The Washington Post covers a story this week which highlights the ever present dangers of the nanny state, this time from Maryland. A couple has been visited by the police and child protective services multiple times now because they allowed their two children to walk one mile home from a visit to a local park by themselves.
It was a one-mile walk home from a Silver Spring park on Georgia Avenue on a Saturday afternoon. But what the parents saw as a moment of independence for their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, they say authorities viewed much differently.
Danielle and Alexander Meitiv say they are being investigated for neglect for the Dec. 20 trek — in a case they say reflects a clash of ideas about how safe the world is and whether parents are free to make their own choices about raising their children…
Police picked up the children near the Discovery building, the family said, after someone reported seeing them.
Police on Wednesday did not immediately have information on the case. But a spokeswoman said that when concerns are reported, “we have a responsibility as part of our duty to check on people’s welfare.”
The beginning of this story really isn’t anything unusual or alarming. If a confused citizen noticed the children walking (and we can all admit that ages 6 and 10 qualify as “young” in this case) and was worried that they may be lost, running away or something worse, having the police check on them is certainly understandable. But after the investigation revealed that the kids were fine, knew where they were and where they were going, and that the parents were aware of the situation, that should have been it. It wasn’t. Child Protective Services (CPS) was called in for a home inspection and the parents still have more meetings at school coming up to explain their actions.
The San Francisco Gate (not exactly a conservative bastion of thought) highlights how badly this case went off the rails.
The series of events that unfolded with CPS were one big nightmare. Alexander, who works as a physicist at the National Institutes of Health, had no choice but to sign a document saying he wouldn’t leave his children unsupervised until Monday or else his kids would be taken away. The children were interviewed by CPS at the school and the parents didn’t find out until after the fact from the principal. CPS asked for a look inside the family’s home and Danielle refused. The agency later agreed to meet with her and her husband next week at a CPS office.
Even one of the oldest and most liberal of the liberal voices on the web was left shaking his head.
If I saw a 10 and 6 year old walking down the street it would never occur to me to call the police. It wouldn’t occur to me to call the police for a six year old, unless the kid appeared to be lost/distressed.
I will say that decisions such as this – while always the province of responsible parents – is conditional based on the environment. If you happen to live in a place like Brownsville, New York and you even allow your kids out on the front stoop without a security detail and full body armor we might want CPS paying you a visit. At the opposite end of the scale, families in some rural areas with long stretches of road where there are no houses or police coverage may want to exercise caution as well. But in this case? I spent a few minutes this morning taking a virtual tour of the neighborhood where the children walked courtesy of Google street view maps, from the park to the block where they live. This isn’t just a “relatively safe” looking neighborhood. It’s absolutely a bourgeoisie postcard which is only missing cast iron fencing to qualify as a “gated community.” While bad things can and do happen anywhere, the parents hardly seem out of bounds to allow their children some freedom if they are being raised to be situationally aware of potential problems and what to do in an emergency.
When I was a small child, I once received a fairly stiff session with my mother’s infamous wooden spoon when I walked the two and a half miles home from school in sixth grade. Part of it was through the village and the rest included a one mile stretch through farm country on the state road which had no sidewalks and a narrow shoulder. I still recall how my father – generally one to add a dose of “corrective instruction” as soon as my mom informed him that any of my siblings or I had gone astray – shook his head and just said, “Don’t antagonize your mom, boy. You know how she gets.”
I was not the most obedient child at all times and by the next year I was doing it again. My father finally intervened and told my mother to let the boy be. By then I was walking (and later biking) to school whenever the weather allowed. At the age of 16 I had my first truck and my drivers permit and I never took the bus again. I understand why my mother panicked when I didn’t get off the bus, and later felt bad about putting her through that. But I also think my Dad knew something about letting the kids learn their way in the world and spread their wings in preparation for flying from the nest.
The case of the family in Maryland demonstrates the difficult nature of these questions. You don’t want law enforcement turning a blind eye to children in potential danger. But veering too far off in the other direction takes us further and further on the path of supplanting the child rearing role of parents with the guiding hand of the state. Nothing good comes from that in the case of responsible parents actually trying to guide their children toward adulthood.