Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) receives an average of one call per day from a home-school parent who is facing a social worker at his or her door. Over 90 percent of the "tips" social workers receive are anonymous. Nonetheless, social workers still try to enter the house and interrogate the children privately.
The federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), enacted 20 years ago, has wreaked havoc on the 50 states' child welfare codes. CAPTA forces states that want to receive federal funding for their child welfare programs to report, investigate, and pursue all "suspected" child abuse tips.
States have responded by aggressively pursuing all "anonymous tips"--which also happen to be the main source of tips against innocent home-schooling families.
CAPTA is up for reauthorization in 2001-02. HSLDA has successfully attached three key amendments to the House version, which we also expect to pass in the Senate. These amendments will help to increase protections for any parents facing a child abuse investigation.
House subcommittee hearing
On Oct. 16, 2001, Home School Legal Defense Association Senior Counsel Christopher Klicka had the opportunity to present testimony before the House Education and the Workforce Committee's Subcommittee on Select Education to demonstrate the real abuses by overzealous child welfare workers against home-school families throughout the country.
After describing and documenting many examples of social workers exceeding the Fourth Amendment in harassing innocent home schoolers faced with fabricated allegations, Klicka offered five amendments to CAPTA to help solve the problem. (Read Klicka's testimony at http://www.hslda.org/docs/news/hslda/200110192.asp.)
After many hours of behind-the-scenes negotiations, the following two amendments were included in the bill:
1. Revealing allegations
One of the amendments requires that every state adopt provisions and procedures to require that a representative of the child protective service agency shall, at the initial time of contact with the individual subject of the child abuse and neglect investigation, advise the individual of the complaints or allegations made against the individual.
Unfortunately, social workers throughout the country often refuse to reveal the allegations against the home-schooling family.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce issued "report language" stating Congress's intent: The Committee also heard concerns how most of these families were never informed of the specific allegations made against them in the first place. The Committee firmly believes that individuals being investigated for alleged child maltreatment should be informed of the specific allegations against them.
2. Training social workers to protect rights
The second and most significant amendment requires that all 50 states adopt provisions addressing the training of representatives of the child protective service system regarding their legal duties, which may consist of procedures to inform such representatives of such duties, in order to protect the legal rights of children and families from the initial time of contact during the investigations through treatment.
In short, this means that social workers will have to be trained and follow Fourth Amendment limitations and protections. They should know that using intimidation to enter the homes of innocent families violates the Fourth Amendment.
The full committee's report language states: Mr. Christopher Klicka of the Home School Legal Defense Association described numerous cases of innocent families being aggressively investigated on allegations of child abuse and neglect, only to have such cases later determined to be unsubstantiated or false. In his testimony describing a conversation with a former social worker, Mr. Klicka stated, "In the old days social workers tried to prove a reported family was innocent and considered the family innocent until proven guilty. Now the system operates on the principle that the family is guilty ..."
The report language clarifies the statutory language even further: The Committee looked carefully for ways to ensure that the individual rights of parents being investigated on allegations of child abuse or neglect were protected . . . to that end the Committee wants to enhance the training of child protective services personnel to ensure that they are knowledgeable in best practices for promoting collaboration with families and that they are fully aware of the extent and limits of their legal authority and the legal rights of parents in carrying out such investigations.
H.R. 3839 requires that states have provisions in place that address the training of child protective services personnel and their legal duties, which may consist of procedures to inform such personnel of such duties, in order to protect the Constitutional and statutory rights of children and families.
The committee concludes: For instance, the Committee believes that child protective services personnel should understand that they do not have the authority to demand entry into the family home when investigating the allegation ... It is the hope of the Committee that by requiring states to improve the training of social workers in proper and appropriate investigating techniques and providing more education on appropriate reporting of child abuse and neglect by the public that the incidents of aggressive investigating behavior and incidences of false reports of child maltreatment cases will be significantly decreased.
Establishing citizen review panels
The final provision in CAPTA that HSLDA worked to add requires each state to create citizen review panels, which "shall provide for public outreach and comment in order to assess the impact of current procedures and practices upon children and families in community."
The committee's report language states: "The Committee wants to ensure that individuals' rights are protected by giving individuals who have been subject to a child abuse and neglect investigation an opportunity to be heard when they feel they have been wrongfully accused or been the subject of an overly aggressive child maltreatment investigation.
H.R. 3839 requires citizen review panels to provide for public outreach and comment in order to help states to assess the impact of the procedures and practices of their child protective services system upon the children, families, and individuals in the community.
CAPTA moves to Senate
HSLDA is working closely with Senate Education Committee staff to ensure that these amendments are retained. We are thankful to God that these amendments have been added in the House version and look forward to using these additional protections to better protect HSLDA members when they are faced with social services investigations.
This article first appeared in the "Home School Court Report" (http://www.hslda.org/courtreport/V18N5/V18N501.asp) published by Home School Legal Defense Association, and is used with permission.
For more information on Home School Legal Defense Association, visit their Web site at www.hslda.org