Children ‘resilient,’ but wary of police after free-range incident

Danielle Meitiv and her children in an undated photo. From Facebook
Danielle Meitiv and her children in an undated photo. From Facebook

An investigation of the Silver Spring parents who let their children walk home unsupervised from a playground last December has ended in the parents’ favor. However, an investigation into a similar incident in April still looms.

Alexander and Danielle Meitiv allowed their elementary school children to walk around town, believing they are raising their children to become responsible adults. But their “free-range” parenting style has resulted in three run-ins with police.

Child Protective Services of Montgomery County originally had labeled the Dec. 20 incident a case of “unsubstantiated neglect.” CPS dropped its investigation May 18, said the family’s attorney, Michael Dowd.

Danielle Meitiv said she is relieved and is able to sleep at night again. Since the April incident, when her children were observed walking home unsupervised, “I was afraid to let them go outside in the yard. I felt like basically we were under the microscope.”

Rafi Meitiv, 10, and his sister Dvora, 6, have since returned to their routine of walking three blocks to and from their school bus stop in the morning and afternoon.

This weekend, “on Shabbat, they were wandering around. They were in and out of the house, just really enjoying the weather,” Danielle Meitiv said.

Her children “are pretty resilient. That said, it was upsetting [for them],” Danielle Meitiv said. Her son recently told her that he is scared of police cars, and when he sees one, his first thought is that they are after him, she said.

When the children were in custody last month, her son “thought he’d never see us again. Imagine that fear,” Danielle Meitiv said. “It says that something has gone really wrong.”

“This ruling confirms that we never exposed our children to a ‘substantial risk of harm,’” Danielle Meitiv wrote in a press release. “Although we welcome the decision, we are concerned that CPS’s misguided policy remains intact. 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 taught how to walk safely in their neighborhood.”

Last October, the family was scrutinized after allowing the siblings to play unsupervised in a park. The earlier incident was closed without any finding of neglect.

“The county officials’ actions were a completely unnecessary overreach into the personal lives of the Meitivs,” said Dowd, a partner with the Washington law firm of Wiley Rein. He said the actions of the CPS were “premised on a fundamental misapplication of the law and violate the constitutional rights of parents to raise their children as they see best.”

John McCarthy, Montgomery County’s state’s attorney and the county’s top law enforcement official, earlier this month told WJW that free-range parenting “is not a criminal matter. This is an issue where I think we as a community have to come to a common agreement.”

Following a talk at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, McCarthy said that parents should be allowed to raise their children as they please, as long as the children are not being abused.

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