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August 14, 2014

Social Workers Snatch Sick Kids

HSLDA Seeks Justice for Mom Accused of Faking Her Kids’ Illness


When parents have a sick child, the last thing they should have to worry about is being falsely accused of child abuse. Unfortunately, this appears to be a more and more frequent pattern in the United States.

HSLDA is undertaking a new case that reveals a very troubling example of this problem. Any of us could be this family. We could be the parents falsely accused of abuse. We could be the ones who have our children removed from us at the very moment when they most need us—when they are genuinely ill.

Lane Funkhouser, his wife Susan, and their two children (whom we will call James and Kat) were all very sick. They went to their family doctor, who was unable to diagnose the problem.

Because the children were not getting better, their attendance at public school became an issue. So Lane and Susan decided that they would homeschool James and Kat while they searched for a diagnosis and treatment.

School officials filed truancy charges against the family, which were quickly dismissed. But, as a result of these charges, the family became embroiled with a social worker named Michael Austin, an investigator for the Clarke County, Virginia, Department of Social Services (DSS).

False Diagnosis

Austin is not a doctor. He is not a nurse. He is not a psychologist. He is not a medical professional of any stripe.

Michael Farris is founder and chairman of HSLDA and homeschooling father of 10.

But Austin determined that Susan was suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy. This outdated term refers to a psychological disorder in which a parent contends that her child is ill to draw attention to herself. It is extremely rare, and it requires a proper diagnosis by a qualified professional.

There’s one thing we know for sure about this case: laboratory results showed that the children were actually sick with difficult-to-treat illnesses, and it was not the result of Munchausen by proxy.

By the time Austin made his “diagnosis,” the family had found a doctor who determined what was actually going on. The children had a combination of strep, a parasite, and a bacterial infection called Clostridium difficile (C. diff.)—a condition that kills over 14,000 Americans each year. There were positive lab results showing that the children had C. diff. And the doctor prescribed treatment for the children for these illnesses.

The doctor told the family to go to the hospital for treatment of C. diff. They went to Rockingham Memorial Hospital where they were treated and told to return if their symptoms got worse.

In the meantime, we believe Austin had shared his Munchausen theory with the hospital staff and other DSS workers.

Unqualified Opinion

Frankly, the hospital staff should have known better. They had a diagnosis from a licensed doctor and valid lab results. But they listened instead to an inventive social worker who was utterly unqualified to be making a diagnosis of any kind.

On July 25, 2012, Shenandoah County social workers removed James and Kat Funkhouser from their home. Lane and Susan were cooperative, thinking the social workers were simply helping transport the children to the hospital for additional treatment. But that’s not what happened.

The social workers brought James and Kat to the emergency room, where—surprise!—they were diagnosed with C. diff. and prescribed medication.

Despite the fact that the plain medical facts were staring them in the face, the social workers from this neighboring county decided to pursue Austin’s theory. Rather than taking the children back home to their parents for rest and recovery, they put the children in foster care.

A week later, the social workers showed up in court to defend their decision to take away the Funkhouser children. Even though they now had medical confirmation that the children were actually sick and that Susan wasn’t just making up stories to get attention, the judge allowed them to continue the investigation and keep the children in foster care.

Meanwhile, in the foster care children’s home, James and Kat were interrogated repeatedly by employees of the home, who insisted that their parents didn’t love them and that they were never going home, and then tried to get them to give information about how their parents had neglected them.

James and Kat had no such information to give, of course. Inexplicably, the Shenandoah County investigators themselves never talked to the children.

Further Injury

While in the home, which included foster children who had violent criminal and drug histories, James injured his ankle. When he reported it to the staff, they told him it was nothing serious and refused to take him to a doctor.

On August 29, Shenandoah County DSS finally released James and Kat after being ordered by the court to do so. Their parents immediately took James to a doctor to check out his ankle. It turned out that his ankle was broken, not just sprained, and had been left untreated for three weeks. And it turned out that the Funkhouser children had been exposed to tuberculosis while at the children’s home, so to compound all their other health problems, they were put on a regimen of anti-tuberculosis drugs for a year.

About a month later, Shenandoah County DSS decided that the initial allegations about Munchausen by proxy were unfounded. On October 16, Lane and Susan received a letter telling them the investigation was closed.

But then in court on November 7, the attorney for Shenandoah County argued that the family still needed court supervision. Thankfully the judge disagreed.

Taking sick children to doctors until they get a proper diagnosis is good parenting. But too often, looking for the right doctor elicits suspicion from social service investigators and medical staff.

He looked at the medical evidence, some from the Funkhousers’ doctor and some from the court’s own medical investigator. These facts decimated DSS’ claim of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. The judge dismissed the petition, and James and Kat Funkhouser were home free.

Well, except that they had to receive several months of counseling to recover from the trauma of being suddenly taken from their parents and held in a frightening home for five weeks.

Fighting Back

Parents shouldn’t be afraid to keep looking for medical answers. Taking sick children to doctors until they get a proper diagnosis is good parenting. But too often, looking for the right doctor elicits suspicion from social service investigators and medical staff.

HSLDA is hearing about more and more cases where children are being taken away from their families because doctors disagree about their medical treatment. And we can’t take all these cases on.

But we’re taking the Funkhouser case.

HSLDA is fighting for Lane, Susan, James, and Kat because we are sick and tired of seeing parental rights eroded in virtually every area of parenting, including medical and educational decisions. We believe that parents honestly seeking the best treatment for their children should not be punished by irresponsible allegations of child neglect.

We are suing Michael Austin, the Shenandoah County caseworkers, and the employees of the children’s home for their negligence and misconduct. When government workers steamroll parents and children, as they did in this case, the government needs a sharp reminder that families have rights.

But HSLDA’s membership dues aren’t sufficient to fund cases like this one. We are representing the Funkhousers because we believe our members and supporters will identify with the Funkhousers and join us in standing up for them.

You Can Help

Your tax-deductible gifts to the Homeschool Freedom Fund of the Home School Foundation will make it possible for us to take this case to court and try to establish a precedent that will protect all parents.

When the government tramples on one family’s rights, all of us are at risk. But when we stand together, we can fight back for freedom and for truth.

Thank you for your continuing generosity in this case and throughout HSLDA’s history. Please consider supporting the Homeschool Freedom Fund, and please pray for us! We need and are grateful for your ongoing support in prayer.

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Protect Your Family

P.S. We greatly value you and your support—it is a privilege to serve you. Thank you for all you do for freedom! If you or someone you know is not a member of HSLDA, will you consider taking a moment today to join or recommend us? Your support enables us to defend individual families threatened by government officials and protect homeschooling freedom for all. Join now >>