An Illinois mother says that trying to teach her daughter a little independence and responsibility ended in investigations from police and child services.
Corey Widen, who appeared on Good Morning America on Friday to talk about the ordeal, says she let her 8-year-old daughter, Dorothy, walk family dog Marshmallow around the neighborhood in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette where they live. Widen told the Chicago Tribune that she could see her daughter out the window for most of the walk.
Shortly after Dorothy got back from walking Marshmallow on Aug. 2, police showed up at the door, CBS Chicago reported. Apparently, someone had called them to report that a child ― whom the caller incorrectly reported as around 5 ― was walking a dog alone.
“I was like really scared,” Dorothy told the news outlet of the police visit. “I saw the police just there, like the police’s car and I heard the like sirens going off.”
Wilmette Police Chief Kyle Murphy told The Washington Post that after responding to the home and speaking with Widen, they determined that nothing was wrong. But the situation didn’t end there. The neighbor also ended up calling the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services, prompting the agency to open an investigation into the family that went on for nearly two weeks.
Widen hired a lawyer and DCFS ultimately closed the case, finding no wrongdoing. But she says things never should have gotten that far in the first place.
“The initial call was for an unattended 5-year-old, and once they knew I didn’t even have a 5-year-old, it should have stopped there,” she told ABC News. “I don’t think it should have made it past the hotline that a little girl walking her dog needs to be investigated.”
DCFS defended its actions in a statement to Good Morning America.
“We did what the people of Illinois asked us to do,” DCFS spokesman Neil Skene said. “We investigated, we found no wrongdoing on the part of this mother, and we closed the case last week.”
While investigations into Widen’s family were ultimately resolved without issue, people calling authorities on parents and children in the U.S. the past has led to disproportionately severe consequences for families. And experts have said law enforcement is often much harsher on families of color and lower-income parents.
Last year, The New York Times profiled Maisha Joefield, a Brooklyn woman whose 5-year-old daughter was temporarily placed in foster care after Joefield put the child to bed, got into the bath, and her daughter got up and wandered outside. Joefield’s name was also placed on a state child abuser registry for years.
“In another community, your kid’s found outside looking for you because you’re in the bathtub, it’s ‘Oh, my God’ ― a story to tell later,” Brooklyn Defender Services lawyer Scott Hechinger told the Times. “In a poor community, it’s called endangering the welfare of your child.”