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Child Protective Services is in the hot seat again — this time in Florida, where officials placed two brothers into foster care and then in the care of a relative after one, 11, was found playing basketball alone in his own yard.
“This story is so incredible, some people almost can’t believe it—and I can see why,” writes Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Parenting, who first broke this story last week when the mom, who has requested anonymity, contacted her for advice. “It is as crazy as Maryland’s Child Protective Services accusing Danielle and Alexander Meitiv of negligence for letting their kids walk home from the park in Silver Spring. Unfortunately, sometimes this kind of thing happens.”
The way the latest incident went down, in April, was like this, according to the mom’s story (which has since been verified through court documents by Skenazy): The mom and dad, Cindy and Fred, were on their way home from running errands but were delayed by rain and traffic. Meanwhile, their 11-year-old son had beaten them home and didn’t have a house key, so he amused himself by shooting some hoops while he waited, for about 90 minutes.
That’s when an unknown neighbor, apparently not okay with the situation, called the cops, who in turn looped in CPS. So when Cindy and Fred arrived home they were arrested for child neglect — then fingerprinted, strip searched, and held in jail overnight. Their kids, meanwhile, including their 4-year-old boy, were removed from the home and from their parents’ custody for one month. But Cindy, who had been a school-system employee at the time, reached out to Skenazy just over a month into the ordeal, being sure to note that they do not consider themselves “free-range” parents.
“We still do not have our children, we are fighting for our own freedom and due to the nature of my employment I am no longer employed,” she wrote. “My son was in his own yard playing basketball, not in the street or at the park. The authorities claim he had no access to water or shelter. We have an open shed in the back yard and 2 working sinks and 2 hoses. They said he had no food. He ate his snacks already. He had no bathroom, but the responding officer found our yard good enough to relieve himself in while our son sat in a police car alone. In his own yard, in a state, Florida, that has no minimum age for children to be alone.”
Both boys were placed in foster care for two days while a background check was done on a relative who had offered to keep them while the legal matter was resolved. They were only returned home to their parents last week, after the older son spoke up and said he wanted to go home.
“At yesterday’s [civil] court appearance,” Skenazy wrote Friday, “the judge instructed the family’s lawyer and the prosecutor to try come to a mutual arrangement and return to court at the end of the month.” She added, “These parents may ultimately choose to remain anonymous. But they are not alone. We cannot expect or demand perfect parenting as the only legally acceptable behavior, especially in cases like this one, where no children were hurt or even in danger of being hurt.” Writing for Reason, Skenazy noted that this is not the end of the case — that the parents must still defend themselves in criminal court, and that the family has been mandated into therapy, and the kids into summer camp where they will be supervised.
“She very much believes in supervising her kids,” Skenazy tells Yahoo Parenting, “and can’t believe that just because of one afternoon when plans went kaflooey (as plans sometimes will), she and her husband are considered neglectful, endangering parents.”
But as far as the case sounding shocking to many, it shouldn’t, according to David DeLugas, an attorney with the National Association of Parents (who has also confirmed the Florida story through court documents and communications with the family’s lawyer). “This happens more often than people imagine,” he tells Yahoo Parenting. “Those who are in disbelief I think just don’t want to believe it. I think it’s because people can’t fathom that, in our society, CPS wouldn’t do this without good reason.”
But as we’ve seen time and time again, DeLugas notes, that isn’t always the case. “But we should be asking: Is [being put into foster care] more damaging to the kid than what would’ve occurred with him playing in the yard? He wasn’t hurt, he wasn’t in distress, he was not in imminent harm. So why are they police doing anything? Why?” When police are called in this type of situation, he notes, they may want to just swing by and see if the kid in question is okay — and if he or she is, then go on their merry way. But what tends to happen in many cases, he says, is that the call from a neighbor “unleashes this crazy scenario that has no benefit to society.”