By Brett Gillin
On the surface, it may seem like a cut and dry case: two young children are found wandering the streets alone, so a concerned citizen calls police. Police then come, pick up the children, and take them to safety while waiting for their parents to pick them up. But this case has a whole host of things going on beneath the surface, which have sparked a nationwide debate and, quite possibly, a lawsuit against the police and Maryland Child Protective Services.
Danielle and Alexander Meitiv claim that they will be filling a lawsuit after their 10 and 6 year old children were picked up by police. Their attorney, Matthew Dowd, told reporters with the Washington Post via a written statement that the parents were “rightfully outraged by the irresponsible actions” of Maryland Child Protective Services and the Montgomery County Police.
What brought about this outrage? Shortly before 5:00 p.m., a 911 call came into the Montgomery County police dispatch, reporting that two young children were walking down the street alone, with no parents in sight. So police were dispatched to the scene, where they picked the children up at 5:00 p.m., just three blocks from their house.
Danielle and Alexander were expecting their children to be home by 6:00 p.m., but when that time came and went, they began worrying. Worry turned into frantic searching for their children, Rafi and Dvora, for two hours before they received a phone call at 8:00 p.m. That call informed them that Child Protective Services had their children.
According to Dowd’s statement, the children were picked up by police and left in a police car for nearly three hours. Then, after three additional hours with Child Protective Services without access to food, they were finally returned to their parents and made it home at around midnight. Danielle Meitiv told reporters with the Washington Post that the children were told by police that they would be taking them home, only to take them to Child Protective Services instead.
The Meitivs have run into similar problems before, as detailed in this article in the Washington Post, due to their belief in “Free Range” parenting. Subscribers to the “Free Range” style of parenting believe that teaching children self-reliance by testing limits progressively and allowing them to roam without constant adult supervision.
Police however, claim that they were simply following the laws in their actions with the children. An officer is required to notify Child Protective Services in any and all instances of possible child abuse or neglect. The responding officers reported that they made a series of phone calls before being instructed by Child Protective Services to drop the children off there, slightly before 8:00 p.m. In the meantime, the officers allegedly drove around with the children, and even offered them their own lunch before taking it back upon learning they had food allergies.
While debate rages as to whether or not the parents should be allowed to let their children roam the streets near their house without supervision, the actual law is murky on the subject. According to Patti Cancellier, the education director of the Parenting Encouragement Program, “The law is not 100 percent clear here. Perhaps they’re trying to make an example of this family.”
According to The Washington Post, the law states that children younger than 8 must be left with a reliable person who is at least 13, however that law only refers to enclosed spaces, such as buildings or cars. It makes no mention of children outside, in playgrounds, parks, or going on walks.
Marc Elrich, the chairman of the Montgomery County Council’s Public Safety Committee chimed in, asking the Washington Post if this was even a good use of police time. He relayed to reporters that as a child, he would regularly walk more than a mile to school or even further to play ball with friends, and if the police would have enforced that law back them “All of our parents would have been in jail.”
But adding a bit more intrigue in the story is the Montgomery police report, which states that the children were found in a parking garage, and an officer claimed that a “homeless subject” was seen “eyeing the children.”
The couple has not stated who they plan on naming in the lawsuit, nor what damages they will be seeking.