Maryland free-range kids held by protective services for being at a park alone
posted at 9:29 pm on April 13, 2015 by Mary Katharine Ham
For those unfamiliar with the term, “free-range” parenting is what used to be known as “parenting.” The idea is to free your children from the overprotective hovering of the modern helicopter parent and let them explore their neighborhoods, even their cities, occasionally unsupervised. Some free-range parents are more free-rangey than others, but the general idea is to give your own children a taste of the way you grew up, putting fearmongering and horror stories into perspective using actual data that show our lives are getting ever safer, not more dangerous.
In Maryland, one couple has had their 6 and 10 year old taken from them by the state and thrust into the national spotlight twice in the last year for the sin of walking unsupervised within a mile of their home. Now, when I was 10, I babysat my brothers for short periods of time and certainly was allowed to ride my bike and walk to many friends’ homes within a mile of my house. And, I’d consider my parents among them more attentive in the neighborhood when it came to such things. Thank goodness the rest of the neighborhood wasn’t looking to narc on my parents as soon as they saw us on a swingset alone.
Read this and ask yourself who’s doing these children harm? The parents or the bureaucrats?
Danielle and Alexander Meitiv worried that they would be caught up in a Kafkaesque loop after they were held responsible for “unsubstantiated neglect” when they allowed their children, ages 6 and 10, to walk home alone from a park near their Silver Spring home in December.
On Sunday, they feared that their nightmare was coming true.
The Meitivs, part of a “free range” movement to encourage childhood independence, had allowed their children to again play at another neighborhood park on their own and walk home. The parents instructed Rafi, 10, and Dvora, 6, to be home by 6 p.m., Danielle Meitiv said.
But after someone called to report that the siblings were walking alone, the children were picked up by police about 5 p.m. and, after waiting two and a half hours in a police patrol car, according to Meitiv, taken to a crisis center. The Meitivs, frantic that the children hadn’t returned home, weren’t notified, they said, until 8 p.m., when Child Protective Services called. The couple raced to CPS, but were kept from seeing their children for two hours.
The children were released to their parents about 10:30 p.m., Danielle Meitiv said in an interview, after signing papers saying they would not leave the children unsupervised until CPS follows up.
There’s something so disgustingly ironic about the fact that the only reason these “endangered” kids didn’t come home on time safely and their parents nearly had heart attacks is because the police and Child Protective Services decided to keep them from their parents for a couple hours without telling them. I wonder if someone thought they were teaching the parents a good lesson. Now, they’ll see what it’s like when their kids don’t come home. Good stuff, guys. There’s a word for this when anyone other than the state does it.
They are no doubt livid about this, but because they’re dealing with unpredictable people who have the power to take their children from them, they must stifle that anger and act in accordance with the state’s wishes. This includes never leaving their children unsupervised outside, which is antithetical to their parenting philosophy. Maryland law requires children be under the care of someone at least 13 years old, which would have made my babysitting of my brothers a punishable offense.
The Meitivs bravely didn’t back off their “dangerous” parenting techniques—which, again, allow for a 6-year-old supervised by a 10-year-old to walk the equivalent of 10 blocks—after the kids were picked up in December and they were “found responsible for unsubstantiated child neglect.”
“We are shocked and outraged that we have been deemed negligent for granting our children the simple freedom to play outdoors. We fully intend to appeal,” Danielle Meitiv told “Nightline” via email at the time. “We also have no intention of changing our parenting approach.”
It all began in December when police stopped the kids as they were walking home from a park without an adult, and gave them a stern warning. Child Protective Services then accused the Meitivs of neglect, saying unless they committed to a safety plan, the kids would have to go into foster homes.
I have this fight with myself every time I pull up to the dry cleaner. I park my car within 6 feet of the glass-windowed building, where I go in and pickup or drop off clothing for 3 minutes all within sight of my car, where my toddler is securely restrained in a car seat. It makes perfect sense to leave her in the seat, and yet I worry every time that some neighbor will call the cops on me and custody of my child will be at stake.
There are real cases of child neglect. This is not among them, not by a long shot. Our neighbors may have different philosophies than we have about raising children. They shouldn’t impose their helicopter parenting on the rest of us using the strong arm of the state.
“It was dark!” said Danielle, her voice shaking. “You know, I’d really had a nightmare about this, but I didn’t realize they would do it. I didn’t think they would. The kids must be terrified.”