“Parenthood is an exercise in risk management”
January 14, 2015 11:46 PM   Subscribe

It was a one-mile walk home from a Silver Spring park on Georgia Avenue on a Saturday afternoon. But what the parents saw as a moment of independence for their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, they say authorities viewed much differently.

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv say they are being investigated for neglect for the Dec. 20 trek — in a case they say reflects a clash of ideas about how safe the world is and whether parents are free to make their own choices about raising their children. Free Range Kids, and previously.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (100 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I always find myself wondering, after i hear one of those stories, how common of a problem this really is. Because 99% of what i read seems to be sort of silenced-all-my-life type of "i WOULD do this, but i just KNOW the cops would show up and bla bla bla" kind of just out in to the room.

It's really hard to discern how common authorities freaking out on this really is, and how much of it is just performative boogieman stuff that gets repeated over and over about how their rights are totally being suppressed and omg child safety stasi. Because i sure hear a lot more of "i KNOW this would happen" than "oh god this happened".
posted by emptythought at 12:19 AM on January 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


Of course it was inappropriate. Encouraging children to not be dependent on adult supervision leads to children having unsupervised experiences and, potentially, independent thought. Independent thinking, self-confidence, and a general set of survival abilities are inappropriate developments in children. They should be kept quiet, silent, inactive and scared. It is the only way forward towards a fully functional and obedient economy.
posted by Kerasia at 12:27 AM on January 15, 2015 [64 favorites]


i sure hear a lot more of "i KNOW this would happen" than "oh god this happened".

Yes! Let kids walk around their neighborhoods unsupervised and they are ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN to be abducted!
posted by flabdablet at 12:37 AM on January 15, 2015


I think the real WTF moment is right here.
"Sign our BS document or we'll take away your kids"

"The Meitivs say that on Dec. 20, a CPS worker required Alexander to sign a safety plan pledging he would not leave his children unsupervised until the following Monday, when CPS would follow up. At first he refused, saying he needed to talk to a lawyer, his wife said, but changed his mind when he was told his children would be removed if he did not comply."

What right-minded parent, especially ones that seem to have carefully considered their actions like these parents, wouldn't sign to keep their children out of the system?
posted by madajb at 12:44 AM on January 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


Yes! Let kids walk around their neighborhoods unsupervised and they are ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN to be abducted!

nah nah, to clarify what i mean, people going "IF i let my kids walk around the cops will show up instantly!".

clearly that happens sometimes, but my question is how big of a problem is it actually? because, to me, it seems like there's a lot more complaining about it being a problem than demonstration of problem in general.
posted by emptythought at 12:47 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Insisting on your rights in an attempt to frustrate petty functionaries accompanied by police is generally a tactical mistake. If that had happened to me, I would

(a) not adopt a confrontational stance against CPS by refusing access to my home;
(b) sign whatever meaningless "safety plan" they demanded I sign;
(c) immediately document the entire experience in as much detail as I could possibly manage;
(d) call Saul.
posted by flabdablet at 1:00 AM on January 15, 2015 [32 favorites]


because, to me, it seems like there's a lot more complaining about it being a problem than demonstration of problem in general.

Well, here's a demonstration for you!

More generally, the state doesn't have to persecute every person, does it, just have to do a few, and the rest will fall into line: parents will cease to parent in disapproved ways.

Conversely, not every state agency has to be opposed: one successful parent resistance, some publicity, and the social norms shift the other way: state agencies know they'll get crap if they pick up kids and give their parents hassle.

We'll see how it plays out and who wins, I guess.
posted by alasdair at 1:25 AM on January 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


> It's really hard to discern how common authorities freaking out on this really is

Well, if the events described (i.e. the police getting involved) had happened at all where I live, which is very unlikely, the police would have been told to get lost and mind their own business by most people.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:56 AM on January 15, 2015


they are ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN to be abducted!.

Well they kind of were.

When I was eight and my sister was five we walked almost a mile to school every day. Every block had a house with a special sign in a window that meant kids could go there for help. The worst thing that happened was a big, older bully who spat a huge gob of green mucus on my sister. I thrashed him with the electrical cord of the cassette deck I carried in my backpack and nothing like that ever happened again.

My son is eight. We had a rabid coyote come right up to the barn before school yesterday. "I got this daddy." And he walked out there very calmly, got in a position where a miss wouldn't go into the barn and dropped down on one knee and shot it like a pro when it came at him. And then he said "Fuck you coyote," and walked up and shot it in the head for good measure. It was something to see.

So maybe I am a terrible parent. It was the first time he told me to hang back and I thought I should let him try. I knew he could do it. Doesn't mean I was not shaking on the porch. Fear is a horrible thing to teach children. He doesn't use that language inappropriately or at school. I dropped him off and his biggest concern was what I'd packed him for lunch. No big deal.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:58 AM on January 15, 2015 [30 favorites]


I dunno if I would call CPS "petty functionaries", their job is no doubt a nightmare that requires a level of commitment I - and I think most people - could never achieve. The actions of CPS in this instance seem like standard bureaucratic if/then if not/then CYA.
posted by vapidave at 2:08 AM on January 15, 2015 [10 favorites]



My son is eight. We had a rabid coyote come right up to the barn before school yesterday. "I got this daddy." And he walked out there very calmly, got in a position where a miss wouldn't go into the barn and dropped down on one knee and shot it like a pro when it came at him. And then he said "Fuck you coyote," and walked up and shot it in the head for good measure. It was something to see.


JFC, I grew up in the country and all, but damn, when I was eight I was still hysterical when some steers died after stupidly eating bracken fern. I was not popping caps, Samuel L Jackson-style.

I hear stories like this; and I, like just about every parent in the world, think they are stupid. But they exist as stories and fables, I think, more than anything else. Having worked in childcare, I can assure you the real damage getting doled out to kids is far more challenging to confront and resolve. I view these fables as a method of comforting normal parents that the odd moment of inattention or neglect is okay, indeed good for children. As a parent, you're surrounded by this sticky miasma of guilt and things-you-should be doing, and things-you-shouldn't - I think stories like this and many others are a way of alleviating that sense of guilt and fostering solidarity in parents, because it can be easy to feel like an outlier or isolated in your parenting. Stuff like this helps parents feel less alone, less out of control, less guilty etc.
posted by smoke at 2:24 AM on January 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


Something that should be noted is that CPS shows up because somebody called them. Some neighbor decided that letting the kids walk to the park is neglect. And the standards have been shifting significantly. Helicopter parenting is the baseline expectation in many communities now. Friends hsve been harassed for letting their kids walk half a mile to school.
posted by idiopath at 2:49 AM on January 15, 2015 [27 favorites]


Lets consider the ages of the children here. I think it's a good idea for a 10-year-old to have the responsibility to walk a mile in a densely-settled area. That's a common practice in my town and it's one of the reasons that I enjoy living here.

However, it is irresponsible to give the 10-year-old the responsibility for the 6-year-old. Children that age are easily distracted, self-absorbed and prone to being clumsy. The primary danger of course is not potentials abductors, but drivers and six-year-old statures and attention spans.

