After outcry over one family's "free-range" parenting case, Maryland officials on Friday clarified their policy on children walking or playing alone outdoors, saying the state shouldn't investigate unless kids are harmed or face substantial risk of harm.
The updated policy directive about the involvement of Child Protective Services, first reported by The Washington Post, is part of a public statement issued Friday. The clarification comes after the state agency ruled out neglect in a case against Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, who allowed their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter to walk home from a park in Silver Spring, a Washington suburb, in December. Police stopped the children and drove them home after someone reported seeing them.
At the time, CPS, which is part of the Department of Human Resources, pointed to Maryland law defining child neglect as failure to properly care for and supervise a child. The law covers dwellings, enclosures and vehicles.
The Meitivs have said they have gradually allowed the children more freedom to walk on their own in familiar areas. The couple are "free-range" parenting advocates who encourage independence and exploration, and they remain under investigation after their children walked home from another park in April. The children were held by police and CPS for more than five hours that day.
State officials didn't comment on the Meitiv family's experience, citing confidentiality, but they now say they are not interested in trumping parents' individual choices.
"DHR is mindful that every family applies its members own personal upbringing, life experiences and expectations to parenting, and it is not the Department's role to pick and choose among child-rearing philosophies and practices," the department said in its news release.
In the updated document, the agency lists facts considered in such cases including any harm, any protective measures parents put in place, the accessibility of parents, the child's age and maturity, how long a child is unattended, the environment, and the number of calls to CPS.