I was a “Free-Range” kid
By John D. Turner
19 Apr 2015

On Sunday 12 April 2015, Danielle Meitiv and her husband dropped their children off at a park around 4pm, and told them to return home by six. By six-thirty, after they had not returned, their worry became that of every parent when their children are nowhere to be found; “had they been kidnapped?”

Finally, they called 911, only to learn that the children had indeed been “kidnapped;” by Child Protective Services. A concerned citizen, seeing the children alone outside, and not recognizing them, called 911, who then contacted the police. During this time he had an on-going seven-minute long conversation with 911 as he followed the children, who became alarmed once they realized they were being followed.

When police arrived, the children were in a parking lot, which happened to be less than a quarter of a mile from their home. At this time they called not the parents, despite the fact that the children had identification on them with the parent’s name and phone number, but rather, CPS, who sprang into action taking the children into “protective custody.”

The parents are now under investigation for “allowing their children, Rafi and Dvora, aged 10 and six respectively, to walk repeatedly around the neighborhood alone.” Just as you are not allowed to let your dog or cat roam freely unleashed, apparently in Maryland, this applies to your children as well. In fact, the idea that children might play unattended in a location other than your fenced back yard is so unheard of these days that there is actually a name associated with the practice; “free-range” parenting.

In my day, we called it “playing outside.”

I remember when I was in grade school, leaving the house with instructions to be home by a specific time. I would hop on my bike and away I would ride. It was not uncommon for me to be miles from home, and it was OK as long as I was back when I was supposed to be. Sometimes I would walk. Sometimes I would be by myself, sometimes with one or more of my friends. This was common practice back then. If you wanted to go somewhere, you went. I remember once getting in trouble for going to a local ice house off base – not because I was off base, but because I jumped the base perimeter fence to get there instead of taking the long way around through the main gate.

When I was in fifth grade, my dad was stationed in Germany. I used to walk, alone, through the German village we lived in. I walked by myself to the bus stop to catch the bus in the morning to get to the base to go to school. Later, when we moved on base, I walked back and forth between our on-base apartment and the school – a distance of several miles, much of which was outside the base perimeter fence, gasp – unsupervised.

During the time I was growing up, I pretty much went out and did what I wanted, again, with instructions to be back by a certain time. When I wasn’t, which happened, I got into trouble with my parents. Sometimes it led to being grounded, or other disciplinary action. At the time, I thought my parents just didn’t understand; I of course, had very good reasons, in my mind, why I was late. Now, having been a parent of six children, I understand their concerns.

My wife’s upbringing, as far as I can tell, was much the same.

Unfortunately I can’t say the same for our kids; my wife and I were very concerned about their whereabouts most of the time, and had rules about leaving the “safety” of the cul-de-sac we lived on. Rules that, as is normal for children, were violated anyway. Even so, except for when they were very little, they still had the ability to visit their friends on our street, or a couple streets over. And, being children of the time, they really had very little desire to be outside in the un-air conditioned heat during the summer anyway.

Back in the day, we had a name for parents who constantly hovered over their children, making sure they were always in close proximity, shuttling them from one place to another, and essentially wrapping their schedule around their kids. We called them “helicopter parents” and considered them outside the norm.

Apparently, they are the norm now – what was once called “helicopter parenting” is now just referred to as “parenting,” while parenting of the sort I considered normal growing up is now so esoteric that it has a name; “free-range” parenting. Sort of like “free-range” chickens, I suppose, which are allowed to roam about and eat bugs and stuff instead of being neatly caged inside their “cell.”.

How did this come to be? Probably from watching too much television.

My wife and I were concerned some stranger would pick our kids up on the street and spirit them away where they would be sexually abused, held for ransom, or perhaps even end up being trafficked to a foreign country never to be seen again; this despite the fact that the incidence of such, outside of television, was vanishingly small. No matter, we didn’t want to take any chances of it happening to our kids.

It is sort of like the irrational fear of germs that seems to permeate our society today. You can’t go anywhere now it seems without encountering germicidal wipes or hand sanitizers at the door. There are people I know who won’t even touch a grocery cart or the handle on a bathroom door without sanitizing it first; this despite the fact that there has not, to the best of my knowledge, been an epidemic of people dying from touching shopping carts or using public restrooms.

So who are Danielle and Alexander “Sasha” Meitiv anyway? Some low-life crack heads that simply have no clue as to how children are supposed to be “properly” raised in 21st century America? If they actually were crack heads, living in a ghetto somewhere they probably wouldn’t be hassled. No one would really care.

But no, they seem to be a pretty typical (other than letting their children out unsupervised that is) upper middle class family. Danielle is well-educated, a former teacher and environmental advocate, with a BS in biology and a MS in oceanography. Her husband, is a research scientist and post-Doctoral Fellow at the National Institutes of Health, with 20 years’ experience in quantitative modeling of diverse phenomena. In other words, they are intelligent human beings, who, especially in a country that supposedly champions liberty and individual freedom, should be allowed to raise their children as they see fit.