I don't know that the situation warranted the attention from social services, but I'm not convinced it was gratuitous either. A child of six should be encouraged to walk, but an adult should be present to monitor the situation. If the younger child were struck by a car, there are a lot of lives potentially affected-- including the older sibling tasked with watching them.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:51 AM on January 15, 2015 [18 favorites]


Apologies for the origins of the link, but this lament on the 'loss of children's right to roam' nicely illustrates (in cartographic terms) the shrinking horizons for one particular family. As another data point, our (inner London) school allows children to walk to school on their own at age 10. They can't be responsible for younger siblings. Mayor Curley is absolutely right - it's a traffic issue.
posted by jonathanbell at 3:02 AM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Police: Damned if they do and damned if they don't:
CPS: Damned if they do and damned if they don't:
Parents: Damn if I know--Everybody is an expert
Children: I wish them well because no one is really an expert.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:04 AM on January 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


Well they kind of were.

No, no, you don't understand. Snatching kids off the streets and/or terrorizing them in their classrooms is only abduction if it's done by the bad people.
posted by flabdablet at 3:15 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Speaking as the parent of an eight and a six year old, yeah I reckon six is pretty young for this kind of thing. Ten, no problem at all, and my eight year old would be fine too, but I look at my younger son's classroom and I'm not sure any of them have enough of a clue to cross several roads safely.
posted by wilful at 3:25 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mayor Curley, I don't necessarily disagree with you, but these aren't our kids. They "should" do what their parents think is best, as a general rule. Again, I don't think you're wrong, but I think it's for the parents, not we on the Internet, to decide.
posted by alasdair at 3:26 AM on January 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


The safety and well being of six year olds should not be a responsibility that is casually shifted wholesale from the parents over to society at large.
posted by Brocktoon at 4:09 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's weird reading this as a non-US resident. I see the US as the great social experiment, where you're free to live as you choose provided you're willing to live with the consequences of your actions. Gun crime? Obesity? These are the results of personal choice, not for government interference! And then you see this, where the government is taking a lot of effort to pretty much delay responsible behaviour. We (Western society) really, really underestimate how responsible children can be when given the right environment and opportunity (e.g. Yanira in this New Yorker piece).
posted by kisch mokusch at 4:21 AM on January 15, 2015 [16 favorites]


My husband grew up in the 50s, and very often walked around downtown Minneapolis by himself when he was younger than these children. Obviously, not all kids are capable of doing this. I surely was not. But if your kids are responsible and know how to get help, and are probably carrying a cell phone, I don't see a problem with this. CPS should butt out.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:27 AM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


My 8 year old walks to school (we live on the same road as the school, but there are 2 side roads before the lollypop lady - one in particular is pretty tricky) but I probably wouldn't put her in charge of a 6 year old. I still pick her up from school, though that is mostly through habit and me liking the social aspect.

My brother and I used to travel across a bit of Brussels by ourselves when we were 10 and 8 and I used to notice we were the only unaccompanied kids around, though that might have been a function of the part of Brussels we were traveling through. It was a temporary thing until our parents found a house in the catchment area of the school and nothing terrible ever happened - I did once end up not getting on a tram that he got on but another passenger spotted this and pulled the emergency cord, much to the driver's disgust. I was very grateful to this random person but couldn't really say this to them because my French wasn't up to it.

The 8 year old and I have many conversations about when she's going to be allowed to X by herself (go to the park - this spring probably, go to a friend's birthday party at the local boys club the other side of the park, next year, go to the swimming pool with a friend, hmm, a while away yet.) We are definitely pretty far out on the encouraging independence spectrum and I wonder why. I try not to let it influence me too much, though - it should be about my individual kid's abilities, not other families' decisions.
posted by hfnuala at 4:36 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm actually okay with society being responsible for making sure six year olds walking down the sidewalk are safe.
posted by Metafilter Username at 4:41 AM on January 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


This is super weird. First, it's the park down the street from me. Second, I used to do this when I was six, like many other latchkey kids whose parents both worked.

So I don't know. It matters, a little, that Geprgia Avenue is a MAJOR road, and the intersections around the Discovery building are terrible. It's not pedestrian friendly at all and I hate walking even a little of it. But I also think a lot of social workers in my city are not very bright and the city responds by instituting strict training and codification. So just where you need maximal sensitivity and insight, you find, well, the opposite. I'm more worried about what this means for all the other families, though: the ones who can't have their injustices written up in the Washington Post.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:05 AM on January 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


The greatest threat to a 8 year old and his kid brother is a pair of 9-year-olds.
posted by klarck at 5:07 AM on January 15, 2015 [12 favorites]


CPS has very little discretion and don't cruise looking for endangered children. They are more like parole officers rather than police. Look to the ones calling in complaints (or the rule makers who give CPS so little discretion in their duties).
posted by idiopath at 5:10 AM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'd have to look at distances on a map to be sure, but I'm pretty sure that in elementary school (so by about third grade) my zone for independent movement was about three miles in each direction. That was in a small town and was just before the big hysteria over abductions -- I can just barely remember my parents discussing some prominent case in the news near the end of my time in elementary school, and a few years later the signs in the windows that were mentioned above started appearing.

Traffic really is worse now, but I wish the solution was to focus on the traffic rather than limit the movement of the kids. Lower speed limits and stricter enforcement would help, better street design would help enormously, and I am sure there are a bunch of technological improvements to cars that could be mandated, similar to lane control warnings but aimed at preventing pedestrian and bicycle deaths.

And it's worth mentioning that having that freedom of movement came with a few creepy moments (including one super creepy guy in a van that easily could have turned into a very dangerous moment) and lots of dealing with older bullies.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:28 AM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


The police were acting because someone else called. Perhaps that's the person whom the parents should speak to.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:40 AM on January 15, 2015


We had friends that made their 12 year daughter walk 3 miles to school (once!) when she repeatedly overslept and missed the bus. Her father followed her on his motorcycle to make sure she got to school safely. A passerby called 911 and reported a man following a young girl. The responding police officer, once he understood what was going on, sent them on their way with no concerns at all. That didn't stop Child Protective Services from charging the parents with inappropriate discipline. They eventually had to agree to attend parenting classes just to get the stupid thing put behind them.

BTW, the daughter never missed the bus again, and in fact recently joined the Navy after graduating high school.
posted by COD at 5:43 AM on January 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


emptythought: "my question is how big of a problem is it actually? "

I walk my kindergartener to school, a couple of blocks through a quiet neighborhood, and he likes to dash ahead of me to the corner, where he patiently waits for me to catch up. Four or five times since September, strange adults have stopped to wait with him and/or asked if he was okay and/or asked where his parents were, even though I was visible halfway down the block coming to catch up. Only two of them said something to me directly about my failures of parenting; the others just seemed to want to be sure my kid wasn't wandering the streets alone.

On the one hand I'm glad -- really! -- that strangers keep an eye out on kids in the neighborhood and are willing to take 3 seconds out of their day to make sure children aren't hurt or lost. On the other hand, I can see what a short trip it is from this sort of thing to calling the cops, especially after the two who bitched me out for being half a block away from my kid, and I feel really conscious now of letting my kids stray too far from me even when I'm there.

(I also try to be more unobtrusive now when I look around to see if lone small children either have an adult nearby or seem to know where they're going. Which of course I always do, I'm a person in the world, I want children and dogs to be okay!)

