Free-range mom speaks out: We’re being harassed

Mother defends letting her children play unsupervised in a park (Kristi King, WTOP)


SILVER SPRING, Md. — A Montgomery County mother is irate that she was not notified for hours after her children were stopped by police for walking home alone from a park.

For the second time since December, the Meitivs’ 6-year-old daughter Dvora and 10-year-old son Rafi were picked up by Montgomery County police as they made the almost 1-mile walk to their Silver Spring home unsupervised.

The Meitivs believe there is no reason why they shouldn’t let their children walk to the park and play. Danielle Meitiv tells WTOP that the risk of child abduction is low and the most dangerous thing a parent does is to put their children into a car. They believe in teaching their child self-reliance and responsibility.

Child Protective Services issued a statement saying that the Department of Human Resources, which oversees the agency, is reviewing the Meitivs’ case and will speak to all those involved.

“Protecting children is the agency’s number one priority. We are required to follow up on all calls to CPS.”

Meitiv called the reaction by CPS heavy-handed and lacking in common sense. She also feels harassed by the agency and by the adults who called police regarding her children’s activities.

“This machine starts to move and nobody stops and thinks … Are these children hurt, are they lost, are they abused?” Meitiv says. “(The police) observed my kids for three hours. It’s pretty obvious they’re not neglected children. They’re healthy, they’re well behaved. They’re clearly well-fed, well-dressed, articulate, intelligent, confident. There’s nothing in that list that suggests neglect.”

Police say they are mandated to report suspected abuse and neglect cases to the state agency and are investigating whether the Meitivs broke the law.

Meitiv says she and her husband dropped off their children at Ellsworth Park to burn off excess energy after a six-hour car trip to see relatives. They were told to be home by 6 p.m. Dvora and Rafi were almost home when they were stopped by police along Fenton Street.

Unlike in December, the police didn’t bring the children straight home to their parents.

Her children would spend another five hours away from their parents. During that time, they had little to eat. They weren’t able to use the restroom until arriving at a CPS building in Rockville. And they didn’t understand why the police wouldn’t let them go home, she says.

Montgomery County police released the following timeline:

  • 4:58 p.m.  — 911 took a call for an unattended child in the area of Fenton and Easley streets
  • 5:00 p.m.  — Officer dispatched
  • 5:01 p.m.  — Officer arrives , speaks to the original caller and identifies the children
  • 5:16 p.m.  — Officer contacts CPS
  • 6:10 p.m.  — Officer contacts another CPS employee
  • 6:41 p.m.  — CPS says a decision is pending
  • 7:18 p.m.  — CPS directs police to take the children to its Rockville facility
  • 7:43 p.m.  — Children arrive at CPS Rockville

Meitiv was not reunited with her children until 10:30 p.m., she says.

Montgomery County police spokesman Captain Paul Starks says police are obligated to report suspected neglect or abuse to CPS and that it was the state agency’s decision that police shouldn’t contact the Meitivs.

“It’s very difficult, without doing some sort of a query and preliminary investigation, just to return the children to the home without doing something first to ensure that it is a safe environment,” Starks says.

When the children didn’t arrive home, Meitiv and her husband began frantically searching the neighborhood.

Finally they heard from CPS.

“They’d had them for three hours at that point and hadn’t bothered to call us … two blocks from here sitting in a car for three hours,” she says.

The couple then waited at the facility in Rockville for two hours before they were allowed to see their children.

“It never occurred to me that the people we trust to protect our streets and to protect our children are the people that we now have to fear,” she says.

The couple signed a temporary safety plan to get their children released and they plan to obey it. They’re not allowed to let the children out of their sight even to play in the yard or walk to the school bus.

The couple plans to appeal the unsubstantiated neglect finding from the December incident and they are weighing their options regarding Sunday’s events.

“My philosophy hasn’t changed,” she says. “We’re going to fight this.”

WTOP’s Michelle Basch contributed to this report.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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