A Maryland group that backs “free range” parenting is asking families to show their support for independent outdoor play by taking their children to a downtown Silver Spring park and letting them walk home by themselves.
The event, scheduled for May 9 at Ellsworth Park, comes partly in solidarity with Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, Montgomery County parents who have become the focus of Child Protective Services investigations for their children’s unsupervised walks.
It is unclear whether the Meitivs will participate in the park event. On April 12, after authorities kept their children in custody for more than five hours, the parents signed a “safety plan” saying they would not leave the siblings unattended. That plan lasted through a follow-up meeting with CPS on Wednesday.
Matthew Dowd, the family’s attorney, declined to comment on the CPS meeting but said the Meitivs are no longer under the same CPS restrictions.
The meeting included two CPS workers, two county attorneys and a police detective, suggesting that the family could still face the threat of criminal prosecution for their children’s walk, Dowd said. Dowd has said the family intends to file a lawsuit in the case.
The Meitivs’ experience has stirred debate nationally about parenting choices, child safety and the government’s role in enforcing laws designed to protect children.
The parents faced an investigation in December for allowing their children — Rafi, 10, and Dvora, 6 — to make their way home together from Woodside Park in Silver Spring. The children were picked up by police again on April 12 while on a walk alone from Ellsworth Park.
The event planned for May is intended to show that children playing and walking on their own outdoors “should be the norm, not the exception,” said Russell Max Simon, founder of Empower Kids Maryland. It also aims to give children the chance to have fun and make new friends.
His group is encouraging parents outside the Silver Spring and Takoma Park areas to take their children to parks near their homes to play and — if they are ready — permit them to walk home by themselves.
“When did we stop being a community of responsible adults all looking after each other and each other’s kids?” the group asks on its Web site. “When did we stop being a village — and start becoming a fearful nation, where two kids walking home from the park alone is suddenly cause for a 911 call and a CPS investigation?”
The Maryland event was inspired by “free range” movement founder Lenore Skenazy, who has urged parents to participate, in their own communities, in a yearly Take Our Children to the Park . . . And Leave Them There Day. Following the Meitiv case, Skenazy has suggested parents let their children walk home if they think the children are ready.
“It’s not a crazy, negligent idea,” she said. “It’s an old-fashioned idea that should be the way kids spend every Saturday.” She said she agrees with a parent who wrote to her saying that “it should not have to be an act of civil disobedience to let your children play outside.”
Skenazy says she generally tells people that children ages 7 or 8 and older could play at a park without parents. She said that although problems with authorities are rare, she does not want parents arrested or investigated and advises that they check with their local police department if they worry that they could be violating local laws.
Simon said the idea for the Maryland event came both from Skenazy’s effort and the urging of parents locally. He hopes the timing will be helpful: “There’s just this temptation to blame parents for parenting this way, and we think it’ll be hard to blame parents if it’s the day before Mother’s Day.”