I was on a walk with my kids -- 5 and 3 -- earlier this year, before it got cold, and the 3-year-old started having a complete, sobbing meltdown because his brother was walking wrong. So I picked him up and I'm grimly hauling this shrieking, heavy child home while my 5-year-old skips alongside me, and some dude in all-white clothing and a fanny pack who was, like, powerwalking or something (basically his vibe was weird), literally stood in front of us and wouldn't let us pass until he interrogated my shrieking child (and then me) to ensure I wasn't kidnapping or abusing the shrieker. It was tremendously embarrassing and enraging, but I felt very helpless about it.

These are unusual things -- when my kids have screaming meltdowns in, say, Target, all the other parents are kind-of laughing at me, like, "Better you than me!" and I get sympathetic smiles as I mortifiedly race for the exit. But every now and then people get up in your business in a weird way, and it's very discomfiting and anxiety-producing, because modern parenting seems really fraught and CPS constantly lurks in the back of your mind.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:47 AM on January 15, 2015 [14 favorites]


That didn't stop Child Protective Services from charging the parents with inappropriate discipline.

This is the core of the problem. CPS is stuck in a strange place. If they don't know about something, no one blames them. If they take action, well, then they did something. But if they know about an odd situation and make the call that no harm was done - then it is seen as their fault if anything goes bad in the future with that family. I think it leads towards the tendency for heavy handed reactions.

As to the OP case, it intrigues me because I specifically recall walking my kindergarten aged sister to school on a few special occasions when I was in third grade. I.e. I was nine or ten and she was six. We had to go about a mile and cross some pretty major roads - although we did have benefit of a couple crossing guards. It wasn't an everyday thing, and the teachers as well as my parents were 'in on the plan'. Still, I think the presumption that children couldn't handle this due to their age is very troubling both because it removes all judgment from the parents and because it infantalizes the developing children who greatly benefit from this occasional and growing opportunity to take responsibility.
posted by meinvt at 5:53 AM on January 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


We had friends that made their 12 year daughter walk 3 miles to school (once!) when she repeatedly overslept and missed the bus.

I did exactly that once except I followed in a car not motorcycle. And the cops were called. Luckily for me they understood and CPS wasn't called. I would have lost it if they were.

I also walked to school about a mile through several uncontrolled intersections from kindergarten on. There were odd things yelled out of windows and bullies and such but I'm really glad I had to do that. It gave me confidence and independence different from my younger siblings who rode to school due to my parents' later abilities to arrange their schedules and the fact that I am the same age as Jacob Wetterling and when he was abducted (relatively nearby) it shook my mom right up.

I don't know if being a latchkey kid was good or bad for me in the long run but I can see a bunch of good that came from it and it makes me angry that my parents would have to worry about a meet and greet with CPS if I was raised the same way today. I see kids in much greater danger who aren't hassled by the system because they didn't break the right ambiguous rule or live in the right neighborhood to show up on the radar of CPS.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 5:59 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I live ~2 miles from where this happened, and regularly see 6-12 year olds walking around unaccompanied, playing in parks by themselves, etc. Many are black or Latino, though, which I suspect explains authorities and busy-body affluent adults ignoring them.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:00 AM on January 15, 2015 [24 favorites]


CPS has very little discretion...

Working for CPS is one of the most thankless, and taxing jobs imaginable. For one, like every other public service job, CPS is highly understaffed and underfunded. The difference from other public service jobs is that, if a CPS case worker gets something wrong (or, you haven't even addressed a particular case because of the backlog) and a child is injured or dies, shit hits the fan big time, which will often include media scrutiny.

Because of this, CPS workers tend to err on the side of being overly rigid and officious in their job, opting to use the nuclear option (i.e. taking the child away, or locking up the parents) more often than is probably called for, just because the results of not doing so (and something happening to the child) can be a shitstorm of epic proportions.

My wife works at an adoption agency and, over the years, they've hired women who had to get the hell out of CPS because of the pressure and soul-crushing situations they deal with. She's told me that the women often have a hard time shedding the rigidness they built-up over time in CPS, making it hard for them to deal respectfully with the birth moms. It's a job that can seriously fuck a person up.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:02 AM on January 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


I live near Silver Spring and the traffic in DC is very bad. Furthermore I spent time in a rehab hospital and most of the cases were either 1. stroke recovery or 2. pedestrian traffic accident (according to the therapists). Last year a friend of mine was killed when he was a hit by a bus in Rockville (near SS) while jogging. It sounds cliche and anecdotal but there it is.

On the positive side, Montgomery County is on the forefront of making certain areas more pedestrian friendly. Well, it was until the recent Republican victories their mantra is to build more roads.
posted by stbalbach at 6:09 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


She added: “Abductions are extremely rare. Car accidents are not. The number one cause of death for children of their age is a car accident.”

Well, yeah. That's the point. People aren't worried about a 6-year-old walking along Georgia Avenue without supervision because they think she's going to be picked up by a creep in a van, they're worried about her being hit by a car.

Obviously I don't think this is some kind of take-your-kids-away level of neglect. But it's not the decision I would make. I wouldn't let my 9 and 4 year old walk a mile by themselves down a major street, and if you think that makes me a crazy helicopter parent, so be it. Cars are dangerous and it takes a lot of experience to understand how to navigate city streets.
posted by escabeche at 6:14 AM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


You have this, and on the other hand you have the experiences of one of my students, who met CPS after somebody called CPS after hearing the kids screaming repeatedly (the father beat one of his children into a brain injury, so CPS didn't get involved quickly enough).

I don't know WTF happened here, and I'm sure it was awful for the parents, but there's awful and there's nightmares. There's been plenty of documented cases where CPS didn't intervene quickly enough, and that led to a dead kid.

So, these parents sound reasonable and like they didn't need to be set upon aside from maybe a lecture that the older kid was too young to shepherd the younger kid. But what happened to the parents is not a tragedy. What happens to abused kids where CPS doesn't intervene for whatever reason -- that's a tragedy.
posted by angrycat at 6:26 AM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


"The Meitivs say that on Dec. 20, a CPS worker required Alexander to sign a safety plan pledging he would not leave his children unsupervised until the following Monday, when CPS would follow up. At first he refused, saying he needed to talk to a lawyer, his wife said, but changed his mind when he was told his children would be removed if he did not comply."

From what higher authority does CPS have the ability to immediately remove children like this? I mean, was this a bluff? Is there actually an enforcable law that says you have to do/sign whatever CPS says immediately or they can take your kids? I understand the broader category of "neglect", but does CPS have the leeway to so broadly determine what "neglect" is? And to threaten you like this when they haven't even done a follow up or completed your case?

I want to know if they could have sued if they HAD taken their kids. Or called the police for what could be construed as kidnapping. Or does CPS just have almost carte blanche because they're CPS?
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:35 AM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


I want to know if they could have sued if they HAD taken their kids.

Having grown up in Montgomery County, I will be very surprised if this doesn't end in a lawsuit regardless.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:38 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


But what happened to the parents is not a tragedy. What happens to abused kids where CPS doesn't intervene for whatever reason -- that's a tragedy.

I concur that what happened to these parents was not a tragedy. But what happened to those kids, having cps show up at school and remove them from class to interview them was tragically pathetic.
posted by notreally at 6:38 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


People aren't worried about a 6-year-old walking along Georgia Avenue without supervision because they think she's going to be picked up by a creep in a van, they're worried about her being hit by a car.

