Kate Thayer – Contact Reporter
Just after returning home from a walk around the block with her dog, Marshmallow, an 8-year-old Wilmette girl expected a visit from a playmate. Instead, police officers arrived at the family’s door.
An anonymous caller had contacted police after seeing the girl walking the dog alone, said her mother, Corey Widen. While police never pursued charges, the seemingly common activity launched an Illinois Department of Children and Family Services investigation to see if Widen was neglecting her children, she said.
“For something like this to happen to me, there’s something really wrong,” said Widen, 48, who agreed to let her 8-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son get the Maltese puppy last year as long as everyone took turns walking her. Widen, who asked that her daughter’s name not be used, said the girl’s walk around the block — most of which Widen says she can see out her windows — is the only time her home-schooled daughter is unsupervised. “The funny thing is … I’m a joke with my friends because my kids are around me all the time.”
Widen’s story is not unique. Mothers in the Chicago area and across the country have found themselves at the center of investigations by police or child welfare officials after their children were spotted alone but unharmed — playing in parks or left for minutes in a car parked outside a store — activities that could pass for typical or harmless but now are perceived by some as unacceptable.
When Chicago author Kim Brooks decided to leave her then-4-year-old son in the car for a few minutes on a cool day to run an errand, she was shocked when a stranger called police to report it.
“I didn’t really understand why it was happening,” she said. “I certainly felt ashamed. Not because I thought … I did something horrible, but because whenever you are called out for behavior, especially when it has to do with mothering, (it’s shameful).”