Kids walk home from park, parents probed for ‘neglect’

If you had any kind of childhood at all , and you’re over the age of 50, you will — within the next three paragraphs — be thinking about the time your parents left you to your own devices to find your way back home.

You just didn’t know at the time that you were a “free range kid.”

Rafi and Dvora Meitiv, ages 10 and 6, are free-range kids and because of that, their parents were on the receiving end of a lecture from police on the dangers that are out there in the world.

The Washington Post reports today that Danielle and Alexander Meitiv allowed their kids to walk one mile home from a park in Silver Spring, Md., last month. They never made it. On the way, a police officer scooped them up and took them home, according to the newspaper.

Alexander said he had a tense time with police on Dec. 20 when officers returned his children, asked for his identification and told him about the dangers of the world.

The more lasting issue has been with Montgomery County Child Protective Services, he said, which showed up a couple of hours after the police left.

Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for CPS, said she could not comment on cases but that neglect investigations typically focus on questions of whether there has been a failure to provide proper care and supervision.

In such investigations, she said, CPS may look for guidance to a state law about leaving children unattended, which says children younger than 8 must be left with a reliable person who is at least 13 years old. The law covers dwellings, enclosures and vehicles.

The Meitivs say that on Dec. 20, a CPS worker required Alexander to sign a safety plan pledging he would not leave his children unsupervised until the following Monday, when CPS would follow up. At first he refused, saying he needed to talk to a lawyer, his wife said, but changed his mind when he was told his children would be removed if he did not comply.

Following the holidays, the family said, CPS called again, saying the agency needed to inquire further and visit the family’s home. Danielle said she resisted.

“It seemed such a huge violation of privacy to examine my house because my kids were walking home,” she said.

This week, a CPS social worker showed up at her door, she said. She did not let him in. She said she was stunned to later learn from the principal that her children were interviewed at school

The parents say was child services views as “neglect” they view as an essential part of growing up.

“The world is actually even safer than when I was a child, and I just want to give them the same freedom and independence that I had — basically an old-fashioned childhood,” Mrs. Alexander told the Post. “I think it’s absolutely critical for their development — to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency.”

  • Kassie

    Over the age of 50? I’m much under 50 and find this ridiculous.

    And I’ll point out, as do often when I see these stories, that these kids look white. I see little kids playing outside in my neighborhood without supervision all the time and no one calls the cops on them. In my current neighborhood, I usually see Latino kids, sometimes black and Asian, playing in the streets and parking lots without any issues. But apparently two white kids walking somewhere is reason to call the cops. I don’t know if it is race or class, but there is definitely a bias happening.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    Kids sled in the park across from my house a lot in the winter. By themselves. Sometimes adults try to get involved and pile up some snow at the bottom o the 3-foot drop off at the bottom of the hill, presumably because it’s dangerous. The kids slide around it.

    • Kassie

      Which I think goes to what I’m saying above. You live in an racially diverse and economically depressed neighborhood. Kids are being allowed to act like kids in these places. No one calls the cops on them. I think these things only happen to white kids in “nice” neighborhoods.

      • kevinfromminneapolis

        I didn’t RTFA but I’d want to know more about the neighbourhood they were in to see if maybe wandering white kids stood out or what the deal was. I’m too far away to know what race the kids are across the way and I’m not willing to use my binoculars to find out. That would be creepy.

  • KTN

    It is cleaver they have a card that proclaims these are “free range kids” but sad it has come to this.

  • William Parkhill

    In the old days they had to walk 5 miles to school up hill BOTH WAY’S.

    • John

      naked in a blizzard?

    • Luxury…

  • Kat S.

    I’m well under the age of 50, and my eyebrows are raised so far it hurts. Walking home alone was a normal part of my childhood, too.

    What is hardest to bear about this story, though, is the threat of removing the two children from the home. Preemptively. On one call about two kids walking home alone. Not neglect. Not abuse. Not drugs in the house.

    Although maybe I’m more angry because I’ve known kids who needed CPS intervention, who were getting abused, and you couldn’t get CPS to make that threat at the fourth call.

  • Jim G

    My western suburban public school district doesn’t bus students who live closer than a mile from their school. Free Range Kids are resourceful problem solvers. On the other hand, kids who are ferried to their next scheduled appointment are being coddled and controlled by their parents. In my experience rebellious teenage behavior is heighten in families when kids are smothered with constant parental presence in a misplaced effort to protect kids from improbable harm.

  • Leonard

    Kids from 5 years old are expected to walk to school in most towns. In ohio, texas, okla, there is no bus if you live within 1.5 miles, so what business is it of the government ??

  • David P.

    Fear is a powerful force. We have been told to be afraid for the past 15-20 years. Every day, every news cast, every prime time viewing hour. Small wonder then that community officials conclude a child is in danger, simply because they are not being guarded. This paranoia that grips a large swath of this country is bordering on the insane. Statistically (FBI), these kids are safer than I was back in the 50’s & 60’s – and I grew up with parents who’s mantra was “Go outside.” It was normal to wander miles from home. My school bus stop was 6 – 8 blocks from year to year. I raised my kids the much the same way.
    When I’ve travelled abroad, I routinely see pre-teen kids riding public transportation unescorted. Nobody freaks, the kids behave, and nobody bothers them. It’s routine, day to day life. Then again, the culture is not based on fear with violence as entertainment, at least not anywhere near the scale of American culture.

  • tboom

    Geeez,I don’t know.