The other day I grabbed a kid to prevent her from scootering into oncoming traffic. She'd lost control because she didn't slow down fast enough. Her dad wasn't far behind, and told me that she'd never done that before. If he hadn't been there, I probably would have walked her to school myself and then informed the staff.

I'm sure these parents know their kids and have a good sense of whether they're ready to walk themselves to school. But kids are still unpredictable, and who knows what the person who called actually saw that alarmed them. I wish that the parents had at least considered that fact rather than getting indignant at the cops and CPS. I'm willing to bet that their attitude didn't help the situation.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:40 AM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


We're missing something: "back in the day" people wouldn't have called the cops, no. But "back in the day, " it also would have been unexceptional for a stranger to walk up and ask "You OK, kid? You lost?" as they passed their front porch. Now, not so much. So if I'm a little worried about the 6-year-old, I can't say "Y'all all right? Your parents know you're out here?" Nope. In 2015 America, you let other people's little kids alone. So, who am I going to call except the cops?
posted by tyllwin at 7:03 AM on January 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


Another article I found about this event contains this:

"At the door the police officer asked to see my husband's ID, but did not explain why. When he refused, she called for backup.

A total of six patrol cars showed up.

Alexander then agreed to get his ID and went to go upstairs. The officer said—in front of the kids—that if he came down with anything else, "shots would be fired." She proceeded to follow him upstairs, and when he said she had no right to do so without a warrant, she insisted that she did.

Our 10 yr. old called me crying and saying that the police were there and that Daddy was going to be arrested. Alexander stepped outside to continue the conversation away from the kids. When he disagreed with one of the officers about the dangers that walking alone posed to children, she asked him: "Don't you realize how dangerous the world is? Don't you watch TV?" They took notes and left."

If all that is true, then HOLY SHIT.
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:06 AM on January 15, 2015 [17 favorites]


I walked to kindergarten accompanied by other children no older than 12. This was in the 90s in a not super nice part of the Bay Area, so we're not talking the idyllic Leave it to Beaver past or anything.
posted by muddgirl at 7:11 AM on January 15, 2015


Children’s independent mobility: a comparative study in England and Germany (1971‐2010) has a decent literature review and tons of charts.

"...in 2010 in Germany compared to England, 51 percentage points more primary school children were allowed to come home from school alone, 30 percentage points more were allowed to cross roads alone (according to parents’ responses; children’s responses indicate a narrower gap) and 20 percentage points more were allowed to use buses alone. The gap between England and Germany for the licence to travel home from school alone also seems to have remained large."
posted by melissasaurus at 7:16 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


So yesterday in the estranged parents thread I mused on whether us Millennials would learn from our parents and raise independent thinkers and capable young people as our own children, and I guess the answer is "no, because we will get arrested". I live pretty close to the location where this article takes place and it doesn't surprise me at all; I find this mentality extremely common in the near suburbs of DC, also the land of "public school system is terrified of local parents".
posted by capricorn at 7:17 AM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Just to add some context (re: the busy road comments) for those of you not familiar with the area, this is the Google street view in front of the building where the kids were stopped.
posted by amarynth at 7:22 AM on January 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


However, it is irresponsible to give the 10-year-old the responsibility for the 6-year-old.

ZZZzzzt. Wrong.

I won't comment extensively on this except to say that 5-year-old I walked to Kindergarten and 1st grade every day in the company of my older and wiser 6-year-old best friend. Every other 5 year old in our neighborhood did just the same.

Exactly zero Bad Things (tm) happened.

We had traffic back in those ancient days, just exactly like we do now.

The only thing changing is our attitudes, and they are changing for the worse--to the detriment of our children and our communities.
posted by flug at 7:28 AM on January 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


As far as traffic safety goes, how much does it really matter if a kid is a mile away vs. a block away or even ten feet away? If he darts into the street he's gonna have a bad time. So either we bring child tethers back in vogue or perhaps we start demanding that our communities become more pedestrian friendly...again. (Although on preview...that area doesn't look that bad- looks like it has well-marked and well-traveled crosswalks at least).
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 7:29 AM on January 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


From what higher authority does CPS have the ability to immediately remove children like this? I mean, was this a bluff?

No. I have two friends who have had this happen to them, both for relatively minor incidents. They can immediately remove kids based on their "feeling" the child is in imminent danger. It's bullshit.
posted by corb at 7:30 AM on January 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


Speaking as the parent of an eight and a six year old, yeah I reckon six is pretty young for this kind of thing. Ten, no problem at all, and my eight year old would be fine too, but I look at my younger son's classroom and I'm not sure any of them have enough of a clue to cross several roads safely.

Ahh, that's because no one, such as their parents, has bothered to take them on walks around town and work with them in developing the important skill of walking around the neighborhood and to common nearby destinations, over a period of time.

A 6 year old kid **should** have 3-4 years of functional experience in walking around their neighborhood, crossing streets, etc, with adults and older kids. A 6 year old with that kind of experience is perfectly capable of negotiating many neighborhood streets (though perhaps not all, depending on width, lanes, complexity of intersections, etc). Speaking from experience, a parent who has been through this with their child knows exactly which neighborhood routes and destinations a 6 year old is capable of safely navigating to, and which not.

But I'll wager that the kids you're talking about have effectively zero years functional experience in this important life skill.

We make our bed, and we lie down in it.

It is a very shitty bed.
posted by flug at 7:30 AM on January 15, 2015 [23 favorites]


From what higher authority does CPS have the ability to immediately remove children like this?
Probably the same authority by which the police can take a suspect into custody if they have probable cause to believe that a crime was committed. Neglect is a crime, its specific scope is defined in state statues, and CPS is not only authorized but required to act on reports of neglect within a certain timeframe, including to "decide on the safety of the child".

If there is probably cause to suspect the parents have behaved in a way that legally constitute neglect, have been informed that it legally constitutes neglect, and instead of saying "oh shit! We had no idea; We're sorry and we won't do it again" or "we didn't do what we're accused of but we will sign an agreement pledging not to do the illegal thing we're accused of" respond with "we think these actions are ok and we won't agree to stop doing it" then do you really think the right course of action for the CPS official is to walk away until the investigation has been completed? (Although in this case, they can hardly claim "we had no idea" since the couple had already had contact with CPS for allowing their kids to play unsupervised at a closer neighborhood park).

This literally hits close to home--this family lives in my neighborhood. I'm kind of on the fence about the specifics in this case. I am definitely toward the free range end of the spectrum, I let my son walk to and from school by himself when he was 6, only about 4 blocks on a straight line with no major intersections, but it was a dense urban "mixed" neighborhood (read, some crime, some drugs, would probably be described as "sketchy" by a lot of white suburbanites) so also definitely not a casual stroll through a suburban residential neighborhood. By the same token, I know that section of downtown Silver Spring and I don't think it's an appropriate place to let a 6 year old walk unsupervised (due to the traffic volume and complexity, mainly) and I don't think a 10 year old is old enough to constitute adequate supervision for a younger sibling for an extended period of time.

