SILVER SPRING, Md. - Two suburban Washington, D.C., parents are under scrutiny again for letting their 6- and 10-year-old children play in a park and walk home alone in a case that has stirred debate about "free-range" parenting and government powers.
For the second time in four months, police picked up the children of Danielle and Alexander Meitiv on Sunday as they were walking home alone from a park that's nearly a mile from their house. This time, instead of bringing the children home, police took them directly to Child Protective Services.
"It's beyond ridiculous," Danielle Meitiv said Monday. "The world is safer today, and yet we imprison our children inside and wonder why they're obese and have no focus."
The Meitivs, who live 6 miles from Washington in Silver Spring, Maryland, believe in "free-range" parenting, which includes allowing their children to play and walk alone in the neighborhood to teach them self-reliance and responsibility.
Child Protective Services first began investigating the couple in December after police stopped the children midway through a 1-mile walk home from a different park after responding to a call from a concerned citizen. Police drove the children home but called Child Protective Services.
The Meitivs were notified in a February letter that they had been found responsible for "unsubstantiated neglect," a ruling that's made when there's some information supporting child neglect, seemingly credible reports disagree or there isn't enough information for a conclusion.
The Meitivs continued allowing their children some independence until Sunday, when the couple dropped the kids off at a park so they could play after a six-hour drive back from upstate New York, telling them to be home by 6 p.m.
Danielle Meitiv said she and her husband began worrying when the kids weren't home by 6:30, but that Child Protective Services didn't call them until 8 p.m. to say the children were in their custody.
Police had picked them up on the walk home after another concerned citizen called.
In a news release Monday, the Montgomery County Police Department said the officer who responded to the call saw a homeless man "eyeing" the children.
Capt. Paul Starks, a department spokesman, couldn't immediately elaborate on whether the homeless man was considered a serious threat.
Starks said the children were turned over to Child Protective Services at the agency's request.
The Meitivs were able to get their children back from Child Protective Services around 10:30 p.m.
Similar to December's incident, Danielle Meitiv said the couple had to sign a temporary safety plan saying their children would be supervised at all times until a follow-up visit.
"This morning my daughter wanted to go play in the yard and I couldn't let her out because I was making breakfast," Danielle Meitiv said. "Are they prisoners? She's 6 and she's not allowed to play in the yard?"
The case has drawn international media coverage, and Danielle Meitiv said the couple has heard from people all over the world. The majority have been supportive, Meitiv said, but some have expressed outrage at the couple's parenting style.
Starks said police and Child Protective Services were conducting a joint investigation of the Meitivs for possible child neglect allegations. Once that is finished, a decision will be made about whether any charges will be filed against the couple, he said.
Child Protective Services said the agency is prohibited from discussing specific cases.
In the meantime, Danielle Meitiv said she won't leave her children unsupervised until she and her husband are cleared.
"Child Protective Services has succeeded in making me terrified of letting my children out," she said. "Nothing that has happened so far has convinced me that children don't need independence and freedom, except that they'll be harassed by police and CPS."