We Need Strong Communities, Not Big Government

By Amelia Hamilton Published on April 22, 2015

In January, a couple of Maryland kids were playing at the park. The Meitiv kids, then aged 10 and 6 1/2, were dropped off at a park about a mile from their house by their parents, played for a while, and then headed home. Seems pretty mundane, right? Unfortunately, on their walk home, the kids were stopped by two police vehicles. Although they assured the officers that they were fine and were headed home, the police insisted on driving the kids home. A few hours later, Child Protective Services were at the door.

CPS told the couple that the children were not allowed to be unsupervised until the issue was “resolved,” or their children would be taken into custody. The children were interviewed without their parents being present, or even their knowledge. The investigation came to nothing, but the family was put through the government wringer. If only it had ended there.

This month, the children were again picked up by CPS and weren’t reunited with their parents until some 6 hours later. For the first two hours, the Meitivs heard nothing and were in a panic about their children’s whereabouts. To bring them home, CPS made the parent sign documents saying that they would not leave the children unattended. “They were both scared they would never see us again. They were scared they were being taken away from us. I was scared of that, too,” Danielle said in an interview with the Washington Post.

Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids, said that the problem is a modern society that always thinks the worst. “We’ve been encouraged in our society to do what I call worst-first thinking, which is come up with the worst-case scenario first and proceed as if it’s likely to happen, and that’s what happened with the Meitivs,” Skenazy told CNN. “Someone sees two children alone, and they leap to ‘Oh, my God, they’re neglected. What if they’re run over by a Mack truck? What if they’re kidnapped? There are predators all around.’”

The Meitiv case has made more headlines than other cases, but it is certainly not unique. This has highlighted problems with our growing nanny state at both the national and local level that will arrest parents or take their children for not parenting as they would. It also makes me wonder what has happened to community. Has it disintegrated to this point? What does it say about our society that the neighbors would call CPS on this family, where there are countless other ways to handle the situation?

If worried, shouldn’t the neighbor have first checked on the kids themselves? That’s what the Meitivs said they would have done. ”We have no problem with people looking out for our kids. That’s actually what people always did, look out for each other,” Meitiv said. “It’s the idea that looking out for them then becomes reporting them to the police and making it criminal … that it becomes somehow this is neglect.”

At the risk of sounding older than my years, this would never have happened when I was a child, at least where I grew up. Neighbors looked out for neighbors and, if anyone was worried, they would simply have kept an eye on or checked on me themselves. Nobody would have looked out their window, seen young Amelia on the swings, and called CPS. At most, they would have taken me home or called my parents out of concern. Unless there was a serious issue, nobody would dream of calling the police or child protective services. A child walking home from the park is hardly a cause for alarm.

This is a dangerous mindset, when we bypass normal contact with neighbors and go straight to the government with our concerns. It ignores all the natural and informal civil connections that should, and usually do, mediate between individuals, families and the state.

It also puts undue burden on CPS resources as they chase down these non-issues when there are children who are in serious need of CPS intervention. How many resources are diverted from kids who are truly in need because CPS is busy investigating safe and loving families? It makes government bigger and more intrusive when what we need is for it to shrink. What we need are stronger communities, not bigger government. We need neighbors who care instead of neighbors who are distant and suspicious. We need to stop handing the nanny state our freedoms and our children and get back to building community together.

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