Danielle and Alexander Meitiv were recently investigated by the police and child welfare for allowing their two children, aged 10 and 6, to walk home from the park without them. The walk is approximately one mile in length. A person, who very likely thought they were doing a good deed, saw the children and called the police.
The Meitiv's live in Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC. The law in Maryland states that a child under the age of 8 cannot be home alone without someone who is at least 13-years-old. It says nothing about being outside of your home. But that didn't stop the police. Now, I want to be clear, the police aren't really to blame here. They were called. They had to respond. They followed the law, as is their job. With children they are also most likely obligated to contact Child Protective Services.
Child Protective Services were contacted and came to check out the parents and the safety of the children. When CPS arrived at their home, they were interrogated and told not to allow the children out alone unsupervised. They were told that they were being investigated for neglect. They were basically told do as your told, or your children will be taken away.
CPS has finished their investigation and the outcome is "unsubstantiated child neglect". Whatever the heck that really means I'm not sure, but for these parents they are now in the cross hairs of CPS for the next five years. That is not a typo. For the next five years, they will be continually monitored for child abuse. Insert primal scream here.
It matters none if you agree with their parenting style, known as Free Range Parenting. It matters none if you would feel safe letting your children walk a mile on their own. What matters is do you want the state to have this type of power over your choices as a parent?
Now, when I was kid I was not driven to my middle school on a daily basis. Unless the weather was bad, we walked. I can't tell you how long of a walk that was, but I figure it had to be at least a mile, if not a little more. I also walked through a wooded area when I did it. I did this twice a day for three years. I grew up in one of the few states that allows you to have your late in the year birthday kids start school when they are four, if you choose. My mother did make that choice because I already knew how to read and she felt I was ready. That means I was ten when I started middle school. So was my mother guilty of neglect when I was walking to school? I guess I might have thought so at the time if it was snowing or raining out.
Here are the facts, the rates of children being abducted by strangers is down by more than 35%. A child is in much more danger of being in accident while you are driving them to school instead of letting them walk. Do we start telling parents who drive their kids to school are guilty of neglect because the odds are far greater of being hurt than they are if they walked instead?
Parents need to let children grow, mature, and learn responsibility. How each parent chooses to do that is going to vary. But it is part and parcel of the parenting experience. Today, we are seeing more and more parents who are constantly on top of their children. The so-called helicopter parents. The parents who are so engaged with their children and their activities that we hear stories about them involving themselves in the job interview process.
Government is getting larger and larger. It is getting more and more intrusive. A government that can swoop in and decide that a parent isn't allowed to make a choice about a short walk home from the park is a government that is way too large. A government that now has the right to investigate these parents for the next five years is a government that I don't want.
I am not sure I would let a ten and six-year-old walk a mile on their own. I lived outside of Washington, DC for many years. I know the Silver Spring area fairly well. The children were walking on Georgia Avenue, it is a major roadway that normally has a great deal of traffic. But what I don't know is the maturity levels of these children. There will be ten-year-olds that are very likely ready for that walk.
But I do know that I don't think that act alone is a good enough reason for this family to be investigated continuously for the next five years. Has anyone thought that these children are going to become distrustful of police now? How is that a good thing?
These children have learned a valuable lesson. A government that is large can do almost anything. I hope they carry this with them into adulthood.