Free-range parents win ‘no neglect’ ruling

Danielle Meitiv walks home with her children Rafi, 10, left and Dvora, 6, right, after picking them up at the school bus stop in Silver Spring Md., on Friday, June 12, 2015. After outcry over one family’s “free-range” parenting case, Maryland officials on Friday clarified the state’s policy on how authorities handle cases of children walking or playing alone outdoors, saying the state shouldn’t investigate unless kids are harmed or face substantial risk of harm. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Danielle Meitiv walks home from the school bus stop with her children Rafi, 10, left and Dvora, 6, right. Photo: Jose Luis Magana, AP

Maryland parents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv have been cleared of child neglect charges for letting their “free-range” children play in a neighborhood park and walk home without adult supervision.

Last week, before the ruling in the Meitiv case, Maryland Child Protective Services announced it would not intervene when school-aged children are walking in their neighborhoods or playing at local parks unless there is evidence the child “has been harmed or is at substantial risk of harm.”

Walking alone leads to child neglect scrutiny

The day before I started kindergarten, my mother walked me and my six-year-old sister to school and back as a practice run. After that, I walked with my sister or with other baby boomer kids. Nobody was escorted to school by a parent.

After school, we might play at school or in the park or explore the ravines. We had to be home for dinner.

The Meitiv children walk in their suburban neighborhood.

The Meitiv children walk in their neighborhood.

Maryland parents are being investigated for neglect after letting their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter walk home from the park, reports the Washington Post. It’s about a mile to their home in a safe suburb, say Danielle and Alexander Meitiv.

“We wouldn’t have let them do it if we didn’t think they were ready for it,” Danielle said.

On Dec. 20, someone saw the children walking without an adult and called the police, who drove them home and demanded the father produce ID. Raised in the Soviet Union, he refused, but gave in when six patrol cars rolled up at their house. He agreed to go upstairs for his ID, Danielle told Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids.

The officer said—in front of the kids—that if he came down with anything else, “shots would be fired.” She proceeded to follow him upstairs, and when he said she had no right to do so without a warrant, she insisted that she did.

“Don’t you realize how dangerous the world is?” an officer told the father. “Don’t you watch TV?”

Montgomery County Child Protective Services threatened to take the children away if the Meitivs stick to their “free-range” parenting philosophy, writes Danielle.

“The world is actually even safer than when I was a child, and I just want to give them the same freedom and independence that I had — basically an old-fashioned childhood,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely critical for their development — to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency.”

“Parenthood is an exercise in risk management,” she said. “Every day, we decide: Are we going to let our kids play football? Are we going to let them do a sleep­over? Are we going to let them climb a tree? We’re not saying parents should abandon all caution. We’re saying parents should pay attention to risks that are dangerous and likely to happen.”

Child abductions are extremely rare, she points out. The children have been taught how to cross streets safely.

“I think what CPS considered neglect, we felt was an essential part of growing up and maturing,” Alexander said. “We feel we’re being bullied into a point of view about child-rearing that we strongly disagree with.”

CPS has demanded entry to the home without a warrant and interviewed the children at school while investigating the Meitivs for neglect. In November, CPS cited the parents for neglect for letting their kids play in the neighborhood park without supervision.

Both scientists, the Meitivs are educated, assertive, articulate and affluent. Call it Parenting While White. They’ve researched child neglect laws, which ban leaving young kids home alone but don’t say they can’t walk or play outside. They can afford a lawyer. And yet, they’re taking a risk by claiming their right to decide what’s best for their children.

9-year-old plays in park, Mom is arrested

A South Carolina mother faces neglect charges for letting her nine-year-old daughter play in a park while the mother worked at a nearby McDonald’s, reports Lenore Skenazy on Reason.

The daughter had sat in McDonald’s playing on a laptop while mother Debra Harrell worked. After the laptop was stolen in a home burglary, the girl asked to play at the playground.

(Harrell) gave her daughter a cell phone. The girl went to the park—a place so popular that at any given time there are about 40 kids frolicking—two days in a row. There were swings, a “splash pad,” and shade.

