Maryland parents of two so-called "free-range" children are being represented by a Washington, D.C.-based law firm to file suit and pursue "all legal remedies" after their children were taken into custody for more than five hours Sunday.
Someone reported that the children were walking unsupervised from the Silver Spring Park. Donna St. George and Brigid Schulte, reporting for The Washington Post, write that the parents, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, were outraged by the actions of the Maryland Child Protective Services and Montgomery County police, which had been made clear by their attorney, Matthew Dowd of the firm Wiley Rein.
"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," he said.
Dowd's firm is assisting the Meitiv family pro bono, but did not explain against whom the suit will be filed.
The children were picked up by police as they walked home at 5 p.m. When the children were not home by the appointed time, 6 p.m., the parents frantically searched for Rafi, 10, and Dvora, 6, before they were notified at 8 p.m. that CPS had the children. In a statement, Dowd continued by saying that the children were "subjected to a terrifying detainment that no child should have to experience."
"Shockingly, the Meitiv children experienced this maltreatment at the hands of the very government officials who are entrusted to uphold the law and ensure that children in need are taken care of," it said.
The Meitivs adhere to a "free range" style of parenting, which espouses that children become self-reliant by testing limits, small steps at a time, and by being allowed to roam the world without being with their parents.
Dowd added that the children were kept in a police car for almost three hours, were not allowed to see their parents for over six hours with no food available, and were not returned to their parents until almost midnight on a school night. Once the parents were reunited with their children at a CPS crisis center, they had to sign papers agreeing that their children would not be unattended while CPS followed up on the case.
The Montgomery County police said that a call came in at 5 p.m. to check on two children in a parking garage, where a "homeless subject" was "eyeing the children." The Montgomery police said that they followed the direction of CPS in the matter, and CPS said it followed normal procedures.
This was the second time the police had received a call concerning the unattended children. In the previous case, the parents were charged with "unsubstantiated neglect" and were told the CPS would keep a file on the family for at least five years.
The Washington Post report included this quote:
"I feel (county officials) are just going to the extreme with this," said Patti Cancellier, education director of the Parenting Encouragement Program in Kensington, Maryland. "The law is not 100 percent clear here. Perhaps they're trying to make an example of this family. It seems to me they could have gotten better results without scaring the parents and the children half to death."
Still, many parents thought the Meitivs had gone too far. Elizabeth Hernandez, a mother from Alexandria, Virginia, says that after receiving a warning they should have stopped allowing their children to walk unattended. She found their refusal to abide by the alert they were given to be "unbelievable."
The actual law in Montgomery County states that children under the age of 8 must be under the watch of a reliable person who is at least the age of 13. but, this applies to care in enclosed spaces, like cars and buildings, and does not include instructions for care of children outside, in a park, or walking.
Marc Elrich, chairman of the Montgomery County Council's Public Safety Committee, says that not notifying the parents of the whereabouts of their children for two hours was not an example of handling the case correctly, and added that the entire event was a questionable use of police time. The Meitivs have said they feel they are being bullied by the government. Danielle is a climate-science consultant and Alexander is a physicist at the National Institutes of Health.
As for the CPS officials, they issued a statement this week which said: "Protecting children is the agency's number one priority. We are required to follow up on all calls to Child Protective Services and will continue to work in the best interest of all children."
Another parent in the Woodside neighborhood, Russell Max Simon, started Empower Kids Maryland, a group to support childhood independence and freedom to roam. He and other free-range parents began a petition on Change.org to address Maryland's laws on this subject and to allow others to contribute to a defense fund for the Meitivs.
"I commend the bravery of the Meitivs for continuing to parent the way they think they should parent," he said. "Anyone who stands up and says that we've gone too far on this issue risks becoming a target. And that's what's happened to them."