"It is as though our family was attempting to create a beautiful painting, and now someone has thrown mud on the canvas." That's how Bob Kennedy described his feelings after two policemen and a social worker forced entry into his home, interrogated his five- and six-year-old sons in private, then examined their bodies for marks and bruises. The incident occurred more than a year ago, but Bob and Maria Kennedy are still recovering from the devastating effects.
August 19, 1995, began pleasantly for the Kennedy family. Since it was Saturday, the entire family was able to go out for breakfast together. In addition, the entire family was looking forward to a birthday party which was planned for that evening. The Kennedys would be joining their extended family to celebrate three birthdays, one belonging to their son, five-year-old Michael. But when the Kennedys returned from breakfast, there was a "notice" on their door that marked the beginning of an unforgettable six hours.
The "notice," left by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCS), read, "Department of Children Services needs to talk with you immediately." The Kennedy's were instructed to call a certain number. Bob and Maria spent the next hour on the telephone trying to find someone at DCS who could explain the "notice." One clerk, one social worker, and two supervisors later, the Kennedys were advised that a report of abuse or neglect had been made against them which must be investigated. A meeting at the DCS office was unacceptable. The children must be interviewed and the home inspected. The DCS would not disclose specific allegations until a social worker was at the house.
Home School Legal Defense Association advised Mr. Kennedy on that day that he had the right to refuse entry to the social worker, provided that no child was facing immediate harm. Attorney Scott Somerville recommended to Mr. Kennedy that he present his children to the social worker at the door so that she could see they were in no danger and had no need for immediate intervention. Bob called his father and asked him to come over for support.
For three hours, Bob and Maria Kennedy, Bob's father, and the three Kennedy boys looked out the window at passing cars, waiting for the social worker to arrive. To their shock, at 5:00 p.m. not only the social worker appeared, but two Covina Police officers. As the three strode confidently toward the Kennedy porch, Bob Kennedy moved toward the open doorway.
"I guess you know why we're here," said one of the officers. When Bob said he did, the DCS worker showed her I.D. and explained she was there to investigate allegations of child abuse. Bob handed her a letter authorizing her to speak with Scott Somerville or Mike Smith at HSLDA, but she refused it. She explained that she wanted only to come into the house, ask a few questions, check out the children, and then leave.
"Do you have a search warrant?" Bob asked.
"We don't need a search warrant," was an officer's reply. Bob and Maria debated the officers for the next five minutes. Bob presented his children, who were wearing shorts and T-shirts, and it was obvious they were neither abused nor in any danger. "We're coming into your house, whether you like it or not," concluded the officer. When it was plain that these authorities would not be denied, Bob stepped back from the doorway and watched the three of them enter.
Once inside, the social worker revealed the allegation, which except for "slapping heard," all pertained to leaving the children unsupervised for "over an hour in their own backyard" (completely enclosed by a six foot fence). During the next 60 minutes, the social worker inspected the premises, including the bathrooms, backyard, pantry and refrigerator. She interrogated the two oldest boys privately. When she attempted to remove the clothing of the boys to inspect their bodies, they started to cry. Bob intervened, quickly raising and lowering the boys' shirts to expose briefly their back and torso. The social worker had already removed the shorts from one of the boys. Finally, the social worker demanded immunization records, the name of their pediatrician, and the name of the school the children attended. Though she found nothing to substantiate the allegations, she announced that there would be a subsequent, unannounced visit.
DCS apparently forgot about the Kennedys, for no follow-up visit was ever made. But the Kennedys have not forgotten about DCS or the accompanying police officers. HSLDA filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the Kennedys against the individuals and agencies responsible for this outrageous conduct. The Kennedys claim the authorities violated their constitutional right to be safe and secure in their home from government intrusion (Fourth Amendment), as well as their liberty interest in family privacy (Fourteenth Amendment). The lawsuit seeks compensation for the emotional injuries suffered by the Kennedys, as well as a declaration from the court that warrantless entry into their homes by social workers or the police, in non-emergency situations, is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
In the meantime, Bob and Maria are trying to return to everyday family life. But Maria lives in almost constant fear of another anonymous report and investigation. Every time her child cries or screams, she winces at the thought of social services. She doesn't like to have her children in public for fear that she might be reported. And to Maria, a report equals an investigation. And an investigation means the invasion of the home and the arbitrary removal decision of a social worker hostile to her values.
Bob and Maria Kennedy did everything they could reasonably do to protect themselves and their children from the personal violation they experienced. Now they are asking a federal court to do for others what they could not do for themselves.