On her third day at the park, an adult asked the girl where her mother was. At work, the daughter replied.

Fears of kidnapping are wildly overblown, writes Skenazy, who’s known for her advocacy of Free Range Kids.

But in this case, the child was taken by strangers: The mother was jailed and Social Services took custody of the child, reports WJBF in North Augusta.

Star File Photo: Aarden Harper goes for a splash at Summerfield Park.

Scott Ott was horribly neglected as a child With his brothers, he’d roam the woods and fields, walking, biking or riding horses.

In case of emergency — like when somebody shot my finger with the BB-gun, or when Troy and I caught a groundhog and the varmint latched onto my brother’s thumb and wouldn’t let go — anyway, in case of emergency our only car was with Pop at work an hour away. Nan never had a driver’s license anyway. Our only phone was screwed to the wall in the kitchen.

We’d swim in creek, pond or canal. We played tackle football without helmets or pads. We’d cross fields where menacing cattle grazed, and climb the highest trees we could. We built dams, panned for “gold,” caught salamanders, snakes, turtles, crayfish and eels. We cracked spherical rocks searching in vain for geodes.

Sometimes, in our early teens, we’d carry firearms, but way before that we always carried weapons — bows, spears, cudgels, rocks and slings that we fashioned from natural materials.  Often we reenacted Robin Hood’s cudgel fight with Little John on a log over a stream. For a few years, we tended a trap-line before school in the morning, toting a .22 caliber rifle in the dark and facing some very annoyed raccoons and possums.

We’d swing from vines, engage in brutal snowball fights, toboggan through a stand of trees and bail out just before the barbed-wire fence. A pack of us would skate the unreliable ice of a farmer’s pond — when the farmer wasn’t looking — slapping frozen hockey pucks at the unpadded goalie who trembled between the boots that formed the goal.

Children as young as six played without adult supervision.

Because it was a rural area, an abductor would stand little chance of being seen, Ott writes. “An urban playground, crawling with dozens of appropriately-supervised children and police foot patrols” is much safer.

“Only the statute of limitations prevents posthumous prosecution” of his parents.

I grew up in the suburbs. We walked to school and played in the park from the age of five without adult supervision. It was the baby boom era, so our mothers were busy with younger children but there were other kids around nearly always. I think we started exploring the ravines when we were seven or eight. We played in the street, made garden stakes into bows and arrows . . .

End welfare — but what about the kids?

Abolish cash welfare, food and housing aid, except for the elderly and disabled, writes Peter Cove, founder of America Works, in What I Learned in the Poverty War in City Journal.  We need to “move from a dependency culture to one of work-first,” writes Cove, whose company trains “the supposedly unemployable” for jobs.

The federal government would use the huge savings from eliminating welfare to create or subsidize private-sector jobs, sending money to companies to reduce the cost of hiring and paying new workers. The government could also create programs similar to those run by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, paying workers to build parks, refurbish bridges, clean streets, and so forth. The workers’ wages would pay for the basics—food, clothing, and shelter.

But once we dismantle cash welfare and other forms of aid and offer paying jobs in their place, what about the children of those few people who simply refuse to work? I think that we should seriously contemplate removing these unfortunate children from their irresponsible parents. Under current child-welfare laws, social-services agencies can already take kids away from their parents if their home environment is unsafe. Is it so extreme to extend that policy to homes ruined by willful poverty and neglect? I concede that the alternatives here are not pretty; government-regulated foster care, in particular, has its own risks of abuse. Adoption, however, works fairly well in most of the country. Another solution would be the establishment of government-funded institutions, operated by voluntary and religious nonprofits, to care for the children.

It’s time to think the unthinkable, writes Cove.

When I was reporting on welfare reform, every recipient I met said she wanted to work, if she get safe, reliable child care. My colleagues and I followed five welfare families. All found jobs. Only one quit — the one raised in a middle-class family. She got kicked out of a housing program too for refusing to make an effort to get off welfare. Her child wasn’t doing well. If she’d lost custody, her parents could have taken the child and tried to do a better job the second time around.

