A Maryland mother and father who allowed their children to walk home one mile by themselves from a nearby park received a visit from Child Protective Services who threatened to take them away.
In an opinion piece at The Washington Post, Danielle Meitiv recalled the January event:
One recent Saturday afternoon, six police officers and five patrol cars came to my home in Silver Spring. They demanded identification from my husband and entered our home despite not having a warrant to do so.
A few hours later, a Montgomery County Child Protective Services (CPS) social worker coerced my husband into signing a “temporary safety plan” for our children by threatening to take the children “right now” — a threat she backed up with a call to the police. In the weeks that followed, another worker from the agency appeared at our door with the police and insisted that he did not need a warrant to enter our home. He also interviewed our children at school without our knowledge or permission.
“When did Americans decide that allowing our kids to be out of sight was a crime?” Meitiv asked. This mother of two, one 10 and one six, admits that she is not always comfortable with them being alone outside without adult supervision. However, they believe in giving their children “an opportunity to learn to make their way in the world independently” — a life lesson in preparation for adulthood, they reasoned.
Meitiv said the entire event has shaken up their otherwise peaceful family. Now, her kids are more fearful and worried about something happening. Meitiv said when police officers questioned her son, they suggested he tell his parents he is afraid of bad guys grabbing him if he walks alone. Meitiv said, “This is how adults teach children to be afraid even when they are not in danger.”
Like similar cases, Meitiv complained that the police officers went beyond a reasonable level of concern:
[O]nce it was determined that involved parents had already judged their children to be safe, the authorities didn’t move along. Instead they turned to heavyhanded legal and bureaucratic remedies that did far more harm than good.
Meitiv doesn’t discount the necessity for an entity like CPS to protect children who truly need their service, but said “the pendulum has swung too far.” She is calling for the streets and parks to be taken back for the children.
We need to refuse to allow ourselves to be ruled by fear or allow our government to overrule decisions that parents make about what is best for their children. Overpolicing parents in this way does not make children safer; it disrupts families and makes our kids fearful, anxious and unhealthy.
And whether through the legislatures or the courts, neglect laws need to be redefined to safeguard parents’ discretion to make reasonable risk-management judgments for their children, including the decision to allow them the freedom and independence that was the norm a generation ago and is still essential to their development and well-being.