Maryland ‘free-range’ parents that let children walk home alone cleared of child neglect charges
SILVER SPRING, Md. — The Maryland “free-range” parents at the center of a national debate over parental supervision have been cleared of child neglect charges related to an incident in December in which their children, ages 6 and 10, were allowed to walk home alone from a playground a mile from their house.
However, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv of Silver Spring are still under investigation for a similar episode last month in which their children were picked up by authorities while walking home alone and detained for several hours.
The couple’s attorney hailed the ruling by Child Protective Services of Montgomery County.
“I think this most recent conclusion by CPS validates our position all along that the Meitivs were never responsible for any form of child neglect and there was no basis to investigate the family or detain the children,” Matthew Dowd said, adding that the family was notified via letter last week.
The agency had originally found the parents responsible for “unsubstantiated neglect” in March.
In the December incident, the two children were about halfway through their walk home when they were stopped by police, Danielle Meitiv said. When officers asked whether they were lost or in trouble, the kids told them they were fine, that their parents knew where they were and that they are allowed to walk home by themselves, she said.
The police drove the kids home. A few hours later, someone from Child Protective Services arrived at the home and said the family needed to agree not to let the children be unsupervised until the matter was resolved within the agency, or the children would be taken into the custody of Child Protective Services, said Meitiv.
“The family did appeal, and they were successful in their appeal,” Maryland Department of Human Resources spokeswoman Paula Tolson said, explaining that she could not comment any further because it remains an open case.
The Meitivs are still under investigation for an April 19 incident that also garnered national attention. On that day, their children were detained — first by police officers and then by CPS — for hours after they were again found walking home alone from a park.
“The April case is going through the process,” Tolson said. She said the agency has 60 days to conclude its investigation and issue a written decision.
While the Meitivs await those results, they are moving forward with plans to file a lawsuit against Montgomery County Police and Child Protective Services stemming from the April incident, Dowd said.
“The past actions of CPS and Montgomery County Police violated the rights of the Meitivs and their children,” he said.
In a new statement, Danielle Meitiv said that while she and her family welcome the most recent decision by CPS, they are concerned that a “misguided policy” remains in place.
“We fear that our family and other Maryland families will be subject to further investigations and frightening police detentions simply because our and their children have been been taught how to walk safely in their neighborhood including to and from school and local parks,” she said.
Added Dowd, “The question is … if someone calls in the future, whether an investigation will be started all over again. And right now, the Meitivs don’t have any certainty and don’t have any clarity about that issue.”