Family life

Free-range parents found guilty of unsubstantiated child neglect

Free-range parents in Maryland have been found guilty of child neglect. Jennifer Pinarski fears this has bigger implications for all parents.

Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

Isaac goes for a spin. Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

Last December, 10-year-old Rafi Meitiv and and his six-year-old sister, Dvorah, walked one mile from the park to their home in a safe, suburban town of Silver Spring, Maryland. To borrow a Buzzfeed headline: You won’t believe what happened next!

The kids were spotted by police and their free-range parents, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, were charged with child neglect. The case was turned over to the state’s Child and Protective Services who, after investigating the case, found the parents guilty of “unsubstantiated” child neglect. While the case against the Meitiv family is closed, the charge of child neglect will remain on their file for five years. Officials with CPS didn’t say whether or not they would continue to monitor the family during that time.

The Meitiv’s were notified last month of the court decision, which they plan to appeal. “I was kind of horrified,” Danielle Meitiv told the Washington Post. “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.”

Despite the verdict, the couple doesn’t plan to change their parenting style. “We don’t feel it was appropriate for an investigation to start, much less conclude that we are responsible for some form of child neglect,” she tells the Washington Post.  “What will happen next time? We don’t know if we will get caught in this Kafkaesque loop again.”

The disappointing (and foreboding) thing is that there likely will be a next time. Perhaps not for the Meitiv family, but for other parents, like myself, who believe in the value of giving children the freedom to explore their communities unsupervised. My kids aren’t much younger than the Meitiv children and we’ve already started planning for the day when they will ride their bikes to school or walk down the street to their friends house alone. Given the low crime statistics in our area, I have no logical reason to be afraid for my kids’ safety—the chances of them being kidnapped in my rural Ontario town is very low. But what I do worry about are those well-intentioned good Samaritans who have nothing better to do than tell me what a lousy parent I am.

When the Meitiv story first broke last December, Slate.com’s Hanna Rosin issued a rallying cry for parents (not just us free-rangers) to fight back. “Parent more like the Meitivs, from a place of trust and not fear,” Rosin urged. While Rosin meant that we need to assess risks and value our kids’ independence, to me there is one more take-away from this while situation—we need to trust the village and offer fellow parents help, not accusations.

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.