The tricky thing is that whereas it's easy on a case-by-case basis to see all the shades of grey, laws are a necessary thing, and laws necessarily have a more black and white approach to the world. Is it OK to let your 3-yo walk home through a dense urban neighborhood? Almost certainly not. Is it ok to let your 6-yo make that same walk? Hmmm, probably not. What about if their 10-yo sib is with them? What if you trade crossing the intersection of two 3-lane highways with a less busy intersection? Or the neighborhood park? Does it make a difference whether it's a "nice" park or a "sketchy" park? Etc.
posted by drlith at 7:39 AM on January 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


Just to add some context (re: the busy road comments) for those of you not familiar with the area, this is the Google street view in front of the building where the kids were stopped.

The sidewalk is a mile wide! It seems to me like CPS was doing their job to the best of their ability, but it's sad that whomever called the police felt the need to do so in the first place.

The tricky thing is that whereas it's easy on a case-by-case basis to see all the shades of grey, laws are a necessary thing, and laws necessarily have a more black and white approach to the world.

I'd be curious to know if there's even a law that specifically covers this situation. The law that the CPS spokesperson references in the article refers to leaving a child alone in a dwelling, not walking from point A to point B along well-known streets. I'd be shocked because children walking to and from school without adult supervision is still an incredibly common site in nearly every urban neighborhood in this country. If it is actually illegal for children to walk to school accompanied only by an older sibling, there are a lot of neglectful parents in this country.
posted by muddgirl at 7:49 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, if that area is not safe then the only conclusion can be no urban sidewalk is safe.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:57 AM on January 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Don't you realize how dangerous the world is? Don't you watch TV?"

"Don't you know as god everything-fearing American, it is your obligation to watch your nightly dose of sensationalism and fear-mongering like the nightly news and L&O:SVU?"
posted by entropicamericana at 7:58 AM on January 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's weird to hear someone alerted the cops to two kids walking down the street. All age-appropriateness and cultural shifts aside, if I saw a single 6 year old walking down the street, it might give me pause if I couldn't see a nearby adult (probably wouldn't call cops unless they were in a dangerous situation), but if I saw two kids, maybe even as young as 3 or 4 together without adults, I'd be fine with it as it's probably a couple kids walking to a house or to get the mail or around the neighborhood to check things out. They have a friend/sibling to look out for them and seem infinitely safer together.
posted by mathowie at 8:01 AM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


maybe even as young as 3 or 4

Three year olds, I have to say I'd call the cops.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:07 AM on January 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


So either we bring child tethers back in vogue or perhaps we start demanding that our communities become more pedestrian friendly...again.

When I was a kid (late 60s - early 70s), I walked unaccompanied to the local primary school (about four blocks) every school day from age 5 to age 10. So did most of the school population. Some of the older kids rode their bikes.

I recently visited the house I grew up in (temporarily occupied by my sister) and walked again to that same school to meet my young nephew at the end of his school day. Though the school's catchment area has not changed, what used to be the nonthreatening streets of my youth were completely choked with diesel-fume-belching, visibility-obscuring, darting, dodging four-wheel-drives driven by an army of mothers all hell-bent on protecting their children against being hit by cars.

It made me sad for humanity.
posted by flabdablet at 8:20 AM on January 15, 2015 [15 favorites]




Yeah, if that area is not safe then the only conclusion can be no urban sidewalk is safe.

It's not the sidewalks. It's the crossings. My neighborhood is probably best classified as "dense suburban" and there's no way I would let my six-year-old cross multiple streets without the assistance of someone at least approaching adulthood. She's not quite four feet tall, so she's not highly visible. She's six, so she's prone to thinking more about the butterfly she just saw than crossing safety. And people drive like blind narcissists on meth.

Just a week ago, I came within 18 inches of being smacked in a crosswalk by a driver making a hurried left at the end of my block. Granted it was dusk, but I'm over six feet tall and was wearing a jacket with reflective patches. If I had been someone of much smaller stature, who knows if the driver's recognition time would have been slowed. I'm almost at the "it's your kid, you define acceptable risk" level, but then I think of someone my daughter's age run down and I can't bear it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:52 AM on January 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


Three year olds, I have to say I'd call the cops.

This seems like such a weird response to me. Why not ask the kid what's up first? Maybe walk him back to his house?
posted by small_ruminant at 8:53 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


This seems like such a weird response to me. Why not ask the kid what's up first? Maybe walk him back to his house?

No, for sure I would do that. But three year old children wandering near cars?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:57 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's not the sidewalks. It's the crossings.

Are urban pedestrian crossings really demonstrably less safe for children than being in a car? It's difficult to compare fatality data (it's exceedingly rare for a child under the age of 13 to die as a pedestrian - something like 3 in one million, but how many miles do children walk vs. being driven?) but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety characterizes the most common situations for pedestrian crashes, and they generally are not situations where children would be walking unattended - after consuming alcohol, at twilight.
posted by muddgirl at 9:07 AM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


The crossings in an area like this would be, if the kids have been taught well, in a crosswalk with a signal. I'm not saying whether or not you should consider kids competent for that or not, just that I don't think this particular area should be singled out as more dangerous than anywhere else. I've driven along there a few times because I have a sister who lives nearby, and I've done a lot of walking in nearby neighborhoods. It seemed pretty pedestrian friendly where I was.

There is an elementary school across from where my sister lives and I definitely saw some kids walking there, though I didn't take note of ages.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:21 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


On the streets of early 20th Century America, nothing moved faster than 10 miles per hour. Responsible parents would tell their children, “Go outside, and play in the streets. All day.”

Maximum speed on many streetcars c. 1900-30 was ~30-40 MPH, and they were definitely operated at speeds higher than 10 MPH on straightaways and main avenues. I once spent part of a summer processing a large collection of early 20th c. newspaper clippings about streetcars and interurban railways in D.C. and many kids were killed or maimed by their rolling stock.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:23 AM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


The more I think about this (again, this is almost literally in my back yard so I'm kind of interested in the whole issue), the more it smells a bit of activist stunt and not just "I want my kids to be independent." There's a perfectly cromulent neighborhood park 2 blocks from home (where they'd been warned, apparently, about leaving their kids unattended). They live southeast of downtown, and there are four other perfectly cromulent neighborhood parks in that quadrant within a 1/2 mile that don't require hiking through downtown. So why did they decide to drive the kids across the very busy downtown and drop them off at a park more than a mile away that requires traveling/crossing the busiest business intersections in the whole area?
posted by drlith at 9:25 AM on January 15, 2015


Why is the government and society at large even involved in this situation?

The parents have no psychological or physical ailments that would prevent them from raising a child, including drug use, and they clearly aren't poor so they don't need assistance of any kind. Basically, let them raise their kids however they want and then suffer the consequences INCLUDING holding them responsible for a possible neglectful death.
posted by Glibpaxman at 9:25 AM on January 15, 2015


the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety characterizes the most common situations for pedestrian crashes, and they generally are not situations where children would be walking unattended

I'll refer you to paragraph three of question two ("What is the trend in pedestrian deaths?") from the same page:
Reasons for the steep declines during the past 40 years are not fully known, but they probably reflect decreased walking, especially among children.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:29 AM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Children are American citizens too, and our government has an interest in protecting them. They aren't property owned by their parents.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:30 AM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


So why did they decide to drive the kids across the very busy downtown and drop them off at a park that requires traveling/crossing the busiest business intersections in the whole area?

The simplest answer would be, "That park was more desirable than the other options." Maybe it had more desirable equipment. Maybe they were meeting a friend for a playdate. Maybe it was on the way home from some other location.

