The Maryland parents under investigation over letting their children walk home by themselves have been found “responsible for unsubstantiated child neglect” by local child protective services.
Danielle and Alexander Meitiv said they received a letter last weekend notifying them of the Feb. 20 decision in a case that has garnered national debate over parenting styles and philosophy. They plan to appeal the finding but said they first consulted with an attorney before commenting publicly Monday.
Officials began investigating Meitiv and her husband after someone called police last Dec. 20 to report that their children — Rafi, 10, and Dvora, 6 — were walking home from a playground about a mile away from their house in Silver Spring, a Maryland suburb outside Washington, D.C.
Police had also received an anonymous call about the kids two months earlier, on Oct. 27, after the kids were playing at a closer park, just blocks away from their home. That case was later dropped by CPS.
A finding of “unsubstantiated” child neglect is essentially a middle ground of three possible findings local child protective service departments can reach; the other two are “ruled out” or “indicated.” It indicates there may be some evidence but not enough information to prove neglect occurred. An "unsubstantiated" case remains in the state’s database for five years and then is expunged — if no additional reports are added to the file.
“If it doesn’t mean anything, then they should close the case,” Danielle Meitiv told TODAY.com. “I don’t want there to be a file. We never should have been on their radar in the first place. We shouldn’t be in their system at all and certainly not with some allegation of neglect, whether substantiated or not.”
Montgomery County Child Protective Services referred calls to state officials. A spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources said she could not comment on specific cases because of confidentiality rules.
Meitiv, a science consultant and writer, said she and her husband, a physicist at the National Institute of Health, do not plan to change their parenting style, which they believe helps their children better learn independence.
On Monday, snow and ice closed down her children’s school but by mid-day, temperatures had warmed up far above freezing so Meitiv sent both her children outside.
“It’s a gorgeous day and I kicked my kids out, because that’s what you do on a beautiful day. You say, ‘Play outside, kids, and go have some fun,’” she said. “They just ran down the block and they’re probably going to the park that’s a block away. Well, that’s the same park the first time CPS was called.”
The first step in the appeals process is to have a conference with a CPS supervisor, said Sandra Barnes, an assistant attorney general in the Maryland Department of Human Resources, who could only address the general process and not the specific Meitiv case. Sometimes, family members want a chance to air their side if they feel their concerns haven't been heard, she said. Other times, they just want to know where the case stands.
“Sometimes, when they understand how little an unsubstantiated finding is ever going to come back to haunt them, that’s plenty. They just want to put their side in, perhaps explain extenuating circumstances,” she said.
The conference can often be enough to result in a resolution. But it also can lead to a full administrative hearing which could escalate the case to an “indicated” level, Barnes said.
Meitiv said despite her unwavering approach to parenting, she does worry about someone reporting her again to the local authorities.
“I absolutely am nervous, and that’s why we have to fight this,” she said. “What happens the next time? I refuse to be bullied into this, ‘We know this is right and healthy for our kids, but we’re going to keep them home because we’re scared of CPS?’ That’s just insane. That’s why we have to fight it.”
Follow TODAY.com writer Eun Kyung Kim on Twitter.