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Massachusetts

March 7, 2016

Biased Caseworkers Trigger Intrusive Investigations

Biased Caseworkers Trigger Intrusive Investigations

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Home School Legal Defense Association believes there may be official policies prompting the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) to impose more intrusive investigations on homeschooling families based on the erroneous assumption that homeschooled children are more at risk of undetected abuse than children attending public school.

Mike Donnelly MIKE DONNELLY Contact attorney for Massachusetts

HSLDA has encountered this troubling and recurring development in several recent DCF investigations of member families. These cases involved the allegation (sometimes anonymous) that children who had recently been withdrawn from public school to be homeschooled were “not in school,” or arose in the context of family disagreements over the parents’ educational choices. (Massachusetts school districts have a bad habit of filing allegations of educational neglect with DCF when students are absent from school, instead of sending a truant officer.)

Although a number of these cases should have been closed immediately when the families offered proof of compliance with Massachusetts’ homeschool law, the investigators sought more intrusive and longer-lasting investigations. When HSLDA Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly pressed these investigators for explanations, they replied that homeschooled children need additional scrutiny because they are “not visible in their community,” i.e., not as accessible to caseworkers and mandatory reporters as children in public school are.

Similar Attitudes

Although these cases involved social workers from different geographic areas, the investigators all expressed the same biased attitude toward homeschooling families. They also considered the families’ compliance with homeschool laws to be irrelevant to whether they continued their investigations.

Like many states, Massachusetts gives DCF investigators access to interview and inspect children in public schools without parents’ knowledge or consent. DCF does not have this latitude with homeschooling families, whose children are educated in their own homes and thus protected from unreasonable searches and seizures by the Fourth Amendment. But it does not follow from this that homeschooled children are any more likely to suffer undetected abuse or neglect than their traditionally schooled peers.

Just like other children, homeschooled students participate in community events, sports, and extracurricular activities. They attend church, go to the library, take music lessons, and hold part-time jobs.

The idea that traditional school is the most likely place for abuse and neglect to be detected reflects a common assumption, but not the actual data. In 2014, legal and law enforcement personnel made 18.1% of all abuse and neglect reports, and nonprofessional sources (such as parents, relatives, and neighbors) made 18.6%. Education personnel made 17.7%. Social services personnel made 11.0% of reports and medical personnel 9.2%.

It is inaccurate to assume that the abuse of a homeschooled child is likely to go undetected simply because he or she does not regularly encounter education professionals. And to presume that children are implicitly at higher risk of abuse or neglect just because they are homeschooled is nonsense.

Appropriate Role

Over the past five years, the annual number of children involved in child abuse investigations nationally has increased from approximately 3.0 million to 3.2 million, while the number of children determined to be abused or neglected has averaged 690,000. HSLDA acknowledges there is an appropriate role for government intervention when children are abused, and we encourage adults in the homeschooling community to be informed about preventing and responding to child abuse. However, we categorically reject the idea that homeschooling families, as a class, should be treated with suspicion merely because they choose to educate their children at home.

If you are a member of HSLDA and are contacted by a child abuse investigator, we encourage you to immediately call us in order to receive specific advice for your situation. The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution applies to child abuse and neglect investigations and protects you, your home, and your family from unwarranted government intrusion. For more information about your Fourth Amendment rights click here.

If you are not a member of HSLDA, we invite you to join and to enjoy the peace of mind that comes with membership. Our experienced legal staff are available to defend your family and homeschooling from unreasonable and unwarranted government intrusion. Together we can keep homeschooling safe and secure for all of us. Join today.

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HSLDA Social Services Contact Policy

We desire to advise our members in every contact with a social worker and/or police officer in investigations resulting from allegations of abuse or neglect. If homeschooling is an issue, we will represent our member families until the issue is resolved. On Fourth Amendment unreasonable search and seizure issues, HSLDA will advise our members whenever the privacy of their home is violated by forced or coerced entry for the purpose of an unsubstantiated investigation. HSLDA membership benefits do not extend to court actions resulting from non-homeschooling matters. However, in circumstances where there is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, HSLDA may, as we have done in the past, choose to take the case in an effort to establish legal precedent.