The Meitivs, a Silver Spring, Maryland family appear from all outside appearances to be responsible and loving parents who are highly educated. Mr. Meitiv is a physicist and Mrs. Meitiv is a climate-science consultant.
Their crime: Allowing their children 10 years old and 6 years old, to walk home from a park alone without supervision. On December 20, 2014, a local busy-body, I mean concerned citizen, called the police to report two children walking alone without an adult; what we in law enforcement call a welfare check.
The officer contacted the kids and escorted them home where Mr. Meitiv was questioned about the incident. According to reports, he voiced his objection from the outset and did not want to cooperate with the initial investigation. In legal parlance, he was asserting his civil liberties. Some police officers and many liberal social workers don’t appreciate this. A short time later, a Child Protective Services worker was standing on his door step questioning his sanity and parenting abilities for allowing his children to walk home alone.
This is what CPS calls a child welfare visit. The idea is to enter the private home of a citizen, inspect it, question the parents, and even talk to the kids without the parents present (sometimes at school). Sometimes they come with a police officer. I have been on many of these calls, and the overriding theme is we are there for the social worker’s protection, and sometimes I have felt like I was being used as the heavy or to legitimize the welfare worker’s investigation.
The only thing it takes to activate CPS is a complaint or an anonymous phone call. If police or educators are involved, they are required by law to report it to CPS, which are usually over-worked, extremely young, fresh out of college kids who have no idea what it takes to raise a child. Many of them being raised in our hyper sensitive, safety conscious world just a few years ago believe any parent who doesn’t helicopter their child is unfit to be a parent.
The Meitivs subscribe to the Free Range Movement, which argues the world is not as scary as the media would make us believe, and that for kids to develop normally, they must have freedom to move and experience the world.
I subscribe to this movement as well. I also don’t see anything wrong with punishing children when they are naughty, exercising your authority as a parent over a child, and forcing your kids to do things they don’t want to do. You can say I am from the old school of parenting where I am a very loving parent, and because I am loving, I am the boss and as my dad said, “it is my house, my rules, you don’t like it, you can leave.”
You might be asking, “Wait a minute, you teach parents and kids about safety, and you think it’s ok to let them walk home alone?” I do, absolutely, with one small condition. If you’re going to send them into the world, then you are going to have to train them and give them skills to handle themselves should they meet up with a bad person. I believe most adults are good, but I have personally run into a few of the bad ones, so I have taught my kids how to recognize bad people, who to resist bad people, and how to hurt bad people when necessary, usually if a bad person is trying to hurt them.
Keeping Your Kids Safe From Government Bureaucrats
As a citizen, you should always be wary of a government official knocking at your door saying they are there to help you. I offer this advice not as a lawyer because I am not one, but I am a police officer with 23 years experience, and I have seen CPS in action, and I must say in the a few of the cases, they were doing good work, and in a few others, they were not.
CPS is like the IRS. They are an administrative county agency. They are not authorized by the Constitution, but have broad powers to take your children away from you if they believe you aren’t parenting correctly. There have been many, many stories where children have been taken from loving homes because they did not agree with a parent’s child-rearing style. Often these children are ripped away from the parents and placed in the foster care system. There are many good people in the foster care system, and there are many who are not. I will be damned if I ever allowed my children to be taken from me and placed in government care.
Children have been saved from bad situations and they have been harmed because a young government bureaucrat, usually of a liberal bent, has judged a parent as unfit because they spank, or do something deemed as otherwise unacceptable. If you receive a visit from a police officer concerning your kids and there is a young woman standing with the police officer at your door, and you haven’t done anything wrong, you need to think about protecting yourself legally.
What To Do If You Are Questioned By A CSP Worker Or Police Officer If You Allow Your Kids Freedom And Are Called On The Carpet
Most normal people believe the government is generally good, and being an officer of the law, I have met many great people. Generally speaking, police officers and social workers are trying to do the right thing. However, these same people have the same biases and political beliefs that you do. They may disagree with how you raise your kids and some may take their role as protector very seriously. If they don’t actually care, they are worried a lawyer may one day hamstring them in court and sue their pants off. Much of what CPS does is about CYA.
If Being Questioned…
If you look out the door and see a police officer standing there with your kids, you might want to answer the door to see what’s up. Our kids aren’t always angels, so they may have done something illegal that the police officer needs to talk to you about. Be friendly and ask what the problem might be. The officer will tell you. If you are the target of an investigation, he may ask you for your identification. This isn’t a good time to argue your rights because your actions may prejudice him against you.
