The neglect investigation that started after a Silver Spring couple allowed their children to walk home a mile from a park could continue for another couple of weeks, despite the parents’ hopes that authorities would drop the case at a meeting Monday.
“I would have liked closure,” said Danielle Meitiv, leaving the session at Montgomery County Child Protective Services offices in Derwood with her husband, Alexander. “I’ve had a knot in my stomach all morning. I just wanted this to be over.”
The Meitivs described the tone of the 15-minute exchange as cordial and said they remained hopeful that the case — which has sparked intense debate about parenting, child safety and government intrusion — would soon be closed.
But they said that CPS officials emphasized that they use the state’s laws governing unattended children in buildings and vehicles as a guide in neglect cases such as theirs, involving a walk outdoors.
They left the meeting concerned that what they see as their prerogative as parents to let their children walk outside together without adults — or play in a local park — could result in additional CPS attention in the future.
“We don’t know what will happen next time our children go for a walk — or other people’s children go for a walk,” Danielle Meitiv said.
CPS officials do not discuss specific cases as a rule and declined to comment Monday. Neglect investigations are completed within 60 days, they said.
The family’s difficulties began Dec. 20 when the Meitivs allowed their 10-year-old son, Rafi, and 6-year-old daughter, Dvora, to walk from Woodside Park in Silver Spring down busy Georgia Avenue toward the family’s home on a Saturday afternoon.
They said the children know the area and had been pleading to make the one-mile walk.
Someone noticed the pair and called police, who picked up the children and took them home. The family got a visit from CPS later that day.
Since then, CPS has contacted the Meitivs several times, interviewed their children at school and asked to see the family’s home, the Meitivs said. At one point, Alexander Meitiv said, a CPS worker threatened to remove the children if he did not sign a safety plan. He did not want to sign but complied, he said.
The meeting Monday at the CPS offices was scheduled for last week but was postponed as the Meitivs sought legal help.
After the meeting ended, they were left to puzzle over the difference between their views as parents and how they believe CPS is interpreting the law.
The Meitivs embrace “free-range” parenting, with the idea that children need opportunities to make choices, build indepen-dence and experience the world on their own.
They said they have introduced their children gradually to walking without adults. The pair have taken walks around the block, to a nearby 7-Eleven and to a library about three-quarters of a mile away.
The Meitivs said they would not allow their children to venture out if they did not think they were up to it. For longer walks, the children often carry a laminated card with parent contact information that says: “I am not lost. I am a free-range kid.”
State law about unattended children says those younger than 8 must be left with a reliable person who is at least 13 years old. The law addresses children locked or confined in a building, dwelling, motor vehicle or other enclosed space.
The Meitivs said they took the position that the law did not prevent their children from walking or playing unsupervised. But they said the message of Monday’s meeting was very different. They said they were not questioned about their choices. Instead, a case worker explained CPS policies and asked if they had any questions, they said.
“We feel fairly certain that what we’re doing — in their eyes — is wrong,” Danielle Meitiv said.
The couple recalled how just a day earlier, with a spell of warmer weather, their children rode their bikes in their neighborhood and played in a park without adult supervision.
“They need the exercise, they need some sunshine,” Danielle said. “They don’t want a parent trailing behind them. They want kid time, and kid space.”