Who Ya Gonna Call?
by Jim Mason • August 19, 2019
My swift response protected a child from a vindictive relative. At least, that’s what our member told me after I intervened during an all-too-common crisis sparked by a false accusation.
It started when the receptionist tracked me down around 12:30, while all the other attorneys were at lunch or otherwise busy helping other members. One of our members had a CPS investigator at the front door.
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The homeschool mom quickly outlined the particulars of the situation, but I knew even before speaking to her that it would probably follow a familiar pattern.
New Movement, New Suspicions
In the early days of the modern homeschooling movement, we at HSLDA discovered that CPS investigators routinely avoid interacting with parents at the beginning of an investigation by going to the child’s school or pre-school.
But, because homeschooled children are at home when they are at school, CPS investigators could not easily avoid parents. This led to many distressing encounters for homeschooling families, often for the simple act of homeschooling during an era when it was not as accepted as it is today.
We also learned that we and CPS investigators had a far different understanding about a family’s Fourth Amendment rights when state officials come knocking.
Here to Help
Soon after our founding in 1983, HSLDA set up a hotline that members can call anytime so we can help them navigate these difficult encounters and protect their Fourth Amendment rights. More importantly, we try to help them protect their children from the insecurity and trauma caused when a stranger shows up, insisting on coming into the home and interviewing children apart from their parents—routine demands made by CPS investigators no matter the nature of the report.
CPS investigations are often instigated in response to anonymous or malicious hotline tips which later prove to be unfounded. In fact, the United States Department of Health and Human Services has kept statistics revealing that over 80% of tips are unfounded.
The damage done to thousands of kids when investigators do not behave responsibly is incalculable. My aim in helping the member on this call was to prevent the investigation from causing any collateral damage.
The mom told me they had recently asked an adult relative who had been staying with them to leave. As always, the investigator would not reveal the identity of the tipster, but there were enough facts to know that it must have been the relative—the allegations were designed to retaliate.
After speaking to our member and the investigator, we arrived at a mutually agreeable course of action that would satisfy the investigator, leave mom in control, and protect her daughter.
A few days after the investigator left, the mom sent me a note.
“CPS was able to determine that the accusations were false and everything was unfounded,” she wrote. “I truly appreciate how swiftly HSLDA was able to step in and speak with investigators to be able to detour them from further traumatizing my daughter. I want to let you know how much I truly appreciate the urgency of everyone on your team.”
HSLDA attorneys handle hundreds of calls like this every year. Each situation is different, and we strive to make sure our members understand their rights and all the options available to them.
HSLDA attorneys know that CPS investigators have a difficult and often thankless job in protecting children from abuse and neglect.
But we also agree with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which said in one of our early cases on behalf of the homeschooling Calabretta family: “The government also has an important interest in protecting the interests of children in the privacy and dignity of their homes and in the lawfully exercised authority of their parents even while investigating allegations of abuse or neglect.”
It is HSLDA’s job to make sure CPS investigators remember this second responsibility while pursuing the first.