    I’m well over 50, grew up in a good size MN city (25K-30K) and ran around pretty much at will. Then again I could go to the other side of town to make trouble and Mom would greet me at the door to tell me exactly what I had done wrong. Felt pretty safe.

    Safety statistics are one thing, but as I read this I can’t help recall the recent news image of a little girl being lured into a stranger’s car before being sexually assaulted. The cop and child protection seem to be overdoing it, but then again … ?

    • tboom

      I had Grandparents and Uncles who farmed (and where I lived when school was “out”), I think the adults in my family worried more about safety on the farm than in the city. There are different kinds of safety, and it seems to me times have changed.

  • davehoug

    A child under 8 can be a second grader. I think my school district does NOT bus grade schoolers that live within a mile……Nobody said government was consistent.

  • davehoug

    The power of government: You loose your children if you do not escort them 24/7….as applied by the choice of the person who gets the call.

  • John

    I have a ten year old and a six year old. Knowing my kids as well as I do, I would be entirely comfortable letting the ten year old bike/walk to the park (6 blocks away) by himself.

    My six year old? Not a chance. Not even with 10’s guidance. She’s too stubborn and too determined to do what SHE wants.

    I probably would have let 10 do it when he was six (it never came up, because at that time, we lived across the street from the park, so I could see the playground from my front door).

    I guess what I’m trying to say is shouldn’t it be up to the parent to provide guidance and judgement on what is appropriate for their kid? I often say “they’re my kids, so I get to screw them up as I see fit.” Apparently that isn’t the case in the neighborhoods of Silver Spring, MD.

  • BJ

    This is the kind of story my right wing friends jump on. I can’t believe the cops and child protection’s actions. Insane.

    But given just the few lines of quotes from the family I can’t help but think back to my time as a PTA president and think – these must be huge pain in the ass parents.

  • John O.

    Almost 25 years ago, we lost an infant son to SIDS. Our daughter was a 15-month-old toddler and I was a stay-at-home Dad at that time. Within a week or so after Rick’s death, I had a knock on the door from the county child welfare folks.

    Instead of arguing with them and threatening to retain a lawyer, blah, blah, blah, I invited them in and sat with my daughter and our two dogs in the living room while they were given free and unfettered access to search the house and examine what they needed to examine.

    They left in less than 10 minutes and I never heard from them again.

    Are the actions by CPS “over-the-top” in this case? In my mind, yes–but maybe if the parents hadn’t been so defensive and–to be brutally honest–didn’t have a surname that could be interpreted to be Russian and living just a short train ride from Washington, D.C., those pesky government workers might not have been as inquisitive. The interview of the kids at school (in particular) without my knowledge as a parent and would be the part of this that I would have issues with.

  • jon

    I’d call my self well under 50, though the truth is I’m more than halfway there…

    My childhood took place in the out lying area of a fairly large city, 3rd largest in the US…

    I walked from school (0.5 miles) from about 1st or 2nd grade on, by myself.

    When I was 10-11 I got a new bike (bought it myself with money from cutting grass for old ladies) Prior to that bike I would ride to the park (0.5 miles the opposite direction from school) or to the school, and occasionally to my best friends house (1 mile from home going past school) and occasionally even further than that up to radio shack (probably 1.5 miles, crossing some major through streets) frequently heading over to the auto parts store to get parts for my dad while he was fixing one of the cars and forgot to get a part… (I brought back so many exhaust clamps over the years…)

    But back to that new bike when I was 10-11… it was right around the time that violent crime peaked in America… With that bike I’d ride over to the strip mall, or up to the forest preserves… once I was on a forest preserve trail I’d put on the miles like crazy… 6-8 miles was fairly normal… though the trails curved and twisted so only 4-5 miles as the crow flies…

    Looking back on this time I realize I did this with out any GPS systems, no cell phone, no tracking device at all.
    If I wanted to go home I had to turn around and go back the way I came, cause it was the only way I knew to would get me home for sure.
    I carried a took kit, a spare inner tube (or patch kit), and some change to call home, or run a air compressor at a gas station (I’m not even 100% sure I had a tire pump on the bike at that point).

    I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get away with riding with out a cell phone today in my 30’s…. my wife would kick my ass… But then the times have changed… it isn’t about the world being more dangerous (cause it isn’t when you look at the numbers), it’s about the world being more connected.

    • Jack

      Your post brings back memories of my sis and I riding our bikes out on the highway to the local state park – probably 5 miles or more. Pre cell phone, doubt we even carried change for the pay phone. We just didn’t think that way.

      Then there were the 1 a.m. bike rides home from the high school in the summer when we were working on set construction.

      Still amazed 30 years later at how mom let me do it.

      Oh yeah – female too.

  • Jack

    I used to get notifications for pediphiles (intended) moving into the neighborhood quite often. I was incredibly strict and hovering while my children grew up. The police were right in giving the kids a ride home, but wrong IMHO in calling Child Protection.

    • Joe

      Police are mandated reporters in Maryland and most states. The law requires them to report it.
      http://www.dhr.state.md.us/blog/?page_id=3992

    • Kassie

      Most kids who are abused are abused by someone they know, so I hope you were very strict and hovering around their babysitters and family members.

      • Jack

        To this day, I am incredibly leery of of that sweet little old lady walking down the street wielding a Butterfinger.

  • justhadtoask

    I always lived within a mile of my school growing up and walked home every day. From about 8 on I played outside with friends most days during the summer and ventured way more than a mile from my house quite a bit. I lived in a small town, but also came to Minneapolis a lot to see my cousins and did the same thing there. That was in the 90s. All I can think is really? Neglect?