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No. 2

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Social Worker’s ‘Fishing Expedition’ Case Dismissed

It all started when an anonymous tipster reported a Home School Legal Defense Association member family to social services for inadequate housing, particularly in the family’s bedrooms. Soon after, the Willittses, who homeschool their eight children in Lenawee County, received an unannounced visit from a social worker.* Mr. Willitts wisely refused the social worker entry and set a time the next day for her to come back.

Courtesy of the Family
Standing on their rights: The Willittses resisted a social worker’s unwarranted attempts to interview their children.

Mr. Willitts then arranged for his family to be absent when the social worker returned the next day. He voluntarily let the social worker in, and her examination revealed a very clean, neat, and adequate home, especially in the bedrooms.

However, the social worker mentioned that she was also looking for evidence of child neglect and abuse. Although she found none, she was not satisfied since she had been unable to complete her protocol by interviewing the children separately and alone. After walking through the home, the social worker insisted on setting up a meeting to interview the children later.

Shocked that the investigation would not be closed immediately, since the allegations had clearly been disproven, the Willittses contacted HSLDA.

Senior counsel Christopher Klicka immediately drafted a letter to the social worker, asserting that the Willittses were clearly victims of a malicious tipster making absurd allegations. Klicka’s letter explained that an interview with the children was unnecessary, since the social worker would be receiving doctor’s reports and character reference letters testifying to the family’s innocence. The letter also indicated that since the social worker had already determined the allegation about inadequate housing to be false, Klicka was advising the family that they were under no legal obligation to allow their children to be interviewed.

Klicka instructed Mr. and Mrs. Willitts to send the social worker several character reference letters from people in the community who could vouch for their good parenting. In addition, he had them take all eight of their children to their pediatrician to prove that they were in perfect health.

The meeting to interview the children was subsequently canceled, but a month later, the social worker contacted the family, once again insisting on an interview. Although this social worker has a track record of getting her way, Mr. and Mrs. Willitts steadfastly refused to give in. They did not want their children subjected to the social worker’s fishing expedition for signs of abuse.

Then, without warning, the Willittses were served with a court order. Apparently, the social worker had asked for the court order at a hearing with the prosecutor and the court referee-without the other side being present. The court order stated,

It appears to the court upon the filing of a petition, together with further proofs as required by the court, that there are reasonable grounds for removal of the children . . . Because conditions or surroundings of the children are such as to endanger the health, safety, or welfare of the children and it is contrary to the welfare of the children to remain in the home because [sic] the Department of Human Services is asking to talk to the Willitts children per Department policy. Parents have refused to let the Department talk with the children . . . it is ordered the Department of Human Services may talk to the children . . . without the parents being present within 72 hours of service.

However, no petition was attached to the court order. To obtain a court order, the law requires a social worker to present actual evidence of wrongdoing in a petition. A mere verbal complaint about a family not cooperating with the social worker’s unconstitutional demands is not sufficient, since parents in Michigan have the right to refuse an interview if there is no evidence of a crime or of neglect.

The court order was also missing a legally required case number. HSLDA secured Michigan attorney Dave Kallman as local counsel for the case, who immediately called the court referee to ask for a hearing to cancel the court order. First, Kallman inquired why the order did not have a petition or case number.

“That’s just the way we do it here,” replied the court referee. As Kallman pushed the issue, the court referee began to falter. Finally, the referee agreed to check on the matter and talk with the judge.

The next day, Kallman learned from the referee that the court order was withdrawn.

Elated by this sudden victory after months of worry, the Willittses returned to normal life. Their refusal to back down-even in the face of relentless intimidation-had protected their children from a traumatic interview and their family from any further invasion of privacy. We thank God for the positive resolution of this case.

— by Christopher J. Klicka

* See “HSLDA social services contact policy”