Spokesperson: Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to “examine the policies” of state CPS in “free-range parenting” case

Governor Hogan

Photo by Maryland GovPics is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Regular readers of Children, Families and the Law have come to know the Meitiv family of Maryland, who were recently found “responsible” for “unsubstantiated neglect” for allowing their children to walk home unaccompanied (and safely) from a local park. It’s now a national story, touching a nerve for many who wonder if limited public resources are used effectively in child protective services agencies. Whether your concerns center on child protection or parental rights (or both), it’s hard not to ask, “Is this a good policy? Should this practice continue?”

As promised here last week, I asked those questions of those paid by Maryland taxpayers to address child safety and child neglect. First, to the CPS agency, the Maryland Department of Human Resources, through their Interim Deputy Director Paula Tolson. Then, to the Department’s head, Secretary Sam Malhotra. Those inquiries produced predictably non-responsive responses, explaining the policy but refusing to answer whether the agency considered this a good policy that they intend to continue.

Free Range Kids

Photo by Dylan Passmore is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Somewhere along the line, we allowed “confidentiality” for kids and families to justify secrecy by governmental CPS agencies. “Story-killing” is the term used in PR circles, and the consensus among many in government communications jobs is to ride these “negative” stories out, saying as little as legally possible, in the hopes that a factory fire or celebrity scandal will dominate the next news cycle and make that child protection story yesterday’s news.

How remarkable, then, to receive a prompt and professional phone call from the communications office of Maryland’s new Governor, Larry Hogan. The Governor is newly installed and very busy, I was told, pressed for time to address the many issues facing a state’s new chief executive. All true, I’d imagine, but like every state, Maryland has limited resources, and needs to spend tax dollars efficiently when protecting children and serving families. Is it good public policy to investigate parents for letting their kids walk through their own community unaccompanied, in the absence of any other threat to safety? Will Maryland continue to do this to the Meitivs, and to other families? Or will Maryland reconsider its policy?

Here’s the answer, direct from the Governor’s spokesperson: “The safety of children is of the utmost importance to Governor Hogan, and should be to all parents and caregivers. Governor Hogan will examine the policies of Maryland’s Child Protective Services to ensure they are fair and reasonable and put the needs and well-being of our children first.”

Give the guy credit. A statement doth not equal reform, but give the guy credit for having the courage to touch the third rail of state and local politics – child protection – to admit that a state’s policy needs a second look. We’ll keep an eye out to ensure they make good on the promise, but at least on one day in one state, an elected chief executive publicly acknowledged their accountability for protecting children and serving families fairly and reasonably. Give the guy credit.


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.

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