The birth of child should be an occasion for joy and celebration. But for Joseph and Natasha Kelley, the recent arrival of their healthy baby—their fourth—turned scary and stressful when hospital staff called CPS to prevent the family from leaving.
Christopher Kelley was born at around 12:30 p.m. at a hospital in Weston, West Virginia. Natasha's obstetrician delivered the baby and told the mom and dad that he looked great. Christopher was nursing and within hours was demonstrating that all his necessary bodily functions were operating normally.
The Kelleys, who homeschool, are a close family. Their children are young—the oldest is not yet 10. Natasha knew her older children were anxious to meet their new brother. And she wanted the kind of rest that is sometimes difficult to get in a busy hospital.
Confronted by an Inflexible Policy
The Kelleys discussed their desire to not stay in the hospital overnight, and Natasha’s doctor raised no objections.
But when the parents told hospital nurses that they intended to go home about 4 p.m. and take the newborn with them, they encountered a much different reaction.
One nurse said the family’s insurance would not cover birthing expenses unless the mother and child stayed overnight. Joseph Kelley replied that he had already spoken to his insurance provider, who had verified that they would pay for the birth whether the mother and child stayed in the hospital or not.
Shortly afterward a second nurse entered their room and asked in a threatening tone, “So I hear you want to leave today? Just so you know: If you leave before twenty-four hours, we are mandated by policy to report you to CPS.”
The Kelleys were shocked and dismayed.
Scared and Looking for Help
Joseph explained, “We had no idea what to do, and we were looking at each other in consternation. We started to discuss our options although we felt pretty sure that this was wrong. We were very concerned that CPS might try to take our child if we tried to leave. We had never had a CPS interaction. First thing that came into our mind was that we might lose our child. We didn’t know what they were going to do. Our last son was born with a heart condition, and we thought he might not survive, so this brought back all of the terrible memories.”
He added: “We were terrified.”
As Natasha explained, “We started to rethink our decision about leaving. We felt pretty sure we had a right to go home, but were very scared about losing our baby to CPS. It wasn’t long after that that CPS worker did show up even though we hadn’t made a decision, nor had we made any attempt to leave.”
The CPS worker came in equipped with all kinds of personal information about the Kelleys and their children and started to ask rapid questions about their family and why they wanted to leave “early.”
“The CPS worker was very pushy,” said Natasha. “We felt browbeaten over our decision. Because we had talked about the possibility of a home birth with our doctor, she tried to use that as a way to undermine our decision. ‘Are you a doctor or a nurse?’ she asked me? ‘What makes you qualified to make that decision?’”
After gathering information, the CPS investigator stepped outside to communicate with her supervisor. When she came back in, said Natasha, “she told us that ‘her supervisor agrees you cannot leave the hospital, and if you do, we will step in. We would take measures to prevent you leaving.’“
At this point, the Kelleys were able to get me on the phone.
Protecting Children: It’s Part of Our Mission
The Kelleys called our after-hours emergency number. Even though their legal issue did not directly involve homeschooling, we helped.
When HSLDA was founded in 1983, many thought homeschooling was illegal. This resulted in CPS investigations simply because homeschooled children were not enrolled in the public schools. We learned that by helping our members understand their rights, they could be more confident in dealing with CPS workers or other authorities. By following our suggestions early in an investigation we found that our members could realize more positive outcomes.
National statistics indicate that most reports of abuse and neglect are unfounded, suggesting that CPS resources are overstretched and focused on situations that do not require government intervention. Our experience with social services agencies over several decades has led us to conclude that CPS systems are in need of significant reform. Too many agencies follow an unnecessarily intrusive, one-size-fits-all investigative approach. This often causes more harm than good. By limiting needless intrusion into children’s lives investigators could focus more attention on situations where state involvement is warranted.
Because the right to homeschool depends heavily on the right of parents to raise, nurture, and educate their children, HSLDA at times represents a family beyond the initial CPS contact even when homeschooling is not the issue. A recent example is a case we did in 2020 in Texas. There we obtained a published appellate court ruling that put CPS investigators and juvenile court judges on notice that they must respect the constitutional rights of parents—and the interest of children in the lawfully exercised authority of their parents.
A Policy is Not the Law
I approached the Kelleys’ situation knowing this background, but I also knew that the hospital policy was not a law, and that the family certainly did have the right to leave.
I explained this to the CPS investigator and affirmed that this was especially true when there are no medical concerns. A hospital policy that expects a one- or two-night stay is not really medical advice. I told the CPS investigator that as a parent of seven children our newborns had never stayed in a hospital overnight either. I also said that unless there were legitimate allegations of abuse or neglect, the hospital should leave the family alone and let them go home as they wished to do. Otherwise their actions amounted to harassment.
The CPS investigator told me that she would check with her supervisor and the assistant prosecuting attorney she was working with and get back to me.
About 30 minutes later, though it must have seemed like an eternity to the Kelleys, the CPS investigator returned. She informed the family that the assistant prosecuting attorney had told her that I was right and that if there were no medical concerns the family certainly could leave. At that point I thanked the investigator, invited her to contact me for any follow-up, and she left.
Within an hour, the family signed discharge paperwork and headed home, where they could joyfully celebrate being reunited and herald the arrival their newest member.
Not all situations like this are resolved as quickly, so I was glad that common sense prevailed. Regrettably, there are just too many medical professionals who think that their advice is law, or who think that a family who doesn’t follow their advice is neglecting or abusing their children.
When I caught up with the Kelleys a few days later to see how they were feeling, they said that Christopher was doing fine and they were so glad I was able to help them. It was one of the most scary and stressful things they have had to deal with.
“We were really glad we signed up with HSLDA—it was the best money we could have spent,” Joseph told me. “We signed up because we believe in the cause of homeschooling so much. We never thought we would need the legal services. We’re already planning to sign up for a lifetime membership. You went above and beyond, and we can’t thank you enough.”
I can tell you that even though I’ve been doing this work and dealing with similar situations for over 15 years, it’s scary and stressful for me, too. And it is also very aggravating. I see the overbearing nature of too many government officials, or even medical professionals, who think they know better and are willing to coerce, threaten, and intimidate families who are making appropriate decisions that these individuals don’t like or agree with. That is just wrong, and it’s a real pleasure for me to stand up for families in these situation in order to help them make things right.
If you’re not a member of HSLDA, please join us today. Join to support the cause like the Kelleys, and to make sure that you have access to lawyers who are ready to help if you encounter a confrontation from government officials.