Free-range parenting” is a term coined in reaction to what some consider to be a recent trend toward over-protectiveness of children. Free-range parents perceive this over-protectiveness, sometimes called “helicopter parenting,” as a futile attempt to protect children from every conceivable risk of harm, potentially at the expense of a child’s development of age-appropriate independence. Yes, this is a popular topic for parents to discuss in the carpool lane, but it also has legal implications as, increasingly, the legal system is made to ponder: What is the line between free-range parenting and neglectful parenting?
In Maryland, self-proclaimed free-range parents, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, recently found themselves at the center of this debate. Earlier this spring, Montgomery County Protective Services found the couple responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect” following an incident in which a neighbor notified police that their children, ages 6 and 10, were walking home unsupervised from a neighborhood park. Although Maryland Code specifically prohibits parents from leaving children under 8 alone in a building or vehicle unless they are supervised by a reliable person who is at least 13 (Md. Code, Fam. Law §5–801), the Meitiv children were outside when the police were called, and at least one of their parents was at home waiting for them. Upon further investigation, CPS decided in late June to drop all allegations against the couple.
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