For a long time, I’ve been writing about the growing government obsession with helicopter parenting. We’ve seen parents get threatened and sanctioned for such things as letting kids play in the street in a safe neighborhood.
A few months ago, I started following the story of the Meitivs:
In December, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv let their 10-year-old son, Rafi, and his 6-year-old sister, Dvorah, walk 1 mile home through Silver Spring, Maryland, alone. The kids got picked up by the police, who then turned the case over to child protective services. The Meitivs, as it happens, are “free-range parents” who have a very coherent philosophy about giving children more independence. They had let their children walk home alone that day only after practicing and felt the kids were ready.
In the letter to the Meitivs, dated Feb. 20, CPS says that it has closed the investigation. But a charge of “unsubstantiated” is not quite as definitively closed as “ruled out.” (The third option is “indicated,” the equivalent of guilty.) Danielle told the Washington Post she felt numb when she first opened the letter and then told her husband, “Oh my God, they really believe we did something wrong.”
CPS officials did not say they would keep an eye on the Meitivs. But now they have a charge of child neglect in their file, which puts them in a precarious position. They believe strongly that children should be able to roam the neighborhood unsupervised. But they no doubt believe even more strongly that they don’t want to be at any risk of having their children taken away from them for a second charge of neglect. Why on earth should the state have any right to put them in that predicament?
Emphasis mine. And lying … theirs:
The children of Danielle and Alexander Meitiv were taken into custody by county police at a park about 5 p.m. and turned over to the Child Protective Services agency, said Capt. Paul Starks, the county police spokesman. The children’s mother said they were released to the couple at 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
The parents said the children, who are 10 and 6 and have been described as “free-range children,” had been expected home at 6 p.m. Sunday. When that time passed, the parents said, they began looking for them.
“We have been searching for the kids for hours,’’ the mother said in a Facebook posting. They learned of the children’s whereabouts about 8 p.m. The mother said they later spent about a half-hour at the CPS offices in Rockville without being allowed to see them.
Starks said police were dispatched after a stranger saw the unaccompanied children in the park near Fenton and Easley streets. He said police took the children to the CPS office.
(Lenore Skenazy has often talked about these stranger reports. She makes a good point: it’s appalling that someone’s first instinct on seeing two kids walking home from the park is to call the cops. Not to ask the kids if they’re OK (which, to be fair, can be construed by the panic-minded as predatory); not to be familiar with their neighborhood so that they know the kids are fine. Their instinct is to call the police, a decision that by law starts a CPS investigation.)
You can follow more on Lenore’s awesome blog. There does seem to be a bit of vindictiveness here. CPS took their kids and didn’t tell them for three hours. That is, every parent’s fear was realized only it wasn’t strangers kidnapping the kids, it was the state. After keeping them for another two-and-a-half hours, the Meitivs had to sign a temporary safety plan where they agreed not to let the kids out of their sight.
This boggles the mind. CPS is claiming that they simply responded to the report of a stranger and followed standard procedure. Even if that’s true, even if they didn’t specifically target a family that made their overzealousness a national story, it’s still insane. CPS’s defense of their actions is that is standard procedure to take into custody a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old who are walking unaccompanied in a safe neighborhood during daylights hours, not notify the parents for three hours, holds the kids for five-and-a-half hours and only release them if the parents agree not to let the kids out of their sight.
To be fair to CPS, they claim Maryland law is on their side. The law says that no child under eight can be left in a building without someone over age 13 accompanying them, which sounds crazy to me and would have gotten my parents jailed. But it does not apply to kids walking home from school or a park, where the law asks the CPS to judge the situation. If the facts in this case are as the Meitivs allege, then I think the Silver Spring CPS has too much time and money on their hands and not enough abuse and neglect to keep them busy.