The couple has had run-ins with the police and CPS in the past over this same issue. Back in November 2014, the Meitiv’s children were picked up by police when a “helpful” neighbor called about “unsupervised” children playing in the park. CPS of course, sprang into action, seized the kids, and informed the mother that Maryland law prohibits children from being out and about unsupervised.

Danielle looked up the applicable statute referenced and found that it spoke about children under 8 not being “locked or confined in a dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle while the person charged [with their care] is absent” and the “dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle is out of the sight of the person charged unless the person charged provides a reliable person at least 13 years old to remain with the child to protect the child.”

As a logical, thinking human being, she rightly reasoned that a neighborhood park is not a “dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle” and therefore the statute did not apply in this instance. She then called CPS to point this out.

CPS was unamused. A worker called her back and stated that “judges have interpreted the law to include parks,” even though the language of the law is very clear and says no such thing, and that she could face fines of $500 and/or 30 days in jail if the children were found unsupervised in the park again. This apparently went back and forth until higher ups in CPS finally agreed that a park was not an enclosure and closed the case. But not for long.

In December, while Danielle was out of town, her husband dropped the kids off at the park, about a mile away and told them they could walk home together. About half way back to the house, another concerned citizen spotted them and called the police, who picked up the kids in a patrol car and brought them home.

The policewoman at the scene asked for the husband’s ID (paper’s please) and when he refused to produce it, called in six patrol cars as backup. At that point he started upstairs to get it and, in front of the children, told him that if he came back with anything else, “shots would be fired.”

A couple hours later, who should show up at the front door, but CPS, riding to the children’s “rescue” once again. Sasha was presented with a “plan” stating that he would not leave the children unattended until Monday when someone from the office would contact them. He was bluntly told that either he would sign the “agreement” or the children would be forcibly removed immediately. He of course, signed.

In March, Montgomery County Child Protective Services, in a typical nonsensical bureaucratic turn of phrase, found the couple “responsible” for “unsubstantiated child neglect” for the heinous crime of allowing their children to walk outside the home unsupervised, and closed the case. The upshot is that even though there are no criminal charges, the children have not been taken away, and the parents have not been found negligent, CPS never-the-less will keep a file on the family for at least five years. You never know, after all, what might happen. May as well keep the file open, even though the case is closed, no?

Because once the CPS gets its fingers on you it never lets go.

You would think that not having charged them with neglect and having closed the case that this issue would also be closed. Not so. All it takes is that one little phone call by a concerned citizen. And sooner or later it will happen. Because no one can mind their own business any more in America and the government makes your business their business. So when the call finally came in, CPS was ready once again to take action.

You might ask, why the police didn’t take the kids home; they were less than a third of a mile from home anyway. For those who might be mathematically challenged, that means they were within 1760 feet or 580 yards, roughly three tenths of a mile away from home. At 20 mph, the police could have had them there in under a minute. And the kids know their address and phone number. Contacting the parents should have been a no-brainer. That is the way things used to work, anyway.

For that matter, there was no need for the police to even act. The children were on their way home. They would have been there in short order. Instead, the cops keep them in their car for over two hours, and then took them to CPS in Rockville (after telling the kids they were taking them home). At around 8 pm, CPS gets around to calling the parents to let them know they have them. Just after 10:30, two and a half hours later, CPS finally releases the children to the parents.

Of course, CPS is once again investigating possible child neglect allegations – this despite the fact that this is exactly the same situation they adjudicated back in January as “unsubstantiated” child neglect. And once again, they forced the parents to sign a “safety plan” prohibiting them from leaving their children unattended.

In an email Danielle wrote to CNN, she said “We are shocked and outraged that we have been deemed negligent for granting our children the simple freedom to play outdoors.” While Danielle might be shocked, her husband Sasha, who was raised in the Soviet Union, is no stranger to government intrusion into personal lives and was much less surprised. “You don’t understand how cruel bureaucracy can be,” he said. I bet she understands now.

Crime rates have been dropping for years. Your children are safer on the streets now than they were 30 years ago. A child has a greater chance of being killed or injured in a car than they do walking home from a park; which means that the children were at greater risk in the police car than they were walking home. While there is a chance that a stranger will snatch your kid, it is an extremely small one, much smaller than the risk that while on the drive to the park with your kid you will get t-boned by a distracted driver texting when they should be watching what they are doing.

Apparently though, the risk of your child being picked up by the minions of the law and being held by CPS after a “concerned citizen” notices that they are unattended is much higher and needs to be taken into consideration. Because even though your kids were not lost, and were not in any immediate danger, government bureaucracies can make your life absolute hell in their zeal to “protect” that which is not in danger.

In 21st century America, it isn’t so much the stranger that is the threat – it’s the “village” that wants to help you raise your children.

Further References