Montgomery County council members tackle ‘free-range’ parenting issue

WASHINGTON — Montgomery County council members continue to get emails from residents on both sides of the “free-range kids” issue.

“Individuals feel like their own parenting choices are being criticized,” says George Leventhal, president of the Montgomery County Council.

Leventhal says he and his council colleague Marc Elrich have come up with a list of questions for police and Child Protective Services officials. For example, when a child is found alone, Leventhal wants to know: “What are the procedures? What are the protocols, and what discretion is available, either for police officers or Child Protective Services workers?”

The questions come after a Silver Spring family’s children were picked up, for a second time, when they were found walking home alone. Sasha and Danielle Meitiv say hours went by before they were contacted by police telling them the children — ages 6 and 10 — were in police custody.

The children were walking in their Fenton Street neighborhood near a park when they were picked up by police after getting a 911 call about children walking unattended. The area is a mix of shops and parks, and on Monday afternoon, kids on bikes zipped along the sidewalks, shoppers came and went from the local Safeway store and Mike Edwards was out with his boys, ages 5 and 3.

Edwards says he understands that parents have different styles of child-rearing.

“Some parents spank; some parents don’t. Some parents let their kids walk to the park by themselves, and some parents would never,” he says.

Where does he fall on the “free-range parenting” debate? Edwards says, without hesitating, he’d never let his boys roam unattended, “because anything can happen. Anything can happen!”

Leventhal says there’s a clear divide in the emails the council members are getting, but he and Elrich, who each sit on council panels on health and human services and public safety, want to get more information as to exactly what the regulations require, and where county officials have some discretion in cases like that of the Meitiv family.

The Meitivs, who had been cited by the county before for allowing their children to walk home alone from area parks, have said they are considering suing the county over the way their case was handled.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. 

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