Just weeks before its Sept. 19 debut, Kid Nation is under siege. CBS' reality show, in which 40 kids from 8 to 15 years old have 40 days to build a society in a New Mexico ghost town, is fending off attacks from state officials and one angry parent. Janis Miles, whose daughter, Divad, appeared on the show, accused producers of borderline abuse and neglect. CBS shot back in a statement that Miles' claims are "distorting the true picture of the Kid Nation experience, about which the overwhelming majority of kids are highly enthusiastic and happy."
The controversy started several weeks ago, when the New Mexico Children, Youth & Families Department received a letter from Miles that said her 11-year-old daughter was burned by hot grease while frying a meal and that at least two kids drank bleach from an unmarked bottle, all with no adult supervision. (Another participant, Kelsey, told TV Guide she burned her hip on a stove.) Miles' accusations caused concern. "Unfortunately, the letter was [received] after the production left the state," says Romaine Serna, a spokesperson for the Families Department. "So we couldn't do anything about it."
CBS disputes that Kid Nation was a rogue state with no adult supervision; there was an on-site team of paramedics, a pediatrician, an animal safety expert and a child psychologist. "The few minor injuries that took place were all treated immediately and by professionals," the network says. In fact, Daniel, a Kid Nation resident with asthma who was known as DK, praised the show's safety efforts: "We had medical people and inhalers and nebulizers. If I was out of breath, these people just came from all over." Another parent says she was updated on the status of her son Michael at least every three days.
Negligence isn't the only complaint. During production last spring, the state attorney general's office wrote a letter to CBS questioning their interpretation of state child-labor laws. The kids, who received a $5,000 stipend, reportedly worked 14-hour days. When the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions began receiving anonymous calls that the children were working under inappropriate conditions, an inspector went to the set to request work permits but was turned away three times. CBS argues that under state law the kids were exempt from permits. Workforce rep Carlos Castaneda disagrees: "Anytime you have children doing any type of work, you need a permit." CBS promoted Kid Nation as controversial — and it's certainly living up to the billing.
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