As near as I can tell, there is no debate as to what happened: 10 year old and 6 year old, unaccompanied on 1 mile walk to park. Some other adult saw this happening and called police. Police picked up the children. CPS became involved (honestly? How does CPS NOT get involved if your children are picked up by police.). Antics involving free range parenting advocates ensued.
2 month investigation, possible outcomes were: ruled out (didn't happen), unsubstantiated (keep an open file, otherwise no action unless something else happens) and indicated (would have required some sort of action beyond open file). The parents received the middle one, which is the very best possible outcome they could have hoped for.
But that is not how this quote suggests they saw it: "“We don’t feel it was appropriate for an investigation to start, much less conclude that we are responsible for some form of child neglect,” said Danielle Meitiv, who said she and her husband plan to appeal and worry about being investigated again by CPS."
Maryland CPS has a policy on this exact subject:
"Maryland Child Protective Services Procedures (SSA95-13) define an "unattended child" as:
A child under eight left alone or in the care of a person who is not reliable or who is under 13.
A child aged eight through 12 left alone for longer than brief periods without support systems which should include phone numbers of parents, other family members or neighbors, information about personal safety, and what to do in an emergency. Children in this age group may not be left to care for children under the age of eight."
And they are in violation of that policy. I tried to find the Wheaton public library policy on unattended children, because I'm betting this family was in violation of that as well, when they previously let the kids walk unattended to the Wheaton library.
I'm a little unclear on what the goal of the parents here is. If the goal is, "No person should report my kid to the cops for wandering around while young and unattended," I think they will probably not attain that goal, altho presumably their children will, over time, age out of the reportable range. If the goal is, "When someone reports my kid to the cops, I hope the cops do not respond", I guess that actually frightens me a lot and I would work to counter that goal. If the goal is, "When the cops interact with my children, I hope they send my kids on their way or bring them home to me without telling CPS," then I think I also find that frightening, because I think that while cops are amazing, brave and well-trained people, and many of them are excellent parents, I _don't_ think they have the appropriate training to decide what to do with a child who is wandering around unattended and young. CPS are the people who have that expertise; I want them to call CPS. CPS has taken a good first step (did NOT take the kids away or lock the parents up; _did_ induce a healthy concern about being out of alignment on parenting values with the larger, surrounding community), but I expect more steps will be needed (because it looks like the parents are _really_ idealistic, and retain an idea that the larger community will start seeing things their way).
I suspect that many of the parents involved in free range parenting were raised in a completely car-oriented, adult supervision sort of way, and the idea of being able to walk around and go places without parents/adults and the structures they impose is romantic and appealing. Because I had to walk a mile to school in grade school after my older sisters had aged into junior high and high school, as a third grader and responsible for a first grader, I don't find the lack of supervision and adult presence romantic and appealing. I find it, frankly, terrifying. As a 14 year old, I walked the same walk to pick up an 8 year old and a 5 year old to walk them to their house and keep an eye on them until their sheet rocker dad or bank teller mom came home. My $1.75/hour child care was all they could afford. But when I look back on that job (I loved the kids and the parents were kind, hard working people doing their very best), I see child labor (me) and a special needs 5 year old who was not getting anything like what he needed.
Presumably, there is some sort of balance to be found between never a moment to oneself as a child and being responsible at a too-young age for someone even younger. I hope we figure it out. Soon.
ETA: An alternative perspective on free-range parenting from the 1970s. The now adult then child was then 12, which is older than 10. And older than 6, for that matter.
It's unclear what the author's take-away is on this, but it doesn't sound uniformly positive ("victim", "extreme", and some negative language on the parental partying).
It is, I should add, _really funny_, and, like riding around in the back of a pickup truck on the freeway, quite fun at first, until you start thinking about it, and then the parental decree that that was Never Gonna Happen Again doesn't actually sound that ridiculous. Also, the freeway pickup truck thing was really cold.