A Maryland couple practicing "free-range" parenting has been found responsible for "unsubstantiated child neglect" after allowing their two children to walk home from a Montgomery County park by themselves.
Danielle and Alexander Meitiv said the county's Child Protective Services began investigating them after police stopped their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter about halfway through a mile walk home Dec. 20 in Silver Spring.
Police said they stopped the children and drove them home after someone reported seeing them.
The Meitivs said they're responsible parents who are teaching their children self-reliance and responsibility. They say the investigation infringes on their parental rights and invades their privacy. The parenting style has been labeled "free-range."
"What's funny is that we have a name, like there's a movement for what used to be considered completely normal," Danielle Meitiv said. "And that is, kids can be trusted, they can go outside, they can have autonomy, they can find friends down the street to play with and come back when it's dinner time."
Meitiv confirmed to News4 she and her husband received a letter from Child Protective Services last week and were found responsible for "unsubstantiated child neglect."
Though CPS wouldn't comment on this specific case, a spokeswoman said the finding means the individuals involved will have 60 days to seek review of the finding and meet with an agency supervisor.
The "unsubstantiated" ruling typically occurs when CPS "has some information supporting a finding of child neglect or has what appear to be credible reports that are at odds with each other or does not have sufficient information to reach a more definitive conclusion." It's unknown which one of those circumstances occurred in the Meitiv case.
"They've even taken on more responsibility, they get themselves to and from the bus both in the morning and in the afternoon on time," Meitiv said. "Now there's going to be a file for the next five years if we do nothing."
She plans on allowing her children to continue walking alone to and from the park.
Critics said what the Meitivs and other parents like them are doing is just plain unsafe.
"Whether you fall on the helicopter, snowplow or free-range end of the spectrum, we have to be aware of the risks," Michele Booth Cole with Safe Shores Advocacy Center said.