Home School Legal Defense Association attorneys are battling to protect parents from unwarranted intrusions by local social workers seeking to verify false accusations of child abuse.
HSLDA attorneys have seen increased challenges to home-schooling and family integrity by overzealous social workers seeking to eradicate child abuse. Of course, if parents are actually abusing or neglecting their children, HSLDA urges the families to cooperate with the authorities in order to protect the children.
However, many government social workers who are empowered to root out child abuse are violating the constitutional rights of parents with heavy-handed investigations. Many times the accusations are false. The social workers seem to think that because child abuse is such a terrible crime, they can do whatever they want when investigating child abuse allegations. These social workers reason that child abuse is so heinous that they don’t need to allow pesky obstacles, such as the Constitution, to stand in their way.
Because of this, many parents suffer intimidating, traumatic child abuse investigations that have no factual basis. HSLDA is trying to right the balance by demanding in court that social workers obey constitutional and statutory restraints on their behavior.
In the Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas area, a social worker investigated an accusation of child abuse made by an anonymous phone caller. The social worker demanded to interview the children.
The parents refused, because the social worker did not have a search warrant. The parents and HSLDA wanted to cooperate with the investigation without surrendering the parents’ legal rights. HSLDA had the family pediatrician examine the children. The doctor wrote a letter to the social worker, saying that there were no signs of child abuse or neglect.
Additionally, the family had a teacher, who is also a neighbor, talk to the social worker and assure her that there was no child abuse in this family. Nonetheless, the social worker sought a court order commanding the family to allow her to interview the children.
Michael Farris represented the family in court and argued that the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment and Texas law require the social worker to show “probable cause”—to offer evidence showing that child abuse probably was taking place. Of course, the social worker had no such evidence except the bare allegations of the anonymous phone caller. HSLDA awaits the court's ruling on this matter.
Also in Texas, HSLDA is filing a federal civil rights action on behalf of two other Dallas-Ft. Worth-area families who were falsely accused of child abuse. After their investigations, the social workers said they were “unable to determine” whether the accusations were true or not because of insufficient evidence.
In spite of this finding, Texas law requires that the families’ names be placed in a central computer because they were merely accused of child abuse (the computer also contains the names of people actually found guilty of child abuse or neglect). Police, social workers, and others have access to this computer list. HSLDA argues that it violates the Constitution for the State of Texas to maintain a computer file of people who have nothing more than unfounded accusations of child abuse in their record.
HSLDA attorneys are involved in similar situations in other states. A family in Kansas has been accused of child abuse basically because the family is home schooling their son. Social workers in Colorado obtained a court order and turned the lives of a family upside down while conducting an intrusive investigation. The social workers said they found no evidence of child abuse. A family in Washington state is being threatened with child abuse charges because they refused to allow their newborn baby to receive a routine drug given to babies at birth, due to the parents’ concerns about the side effects of the drug.
Throughout American history, there have been several episodes where the government used a major problem as an excuse to trample the constitutional rights of its citizens. The government pointed to the evil (communism, child abuse, etc.) and then set out plans that violated the Constitution in order to eliminate the problem. Those who objected to the plan because of the constitutional violations were then condemned and accused of really trying to protect the evildoers. When Americans face a terrible problem, such as child abuse, we must remember that constitutional protections should not be cast lightly aside. The wisdom of the Founding Fathers established constitutional procedures to protect regular citizens from abuse by unfettered governmental power.