April 19, 2001

North Carolina Bill Stops Social Workers at Your Door

NORTH CAROLINA—If House Bill 971 passes the state legislature, social workers' access to private homes will be significantly limited. Introduced by Representative Russell Capps, this legislation would prohibit social workers from entering private residences without permission from the head of household or appropriate legal authority. The bill specifies "legal authority" as a law enforcement officer acting under a court order, armed with a search warrant, or having reason to believe that the children in question are facing eminent danger.

The legal difficulties encountered by the Stumbo family prompted the introduction of this bill. This North Carolina family's problems started when a social worker insisted upon entering their home and interviewing their children in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

At about 7 a.m. on September 9, 1999, Jim and Mary Ann Stumbo's two-year-old failed to put on all her clothes before exiting the front door in pursuit of her pet kitten. Her brother brought her back inside about three minutes later. However, within two hours, a social worker drove up the dead-end street leading to the family's home on a 10-acre lot. The social worker did not have a warrant to enter the home or examine the children as required by the Constitution. Nevertheless, she demanded to interview each child without the presence of their mother. When the family refused, the Department of Social Services filed a petition alleging "interference with a child abuse investigation."

The trial judge ruled that social workers are not "state actors," that a child neglect investigation is not a "search," and that the Fourth Amendment did not provide the parents with a "lawful excuse" to refuse entry. However, in an extraordinary move, the North Carolina Court of Appeals blocked the trial court order, and allowed the Stumbos time to appeal the case. Michael Farris, HSLDA's General Counsel, appeared before the North Carolina Court of Appeals on March 13, 2001, arguing that the order to investigate was unlawful in that it ordered parents to submit to a search and interview without the requisite showing of probable cause. We are currently awaiting a decision.

For more information on the Stumbo case, visit our website at http://www.hslda.org/legal/state/nc/19990915Stumbo/default.asp.

 Other Resources

4/19/2001 North Carolina Action Alert: Proposed Legislation to Limit Social Worker Access to Private Homes