SILVER SPRING, Md. (WJZ) — Free-range parenting controversy. After an outcry over one Maryland family’s decision to let their children walk free in their community, state Child Protective Services is changing its policy.

Derek Valcourt with more on the sudden change.

The new state guidelines make it very clear that just because a child is alone outside without adult supervision, it is not enough for Child Protective Services to launch a neglect investigation–unless that child is in harm’s way.

For months, WJZ has been following the story of Danielle Meitiv and her husband, who practice what they call “free-range” parenting, allowing their 10 and 6 year old kids to walk and cross the streets in their Silver Spring neighborhood alone.

But twice in the last year, concerned citizen calls to 911 have triggered child neglect investigations against the family.

READ: What Happens After Calling Child Protective Services

Now the Department of Human Resources issues this clarification in a policy directive, saying children left unattended outdoors is not enough to trigger an investigation by Child Protective Services unless there are:

“…circumstances that indicate that the child’s health or welfare is harmed or placed at a substantial risk of harm.” Adding: “…it is not the Department’s role to pick and choose among child-rearing philosophies and practices.”

Valcourt: “Do you feel vindicated by this announcement?”

Meitiv: “I feel like this shows exactly why we needed to speak out.”

Danielle Meitiv tells WJZ the clarification is a step toward respecting the rights of parents, but needs to go further.

DHR says the state will take into account several factors in determining if an unattended child has been neglected.

They include the nature of the harm or risk the child was exposed to. They’ll also consider the child’s age and maturity, the length of time they were left alone and where they were left alone.

Danielle Meitiv says she thinks the guidelines should take into account whether children have their parents’ permission to be walking alone.

“A lot of this heartache could have been avoided if somebody just called us and said, ‘Hey, do you know your kids are out here walking?'” said Meitiv. “‘I do know that. Yes, they have my permission. And yes, I know they are capable.’ And that could have been the end of the whole thing.”

But this is not the end of the ordeal for the Meitiv family. They are still awaiting a decision on one of their two neglect cases and they’re pushing ahead with a civil suit against the state.

WJZ wants to hear from you:

Do you agree with what officials are now saying, should children be able to walk alone, play without adult supervision? If yes, should there be an age restriction?

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