Last December, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, and their 10-year-old son Rafi and six-year-old daughter Dvorah found themselves in the middle of the hottest parenting topic of our generation: free-range parenting. The Meitiv parents had allowed their children to walk home alone from the park in their suburban Maryland neighbourhood, a stroll less than two miles from their home. I first wrote about their story for Today's Parent in March and again in April.
Unfortunately, local residents, police and Child Protective Services (CPS) of Montgomery County didn't see it the same way. The police detained the youngsters and a charge of child neglect was laid against the parents on December 20, 2014. It was a shocking charge, given that the parents had assessed the risks of letting their kids play in the park without supervision and had coached them through the process. In March, CPS found the family guilt of “unsubstantiated” child neglect.
“I was kind of horrified,” Danielle Meitiv told the Washington Post when the guilty verdict was announced. “You try as a parent to do what’s right. Parents try so hard. Even though I know they are wrong, it’s a painful judgment.” The Meitivs said that they planned to appeal the verdict.
That appeal won't be necessary: This week, CPS announced they changed their minds about their initial decision and the charges of unsubstantiated neglect relating to the December incident have been ruled out.
“This ruling confirms that we never exposed our children to a ‘substantial risk of harm,’” says Danielle Meitiv in a statement. “Although we welcome the decision, we are concerned that CPS’s misguided policy remains intact. We fear that our family and other Maryland families will be subject to further investigations and frightening police detentions simply because our children have been taught how to walk safely in their neighbourhood, including to and from school and local parks.”
Unfortunately, the family is still under investigation by CPS. Last month, Rafi and Dvora were detained by local police for walking home alone from the park, an incident officials are still looking into.
“We are glad that the agency has reconsidered its decision and agreed with us that there was no child neglect. This conclusion was clear from the start. We trust that CPS will apply the law in a constitutional and consistent manner going forward, and quickly resolve its current investigation, which remains pending,” says Thomas DeGonia, one of the attorneys representing the family.
Whether or not this ruling ends the free-range parenting debate remains to be seen, but I suspect that even if the next set of child neglect charges are ruled out, the Meitivs will still continue to be under constant scrutiny by police and Child Protective Services. Which means that parents like myself and the Meitivs, who believe in the value of free-play and independence, will have to continue to watch our backs, not for strangers, but for over-zealous good Samaritans.
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