When Social Workers Come Knocking
- Tuesday, November 06, 2001
Editor's note: This article is not intended to unduly frighten anyone. Being prepared for something of this nature allows you to handle it appropriately in the event it does happen to you. It's like wearing a seatbelt: you put in on every time you enter your car, even though you don't expect to be in an accident.
More and more frequently, home schoolers are turned in on child abuse hotlines to social service agencies. Families who do not like home schoolers can make an anonymous phone call to the child abuse hotline and fabricate abuse stories about home schoolers. The social worker then has an obligation to investigate. Each state has a different policy for social workers, but generally they want to come into the family's home and speak with the children separately. To allow either of these to occur involves great risk to the family.
The home school parent, however, should be very cautious when an individual identifies himself as a social worker. In fact, there are several tips that a family should follow:
1. Always get the business card of the social worker. This way, when you call the Home School Legal Defense Association (you must be a member), the HSLDA attorney will be able to contact the social worker on your behalf. If the situation is hostile, immediately call HSLDA and hand the phone out the door so an HSLDA lawyer can talk to the social worker. We have a 24-hour emergency number.
2. Find out the allegations. Do not fall for the frequently used tactic of the social worker who tells the unsuspecting victim that he (the social worker) can only give you the allegations after he comes into your home and speaks to your child separately. You generally have the right to know the allegations without allowing a social worker in your home.
3. Never let the social worker in your house without a warrant or court order. All the cases that you have heard about where children are snatched from the home usually involve families waiving their Fourth Amendment right to be free from such searches and seizures by agreeing to allow the social worker to come inside the home. A warrant requires "probable cause" which does not include an anonymous tip or a mere suspicion. This is guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the courts. (In extremely rare situations, police may enter a home without a warrant if there are exigent circumstances, i.e., police are aware of immediate danger or harm to the child.)
However, in some instances, social workers or police threaten to use force to come into a home. If you encounter a situation which escalates to this level, record the conversation if at all possible, but be sure to inform the police officer or social worker that you are doing this. If entry is going to be made under duress you should say and do the following: "I am closing my front door, but it is unlocked. I will not physically prevent you from entering, and I will not physically resist you in any way. But you do not have my permission to enter. If you open my door and enter, you do so without my consent, and I will seek legal action for an illegal entry."
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