On December 20, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv let their ten-year-old son and six-year-old daughter make the mile-long walk from a park to their house by themselves. Along the way, however, police picked up the kids and returned them to the Meitivs. But the story didn’t stop there, according to the Washington Post:
The more lasting issue has been with Montgomery County Child Protective Services, he said, which showed up a couple of hours after the police left.Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for CPS, said she could not comment on cases but that neglect investigations typically focus on questions of whether there has been a failure to provide proper care and supervision.In such investigations, she said, CPS may look for guidance to a state law about leaving children unattended, which says children younger than 8 must be left with a reliable person who is at least 13 years old. The law covers dwellings, enclosures and vehicles.
This incident is, unfortunately, hardly unique. Other cases where the police or state officials have unjustifiably interfered in parenting choices and decisions made a big news splash last year. But as Matt Frost remarked on Twitter, it’s notable that this investigation is happening in a wealthy suburb like Silver Spring, Maryland.And it is the investigation that is particularly troubling here. It’s one thing for police to pick up unsupervised children and return them to their parents, and quite another for the state to continue to harangue the family with unreasonable demands even after everything appears to be just fine, going so far as threatening to have the children taken out of their custody. The bureaucracy has clearly run amok here.The context for that growing interference seems to trace, at least in part, to a shift in how child welfare agencies view their task. Around the 1960s a policy goal of protecting children against abuse began to displace a previous goal of keeping families together. Overzealous attempts to police parenting may be just abuses of that new goal. Policies like this seem often to swing like a pendulum: too much deference to parents being succeeded by too much state power.It’s time to strive for a new equilibrium.