June 26, 2003

President Bush Signs 'Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003'

President Bush, yesterday, signed the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003 (S.342). The new law will help protect innocent families against overly intrusive social workers. "Over the years thousands of homeschool families have been victimized by social workers operating on nothing more than a tip from an unknown stranger," said Michael Farris, General Counsel for Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). Michael Farris joined President Bush along with Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, Senator Judd Gregg, House Majority Leader Tom Delay and Representatives Boehner and Hoekstra for the signing ceremony, which was held in the Oval Office.

Photo Credit White House photo by Susan Sterner
President George W. Bush signs S. 342, the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003, in the Oval Office Wednesday, June 25, 2003. The act reauthorizes the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program and other related programs. (Mike Farris standing far right)

The Keeping Children and Families Safe Act 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 his statement the signing President Bush said, "I commend Congress for passing the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003 and am pleased to sign it into law. The Act will allow us to strengthen state and community-based programs that prevent child abuse and family violence and treat victims."

HSLDA believes those who abuse children should be severely punished. Yet in its 20-year history, HSLDA has handled thousands of cases arising from anonymous tips made to social workers concerning the conduct of homeschooling families. These tips, often supplied by those holding a grudge against home education, are often investigated aggressively. Social workers frequently demand to inspect the bodies of homeschool children or to interview very young children outside the presence of their parents.

"Such aggressiveness, in a system which presumes guilt, can result in needless pain and anxiety for families," said Farris.

HSLDA championed three new changes in S.342. First, social workers will now be required to tell families the nature of the accusations against them at their first contact. With this information, families will be able to legally challenge the social worker and demand that a warrant be obtained before interviews or investigations are conducted. Since warrants can only issue from a judge on the basis of probable cause, overzealous cases can now be efficiently weeded out.

The second provision will require that social workers be provided with additional training in the constitutional rights of citizens. Social workers will be advised that the Constitution protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. The third pertains to citizen advisory boards which can hear complaints against overly aggressive social workers.

In November 2001, HSLDA Senior Counsel, Chris Klicka, testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Select Education about this legislation. His testimony was influential in convincing the subcommittee to add these significant amendments to the bill.

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

HSLDA will be working with both the federal Health and Human Services Department and with the state legislatures to implement and codify this new language.

Visit our Issues Library for more information on this bill and child welfare reform.