A Maryland couple who ignited controversy after allowing their two children to walk home unsupervised from a park are being investigated again for alleged child neglect, police say.
Back in December, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv made national headlines when they revealed that they were being investigated for alleged child neglect after they allowed their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter to walk home alone from a nearby park about a mile away.
The incident became a flash point in a thorny discussion about parenting, and now the Meitivs have been associated with the term "free-range parenting." Allowing their children to play unattended was a way to allow more independence and less fear in their children's lives, the Meitivs have said.
Child Protective Services disagreed, sending the couple a letter in February that said they had been found responsible for "unsubstantiated neglect," the Associated Press reports.
On Sunday, the Meitivs say, police again picked up their children as they were walking, but instead of taking them home, held them for hours and failed to contact them to let them know where their children were.
According to Montgomery County police, someone called 911 around 5 p.m. to request a "welfare check" after Dvora Meitiv, 6, and Rafi Meitiv, 10, were spotted unattended near a park in Silver Spring, Md.
A police officer picked them up within minutes, and a short time later, called Child Protective Services "per established protocol," police said.
According to the children's parents, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, a police officer "coerced" the children into the back of a patrol car, saying he would drive them home. The officer later drove the children to Child Protective Services offices, more than two hours after the officer first found them, police said.
"I can't believe they kept the kids for hours," Danielle Meitiv said in an interview with WUSA-TV. Asked whether she would allow the children to play unattended again, she replied, "I'm not going to risk my kids being snatched again like this by CPS."
"Due to the serious nature of a Child Protective Services investigation and concern for the welfare of the children, they cannot be returned home until their safety can be assured," a police statement said.
Investigators from Child Protective Services and the Montgomery County Police are working together to investigate the incident, police said.
An attorney for the Meitiv family could not be immediately reached for comment.
According to WUSA-TV, the couple dropped the children off at a local park at 4 p.m. Sunday, instructing them to be home by 6 p.m.
According a Facebook post from Danielle Meitiv, no one notified her or her husband that their children were with officers, and Child Protective Services didn't allow the couple to see their children until 10:30 p.m. Before taking the children home, Meitiv told WUSA-TV, the couple was forced to sign a "safety plan" that says the children may not be left unattended until agency employees follow up.
"We finally got home at 11 p.m. and the kids slept in our room because we were all exhausted and terrified," Meitiv wrote in a Facebook post, adding that the children were held for a total of about five and a half hours without dinner.
In a statement, police said the officer had provided the children with bottles of water, and when they told him they had last eaten hamburgers at about 2 or 3 p.m., he offered his personal lunch to them. But Rafi told the officer that the siblings had food allergies, and, afraid he might cause an allergic reaction, declined to provide his food to them.
Asked why the officer never called the Meitivs to tell them that their children were safe, a police spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times that the officer had been instructed by a Child Protective Services employee not to call the couple, and was told that Child Protective Services would contact the parents directly.
Montgomery County Child Protective Services and the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which oversees the agency, declined to comment specifically on the Meitivs' current or past neglect cases.
"Protecting children is the agency's No. 1 priority. We are required to follow up on all calls to Child Protective Services and will continue to work in the best interest of all children," the Maryland Department of Human Resources said in a statement Monday. Citing confidentiality issues, the agency said it would "review the situation and talk to all involved parties as part of the review."