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Protect Children from Strip Searches, HSLDA asks Supreme Court

by Helaina Bock • April 11, 2019

On Wednesday, HSLDA filed an amicus curiae brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case that could halt warrantless strip searches during child welfare investigations.

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Home School Legal Defense Association is asking the Supreme Court to take the case of a 4-year-old child, I.B., who was strip-searched by a CPS investigator.

Though this incident occurred at school, we are asking the Court to rule in order to help us protect the many homeschool children who endure similar trauma.

“I Hope She Doesn’t Come Again”

When the child’s mother, who is listed as Jane Doe, picked I.B. up from preschool one day her daughter asked, “Mommy, do you remember when the woman with white hair came to my school? I hope she doesn’t come again, because I don’t like it when she takes all my clothes off.”

The little girl’s horrified mother immediately contacted the preschool, but the teachers assured her that nothing had happened. Unsatisfied, Jane continued to press the school on the issue.

Weeks later, the school finally revealed that, during a child abuse investigation, a caseworker, Ms. Woodard, had strip-searched I.B.

Eventually, the investigator admitted that she had not only taken I.B’s clothes off against her will, but she had also taken color photographs of the child’s naked body. After finding that no abuse had occurred, Woodard had simply closed the investigation.

Lasting Damage

But, for I.B., its consequences persist. Far from safeguarding her welfare, this search left the 4-year-old with similar symptoms to children who have suffered from sexual abuse.

I.B. repeatedly talked about the incident, her mother said. The little girl was angry about the search, and told her mother she no longer wanted to go to school because she didn’t feel safe there. For I.B., her preschool—a place where children should feel safe and nurtured—became a place of humiliation and degradation.

I.B.’s reaction is not unique. Children who endure strip searches commonly display similar symptoms to sexual abuse victims. Certainly, these strip searches violate basic boundaries of privacy and bodily security that most children develop at a very young age.

As HSLDA’s amicus brief notes, psychologists have confirmed that these searches can cause trauma for children, often leading to symptoms such as “sleep disturbance, anxiety, recurrent and intrusive recollections of the event, and even suicidal attempts.”

Despite these known harms, child welfare investigations often escalate into invasive strip searches that rarely lead to a discovery of child abuse.

When Home is not a Sanctuary

For some homeschooling families, these invasive investigations have occurred right in their own homes.

Ever since its founding in 1983, HSLDA has come alongside thousands of families to protect children's interest in the privacy and dignity of their homes.

In 1999, HSLDA served as lead counsel in Calabretta v. Floyd, where a child protective services investigator entered a homeschooling family’s house without a warrant and strip-searched their 3-year-old child.

The Ninth Circuit held that this investigation violated the family’s constitutional rights. HSLDA also filed amicus briefs in two other strip search cases, in Camreta v. Greene, and Roe v. Texas Dept of Protective and Regulatory Services, where a CPS investigator conducted a genital examination of a 6-year-old.

Yet, more than two decades later, strip searches during child welfare investigations are still occurring. Currently, HSLDA is representing homeschool mom, Holly Curry, whose six children were strip-searched after their mother had left them in the car in plain sight on a cool day for less than 10 minutes when she darted into Cobbler’s Café to buy them muffins on the way to karate practice.

CPS investigators have claimed that during a child abuse investigation, they should receive an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. Circuit courts are split on this issue. Some have affirmed that child welfare investigators have the authority to seize children and strip-search them without a warrant.

Help Us Protect Families

These circumstances demand Supreme Court action to halt what HSLDA called in its amicus brief “the nationwide problem of unconstitutional searches and seizures of children practiced on a regular basis during child welfare investigations.”

HSLDA firmly believes that child welfare investigators play a vitally important role in protecting children from abuse and neglect. But equally important is the child’s right to privacy and dignity during abuse investigations. It is tragic when the individuals who are entrusted with the protection of children inflict the very harm they are meant to prevent.

Because of the generous support of our members and donors, for the past two decades, HSLDA has been able to advocate on behalf of children and their families to help prevent this type of tragedy from occurring in the future.

As HSLDA Vice President Jim Mason explained, “What happened to these families could happen to anyone. We currently have a system that thinks it’s okay to routinely strip-search young children. That’s why HSLDA’s work to change the current system is so crucial.”

Would you consider making a gift to help us continue and expand this crucial work?

Thank you for standing with us as we stand with families like I.B.’s and the Currys to effectuate this change and, thus, ensure that every child has the opportunity to thrive.

Helaina Bock

Media Relations Specialist

Helaina Bock serves as HSLDA’s media relations representative and writes content for HSLDA’s website. In 2018, she graduated from Patrick Henry College with a degree in American Politics and Policy. In her spare time, Helaina enjoys hiking and spending time with friends and family.

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