Across the States
Trivial Allegations Lead to Intrusive Investigations
According to a Minnesota social worker, local social services agencies receive $50 for each mental health screening they complete. “This money allows us to help fund the next family assessment,” the social worker told Home School Legal Defense Association Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly. “It’s a way that families can help each other out.”
Help each other out? Sounds like a conflict of interest.
In this case, the social worker was conducting a “family assessment” after allegations of educational neglect had been filed based on a report that the family’s children were “not in school.” The social worker threatened to file a Child in Need of Services petition if the family did not cooperate. Although he acknowledged that the mental health screenings were optional, the investigator strongly encouraged the family to fill out the screening forms.
Donnelly’s involvement helped the family get through the assessment without subjecting the children to unnecessary screenings or other intrusive actions. The social worker left the home satisfied that there was no educational neglect.*
In another situation, homeschooling parents of two special needs children were investigated regarding allegations of child abuse when a therapist noticed a small bruise on one child’s forehead, received when the child bumped his head while climbing into a car. The therapist explained that, as a mandatory reporter, she was bound to refer the incident to the local children and family services agency because she didn’t know whether it had happened innocently or not.
According to Minnesota law, a mandatory reporter is only required to contact children and family services if he or she “knows or has reason to believe a child is being neglected or physically or sexually abused.” A minor bruise on the forehead of a 6-year-old does not meet this threshold for mandatory reporting. Unfortunately, too many inexperienced professionals like this therapist do not exercise common sense. This lack of judgment can result in families undergoing intrusive, unsettling, and unnecessary social services investigations.
While protecting children from genuine abuse and neglect is an appropriate governmental function, families should not be subject to social services investigations just because their children are not in school or have bumps on their heads. Unfortunately, public policy allows for this kind of intrusive investigation, and too few people exercise good judgment before picking up the phone to call social services. We encourage our members to understand their 4th Amendment rights and be ready to call HSLDA should an investigator contact them.
—by Michael P. Donnelly
* See “HSLDA social services contact policy”