The Home School Court Report
No. 5

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Playing in Car Trunk Ignites Investigation

When Home School Legal Defense Association members John and Barb Gillen (name changed to protect family’s privacy) saw two of their children playing in the trunk of their new car, they grounded them from video games for two days and warned them not to do it again. The warning was too late, however.

A neighbor had spotted the kids playing in the trunk, and reported the family to social services for this incident, along with other allegations.

When a social worker appeared at the Gillens’ door to investigate, but refused to disclose the allegations to the family, the Gillens called HSLDA for assistance.*

HSLDA Staff Attorney Scott Woodruff called the social worker, who refused to talk to him, even after receiving written authorization from the parents. Woodruff then called the social worker’s attorney. Although the attorney, too, refused to be candid about the allegations, he authorized the social worker to talk to Woodruff.

In his subsequent conversation with the social worker, Woodruff learned that, in addition to the allegation about playing in the trunk, the neighbor claimed that the children played outside in the winter without shoes or coats, played unsupervised, played on junk cars in the yard, and hit their dog with sticks. Woodruff then arranged a conference call between himself, the Gillens, and the social worker to discuss the accusations.

Mrs. Gillen explained that the car trunk in which the children had played had a latch on the inside, so it represented no danger whatsoever. She added that the children had nonetheless been disciplined and told not to play in the trunk again. Mrs. Gillen also explained that on warm winter days, common in southeast Kansas, the children sometimes play outside in lighter clothing, appropriate for warm weather—which could mean bare feet and no coats. Regarding the allegation about the dog, Mrs. Gillen said that because their dog is rambunctious when being fed, the kids have been appropriately taught to tap him on the nose with a stick if he tries to jump up on them to get his food. Furthermore, she acknowledged that although there were several inoperable cars in the yard, the children did not play on them.

Her calm, straightforward explanation of the facts put to rest every issue. But then the social worker asked to interrogate all the children. On Woodruff’s advice, and with every allegation already refuted, Mrs. Gillen declined to grant the social worker’s request. Disappointed, the social worker finished the interview, and the family began their wait for the final decision.

Two weeks later, the family received a letter stating that the allegations had been ruled unfounded. By following HSLDA’s legal advice, the family was vindicated and their children were protected.

— by Scott A. Woodruff

* See HSLDA social services contact policy.