April 11, 2003

Mike Farris Addresses Social Workers at National Conference

On April 1, 2003, Home School Legal Defense Association Co-founder and Chairman Michael Farris addressed a national gathering of social workers in St. Louis, Missouri.

Gateways to Prevention, the 14th National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect, hosted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services' Administration of Children and Families, was designed for "child protection workers and administrators, social workers and others committed to ensuring the protection of children" according to the conference website.

Farris was invited by Bush administration officials to discuss Home School Legal Defense Association's legal work protecting innocent families during social worker investigations.

"Many of these social workers came to the conference looking for the latest 'federal mandates' concerning child abuse prevention," said Farris. "I wanted to encourage them to consider the U.S. Constitution their ultimate federal mandate."

About 200 conference attendees listened to Farris' talk on HSLDA's work. Most of them were key liaison officers between the state child abuse prevention agencies and the federal HHS. These select state employees are typically the people who see that federal monies from the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) are implemented properly.

Although conference organizers welcomed Farris, the response his talk received from conference attendees was decidedly mixed.

"Most [attendees] were astonished to learn that the 4th Amendment applies to them," Farris said. "They seem to believe that introducing constitutional analysis to their work 'upset the system.'"

Farris confirmed in his talk that the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals (in Calabretta v. Floyd 198 F.3d 808 (1999)) ruled that social workers, as agents of the government, are bound by the same search and seizure rules as police officers. These rules are derived from the principles of protection found in the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

After years of representing innocent families who had their rights violated by unlawful social worker investigations, an invitation to speak at such a conference is a significant and positive step forward for Farris and HSLDA.

Fortunately not all of the response was negative. According to Farris, a few conference attendees acknowledged that social workers in general needed to do a better job respecting families' rights. One conference goer even tracked Farris down after his speech and told him that she, too, had been working with families falsely accused of child abuse.