If he does this, you should ask if you are being investigated for a crime and if you are free to leave (or close the door). If he tells you he is conducting an investigation, then you should say this, “I want to be helpful and cooperate with your investigation. While I get my identification, I am going to call my lawyer. I want him here if you are going to question me.”
By law, the officer will not be able to question you any longer. You have invoked your Miranda rights, as well as your 5th amendment rights against self incrimination. You are also not giving him ammunition by which to include any incriminating statements in his report, which may later be used to prosecute you for any perceived violation of the law.
If he has stated you are being investigated, then you need to protect yourself. It may be different with a Child Protective Services caseworker. Her investigation may be administrative in nature and may not require a Miranda warning. If you make statements to her in the presence of a police officer, those statements can be used against you.
If They Ask To Enter Your Home…
You are probably a nice person, so you may be tempted to believe that if you explain yourself, it will clear the whole thing up and they will just go away. If you believe this, you are mistaken.
Personally, I will never allow a police officer or government bureaucrat into my home without a warrant, especially if they are there to question me as a target in an investigation. Before I open the door to a case worker, I will be making a phone call to my lawyer. They will not be allowed to inspect the home. In my house, with four kids, it is messy sometimes. I don’t want this inexperienced caseworker judging me and my wife for my kids leaving bundles of socks and backpacks around the house.
If the authorities have a search warrant, they are required to knock and announce “SEARCH WARRANT” and give you time to answer the door.
If you don’t answer, they will knock your door down. If they never come in, it means they don’t have a search warrant.
Often, the initial contact with you will be before a judge is visited and a warrant is requested. You are not required to answer any questions or to allow them into your home. If I believe it is a CSP worker, I will not answer my door until my lawyer arrives. Unless you are placed under arrest or advised you are being detained, you do not have to stay and talk to the government representatives.
However, if you are advised you are being detained, cooperate but do not incriminate yourself. You may think allowing your kids to walk home is no big deal, but obviously someone in the government disagrees. At this point anything you say will only bolster the case against you.
In the Meitiv’s case, the case worker presented a form called a safety plan. The safety plan stipulates that you will play by the caseworker’s rules and the CSP administrative policies. Initially, the Meitivs refused to sign the form, but were threatened by the caseworker. In the presence of law enforcement, the caseworker told them they would have their children removed from the home if they didn’t sign the form. That is quite a threat.
Feeling pressure, they signed it. I would advise contacting a lawyer before signing anything.
In my opinion, this is tyranny. This is an action that gives the caseworker rights to your child if you violate a condition on the safety plan. The caseworker may also now have the right to come to your home and inspect it whether you want her to or not.
What To Tell Your Kids…
CPS, police, and school officials question kids at school all the time without knowledge of the parents. If a child appears neglected, has bruises, or makes statements to teachers, they must call the police or make a referral to CPS. There is no choice in this matter. However, as part of your safety plan, if you are a loving parent not abusing your children, you should advise your kids there is always a chance they could be pulled out of class and questioned.
One form of discipline I used in my house was pushups. I would rather he obtain a stronger body then lay around in time out for an afternoon.
My son, kidding, accused me of child abuse and asked what would happen if he called CPS on me. I said plainly, “If you make an accusation against us, the police, a caseworker and a judge will have you removed and taken away from us. They will most likely put you with a strange family, and it will cost a lot in time and money to get you back. Go ahead and call them if you like … I’ll miss you!” He didn’t like the sound of the consequences.
In our program, we teach kids that if they feel like they are really being hurt by anyone, they should tell and protect themselves if necessary, and I stand by this even now. I teach my kids nobody is allowed to hurt you, but I have explained what discipline looks like, and how it contrasts with child abuse. This is a very necessary conversation all parents should have with their children in today’s overprotective world.
I believe the Meitivs know their children better than anyone else in the world, and they are very loving parents who want to give them a sense of security in the world through personal independence. I applaud them for this. I wish they hadn’t said anything to the police or CSP in an attempt to protect themselves or explain their position. They have taken to the media now, so what they say will be recorded by CPS. However, it doesn’t sound like they are saying anything different than when they were first contacted.
Most likely, the CPS agency in Montgomery County, Maryland will feel the pressure and determine there was nothing intentionally criminal in what these parents did. However, if they are contacted by CPS again, I hope they take this advice and contact a lawyer before agreeing to anything.