Mom Accused of Neglect for Letting Kids Walk Home Alone Has No Regrets​

Danielle Meitiv

On Saturday, December 20, two cop cars pulled up in front of the home of Danielle and Alexander Meitiv with the couple's two kids -- 10-year-old son Rafi and 6-year-old daughter Devora -- in the back seat. The reason: the cops had picked up the kids during their one-mile walk home from a local playground in Silver Springs, Maryland. And since the kids were making this trek without adult supervision, the Meitives were accused of a crime that would make most parents cringe: neglect.

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Neglect? For letting kids walk home from a playground? To Danielle, the accusation seems ridiculous -- and a scary sign that helicopter parenting has become such the norm that the government is pushing this philosophy on others.

"Up until this point, I thought hovering was the exception, and kids going to the park was the norm!" she admits in an exclusive interview with The Stir. "But now, I realize that my kids stand out like neon lights."

Danielle, a 45-year-old climate science consultant married to a physicist, calls herself a free-range parent -- who, unlike helicopter parents, believes kids flourish when you give them some space. Yet that doesn't mean she lets her kids do whatever they want.

"Our 'free range' has boundaries," she says. For instance, her kids adhere to strict rules about bedtime, screen time, and chores. And this mile-long walk home from the playground didn't happen out of the blue, but after years of baby steps -- a walk around the block, then to a nearby library or 7-Eleven -- where her kids had proven themselves capable of each task.

More from The Stir: 20 Signs You're a Free Range Parent

Still, these precautions weren't enough for Child Protective Services, who visited the Meitives' home later that same Saturday and threatened to confiscate the kids unless Alexander signed an agreement saying he wouldn't leave the children unattended at any time. Two weeks later, CPS demanded to search their house -- a request that Danielle refused.

"You have to laugh it's just so surreal," says Danielle. "But it was also frightening and disempowering to hear someone say, 'We don't like your parenting decisions, so we're going to take your kids away.'"

Since then, the Meitives have been embroiled in an ongoing battle with Child Protective Services to prove their innocence -- and to put an end to the possibility that their kids could be taken from them. And they're not backing down.

"Our daughter has nightmares that the cops will take us away," Danielle says. "But she also understands that we're fighting for their freedom." Her son calls Danielle the "Rosa Parks" of families.

So, just how old does a child need to be to head to a playground by himself? According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, there is no clear-cut age when a child can be left alone. The law simply says a child shouldn't be left alone if he's at risk. Still, as Danielle points out, there's "risk" in everything we do.

"To avoid all risk, you'd have to stay locked in your room," she points out. "To shield kids from all risk is nonsensical." Plus, in spite of the scary stories about child abductions on the news, she believes the world is actually safer than ever.

"Rates for all the things parents are scared of -- child abductions, gun deaths, even car accidents -- are all down," she says. "We as a society have tried so hard to make our world safe, but our kids can't enjoy it. That makes no sense. It's like making the best banquet, then not letting kids eat it." 

More From The Stir: 20 Signs You're a Helicopter Parent

Once Danielle's story made it to the news, it quickly went viral, flooding Danielle's Facebook page with responses from other parents. "I've gotten one or two comments along the lines of 'don't you know how dangerous that is?' amid hundreds from strangers saying, 'I'm so sorry you're going through this,'" she says. "Many don't even agree with my parenting style, but think they have no right to invade my family like this. We need to push back."

The Meitives have also launched a fundraising campaign on Causes.com to argue that "Children Walking Alone" is not a sufficient cause to investigate the parents, especially when there are limited resources and plenty more drastic cases of neglect that are falling through the cracks.

"How many truly needy kids are being overlooked right now because someone has my folder on top of their pile of paper?" says Danielle. "It's a terrible waste of resources."

And while Danielle has not reined in her kids in response to this pressure, she has convinced others to loosen up how closely they monitor their kids.

"I get Facebook messages from strangers saying, 'I let my kid walk to the store today, they were so excited!'" she says. "We overestimate the dangers and underestimate our kids." 

Would you let your kids walk home from a playground a mile away?

 

Image via Danielle Meitiv

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