Imagine that you are a parent with two children. Due to an overzealous CPS investigation based on a late filing of homeschool paperwork, you find yourself on the state child abuse registry—along with molesters, abusers, and other criminals.
Now, every time you apply for a job working with children, volunteer to help your church’s Sunday School, or sign up for a government position that requires a background check, you will be asked to answer some awkward questions.
Mrs. Chuley, an HSLDA member in New York, faced this exact situation. With our help, after seven months, she was removed from the state’s child abuse registry—where she never belonged in the first place.
Her story shows why we want to change the law to give parents a chance to have an independent eye look at their case before they get added to a list of child abusers. Home School Legal Defense Association has represented families in numerous states who have been put on child abuse registries just because there was a dispute over whether their homeschool paperwork was complete or timely.
Mrs. Chuley had been homeschooling her children for several years when, in 2019, her mother got very sick. Because of the extra attention her mother required, it took Mrs. Chuley an extra day to get her homeschool paperwork in to the school district.
No problem, you might think—it’s just a day.
But as homeschooling continued that fall, so did her mother’s cancer. Eventually, just about the time Mrs. Chuley was supposed to pass in her quarterly homeschool report, her mother passed away. The paperwork got shunted aside while she dealt with family tragedy.
Still not a big deal, you would think.
But to the CPS investigator who showed up two months later to scrutinize Mrs. Chuley for claims of educational neglect, the late homeschool paperwork was a big deal.
Mrs. Chuley tried to rectify the situation. She quickly filed her delayed paperwork showing that she had been homeschooling through this crisis and that the children were getting A’s and B’s on all their work.
It wasn’t good enough for the CPS investigator. She sent Mrs. Chuley a letter saying that the county had “indicated the report of maltreatment or abuse.”
Mrs. Chuley was placed on the New York State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment. No hearing, no review—she was listed with all the other child abusers, just because her homeschool paperwork was a few weeks late.
Righting a Wrong
Fortunately for Mrs. Chuley, as an HSLDA member, she had access to an attorney.
On her behalf, we pointed out to CPS that New York law doesn’t consider late homeschool paperwork as either abuse or neglect.
And because, in an appeal hearing, CPS would have to prove that the finding of “indicated” was somehow relevant to childcare licensing or foster care, their attorney decided not to oppose our demand that the state remove her from the child abuse registry.
That’s how Mrs. Chuley received notice last week that her name had been taken off the central registry.
We believe Mrs. Chuley’s case highlights a major problem in the CPS system.
Only those guilty of real child abuse and neglect should be on the registry. But in New York, parents can be placed on the list of child abusers without any chance to appeal beforehand.
Though it’s certainly possible, especially with the help of an attorney, for someone who is wrongfully listed to get their name removed from the abuse registry, that’s not good enough.
Mrs. Chuley—a loving mother doing her best to care for her children during a family crisis—should have had an opportunity to present her case before she was put on the registry.
Justice for Parents
The problem she faced in dealing with CPS is one HSLDA wants to fix.
Working with our sister organization, Parental Rights Foundation, HSLDA has drafted language for bills that are being introduced in state legislatures around the country. These would give parents the right to appeal a finding of “substantiated” abuse or neglect before going on the child abuse registry.
This is not a partisan issue. While CPS plays an important role in protecting children, both conservative organizations like HSLDA and progressive outlets like Mother Jones have pointed out how the system can be punitive. Unfortunately it is sometimes hardest on the most vulnerable families, who often do not have access to an attorney.
Although HSLDA does not represent every family in appealing these decisions, we have seen a substantial number of times where, once an independent party looks at the case, the family gets removed from the list without opposition from the agency that put them there in the first place!
Please join HSLDA in the fight to protect innocent parents from being marked as child abusers without an opportunity to defend themselves.