A Timeline of the Incidents Involving the Free-Range Meitiv Kids in Montgomery County
A look at how the situation between the Meitiv family and child protective services escalated over the past six months
The Meitiv family appears on the "Today Show" on Monday
The plight of the Meitiv family of Silver Spring is now national news for the second time this year after the children were detained by Montgomery County police Sunday night for about six hours.
How did one family’s effort to give their young kids more independence end up becoming a national debate? It started last year.
Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, both trained scientists, have allowed their son Rafi, 10, and daughter Dvora, 6, to travel on their own to parks in their Silver Spring neighborhood since at least the fall of 2014. It wasn’t a problem, until Montgomery County Child Protective Services (CPS) got involved and began asking questions about their parenting, a move that would start a national debate.
The debate surrounding the family centers on what role parents should have in protecting young children. Should kids age 10 and under be allowed to travel in urban areas without a parent? Are Montgomery County police and Child Protective Services being overly careful? Is “free-range” parenting, in which children are encouraged to explore the world on their own, an effective parenting technique?
How did the Meitivs move to the center of this issue? The problems with police and CPS started in the fall of 2014:
Nov. 7, 2014 – Lenore Skenazy, the writer who spawned the “Free-Range Kids” movement by writing about her decision to allow her 9-year-old son to take the New York City subway by himself in 2008, publishes parts of a letter on Reason Magazine’s website from Danielle Meitiv. Meitiv writes, in what will become a theme, that representatives from Child Protective Services visited her house after a bystander called police to report that two children—Meitiv’s kids—were without an adult at a Silver Spring park on Oct. 27. Meitiv writes that the representatives told her it was illegal for her 6-year-old daughter to be at the park, which she says is two blocks from her house.
Skenazy points out that Meitiv contests the agency’s reading of a state law governing the age at which children can be left alone, claiming that the law only applies to children under age 8 being unsupervised while in a “dwelling, building, enclosure or motor vehicle.”
Meitiv writes that CPS calls back and tells her that “judges have interpreted the law to include parks” and that she and her husband could be fined up to $500 or sentenced to 30 days in jail if her daughter is left unsupervised at the park.
Dec. 23, 2014 – Skenazy gets an update from Danielle Meitiv and publishes it on Reason’s website. This time Meitiv writes about the second incident, which will later become national news. Meitiv writes that on Dec. 20 her husband, Alexander, dropped the two children off at Woodside Park, about a mile from their home, and told them to walk home together. At the time, she says, she was out of town. The children had walked about half of the way home when someone called county police, who picked them up in a patrol car and took them home, according to Meitiv. Later that night, a CPS representative showed up at the house and forced Alexander Meitiv to sign an agreement saying he would not leave the children unsupervised until someone from the CPS office could contact them—if he did not sign the letter, the representative threatened to have police take the children away. He signed the agreement, according to Meitiv’s letter.
Jan. 14, 2015 – In an interview published in The Washington Post, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv reveal they’re being investigated for neglect over the Dec. 20 incident involving their children.
Danielle Meitiv says her parenting style is on trial: “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. I think it’s absolutely critical for their development—to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency.”
At the time, Meitiv says she discovered on her own that CPS had interviewed her children at their school without notifying her. CPS officials tell the newspaper they’re relying on state law—which says children under 8 years old should not be left unattended in dwellings, enclosures and vehicles—for guidance about what penalties to enforce in the case.
Feb. 20, 2015 – Danielle and Alexander Meitiv are found guilty of “unsubstantiated” child neglect by CPS. The charge means there was insufficient evidence for a definitive conclusion, but there is enough to support that there was some child neglect. The ruling meant that CPS would keep a file for at least five years about the case and would investigate any other allegations of child neglect involving the family.
April 12, 2015 – The Meitiv children are picked up by county police near a Silver Spring parking garage, about three blocks from their home. Danielle Meitiv posts on her Facebook page at 8:57 p.m. that she and her husband were searching for the children for hours. The parents say they were expecting the children to return to their house at 6 p.m.
April 13, 2015 – Danielle Meitiv tells reporters she and her husband were left frantically searching for their kids after county police brought them to CPS offices in Rockville and didn’t immediately notify them.
Police provide the following timeline concerning the April 12 pick-up of the Meitiv children:
4:58 p.m. – Police receive a call from an individual concerned about the welfare of two children in the area of Fenton and Easley streets in downtown Silver Spring.
5:03 p.m. – An officer arrives on the scene, talks to the concerned individual and locates the two children. Nearby, the officer spots a homeless man “eyeing the children.”
5:16 p.m. – The officer identifies the children and notifies his supervisors. CPS is contacted. The officer stays on the scene with the children.
7:18 p.m. – Police and CPS decide to transport the children to the CPS offices at 1301 Piccard Drive, Rockville. The officer and the children arrived at CPS at about 7:43 p.m.
During this time the Meitivs allege that their children were not able to contact them or use the bathroom and weren’t provided with food. Police say an officer allowed them to use a bathroom after they were brought to CPS at about 7:45 p.m. Police also say the officer attempted to share his lunch with the children, but decided not to after Rafi said he and his younger sister have food allergies.
April 14, 2015 – The Meitivs announce their plan to take legal action to protect their parental rights. The family released a statement in conjunction with the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Wiley Rein, that says county police lied to the children about where they were being taken, failed to notify their parents and kept them confined in the back of a police car for nearly three hours.
“The Meitivs are rightfully outraged by the irresponsible actions of Maryland CPS and Montgomery County Police,” Matthew Dowd, a lawyer with Wiley Rein, stated in the release. “We must ask ourselves how we reached the point where a parent’s biggest fear is that government officials will literally seize our children off the streets as they walk in our neighborhoods. The Meitivs intend to fully vindicate their rights as parents and their children’s rights and to prevent this from happening to their children again.”
The law firm says it will represent the family on a pro bono basis.