“It’s not an issue of ‘fairness’ to parents”: Maryland’s CPS, Parental Rights and Free-Range Parenting

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“It’s not an issue of ‘fairness’ to parents,” is the response I received from Maryland’s Department of Human Resources, the state’s child protective services agency. No kidding. I had asked some basic questions relating to Montgomery County’s investigation of Alexander and Danielle Meitiv, the parents who unapologetically allowed their two kids to walk home unaccompanied from a local park. They admit they’d do the same thing again. This blog discussed the case back in January, and the parents have now been “found responsible” for “unsubstantiated neglect,” an oxymoronic (or maybe just moronic) classification that allows Maryland to maintain a file on the parents for five years, even though no one in Maryland government has substantiated that they’ve ever done anything wrong to endanger their children.

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Photo by Chris Devers is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In fairness to the Maryland agency, their full response was, “This is not an issue of ‘fairness’ to parents but of allowing local departments to know if they have already investigated a certain report and to assess a new report in the context of what the agency already knows about the family.” The only problem is that the agency, by admitting they couldn’t substantiate any allegation of harm, doesn’t “know” anything about these parents being abusive or neglectful and meriting state monitoring. Is this good policy? So far, both the state agency’s head and the Maryland Governor’s office have not returned messages asking that question.

Administrative rules and procedures employed by CPS agencies are not often enough a matter of concern for child advocates. Trained to advocate within the courtroom context, we may not see the events leading up to that first court hearing as worthy of our attention. Au contraire, Pierre. What a state or county agency does to families prior to filing an actual case often sets that case on an irreversible path. Will parents be seen as quasi-criminal abusers or well-intentioned caregivers? Montgomery County clearly places the Meitiv family in the first category, and any subsequent contact with the parents – even if due to unfounded complaints by an ill-intentioned neighbor – will be considered in the context of the previous report, its “unsubstantiated” finding notwithstanding.

I get that kids need to be protected, and that CPS agencies should have records to inform their work. Does that mean that society benefits when we pay investigators with public funds to investigate kids walking home from the park? Wouldn’t kids be safer if those very busy investigators concentrated on credible allegations of serious and actual harm? Would Maryland like to change its policy?

I’m asking those questions of Maryland’s new Governor, Larry Hogan, and his new Secretary of the Department of Human Resources, Sam Malhotra. Once the latest east coast snowstorm passes, I expect a response. I’ll let you know what they have to say.


Note: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NACC.

About Kendall Marlowe

Kendall is the Executive Director of the National Association of Counsel for Children, the national advocacy organization of attorneys and other professionals representing children and families in child welfare, juvenile justice and custody cases. Kendall served as Chief of the Bureau of Operations and as Deputy Director for the Department of Children and Family Services in Illinois, where he was also spokesperson for the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Governor’s Long Term Care Reform Task Force. Kendall grew up in a family that welcomed six adolescent foster youth, has been a foster and adoptive parent himself, and worked as a social worker with at-risk, homeless and foster youth on Chicago’s south side. He holds a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, where he received the Wilma Walker Honor Award; and a J.D. and Certificate in Child and Family Law from the Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where he was an Honorary Child Law Fellow.

2 Comments
  1. Thank you for this spotlight on the importance of child protection administrative decisions being based on sound logic and evidence! As Kendall is well-aware, my office (The Family Defense Center — founded by Diane Redleaf) intentionally focuses on the “front-end” of the child welfare system, endeavoring to secure justice for families by doing what we can to make sure the state agency gets it right before things spin out of control. As federal District Court Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer (ND Ill.) noted in one of her extensive Dupuy decisions, “indicating” reports of abuse/neglect without sufficient evidence of wrongdoing by the caretaker harms the children of Illinois.

  2. Fair process and child safety is a complicated balance. Protection workers will often err on the side of safety and courts will often err on the side of fair process. This is an example of why there needs to be judicial accountability for the actions of governmental child protection agencies. That being said, the courts can and should continue to work on processes that guarantee fair process but do not unreasonably act as a barrier to the goals of strengthening families and keeping children safe.

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