May 2, 2003

Child Welfare Reform Passes U.S. House and Senate

New protections for innocent families facing investigations by social workers are soon to become law. At the end of March, both the House and Senate passed H.R. 14 and S. 342, the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act.

The Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003 reauthorizes and modifies the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) and related law. These programs generally support activities to prevent and treat child abuse and family violence.

In November 2001, Home School Legal Defense Association Senior Counsel, Chris Klicka, testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Select Education about the these bills. Klicka convinced the subcommittee to add two significant amendments to protect families' due process rights when faced with a social worker investigation.

By negotiation behind the scenes, HSLDA was able to preserve these two amendments over the last year and a half. The amendments in H.R. 14 and S. 342 require all 50 states to:

  • Require child protective services workers to be trained in their duty to protect the statutory and constitutional rights of those they are investigating;

  • Require child protective services personnel to advise individuals subject to a child abuse and neglect investigation of the complaint or allegation made against them.

  • Requires "Citizen Review Panels" to provide for public outreach and comment in order to assess the impact of current procedures and practices upon children and families in the community and in order to meet its obligations.

Additionally, Klicka talked with a supportive Deputy Secretary of the federal Health and Human Services Department, he agreed to allow us to help write their federal social worker guidelines to implement these amendments during social worker training.

To further bolster the intent of Congress regarding these amendments, report language accompanies the soon to be enacted law, removing all doubt that social workers must be trained in how to protect 4th amendment rights.

For example, the U.S. Senate report language states:

The committee has also included a requirement for training of CPS workers on their legal responsibilities in order to protect the constitutional and statutory rights of children and families under investigation…

[T]he committee believes it is important for child protective services personnel to understand and respect fourth amendment limitations on their right to enter a home when investigating an allegation without a court order…

The committee firmly believes that individuals being investigated for alleged child maltreatment should be informed of the specific allegations made against them…The committee recognizes that it is a basic right for all citizens to be informed of what crime they are being accused of at the time they are being asked for an interview or entry into their home.

Likewise, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee issued similar report language saying:

During the hearings on CAPTA, the Subcommittee heard concerns about the number of parents being falsely accused of child abuse and neglect and the aggressiveness of child protective services personnel in their investigations of alleged child abuse. Mr. Christopher Klicka of the Home School Legal Defense Association described numerous cases of innocent families being aggressively investigated on allegations of child abuse and neglect only to have such cases later determined to be unsubstantiated or false.

With these amendments and the report language clearly showing the intent of Congress, families in all 50 states will have more protection from overly aggressive social workers. This is a breakthrough for parents' rights and will enable HSLDA to be better armed to defend members families.

In addition to working on the implementation manual with the federal Health and Human Services Department, HSLDA will be working with the legislatures in the 50 states to codify this language into state statutes. This process will ensure these protections will be put in place.

H.R. 14 and S. 342 are presently in conference committee to work out a few minor program disputes. HSLDA's language is not expected to be touched since our amendments are the same in both the House and Senate version of the bill.

 Other Resources

Klicka Testimony (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

H.R. 14 Language (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

House report language (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

Senate report language (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)