Free-range parenting debate prompts 16 questions from Montgomery Co. officials

Two Montgomery County council members are looking for answers to 16 questions about the proper response to calls about unattended children.

This comes after two kids from Silver Spring received national attention because of their parents' decision to let them roam alone in order to build independence. The children, ages 6 and 10, are known as the "free-range kids."

Most recently, the children made headlines after being taken by Child Protective Services earlier this month. Someone called 911 to report that they were walking alone about a third of a mile from their home. The children were placed in the back of a police car, where they spent several hours.

Parents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv had to sign a temporary safety plan in order to get their kids back that night. The plan requires the parents to no longer leave their children unattended. 

Council members George Leventhal and Marc Elrich sent the following questions to Montgomery County police and health and human services officials. They said the questions were not sent as an inquiry into a specific case.

1. What are the requirements for a Police Department response when a call reporting an unattended child is received through 911?

2. What are the requirements for a Police Department response when a call reporting an unattended child is received through the non-emergency number?

3. What are the legal requirements for mandated reporting by a law enforcement officer for a possible incident of neglect?

4. If a police officer encounters an unaccompanied child, may a police officer use his or her discretion to call a parent or guardian directly? Is this dependent on the age of the child? May a police officer drive the unaccompanied child home? May the police officer wait with the child until a parent or caretaker arrives?

5. Once Child Protective Services has been contacted by a police officer, which agency has authority, the Police Department or Child Protective Services?

6. What is the law and/or regulation that would give Child Protective Services the authority to hold in government care an unaccompanied child who has been encountered in an outside area as opposed to a building, car, or other-confined space?

7. If Child Protective Services determines that a child needs to be in the care of government staff, is there any requirement on the length of time the child may be held before a parent or guardian is contacted?

8. Is there any requirement regarding the length of time a child may be in the care of government staff before an official decision is made that the child will either continue to be held or reunited with a parent or guardian?

9. If there is a need to review or investigate whether Montgomery County-Child Protective Services has correctly followed the law, regulations, or procedures, what agency (Montgomery County or the Maryland Department of Human Resources) is responsible for conducting the review or investigation?

10. What is the time frame for completion of such a review or investigation?

11. Are the results of such a review or investigation public? If so, how are they publicly released?

12. If the results of such an investigation or review are confidential, how can they be discussed with Montgomery County officials?

13. If there is a deficiency found in a review or investigation, what agency is responsible for determining the corrective action? What agency is responsible for making sure any corrective action is completed?

14. In Montgomery County, Child Protective Services staff are County employees. If there is a need to counsel or discipline a staff person with regards to the handling of a response, is this solely the responsibility of the County?

15. Are counties preempted by the State from adopting laws, regulations, or procedures regarding Child Protective Services?

16. As part of a Child Protective Services' investigation into an allegation of possible child neglect, does Child Protective Services make any assessment about the person or persons making the report or reports to determine if there is purposeful false reporting or intentional harassment toward the family?

The council members said the intent of the letter was to understand the rules and procedures for any case and how to follow-up if an issue arises. They requested a response to the questions by Friday, April 24.

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