Many families have contacted us about a concern that policy changes made in response to the coronavirus pandemic could empower government officials to take custody of children.

Home School Legal Defense Association takes these questions seriously. We have been working hard to keep homeschooling families informed about changes in regulations that affect them, so that parents can focus on keeping their children safe and educationally on track.

We are happy to report, then, that two specific inquiries we’ve received regarding child welfare agencies and custody rights in California and Oregon are based on misinformation.

In California

A document purportedly on California Department of Social Services letterhead has been making its way around social media. This letter was supposedly directed at Merced County families who participate in CalFresh and Medi-Cal, programs that provide food and health care.

This letter claimed that COVID-19 testing was mandatory for all members of a household receiving assistance from these programs. Along with this concerning statement, the letter purported “should you test positive for COVID-19, and in compliance with the state of California Welfare and Institution Code, The Humans Services Agency of Merced County may deem it necessary to remove all children under the age of 18 from your household who have tested negative, and place them in temporary foster care until such time that you have been determined to be recovered” (emphasis mine).

If true, this would have been extremely concerning. Thankfully, however, this letter is fake. The California Department of Social Services, in response to this letter, made the following statement:

State departments and county human services departments never will ask about your health status in connection to an application for benefit. Similarly, children must be subject to abuse or neglect to enter foster care. Children cannot be put into foster care just because a parent may be ill.

You can see this information here. In these situations, it is not always easy to spot a fake letter. One common clue is a tendency toward basic errors such as misspellings and obvious grammatical errors. In this fabrication, the letter referred to agency as “The Humans (sic) Services Agency.”

In Oregon

Another member recently asked us about a new form from the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) that was raising alarm. The title of the form was “New OR-Kids Case Note Value for COVID-19 Tracking.”

Those sending around this form were alleging that a child could be forced into the Substitute Care Program, the Oregon foster-care system, if their caregiver was infected with COVID-19.

However, a close reading of the form and a deeper look at how the Oregon foster care system works reveal that Oregon DHS is not attempting to take children from parents with COVID-19. DHS wants to make sure that any child who does enter state foster care because a parent has COVID-19 will be tracked differently than those who are removed from their home.

According to the DHS website, the Oregon Substitute Care Program “is designed as a critical safety net for children with immediate safety needs,” which generally means only those children who “cannot remain safely with their parents” and “are dependent, neglected, mentally or physically disabled, and placed in the legal custody of DHS by a court.”  

While families occasionally place a child voluntarily in state custody for a short time and under particular circumstances, most children entering the Oregon foster care system “are there involuntarily as a result of abuse or neglect they experienced in their family home.”  All information is taken directly from Oregon DHS here.

Moving Forward

HSLDA continues to monitor these and other concerns that relate to the right to direct a child’s education and other parental rights. We are also working with other organizations and individuals who have more, broader concerns along these same lines.