The Home School Court Report
No. 4

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Trip to ER Prompts Investigation

When the Cornwall family (name changed to protect privacy) brought their 1-year-old to the emergency room after hours, they were seeking advice and help from trusted professionals for a minor injury. However, they were treated with suspicion and confronted with a police investigation.

The Cornwalls had been playing a family game of basketball in their driveway when Mr. Cornwall accidentally stepped back into his 1-year-old, who had wandered onto the court. The witnesses saw the toddler do no more than “sit down hard” after being bumped by his dad—he did not roll over or in any way bump his head. However, when the child began to cry and became increasingly upset, the parents exercised an abundance of caution and took him to the local emergency room for a medical assessment.

The hospital staff wanted to administer a CAT scan, to which the parents initially agreed. However, after a half-dozen attempts to establish an intravenous line, the nurse admitted that she had punctured at least one vein, and Mr. Cornwall asked the doctor if there might be a less invasive approach. The doctor said that a CAT scan might not be necessary under the circumstances, and that the child could simply be kept under observation instead.

For some reason, the nurse reacted negatively to this suggestion, accusing Mr. Cornwall of attempting to cover up child abuse. The nurse convinced the doctor to call child protective services and the police.* In the meantime, Mr. Cornwall left his wife at the emergency room to complete the visit and returned home to take care of his other children, who had been left in the care of the family’s older teenager. When he arrived at his house, Mr. Cornwall was shocked to find a police cruiser and two uniformed police officers there investigating the incident. An attorney and former police officer himself, Mr. Corwall told the police what had happened and was corroborated by one of the witnesses. After the police attempted to delve further into the family’s other business, Mr. Cornwall ended the interview.

As a member, Mr. Cornwall then contacted Home School Legal Defense Association. HSLDA Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly advised the family as to their 4th and 5th Amendment rights and encouraged them to stand firm in not allowing their entire family to be interviewed since the allegations were specific to the injury of the 1-year-old.

When the social workers called to schedule interviews, Mr. Cornwall stood firm against their pressure and refused the interviews. “The advice HSLDA gave me was really helpful,” said Mr. Cornwall. “It helped me think through the situation and gave me the confidence to be able to articulate my decision not to permit a fishing expedition. The social workers told me they were going to be closing the case.”

In the cases of child injuries, it appears that some medical personnel are increasingly being told by government policymakers that they must do more than care for the injuries—they should also serve as the frontline workers responsible for detecting child abuse and neglect.

HSLDA encourages parents to seek appropriate medical attention for their children and, if confronted with a social services investigation at the time of or as a result of treatment, to call our 24/7 hotline for advice. It is unfortunate that parents should have to be looking out for their legal interests when seeking care for an injured child, but forewarned is forearmed.

* See “Social Services Contact Policy.”

— by Michael P. Donnelly