January 11, 2016

“I’m Here to Investigate Unsocialized Homeschoolers”

Mike Donnelly
HSLDA Staff Attorney

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YOUR ATTORNEY

Mike Donnelly

Mike Donnelly

Amy’s voice was shaky when I called her one December evening after regular working hours. 

It had been a typically busy day. In a single shift my legal assistant Jill and I often respond to dozens of requests for assistance from members in various states—and even across the world, since I serve as HSLDA’s director of global outreach.

What soon struck me as unusual, however, was the reason for Amy’s call earlier in the day. Our member stood accused of something I thought had been dismissed long ago as a tired homeschool myth.

It had started with a visit from a social worker. I know how unsettling social worker issues can be for many families. So we try to respond quickly to people calling with these kinds of crises. It’s also why we have a 24-hour hotline for member families facing legal emergencies.

Amy had been shocked by the visit. When the social worker requested an interview with her, she did have the presence of mind to ask the social worker to give her time to talk with her husband and her attorney before agreeing to the “next step” in the investigation. Amy immediately contacted HSLDA for advice on preparing for the interview that the social worker had scheduled for the next day. 

Standing Accused

“Amy,” I asked, “tell me: What are the allegations being made against your family?”

“Well, sir,” she replied, “when the social worker stopped by this afternoon I asked her what the accusations are, and she said: ‘Well, it looks like we’ve got a report here of unsocialized homeschoolers.’” 

I was incredulous. It’s pretty unusual for a social worker to come right out and say that this is what they are concerned about. “Did you say she is investigating ‘unsocialized homeschoolers’?”

“Yes, sir,” Amy replied.

Here we are in 2016, with over two million homeschoolers in the United States, and social services agencies are still investigating homeschooling families for concerns about “socialization”! But this isn’t the first call we’ve received about this, and I doubt it will be the last.

I advised Amy to contact the social worker and tell her that, under state law, lack of socialization is not a legitimate cause for allegations of abuse or neglect. However, I cautioned Amy that sometimes social workers don’t reveal everything they’re investigating, even though federal law and most state law requires them to do so at their first contact. So it was possible that there were other allegations that had yet to be disclosed.  Amy said that she thought the allegations emanated from a difficult neighbor who had moved into the area recently.

Wait, There’s More

Amy phoned the next day with an update. “I called her just like you advised,” she said. “And it was just like you said—there were more allegations.”

“Tell me what they were,” I asked.

“She said that in addition to the unsocialized homeschoolers, the allegations included that our back yard was a mess, and that there was no way there could be enough beds in our house for our 10 children,” she continued.

Amy further informed me that  the social worker had told her that she understood that these kinds of investigation could be unsettling. The social worker had promised that she wasn’t like some of her co-workers who went “out for the kill” on investigations. Based on these assurances and the advice I had given her, Amy felt she was equipped to handle the situation.

After the follow-up visit and discussion with Amy, the social worker told her that she had a “nice-looking family,” that everything seemed fine, and that she intended to close the case.

Gaining Confidence

Amy told me that if it hadn’t been for our rapid response in returning her call, she would have been very nervous about the situation.

“Knowing that I had HSLDA at my back and being able to talk with an experienced attorney with knowledge about this—there is no way to put into words how much that made me feel like everything would be okay,” Amy said. “Because of you I was able to give intelligent responses. Being able to speak with an experienced attorney was huge and made a big difference.”

“Honestly,” she continued, “I was blown away by how quickly you responded to our request. I’ve been getting HSLDA newsletters for a long time, and the fact that you extend your service to address these CPS issues is comforting to me as a homeschool mom and makes me feel more confident. I see this is an increasing problem, with CPS investigating things that aren’t really issues that should be investigated. As a regular person, you just don’t know what to do. Even if there isn’t anything going on, you still have to go through the same process. Having HSLDA to turn to was comforting.”

HSLDA helps our member families interact with government officials on issues relating to their homeschool, and with Fourth Amendment issues relating to social worker investigations. 

It is striking how many people are not aware of their rights. And sadly, too few social workers or government officials actively seek to protect the rights of citizens they are investigating. Being an HSLDA member can help you homeschool with a greater sense of confidence and security, knowing that you have an experienced group of attorneys ready to assist at any time.

Additional Resources

Read HSLDA President Mike Smith’s thoughts on “The best kind of socialization.”