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January 18, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Given that parents have no idea of how to raise or protect their children, it’s a good thing we have the state to do it for them. Here’s the latest (Washington Post, 1/14/15).

Pretty much daily I run across articles about CPS overreacting to some sort of parental behavior that, in any sort of reasonable world, would be considered completely appropriate or, in some cases, beneficial. Not long ago there was the Texas mother who allowed her 10-year-old son to walk to a park about half a mile from his house to play. That got the ire of the local child protective agency, because, well, just because. Needless to say, the boy was not harmed in any way, nor was he in any danger.

We’ve seen mothers harassed by the police for letting their children ride their bicycles to school a mile from home. And of course woe betide the parent who believes they have some say over their children’s medical care. From Massachusetts, to Michigan, to California, we’ve seen children taken from their parents care, sometimes for years, because the state disagrees with their choices about medical care. I’m not talking about parents who prefer to treat dangerous illnesses or conditions with prayer instead of proven medical treatment. I’m talking about reasonable disagreements about the correct course of treatment.

The latest is a Maryland couple, Alexander and Danielle Meitiv, who committed the unforgiveable sin of allowing their 10-year-old son and six-year-old daughter to walk a mile home from a nearby park. They didn’t make it. That’s not because they were abducted by a madman or carried off by vampires. No, it was the police, notified by an anonymous tipster, who stopped them.

Now the Meitivs aren’t your run-of-the-mill parents. They’re highly educated and, like a lot of parents, think a lot about how mature their children are and what they’re capable of doing. They’re believers in the “free-range kids” concept, for which they have my considerable respect. They also think they have the right to parent their children the way they see fit, barring certain obviously detrimental practices.

But however well-educated they are, they’re about to get more so. That’s because they’re just now coming to understand how much the state can intervene in family life and what the consequences are for failure to obey the dictates of an overworked, underpaid caseworker. And they’re also about to come to grips with just how arbitrary those dictates can be and how the bureaucratic mind tends to be offended by affronts to its authority.

First, let’s be clear that the Meitivs’ allowing their children to walk home was in no way a product of neglect. On the contrary, they’re careful parents who weigh what their kids can do and what they can’t. In the situation in question, they’d not only done exactly that, but prepared the kids ahead of time, allowing them shorter ventures out from home, to make sure they behaved properly.

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv say they are being investigated for neglect for the Dec. 20 trek — in a case they say reflects a clash of ideas about how safe the world is and whether parents are free to make their own choices about raising their children.

“We wouldn’t have let them do it if we didn’t think they were ready for it,” Danielle said.

She said her son and daughter have previously paired up for walks around the block, to a nearby 7-Eleven and to a library about three-quarters of a mile away. “They have proven they are responsible,” she said. “They’ve developed these skills.”…

On Dec. 20, Alexander agreed to let the children, Rafi and Dvora, walk from Woodside Park to their home, a mile south, in an area the family says the children know well.

But never mind all that. Never mind that the Meitivs were anything but neglectful. And of course never mind that the kids are perfectly fine. No, and never mind that their decision to allow the children to walk the mile to their home was specifically designed to give them a measured but greater sense of competence in the world and responsibility for their own actions.

“The world is actually even safer than when I was a child, and I just want to give them the same freedom and independence that I had mdash; basically an old-fashioned childhood,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely critical for their development mdash; to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency.”

To any sensible person, that looks like sound, thoughtful, responsible parenting, i.e. apparently the kind the state doesn’t like.

Police picked up the children near the Discovery building, the family said, after someone reported seeing them.

The Meitivs say their son told police that he and his sister were not doing anything illegal and are allowed to walk. Usually, their mother said, the children carry a laminated card with parent contact information that says: “I am not lost. I am a free-range kid.” The kids didn’t have the card that day...

Alexander said he had a tense time with police on Dec. 20 when officers returned his children, asked for his identification and told him about the dangers of the world.

Well, it’s a good thing Alexander, who’s a physicist at the National Institutes of Health, had the police to tell him “about the dangers of the world.” Doubtless that’s the first he’d heard about them. But at that point, the state was just getting started.

The more lasting issue has been with Montgomery County Child Protective Services, he said, which showed up a couple of hours after the police left.

The Meitivs say that on Dec. 20, a CPS worker required Alexander to sign a safety plan pledging he would not leave his children unsupervised until the following Monday, when CPS would follow up. At first he refused, saying he needed to talk to a lawyer, his wife said, but changed his mind when he was told his children would be removed if he did not comply.

Following the holidays, the family said, CPS called again, saying the agency needed to inquire further and visit the family’s home. Danielle said she resisted.

“It seemed such a huge violation of privacy to examine my house because my kids were walking home,” she said.

This week, a CPS social worker showed up at her door, she said. She did not let him in. She said she was stunned to later learn from the principal that her children were interviewed at school.

The family has a meeting set for next week at CPS offices in Rockville.

“I think what CPS considered neglect, we felt was an essential part of growing up and maturing,” Alexander said. “We feel we’re being bullied into a point of view about child-rearing that we strongly disagree with.”

Yes, that’s exactly what’s happening. Big Sister does such a good job of caring for children in foster care that parents like the Meitivs need to change their obviously defective ways. After all, what sort of children do we want? Those who grow up learning responsibility and the courage to venture out in the world or those who’ve been kept on a leash until their 21st birthdays?

The state is doing here what states tend to do; it’s demanding that citizens learn dependency on the state from their earliest ages. In that way it increases state power. People like the Meitivs are an affront and a danger to that.

Here’s another thing that the Meitivs know that CPS doesn’t and doesn’t want anyone else to know either.

“The world is actually even safer than when I was a child…”

Yes, it’s not only safer, for children it’s extremely safe. Not only is the rate of violent crime down over 70% in the past 20 years, children are in essentially no danger from strangers. When children are abused, injured or killed, it’s almost always done by someone they know. But even those incidents are rare. According to data from all state child protective agencies, in 2013, there were about 160,000 verified cases of child abuse in the whole country. That’s in a nation of 74 million children under the age of 18, who therefore have a 0.2% chance of being abused. In short, children are safe, a fact that I suspect discomfits CPS agencies everywhere.

But what those statistics also tell us is that there were about 3.2 million complaints of suspected child abuse or neglect made that same year. That means about 80% of those complaints didn’t need to be made. They were complaints much like the one made about the Meitivs — utterly unnecessary.

But they were made. And that meant that CPS agencies had to deal with them. These are the same agencies that, in state after state, are understaffed, underfunded and incapable of dealing with the real cases they have. As certainly as we see cases in which CPS “throws the book” at parents who’ve done nothing wrong and whose kids are well, we also see cases in which CPS doesn’t have the time to deal with known threats to children’s well-being.

So the pertinent question while CPS is wasting time harassing the Meitivs for their entirely appropriate parenting practices is “what Maryland child, known to CPS, is even now being starved, beaten or simply abandoned by caregivers?” Make book on it: when the budget gets discussed in Annapolis, CPS will be there telling anyone who’ll listen that it doesn’t have enough money to hire enough people to handle the caseloads. Meanwhile they’re spending who knows how many hours making sure the Meitivs know that Big Sister knows best.

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