F as in fat

One third of U.S. children are overweight or obese, according to a new report titled F as in Fat 2011.  The childhood pudge percentage has nearly tripled in the past 10 years.

Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia had childhood obesity rates above 20 percent; Illinois was the only non-Southern state above 20 percent (along with the District of Columbia). In 2003, when the last NSCH was conducted, only D.C., Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia were above 20 percent.

Nationwide, the report found that less than one-third of all children ages 6-17 engaged in at least 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity on a day-to-day basis.

Very obese children should be placed with foster families till they slim down, argue Harvard researchers in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

Bad idea, responds bioethicist Art Caplan. After all, 12 percent of U.S. kids are extremely obese.

Ludicrous,” responds Megan McArdle in The Atlantic.

. . . the foster system is already overstretched without adding obesity to catalogue of child abuse and neglect.  It’s also kind of creepy–the sort of thing that gives paternalism a very, very bad name.

Racist, adds Instapundit. African-American children are more likely to be obese.

Adults are getting fatter too.

And it’s not just Americans. As part of a British campaign against obesity, new health guidlines call for children under the age of five — including infants — to exercise daily for at least three hours.

Drinking while breastfeeding

Yeah, I drink while breastfeeding, writes Katie Allison Granju on Home/Work. So arrest me.

A Grand Forks, North Dakota mother, Stacey Anvarinia, called the police to say her boyfriend had hit her. When they arrived, they found her breastfeeding her six-week-old baby, decided without testing her that she was drunk and arrested her.  (Despite her bruised face, her boyfriend was not arrested.)  Anvarinia later plead guilty to child neglect and faces up to five years in prison.

A drunken mother might endanger her child, writes Granju. But breastfeeding has nothing to do with it.

Let me be clear that I do not think being “drunk” while caring for a baby is a good idea, ever, whether you are breastfeeding or bottlefeeding, or you are the babysitter or the father or whomever. Tiny babies are rather fragile creatures, and drunk people are rather clumsy and lack good judgment. So if this woman was really “drunk” while caring for her newborn, perhaps there was cause for alarm on the part of the officers. She could have dropped the baby, for example. But arresting her, and pinning it on drinking whilst nursing has all kinds of problems.

Nursing mothers often take painkillers or antidepressants, Granju writes.

When I came home from the hospital after giving birth to each of my four children, I was sent home with prescription, narcotic pain pills like hydrocodone and percocet to take during the recovery period. And I did take them, happily. After my c-section with baby #4, I took them for several weeks because I was still hurting. The pills not only helped with the pain, but gave me a bit of a buzz. I believe it would be fair to say that I was nursing my babies “while high.” Should I have been arrested?

In my day, women were told that a glass or two of wine or beer would relax mother and baby, making breastfeeding easier.  In the days of wet nurses, the fee often included beer, ale, porter or malt liquor to keep the nurse mellow and the milk flowing.

Nowadays, pregnant mothers are warned not to drink at all during pregnancy, lest their babies develop Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which is very serious. But once the baby is born, even heavy drinking is linked only to “drowsiness, deep sleep, weakness and abnormal weight gain in an infant.” Light drinking is considered OK.

Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, who helps oversee breast-feeding policy for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the group considers limited alcohol consumption compatible with breast-feeding.

Imagine the furor if a father was arrested for smoking in near a baby, writes Amy Tuteur on Skeptical OB.

We like to pretend that we would never expose our infants to risk, but simply putting them into a car to drive to the store represents a risk far larger than the risk posed by breastfeeding while drunk (which is merely theoretical) or the risk of smoking in the presence of an infant (which is an all too real risk of illness and death).

This story suggests the police were offended because Anvarinia continued to nurse the baby while they were in her living room.  I’m guessing these officers had no experience with nursing a hungry baby.

A heavy-drinking mother with an abusive boyfriend is not likely to be a contender for Mother of the Year. But the case sets a scary precedent.