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December 7, 2006

Social Worker ‘Fishing Expedition’ Case Dismissed

The Willits family was faithfully homeschooling their eight children in Lenawee County, Michigan. Little did they know the trouble that was around the corner—false allegations, threats, an attempted fishing expedition, an improper court order—and a happy ending with the case dismissed!

The Willits family stood on their constitutional rights in refusing to allow a social worker to interview their children.

It all started when an anonymous tipster contacted social services to report the Willitses for allegedly having housing that was inadequate, particularly the family’s sleeping quarters. The social worker visited the home unannounced but the father wisely refused entry and set a time the next day for her to come back.

The father then voluntarily let the social worker into their home—but had the rest of the family gone. The social worker found the family’s home to be very clean, neat, and adequate, especially the sleeping quarters. The social worker also mentioned that she was looking for neglect and abuse, but she did not find anything that evidenced that.

However, the social worker was not satisfied because she had not completed her protocol in interviewing the children separately and alone. The Willitses, shocked that the investigation did not close immediately because it was obviously false, contacted Home School Legal Defense Association.

HSLDA’s Senior Counsel Chris Klicka immediately drafted a letter on the family’s behalf, stating he believed the anonymous tipster to be malicious, since the allegation was so absurd. Klicka also instructed the Willitses to give a number of character reference letters from people in the community who could vouch for them being good parents. In addition, he instructed the parents to take their children to their pediatrician to prove that all eight of their children were in perfect health.

Klicka’s letter explained to the social worker that an interview was not necessary since the social worker would receive doctor’s reports, as well as letters from the community vouching for the family’s innocence. He also indicated that since the social worker had already determined the allegation to be false, he was advising the family that they were under no legal obligation to have their children interviewed.

The social worker has a track record of getting her way, but the family remained steadfast, refusing an interview in order to protect their children from a fishing expedition.

Finally, a month later, the social worker contacted them again, insisting on an interview or else. But the family held firm, refusing this unnecessary trauma to their children.

Then surprise! On the evening of November 6, the Willitses were served with a court order. Apparently, the social worker had a hearing with the prosecutor and the court referee and asked for a court order—without the other side being present.

The court order stated “it appears to the court upon the filing of a petition, together with further proofs as required by the court, that there are reasonable grounds for removal of the children. . . because conditions or surroundings of the children are such as to endanger the health, safety, or welfare of the children and it is contrary to the welfare of the children to remain in the home because the Department of Human Services is asking to talk to the Willits children per Department policy. Parents have refused to let the Department talk with the children. . . it is ordered the Department of Human Services may talk to the children . . . without the parents being present within 72 hours of service.”

However, the court order had no petition attached, which is required by law. The social worker by petition has to present actual evidence of wrongdoing—not just verbal complaints about the family not cooperating with the social worker’s unconstitutional demands. Parents have the right in Michigan to refuse an interview if there is no evidence of a crime or neglect.

Also, the court order did not have a case number as required by law.

Upon being secured to represent the Willitses, Michigan attorney Dave Kallman immediately called the court referee to ask for a hearing to cancel the court order. But he first inquired why the order did not have petition or case number.

The court referee said, “that is just the way we do it here.” But as Kallman pushed the impropriety of the court order further, the court referee began to falter. Then he finally said he would check on it and talk with the judge.

The next day, Kallman checked with him and he said the court order was withdrawn.

Praise God! The Willits family was elated.

 Other Resources

The Social Worker At Your Door: 10 Helpful Hints (HSLDA members only document)