The Washington Times
October 17, 2005

Washington Times Op-ed—Suspicion can bring intrusions on family

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

Imagine a knock at the door at 1 a.m.; you struggle out of bed to find a social worker and a police officer on your doorstep. The social worker has received a report of abuse or neglect about your family and they want to interview your children and inspect your house. You acquiesce because you fear being arrested for not cooperating with the investigation.

Upon conclusion of the interview, the social worker does not find any evidence of abuse or neglect and leaves the home without an apology. Unfortunately, this scenario occurs far too often in the United States.

If a social worker comes to your door, it is often because of an anonymous tip. The tip is generally given the same credibility as a report from a person who identifies himself or herself. In the case of home-schooling families, the tip often is from someone who disapproves of home-schooling. Sometimes tips are phoned in by ex-spouses, who make claims of educational neglect. These allegations are routinely investigated by departments of social services across the country.

Most social workers are decent, reasonable people who work hard to protect the family rather than separate children from their parents. Unfortunately, too often, there is increased suspicion by social services agencies when they hear a family home-schools. It's this attitude and belief system that has led to many confrontations between home-school families and social workers.

Being the subject of an intrusive investigation obviously is traumatic for innocent families. Home School Legal Defense Association attorneys routinely provide advice to families being investigated regarding their rights pursuant to the Fourth Amendment. Families should be protected from overzealous social services investigations, and as home-schooling continues to grow, the number of confrontations will increase simply because there are more home-schoolers.

In response to the growth of home-schooling, Matthew Robb, a freelance writer and social worker, recently covered the discussion about how social workers should respond to the growth of home-schooling in Social Work Today magazine (www.socialworktoday.com/modules.php?name=Sections&op=viewarticle&artid=26). One of the principal figures in the article, Rey C. Martinez, a social worker and associate professor of social work at New Mexico Highland Institute, argues home-schoolers should be given the benefit of the doubt.

"I think social workers should approach homeschools with an expectation that they are strong, healthy and functional. ... [T]o operate under the assumption that these people are isolated, that parents are neglectful, and that children are lazy and not receiving proper nutrition or education is really inappropriate," he said in the article.

HSLDA strongly endorses this statement. If this attitude became the norm throughout the social services community, then many unnecessary conflicts could be avoided. Social workers would not start with a presumption of guilt, which unfortunately causes some social workers to be particularly aggressive when pursuing home-school families.

There is no reason for social workers to have a negative opinion of home-schoolers. Home-schooling is now generally accepted as a viable educational choice. Home-schooled children score significantly higher than the national average on standardized achievement tests. In addition, a 2003 study titled Homeschooling Grows Up surveyed 7,300 home-school graduates and found that they are more involved in their communities than the average public school student.

Since home-schooling is here to stay and social workers inevitably will be interacting with more and more home-schoolers, we hope we'll see a gradually improving attitude within the social services community toward home-schoolers.

We also hope that social workers will listen to the advice of Mr. Martinez. It also should be remembered that home-school parents, by the very fact that they are making the sacrifice to home-school, are deeply concerned about the welfare of their children and, by extension, children in general.

As attitudes change, it is hoped departments of social services in all 50 states will be able to efficiently direct their limited resources on targeting abusive parents rather than chasing down anonymous tips involving home-schooling families, which almost always results in a finding that the report is false.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at 540/338-5600; or send e-mail to media@hslda.org.

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