If this was a stunt, then to guarantee attention they would have to call the police themselves. That would be pretty easy for the police to validate.

I'll refer you to paragraph three of question two ("What is the trend in pedestrian deaths?") from the same page:

Yeah, I already granted that, didn't I? But that still doesn't mean that it is more dangerous for a child to walk for 20 minutes down streets with sidewalks and well-marked and signaled pedestrian crossings than it is for them to be driven the same distance in allegedly heavy, dangerous traffic congestion.
posted by muddgirl at 9:33 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Heck, maybe they chose a farther-away park to, as they say in the article:
"...learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency.”
posted by muddgirl at 9:39 AM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Maximum speed on many streetcars c. 1900-30 was 30-50 MPH, and they were definitely operated at speeds higher than 10 MPH on straightaways and main avenues.

It could have been worded better, I suppose. According to what I've read, average speed worked out to 12 MPH. Of course, not every community had streetcars. How many U.S. communities in 2015 don't have automobiles on their roads, outside of Mackinac Island? What is the average speed of automobile traffic? Are you aware of how drastically survival rates drop as collision speed increases?
posted by entropicamericana at 9:41 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Of course, not every community had streetcars.

True, but even in those that did, and where kids regularly ran afoul of them, horsecarts, etc., parents seem to have had much less fear of (or maybe just less agency to prevent) kids playing in the street. I don't have a good, concise source to back it up, but my guess is it's not a change in the level of danger that has led to changes in kids' freedom to roam.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:46 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's relevant, I suspect, that early 20th century children did all of their walking uphill (both ways.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:00 AM on January 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


More than almost any other thing about the U.S., this kind of thing makes me seriously, seriously consider leaving for another country.
posted by odinsdream at 10:22 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


JFC, I grew up in the country and all, but damn, when I was eight I was still hysterical when some steers died after stupidly eating bracken fern. I was not popping caps, Samuel L Jackson-style.


I get it smoke. but this is a kid who has been watching me do this for three years and helping with the rough stuff for the last year. It has been one disaster after another and I remained calm largely because he was watching me for clues about how to react. He does cry when an Alpaca eats a walnut or the dog gets swatted by a bear.

If I am a bit late with the feeding I get kicked. If he's a bit late he gets nuzzled. He has always been eager to do whatever needs to be done around here and I really appreciate his spirit because if we don't hang on to this place through this crazy probate and keep our animals healthy we are smashed on the reef, toast, kaput.

We were on rice and beans and rabbit for a couple months with no heating oil and a fireplace that smoked up the house, doing homework with gloves on and little him understands sleeping in robes and sweaters and hats in the same bed with dog and boiling water for baths as fun.

I will not let him work the baler or a chain saw, but this? This he can do with style. He'll get hurt one day. The animals will get hurt. I've been hurt. It will be OK. Model what you want your kids to be and the road rises with them.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 10:35 AM on January 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


If there is probably cause to suspect the parents have behaved in a way that legally constitute neglect, have been informed that it legally constitutes neglect, and instead of saying "oh shit! We had no idea; We're sorry and we won't do it again" or "we didn't do what we're accused of but we will sign an agreement pledging not to do the illegal thing we're accused of" respond with "we think these actions are ok and we won't agree to stop doing it" then do you really think the right course of action for the CPS official is to walk away until the investigation has been completed?

Well, I have an issue with the extreme broadness the police and CPS seem to have here about what constitutes neglect? Does the law actually say "your child is not permitted to walk or play outdoors without your supervision ever?" If the parent in this case had demanded that the police or CPS show them what law said it was ILLEGAL to allow their children to walk home, could they? Or do they have total authority to decide what they think neglect is?

I mean, I'm not super-libertarian or free-range kids or any sort of type one might think would have a major peeve about this case. But it bothers me that the only statute I could find cited as the legal backing for this was a state statute that said:

""A person who is charged with the care of a child under the age of 8 years may not allow the child to be locked or confined in a dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle while the person charged is absent and the dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle is out of the sight of the person charged unless the person charged provides a reliable person at least 13 years old to remain with the child to protect the child."

I mean, how does that apply to walking or playing outdoors without some major allowance for "...and whatever else someone decides is irresponsible?"

And also yeah, I do think there should be HUGE steps between "you did something we think might be neglect, but we need to follow up Monday" and "I"m taking your kids right now if you don't sign this thing that admits some sort of wrongdoing WITHOUT LETTING YOU TALK TO A LAWYER". Of course kids should be removed if there is an obvious, immediate dangerous or neglectful home situation. The fact that CPS was happy to leave them there IF they signed a piece of paper, I think, demonstrates that they did NOT think there was such an emergency.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:37 AM on January 15, 2015 [19 favorites]


The fact that CPS was happy to leave them there IF they signed a piece of paper, I think, demonstrates that they did NOT think there was such an emergency.

Very good point.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:55 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


We had traffic back in those ancient days, just exactly like we do now.

Well yeah, kinda.

I live very near an elementary school, built in the 60s as a neighborhood school.
Back then, my neighborhood was on the edge of town, and the local kids walked/rode over there.

Now, my town has expanded past my house, and a lot of parents drive their kids to the school on the way to work. So even though the school size hasn't changed, the school environment is much different.

This street, the school parking lot and the intersections to them were not conceived or designed for the level of traffic they get now.
The half-hour before and after school, well, it gets pretty crazy out there.

Which is not to say that I wouldn't let my child walk to the school, just that there would have to be a little training involved in the whole thing, maybe I'd accompany the first month or so.
Certainly not a pat on the head and a push out the door, like my mother did the first day of school.
posted by madajb at 11:13 AM on January 15, 2015


We had traffic back in those ancient days, just exactly like we do now.

And either no or optional seatbelts and metal dashboards and no safety glass windshields and Ford Pintos and Corvairs and escalators that could eat you if your shoes were untied.

My elementary deployed crossing guards at intersections. Trained 5th and 6th graders doing something important. Is that still a thing up North? It is not down here.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 11:43 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


We had traffic back in those ancient days, just exactly like we do now.

Around here it seems like cars aren't as careful but you can fix that by planting a cop car near areas where kids walk to school and enforcing the fuck out of it once a month or so.

I'm a 1970s latchkey kid so this seems insane to me. I feel like mine was the last generation to know any kind of freedom.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:49 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Parents can deny children certain types of medical care, based on religious belief. Parents can hit kids a fair amount, based on nothing at all. Parents can feed their kids crap from crappy fast food joints, can feed their kids so much that even quite young children can become obese. Parents can insist their children learn falsehoods, based on religious beliefs.

I walked 1.3 miles home from school starting in 1st grade. My siblings were supposed to walk with me, but that didn't last long. When I was in 3rd grade or so, sometimes I'd play at a friend's after school, then walk home, sometimes in the dark. People would offer rides, and I'd refuse, because I knew not to get in a car with a stranger. Some of those people knew my parents and me, but if I didn't recognize them, forget it. I can remember a couple of occasions when the offerer of a ride creeped me out pretty bad, and I didn't creep so easily. I babysat my baby brother starting at 10 or 11. By 10 or 11, I rode my bike all over the place. Result? I was a pretty fit kid, and I learned to be self-reliant.

CPS was way too aggressive demanding a signature and threatening removal of the kids. Questioning the kids at school would freak me out as a parent, but CPS should generally be good at talking to kids.

