The Meitiv family, who is once again battling CPS in Maryland over allowing their children to go to the playground unsupervised. (Photo: Facebook)
The Maryland parents investigated by Child Protective Services earlier this year after letting their two young kids head to the neighborhood playground by themselves are back in the hot seat after repeating that offense — something Danielle and Alexander Meitiv publicly vowed to do in March, when CPS closed their case. But this time, following an incident in which police picked up their children from the playground and, along with CPS, subjected them to what Danielle has called a “terrifying detainment,” the family is pushing back with a plan to sue both authorities.
“The Meitivs are rightfully outraged by the irresponsible actions of Maryland CPS and Montgomery County Police,” notes the family’s pro bono lawyer, Matthew Dowd, through a press release posted on Danielle’s Facebook page on Tuesday. “We must ask ourselves how we reached the point where a parent’s biggest fear is that government officials will literally seize our children off the streets as they walk in our neighborhoods.”
The Silver Spring family’s saga began in late December, when an anonymous observer alerted Montgomery County Police that the kids, Rafi, 10, and Dvora, 6, were walking alone half a block from their house. The police brought them home, but six cop cars soon showed up, launching CPS to investigate Danielle and Alexander for child neglect. That prompted a national media firestorm, during which the Meitivs explained that they base much of their parenting philosophy on Lenore Skenazy’s book “Free-Range Kids,” which touts children’s independence. Then, in March, CPS closed the case with the somewhat baffling ruling that the parents had been found “responsible for unsubstantiated child neglect,” essentially meaning they were off the hook. It left the Meitivs rattled but determined.
“We have no intention of changing our parenting approach — my kids are playing outside unsupervised right now, as a matter of fact,” Danielle told Yahoo Parenting at the time. “We do worry, however, what will happen to them and us if CPS gets another call about them.”
Dvora wearing a tag identifying her as “not lost” but a “free-range kid.” (Photo: Facebook)
On Sunday, they got to find out, when Rafi and Dvora did not return home from the neighborhood playground at 6pm as planned. That’s because county police had apprehended the children at about 5pm, following a call from an observer. The brother and sister had been walking home alone (but together), and had three blocks to go. As stated in the press release posted on Facebook:
“The police demanded that the children get into one of the police cars, under the misleading ‘assurance’ that the police would bring them home. The children told the police that they know where they live and they would like to call home. The police never called Danielle or Alexander even though the police had all their contact information. Nor did they allow Rafi and Dvora to call their parents. The Meitiv children were confined to the back of a police car for almost three hours without any explanation of why they were being detained. The Meitiv children were then transported to the Montgomery County Crisis Center for further detention. During this entire time, the children had no access to food and only limited access to the restroom. After a series of delays and decisions by CPS and the police, CPS did not release the children to Danielle and Alexander until 10:30 P.M., and the children did not return home until about 11 P.M. on a school night.”
The actions of Maryland CPS and Montgomery County Police, the statement continues, violate the fundamental rights parents have in raising their children. “The Meitivs intend to fully vindicate their rights as parents and their children’s rights, and to prevent this from happening to their children again,” noted Dowd, who, when contacted for additional details by Yahoo Parenting, said he was “not commenting at this time.”
A press release about the incident posted online by the Montgomery County police, meanwhile, explains that an officer responded to the call and found “a homeless subject who he was familiar with, eyeing the children.” He then contacted CPS “per established protocol,” transported the kids to the offices in Rockville, and attempted to share his lunch with them, but stopped after “the older child advised that he and his sister had food allergies.” A spokesperson from the Maryland Department of Human Resources tells Yahoo Parenting that they have “no comment at this time.”
Commenters on the Danielle’s Facebook page have offered a gamut of opinions on the situation, with many in their corner. “Oh how I miss those days of walking to the park and school. I am truly sorry that your family is having to go through something so stupid! Our tax dollars should be spent on children that are actually in danger.”
Others, though, aren’t convinced that it’s okay. “Good intentions do not carry much weight in today’s world,” wrote someone who does not agree with the family giving their children so much freedom. “Glad someone stepped in, and hope that others do as well in the future.”
The latest turn of events with the Meitivs has shocked even “Free-Range Kids” author Skenazy, who hears all sorts of stories from families around the country and who has been informally been advising the family through its ordeal. “I was completely flabbergasted,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “They were not trying to thumb their noses at anyone. They’re not trying to tempt fate. They were really shaken when this happened.” Skenazy, who also stars in the “World’s Worst Mom” reality show, surmises that whoever called the police in this case did so not out of ill will, but because seeing kids outside without parents “has become as rare as sighting a bird-of-paradise in a tree.”
Ironically, she says, “It is something good to have neighbors looking out for kids. And then you have the cops, who were not busy with mayhem that they had time for this, and that’s also good. So you have everything you need for Mayberry — the busybody, the sheriff. You just have to flip it, from accusation to kindness.”