Parents investigated for neglect after letting kids walk home alone

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Danielle and Alexander Meitiv

Danielle and Alexan­der Meitiv

View ~2 minute Wash­ing­ton Post video HERE:
Danielle and Alexan­der Meitiv let their chil­dren, 10 and six, walk home alone from a park a mile away from their house. Now, Mont­gomery Coun­ty is inves­ti­gat­ing the cou­ple for child neglect. (Jorge Ribas/The Wash­ing­ton Post)

It was a one-mile walk home from a Sil­ver Spring park on Geor­gia Avenue on a Sat­ur­day after­noon. But what the par­ents saw as a moment of inde­pen­dence for their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daugh­ter, they say author­i­ties viewed much dif­fer­ent­ly.

Danielle and Alexan­der Meitiv say they are being inves­ti­gat­ed for neglect for the Dec. 20 trek — in a case they say reflects a clash of ideas about how safe the world is and whether par­ents are free to make their own choic­es about rais­ing their chil­dren.

We wouldn’t have let them do it if we didn’t think they were ready for it,” Danielle said.

She said her son and daugh­ter have pre­vi­ous­ly paired up for walks around the block, to a near­by 7-Eleven and to a library about three-quar­ters of a mile away. “They have proven they are respon­si­ble,” she said. “They’ve devel­oped these skills.”

The Meitiv children outside the National Gallery in Washington this month. (Family photo)

The Meitiv chil­dren out­side the Nation­al Gallery in Wash­ing­ton this month. (Fam­i­ly pho­to)

The Meitivs say they believe in “free-range” par­ent­ing, a move­ment that has been a coun­ter­point to the hyper-vig­i­lance of “heli­copter” par­ent­ing, with the idea that chil­dren learn self-reliance by being allowed to pro­gres­sive­ly test lim­its, make choic­es and ven­ture out in the world.

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,” she said. “I think it’s absolute­ly crit­i­cal for their devel­op­ment — to learn respon­si­bil­i­ty, to expe­ri­ence the world, to gain con­fi­dence and com­pe­ten­cy.”

On Dec. 20, Alexan­der agreed to let the chil­dren, Rafi and Dvo­ra, walk from Wood­side Park to their home, a mile south, in an area the fam­i­ly says the chil­dren know well.

The chil­dren made it about halfway.

Police picked up the chil­dren near the Dis­cov­ery build­ing, the fam­i­ly said, after some­one report­ed see­ing them.

Police on Wednes­day did not imme­di­ate­ly have infor­ma­tion on the case. But a spokes­woman said that when con­cerns are report­ed, “we have a respon­si­bil­i­ty as part of our duty to check on people’s wel­fare.”

The Meitivs say their son told police that he and his sis­ter were not doing any­thing ille­gal and are allowed to walk. Usu­al­ly, their moth­er said, the chil­dren car­ry a lam­i­nat­ed card with par­ent con­tact infor­ma­tion that says: “I am not lost. I am a free-range kid.” The kids didn’t have the card that day.

Danielle said she and her hus­band give par­ent­ing a lot of thought.

Par­ent­hood is an exer­cise in risk man­age­ment,” she said. “Every day, we decide: Are we going to let our kids play foot­ball? Are we going to let them do a sleep­over? Are we going to let them climb a tree? We’re not say­ing par­ents should aban­don all cau­tion. We’re say­ing par­ents should pay atten­tion to risks that are dan­ger­ous and like­ly to hap­pen.”

She added: “Abduc­tions are extreme­ly rare. Car acci­dents are not. The num­ber one cause of death for chil­dren of their age is a car acci­dent.”

Danielle is a cli­mate-sci­ence con­sul­tant, and Alexan­der is a physi­cist at the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health.

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 fam­i­ly has a meet­ing set for next week at CPS offices in Rockville.

I think what CPS con­sid­ered neglect, we felt was an essen­tial part of grow­ing up and matur­ing,” Alexan­der said. “We feel we’re being bul­lied into a point of view about child-rear­ing that we strong­ly dis­agree with.”