I'd want to hire these kids when they're of working age.

The world is scary when you're a parent. Terrifying at times. Kids can come to harm so quickly, so easily. Pedestrian/ car accident, bike accident, drowning, and then there are the grownups who want to have sex with kids, or grownups who are mean, and on and on. My parents gave us freedom because they were kind of overwhelmed with 6 kids, 1 of them handicapped. We are all capable adults, even the one with the added hassle of physical and intellectual handicaps. We had fun, we were lucky and survived a fair amount of benign neglect. I gave my son a fair amount of freedom. He's competent and self-reliant. He's happiest outdoors. I was terrified that he'd get hurt, and, honestly, terrified that I'd be guilty. But it's so obvious that kids need independence. The parents should say it's a religious thing.
posted by theora55 at 11:52 AM on January 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


It seems like the desired parenting method is just to hide your children away until they turn into adults. Drive them everywhere, don't bring your kids with you when you go places, etc. Our society is exceptionally age-segregated, and this feels like part of that.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:03 PM on January 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


I remember when, as a kid in Jr. High, I was sitting by the side of the road, notebook in hand, doing a traffic survey for some Boy Scout merit badge -- pick a street, count the cars passing, something like that -- and had no fewer than 6 adults stop their cars and ask if I needed help, and 2 separate police cars come due to calls. Fortunately I had the merit badge book with me so I could show them the requirement and avoided any problems, but even so it was an eye-opener. This would have been 1981-1982ish. At the same age, I was walking the ~2 miles to/from school every day without ever being stopped or asked what I was doing, and routinely went on multi-mile walks, bike-rides, and stream-skates (great way to get around when there's a creek that runs from close to your house down to the town center) also without incident I can remember. Changing times, or just different times and places?
posted by Blackanvil at 12:11 PM on January 15, 2015


Huh, just an ocean away...my younger son, age six, will be starting elementary school in April. The streets between here and there have moderate traffic - nothing like Georgia Avenue, but enough. There are no absolutely zero sidewalks — you walk on the far edge of the road. The school is 1/2 a mile away. And every student walks to school. For the first few weeks, parents are stationed along the roads to watch the kids, but from the second or third month onwards, every 6 year old is walking to school with friends or on his/her own.

I've frequently seen five-year olds riding the trains on their own to go to kindergarten.

The US can be so, so weird.
posted by Bugbread at 12:19 PM on January 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


The police were acting because someone else called. Perhaps that's the person whom the parents should speak to.

Last summer, my almost-4 year old got out of the house. I was in the bathroom, my 8 year old daughter had her 7 year old friend from across the street over, and the two older kids decided to go over to Hunter's house to get his nerf guns and have a nerf gun fight in the street. They turned the tv to a show for the little one and headed out, but didn't get the door closed right away. So the little one, unbeknownst to anyone, up and followed them. We live in a cul de sac that is FULL of kids playing all the time, and the big ones look after the little ones, and it works out great as long as the big ones know the little ones are out there.

In this case, that condition was not met. Lily didn't know Alden was outside until she saw him out of the corner of her eye, running off the end of the cul de sac towards the big street (school bus route, blind hill, cars regularly doing 35 mph). She SCREAMED, her friend Hunter saw what was going on and ran so fast to get Alden that I probably owe his parents a new set of shoes. He clotheslined Alden out of the gutter just as he was about to run into the street after his ball, then turned him over to Lily (who had retrieved the ball) and hauled ass back to get me. I came out, grabbed the hysterically weeping Alden out of his sister's arms, dragged him back home (50 yards away), and put him in timeout for leaving the house without telling me and DOUBLE timeout for leaving the street period.

Not five minutes later, I heard the cops out on the street, asking the kids about children playing unattended. I instantly realized what was up and ran out there all "OH HAI that was me, hey, that was me, that was my kid, he's inside, do you want to see him?" Yes, they did. When I took them in, he was standing in the living room holding his blue blankie, and he said "Blue gatorade turns your mouth blue, and my blankie is blue, and also timeout is over." The cops talked to him briefly, got my full name, explained that someone had called about an unattended 2 year old in the street and they were glad to see that he was from THIS street and not a mile up the way and that it was a simple slip in attention and they totally understood, shook my hand, and left. I never heard anything about it.

So yeah, the cops got called because someone called them. But its the cops who make the decision to involve CPS, as they did in this case, and as they didn't in mine.
posted by KathrynT at 12:26 PM on January 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


It seems like the desired parenting method is just to hide your children away until they turn into adults. Drive them everywhere, don't bring your kids with you when you go places, etc. Our society is exceptionally age-segregated, and this feels like part of that.

Fun fact: If you do this you are dooming them to enter, squinting, into a world they barely understand, and with none of the tools they need to navigate it successfully.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 1:36 PM on January 15, 2015


However, it is irresponsible to give the 10-year-old the responsibility for the 6-year-old. Children that age are easily distracted, self-absorbed and prone to being clumsy. The primary danger of course is not potentials abductors, but drivers and six-year-old statures and attention spans.

So this was somewhat earlier in the thread but I had to respond. From age 10 I, and my twin brother, were responsible for walking our younger siblings home (8 and 6 at the time). The only problem I can ever remember having was that my younger could be an absolutely contrary shit when he wanted to be, but we're all still here. No one was abducted, no one hit by a car. This was in an outer suburban area and we only had to cross one busy road unsupervised, and maybe we were unusually responsible 10 year olds, and my younger brother could be a pain but he wasn't stupid and about to run out into traffic, but it seemed entirely natural for our parents to give us that responsibility and I can't remember any concern or anxiety about it from teachers or other parents.

I don't think anyone has ever even conceived of the idea that my mother might be irresponsible, in fact she would be one of the most responsible people most people would know.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 2:34 PM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Since nobody else pointed this out, I will:

Foster care is dangerous. It is a stressful traumatic experience at best, one that often causes foster children to run away, and at worst there is the risk of abuse or neglect from foster siblings and yes, the foster parents.

The only reason to take kids into foster care is to remove them from a home that is more dangerous.
The only reason to threaten removal is to prevent parental behavior that makes the home more dangerous than foster care.

That threshold does not appear to be met here. Ergo, CPS is in the wrong.

That said, I don't know if the parents were in the right here. Gauging the speed of a moving car is an important skill, but not a natural one, and until a child has mastered it, it's not a good idea to let the kid mix up with car traffic. Especially in insanely ill designed American car country.

(I chose a house that's a safe walk to the library and the store specifically so my kids will have some space to roam withotu crossing bad traffic or walking along it.)
posted by ocschwar at 2:39 PM on January 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


In the 1980s in rural NC, we walked 1/2 mile home from the school bus stop every day. Because that was where the bus stopped. There was 1 house on the route, and a whole lot of woods. Once a creepy guy asked us for directions. My brother is 3 years older than me, so 8 year old him supervised 5 year old me when I started kindergarten. Our mom was frequently home, but she saw no reason to drive or walk up and get us, because we were fine. By the time I was 8 and he was 11, we were latch-key kids. We walked the 1/2 mile home to an empty house, and still nothing bad happened.

