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February 8, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

I’ve written a fair amount lately about Alexander and Danielle Meitiv, the Maryland couple who are still (yes, still) under investigation by child protective services personnel for the crime of allowing their children, ages 10 and six, to walk home by themselves from a park a mile away. One of my main points has been that, in this country, children are extremely safe. Yes, there are tragic exceptions, but on average, children have almost nothing to fear, particularly from strangers. National data from the Administration for Children and Families show that kids have about a 0.9% chance of being abused or neglected and about a 0.2% chance of being abused.

Of course those are averages. Some home environments are worse than others. The same goes for schools and neighborhoods. In some of those, a parent can be confident that a child alone or with other children will be safe. In others, greater caution must be exercised. The Meitiv’s Silver Spring, Maryland neighborhood is clearly one of the safe ones.

Another point I’ve made is that, what children are most at risk from aren’t strangers, but their own parents and caregivers. The number of children abducted or harmed by strangers is vanishingly small. And nothing illustrates the point quite like this case (CTV News, 2/6/15).

In what must surely be one of the stupidest and most bizarre cases to come down the pike in a long time, a six-year-old boy’s mother, grandmother and aunt decided he was too trusting of people generally. What did those three adults cook up to cure the child of his trusting nature? They convinced a man the boy doesn’t know to lure him into his pickup after school, tell him he was never going to see his mommy again, tell him the man was going to nail him to the wall of a shed and threaten him with a pistol. Other reports have the man taking the boy to a basement and removing his pants.

How’s that for parenting? As I understand it, the child, who faced no real danger, was terrified and doubtless emotionally traumatized, not by any real danger, but an entirely fictional one, devised by the very people who are supposed to be his protectors. Really. This little boy was perfectly healthy and happy, and now he’s not, courtesy of his nearest and dearest. Lacking real threats that would have legitimized their concerns for him, they manufactured fake ones. And of course, much as I described above, the child was harmed, not by strangers but by his blood relations. That they did so in order to teach him to fear people who don’t threaten him and to rely on those who are supposed to keep him safe, but did the opposite, just makes this case intolerably strange.

Fortunately,

The mother is charged with felony kidnapping and abuse or neglect of a child. The others are charged with felony kidnapping, felonious restraint, and abuse or neglect of a child. All four were being held in Lincoln County Jail in lieu of $250,000 bail. It wasn't immediately known if they had attorneys.

Police were alerted after the boy told school officials. He has been placed into protective custody.

Needless to say, the father is nowhere in the picture. He wasn’t there to protect his son from the lunacy of his other relatives; he’s not there as a substitute for foster care; and he’s nowhere mentioned in the article about his son. Maybe there’s a legitimate reason for all that and maybe there’s not. Who knows?

Meanwhile, someone needs to explain reality to Mom, Grandma and Auntie. What they were “protecting” the child against is largely a figment of their imaginations, luridly abetted by everyday news coverage of the relatively rare cases of children injured by strangers. I’m fully aware of the old newsroom mantra that “if it bleeds, it leads,” but the press in this country might consider being a bit more responsible about its impact on what people believe. We now have a situation in which people tend to believe the exact opposite of the truth. There’s widespread belief that predators lurk behind every bush, just waiting to ensnare helpless children. The truth is that children are safe, particularly from that type of threat. The data confirm it. The news media might want to mention the fact sometime.

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