The past year has been difficult—if not downright scary—for parents outside of the mainstream. The media has reported several cases of children being removed from their homes when parents have made decisions that don’t necessarily jive with society’s views.

It started last June, when a young vegan mother in Florida had her infant taken by Child Protective Services because she gave him soy formula. Her 12-day old son had lost 10% of his body weight, and a doctor told her to take the infant to the hospital. Instead, Sarah Markham, who had been trying to breastfeed exclusively, decided to try soy formula first. Her son was taken by Child Protective Services and placed with her parents. What did those parents do? They fed him soy formula, on which he thrived. In November, after being separated from her child for five months, a judge threw out the case against her.

Over the summer, two cases sparked a nationwide debate about children’s independence. In South Carolina, Debra Harrell was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old to play at the park alone, with a cell phone in case of emergency, while she worked at a nearby McDonald’s. In Florida, Nicole Gainey was arrested for allowing her son to walk to a park that was about 1/2 mile away from their house. Gainey’s case ended when the state decided not to prosecute. Harrell’s daughter was returned to her, but social services was still involved in her life as late as November.

In December, a Maryland family came under investigation by Child Protective Services when parents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv allowed their 10-year old and 6-year old children to walk one mile home from the park. This story was picked up nationwide, sparking a debate between “helicopter parents” and “free range parents.” The Meitivs call themselves “free range parents,” although they think the name is absurd. They simply don’t see the need to supervise their children’s every moment. Their children were not taken from them, but they did have to sign a document stating that they would not allow the children to go out unsupervised, at least until the investigation was over.

In Connecticut, a 17-year-old home-schooled girl with Hodgkins Lymphoma was taken from her mother’s custody and forced into chemotherapy against her will. “Cassandra C.” and her mother, Jackie Fortin, had chosen not to pursue chemotherapy treatments, so the state of Connecticut stepped in. At the beginning of January, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the state could continue supervising and enforcing the chemo.  At age 17, a person can choose to have an abortion, place a child for adoption, or parent a child. However, the state believed that Cassandra was not competent to make her own medical decisions, and that her mother’s negative feelings about chemotherapy were not in the teen’s best interest.

On January 12, seven children were taken from their Arkansas home under murky circumstances. The Stanley family home schools and conducts home church services. They are “preppers,” defined as  ”[people] who believe a catastrophic disaster or emergency is likely to occur in the future and make active preparations for it.” Apparently, neighbors called the sheriff after seeing the children out barefoot in the snow. The parents state that they were just having fun, taking pictures of their footprints in the snow. The media has reported that the family has MMS (Miracle Mineral Solution) in the home. MMS is either a cure for cancer or a toxic chemical, depending on who you ask, and the media stated it was the reason the children were taken from the home. However, the Garland County Sheriff’s Department stated that MMS was not the sole reason for removing the children, who are still in state custody.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to know why, exactly, a child was removed from a parent’s care. Usually, social services cannot or does not comment on investigations. What seems like a gross overreach from an agency that wields almost absolute power with little oversight might actually be a smart move by a seasoned caseworker who does not want to see more broken children.

Adoptive parents are in an interesting place in this discussion. We’ve had our lives examined and approved by social workers. We literally got licenses to become parents. Once we do become parents, we’d like to think that the decisions we make are ours to make. That the scrutiny is over, and our authority as parents will not be questioned, at least, not by anyone other than our own, precious children. (“You’re not my real mom!” Really? Are you imagining this conversation right now?) Stories like these may cause us to second-guess our parenting choices. We may be pulled in to discussions and bring with us the knowledge of what our children went through before they came to us. It’s important to keep our minds open and to refrain from judging other parents—or social services—based on what little we can find in the media.