The Incredible Lightness of Freedom

Paul Jacob
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Posted: Jun 14, 2015 12:01 AM
The Incredible Lightness of Freedom

Free, at last! Free, at last! Thank the Maryland Social Services Administration, we’re free at last!

Free to have our children walk down a Maryland street in broad daylight, anyway, without them stopped and detained for five-and-a-half hours by police and social workers. Without parents and children being threatened with separation.

Ahhh . . . it feels good.

Free, perchance, for the kids to skip or to jitterbug or do cartwheels down the sidewalk — as long as a youngster doesn’t accidentally bump into someone.

Respect the rights of others. Play safe now.

All these very old freedoms are new again, now that Deborah Ramelmeier, executive director of the Maryland Social Services Administration, a subsidiary of the state’s Department of Human Resources, has laid forth from her mighty public perch by the punch of the “send” button an official directive to the state’s Child Protective Services (CPS) addressing the issue raised in the Meitiv case.

You’ll recall that the Meitivs allowed their 10-year old son and 6-year old daughter to walk home together, alone and without a parent or guardian or attorney present, from a public park about a mile away from their home. The Silver Spring, Maryland, police picked up the two children last December and so began a Maryland CPS investigation of the Meitivs for neglect.

Goodness, walking home from a park is hardly playing with nitro.

Much has been made of the Meitivs’ status as “free-range” parents, which apparently means they let their kids walk home from the park — shocking, I know. As a local city council member pointed out, if this policy had been in effect when he was a kid, “All of our parents would have been in jail.”

Still, in March of this year, Montgomery County Child Protective Services determined that the parents in this case, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, were indeed responsible for “unsubstantiated neglect.”

Now, in an American legal context, any charge that was “unsubstantiated” after months of investigation would be tossed out. But today’s America is apparently neither the historical nor the ideal America.

In government parlance “unsubstantiated” means, officially, “sorta guilty.” The agency threatened to keep a file open on the Meitivs for five years.

In the midst of threat, accusations, and fears, the CPS neglected to do the one sensible thing you’d expect: articulate a policy position defining just when and how or even if ever children were allowed out in public without constant and direct adult supervision.

In April, the Meitiv kids were again caught flagrantly walking home from a park. This time, the two were nabbed just blocks from home and held for more than five hours by police, then CPS, before their parents were informed and reunited with their children.

The two kids were simply scared to death that they’d be taken from their loving parents. You can probably imagine how the parents felt.

The adult Meitivs were bullied into signing a document that they would not allow their children outside the house, even in the front yard, without the parents being physically present. Otherwise, the parents were informed, they couldn’t take their children home.

Yet, just weeks ago, CPS reversed course with a letter to the Meitivs announcing that “neglect” had been ruled out in the first investigation of illegal park attendance and aggravated walking home — not the second arrest and five-hour sweating of the 10-year old and his 6-year-old kid sister, mind you, but the previous collar.

One heck of a rap sheet is being assembled.

This second investigation of the very same parents and children for doing the very same thing — walking home — is still ongoing and has yet to be resolved. One would think settling it in the first instance would suggest an easy resolution in the second instance of nearly identical behavior. But what do we know?

What’s needed, of course — for sanity’s sake — is some clarity about what smidgen of freedom our younger-ish citizens are to be allowed, and an explanation of what activities of what we once assumed to be normal life (like walking around in public without a license) will trigger arrest and incarceration or perhaps the eventual ripping away of children from the arms of their parents.

Then last week, in an otherwise boring, bureaucratic 23-page document, Ms. Ramelmeier of Social Services fame wrote and, accordingly, directed CPS that: “Children playing outside or walking unsupervised does not meet the criteria for a CPS response absent specific information supporting the conclusion that the child has been harmed or is at substantial risk of harm if they continue to be unsupervised.”

Shazam! Just like that, now “playing outside” and “walking unsupervised” are A-Okay for children. The kids won’t be arrested! And their parents won’t be investigated or threatened with losing their little ones!

Perhaps, too, we can even believe that CPS will soon drop their last pending and utterly ridiculous investigation of the Meitivs for neglect, for aiding and abetting the rearing of children independent enough to walk home from a park by themselves.

Is this a great country or what?