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Free-range parents investigated for neglect for letting kids walk alone

Remember the good old days? We’d walk a mile to school and back (uphill both ways, naturally), and no one questioned it. These days, giving kids independence is harder than ever, as one Maryland couple who describes themselves as free-range parents learned.

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv allowed their 10-year-old and 6-year-old to walk home from a local park without supervision. They viewed the one-mile walk as an opportunity for independence. “They have proven they are responsible,” Danielle tells The Washington Post. “They’ve developed these skills.”

These aren’t kids who have never walked somewhere alone. Their parents even equip them with a laminated card that informs adults that they’re not lost — they’re just free-range kids. The young siblings have been allowed to walk to a nearby convenience store and library without adult supervision. It’s a choice deliberately made by the parents, not a careless act of neglect.

When a police officer picked up the children on their one-mile walk home from a local park, the situation got complicated quickly. According to the parents, the children told the officer they were doing nothing wrong and were allowed to be walking home alone. The officer brought the kids home, demanded to see Alexander’s identification and discussed the dangers of allowing kids to walk unsupervised.

Then Montgomery County Child Protective Services showed up a few hours later to investigate the family for neglect. Because Maryland state law says that kids under 8 must be left with a reliable person who is at least 13 years old, the kids’ solo journey home could be considered neglect in the eyes of the law.

“It seemed such a huge violation of privacy to examine my house because my kids were walking home,” says Danielle.

Not every parent is going to adopt this parenting style. While many parents wouldn’t feel safe letting their kids walk that far alone, it comes down to individual levels of comfort and trust.

Parents who are clearly putting a great deal of thought into their kids’ safety and independence should be able to make decisions regarding what their kids are capable of doing. Walking a mile home from a park doesn’t put kids in certain danger. When parents are ignorantly neglecting and willfully abusing their kids, it’s disheartening to see resources being devoted to investigating two siblings who were allowed to go on a walk on their way home to a loving family.

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