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"Free range" parents cleared in one of two cases

SILVER SPRING, Md. - A Maryland couple who were investigated for neglect after letting their two young children walk home alone from local parks have been cleared in one of two such cases.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Child Protective Services has ruled out neglect in the case against Danielle and Alexander Meitiv for allowing their children, ages 10 and 6, to walk about a mile home in December.

The suburban Washington, D.C., parents have been investigated three times since October by the Montgomery County agency, a division of the state Department of Human Resources.

"Free-range" parents clash with Maryland CPS again

The agency has been monitoring the Meitivs for their advocacy of so-called "free-range" parenting, which encourages independence and exploration. They remain under investigation for neglect related to their children walking home from another park April 12. The children were held by police and Child Protective Services for more than five hours that day.

The new Child Protective Services finding followed an appeal of the agency's earlier decision holding the Meitivs responsible for "unsubstantiated" child neglect, a finding typically made when there is conflicting or insufficient information for a more definitive conclusion.

The Meitivs said they were surprised when they received the letter May 18 stating that neglect was "ruled out" in the December case.

"It was an enormous relief and vindication," Danielle Meitiv said. "Of course there's no neglect here. There never was. There was never even a hint of it."

Is "free range parenting" really child neglect?

The letter didn't indicate whether the agency has changed its approach more broadly toward children walking or playing on their own outdoors, or simply made a narrow decision related to one case. Department of Human Resources spokeswoman Paula Tolson wouldn't discuss the Meitivs' cases specifically, citing confidentiality rules.

"The process is that each case is looked at separately and the circumstances surrounding that case are investigated," she said.

The agency has until mid-June to issue a written decision in the April case. The Meitivs said they hope the recent decision means they will be cleared in that case, too.

"What we're hoping this means is that they recognize we never should have been on their radar," Danielle Meitiv said. "Nothing we have done should have triggered an investigation."

Legal analysts have questioned the investigation and the initial seizure of the kids.

Legality of "free-range" parenting

"In essence it's like a false imprisonment, what happened to these kids, even though CPS probably had the best of intentions," CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman said on "CBS This Morning." "Remember this, it's hours where these parents don't know where their kids are and where the kids don't know where their parents are."

State law in Maryland says, "A child under the age of 8 years old" cannot be left alone in a "building, enclosure, or motor vehicle" ... and they must be with "a reliable person who is at least 13."

"There is nothing on the books about a child being accompanied by an adult, or someone 13 or older, if they're outside," Kleiman said.

When the Meitivs spoke with "CBS This Morning" in January, they said they were unwilling to alter their parenting style,

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