through the same types of situations, according to NBC Chicago.
“These are upper-middle class, stay-at-home moms who have been investigated because someone didn’t have anything better to do with their time and called police on them,” Widen told the station.
The issue is not new. Supporters of so-called “free range parenting” have long decried incidents such as what happened to Widen. Free-range parents generally believe children should be allowed to do certain things on their own, such as playing in a nearby park, walking to school, going to a store or exploring a neighborhood creek, McClatchy reported in May.
Some places, such as the state of Utah, have even passed legislation prohibiting people from calling authorities just because they see a child playing or walking unsupervised.
“We need to stand up and push back against the idea that in order to keep our kids safe, we need to hover over them constantly,” Utah senator Lincoln Fillmore told the Deseret News in April.
On Facebook, Widen wrote that if the neighbor was truly concerned, they could have taken a different course.
“An act of concern would have been; asking my daughter is she ok, knocking on my door and expressing genuine concern, or an offer of help, or writing a note, or simply ASK HER AGE. This was deliberately intended to intimidate and mom shame me. But who actually was hurt was an innocent little girl,” she wrote.