Not only was CPS not called, but the school system obviously knew it was happening since they were the ones who determined where the bus stops were.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:44 PM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


My grandkids live just within a mile of their old elementary school. There is a bus right to the door, but at ages 9 and 10, mom decided to quit fighting them over riding the bus every day. The route took them less than a half mile down a reasonably busy road, with houses 1/3 mile apart, then into a suburb--all with sidewalks or bike/walk lanes. They had lots of experience with finding their way to and from school, plenty of lectures on traffic and personal safety, and bike safety as well. They were supposed to walk or their bikes together only after being escorted for several weeks. Tons of kids walked or rode home from the school various distances, and sometimes a bunch would ride the bus sometimes just a few.

One fine spring day, my darling 10 yo ADHD granddaughter decided to ditch her younger sister and friends and walk home in Boise, ID, by herself, sticking her thumb out. That went as well as could be expected. Concerned civilians reported it; cops picked up the kid; discussions were held between mom, cops, and school. Outcome: kid on bus or picked up by mom for the rest of the school year. Now this kid doesn't have the best judgement, and I'm really, really hoping she didn't intend to get into a car, assuming one had stopped. At age 13, she now walks home without screwing around.

Interestingly enough, her mom had done the same thing in our smaller, rural ID community. No cops were called, but when I found out through neighbors, hell was raised. I'm not entirely sure what mom's intent was, although at that time ('90s) it wasn't unknown for kids here to hitchhike with friends or local people they knew and not have too many eyebrows raised, although it was likely to be mentioned by the neighbors.

Flashback to the late '60s, when I was teen and guilty of sticking my thumb out walking down a rural road in PA after missing the afternoon bus. I'm sure I'd have mooched a ride with a friend had one come along, but the main intent was sheer smart-assery, and had anyone I didn't know stop for me, I'd have laughed and run. I probably did this for 3 out of the 7 miles I walked; it was so amusing. Nobody called my guardian, and no cops were involved. Pretty sure if they had stopped, they would have told me to behave and get home, then gone on.

Obviously, shit can happen at anytime, but of the three of us, my granddaughter was probably the safest, if you count the number of eyes watching. Around here, if I saw a 9-10 yo kid walking alone or with another kid, I wouldn't think anything of it, unless the kid were crying, appeared lost, or there was something about the situation that sent my spidey-senses tingling. At 6-8, again, depending on the circumstances, the place, and the time, I probably wouldn't look twice. Ages 3-5, if they were on task and only going a short distance down a suburban sidewalk, fine. Anything younger needs to have a minder attached.

My life would have been living hell had I not been able to roam for miles alone in the country as a kid.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:16 PM on January 15, 2015


We had friends that made their 12 year daughter walk 3 miles to school (once!) when she repeatedly overslept and missed the bus.

See i just... don't get this.

When i was 12, my mom decided it was time to give me her old phone.(this was recently enough that you could get a cellphone, but long enough ago that even the most basic cellphone still cost as much as a mid-level iphone now and was maybe $2-300 on contract probably, with a credit check and yada yada). It broke in a couple days, and my dad bought me a nice phone. While a delicate bauble to protect, it was also my do-whatever-the-fuck-i-want card.

I walked to the afterschool program i attended from home, probably about this distance every day. Sometimes i'd bike or ride my moped*. Took the bus wherever the hell i wanted and went essentially wherever i wanted. The only rule was pick up the damn phone, and say where i was going.

Some parents were shocked, some were shocked i was even handed the phone. No authorities were ever involved or made to be involved though, and any time it even vaguely seemed like they could be i'd either flash the phone, or pull out the phone and just call my mom and hand it to said authorityperson.

I also always carried a $20 supplied by my dad though for incase-shit, and only relinquished it for something if i was being handed at the very least an amount that would supply me bus change home. And my parents were aware i already had an intimate encyclopedic knowledge of the transit system, the layout of town, and could find my own way essentially anywhere within city limits(and could figure out how to call/hail a cab, make change at a gas station/grocery store to catch the bus or buy a cheap beanie if i forgot one and it got rainy or cold, etc).

I knew girls then, and know other women now who had a similar upbringing and it's just fucking... weird to me that this is how it is now. It was totally 100% normal for me and my friends to leave our houses, roam the neighborhood in search of other friends walking probably farther than that, pawn money off of parents or something, and then take the bus across town to an arcade to play games all day and eat junk food, and make our own way home afterwards. We all had keys, a couple of us had phones(that the other parents knew their kids could call them on, or that they could call me and i'd find them and go "oh hey uh... it's your dad :\".

Shit, my elementary school let the 1st graders and up walk to the after school program 3-ish blocks away as long as they did it in a huge mob. There were lit crosswalks, and on most of the unlit ones crossing guards. I wasn't allowed to because yea that's vaguely ridiculous, but most of the kids did... and no one called the freaking cops or CPS.

And to be clear, metafilter existed when i was 12. This wasn't that long ago. I'm 24.

*this is another stupid story, that i even had this, but anyways
posted by emptythought at 5:58 PM on January 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


emptythought: "And to be clear, metafilter existed when i was 12."

That is wrong and to protect my own sanity I refuse to believe it.
posted by Bugbread at 6:03 PM on January 15, 2015 [23 favorites]


Fortunately I had the merit badge book with me so I could show them the requirement and avoided any problems

Your papers, please
posted by flabdablet at 7:33 PM on January 15, 2015


And to be clear, metafilter existed when i was 12

When I was 12, not even mathowie existed.
posted by JackFlash at 7:52 PM on January 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


Why are we criminalizing childhood independence? (WaPo columnist)
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:01 PM on January 15, 2015


I had an utterly insane discussion with a social worker once at a dinner function. A friend had gone through a pretty terrible situation with CPS. She didn't call a lawyer because she couldn't afford one. I seem to remember him telling me that parents shouldn't have an attorney involved because it just disrupted the process. He insisted to me that social workers could not make mistakes because they were experts at family relationships and child rearing. I found the man's certainty frightening. I have spoken with auto mechanics who possessed a better developed sense of humility about their field of expertise -- and even a Ferrari race car is a more deterministic system than a family unit.
posted by wuwei at 6:37 AM on January 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I realized I should have said that in addition to my idyllic 1980s childhood of independence, I live in a town now where most kids walk to school alone and that is considered normal. Decatur, GA is about 5 square miles. There are 5 elementary schools, a middle school, and high school. The first few weeks of school, you see a lot of parents walking kindergarteners to school, but by this time of year, all the kids are just roaming the town in packs. After school, the middle and high schoolers tend to hang out on the town square, go to Chik-Fil-A or the candy and ice cream stores, etc. In the parks, kids are playing on the playgrounds and the soccer fields and basketball courts without an obvious chaperone anywhere. On the last day of school in the spring, my neighbors will wait at the bottom of the hill for their elementary aged kids to walk home, and then they will attack their children with squirt guns and water balloons.

I have no idea how this weird little town has worked this, but people move here so that their kids can have this lifestyle. We don't even have kids, but we love living in a place where people aren't creepy, creeped-out and paranoid and where it is safe for people of all ages to be pedestrians and bicyclists.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:50 PM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


He insisted to me that social workers could not make mistakes because they were experts at family relationships and child rearing. I found the man's certainty frightening.

If I were his boss, his having made that statement in public would be grounds for dismissal.
posted by flabdablet at 1:18 AM on January 17, 2015 [1 favorite]




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