March 23, 2001

Dear Texas HSLDA members and friends,

Home School Legal Defense Association has been defending Texas home schooling families for the last 17 years. One of the most difficult and complicated areas is protecting HSLDA members under investigation by the Child Protection Service (CPS).

HSLDA has instructed its members not to allow a social worker inside their home, but to call us immediately. Once the family has an HSLDA attorney on the line, we ask them to hand the phone out the door so that we can speak to the social worker directly. In most cases, we discover that the family has been turned in by an anonymous tip on the local child abuse hotline and that the allegations are fabricated or grossly exaggerated. Our goal is to keep the social worker from entering the home and from interviewing the children. In instances where the social worker has had a court order, HSLDA has moved swiftly to have the order withdrawn or quashed.

Even though we are able to successfully protect our member families from this harmful intrusion most of the time, our ability to defend families is hampered by many aspects of the law. The child welfare law desperately needs reform.

In response to this need, HSLDA is supporting the efforts of Gary Gates, a father and businessman whose due process rights were abused by CPS when social workers removed his 13 children from his home. Although CPS returned the children and dismissed the case as unfounded, the damage was already done. Attorney Tom Sanders has filed suit against the local CPS agency (this is not an HSLDA case) for violating the due process and civil rights of the Gates family. Meanwhile, Gary Gates is leading a petition drive to reform the child welfare laws. He will not stop until these needed reforms are made.

According to Texans for a Family Bill of Rights, an organization dedicated to advocating child welfare reform, CPS and Child Advocates of Fort Bend County have broken up hundreds of families in Fort Bend County. An increasing number of Texans believe CPS is abusing its authority. Although HSLDA has been able to protect its own members, CPS routinely enters other people's homes without a court order or warrant, takes children on the basis of anonymous "tips" and flimsy evidence of abuse or neglect, and places the children in foster homes.

HSLDA agrees that children who are abused by family members must be protected. Apparently, though, CPS officials are playing a numbers game. For example, CPS reports frequently cite high numbers of at-risk families. CPS loosely defines "at-risk," turning it into a catch-all term and making every family in Texas vulnerable to a long, expensive legal battle that the family may lose. Children who are removed without just cause are the biggest losers of all.

To draw the public's attention to this problem, Texans for a Family Bill of Rights sponsored a two-day run from Richmond to Austin, on March 21 and 22. Runners ran the 156-mile course, and churches along the route delivered signed petitions to the runners as they passed through each town.

HSDLA contributed to this effort by notifying its Texas members and providing an online petition on its website. The response from Texas home schoolers was overwhelming. We collected over 1,000 online "signatures" over the course of four days!

We hope to use these petitions and the publicity surrounding the meeting as the launching pad for reforming the child welfare code, specifically as it relates to anonymous tips. We have already located legislators who are willing to introduce our language as legislation and are strategizing with us on timing and final language.

Note: We desire to assist and advise in every contact with a social worker/police officer regarding allegations of abuse or neglect. If home schooling is an issue, we will represent our member families until the issue is resolved. We will assist and advise especially on the issue relating to the protection of entry into the home for the purpose of investigation and interviews as it relates to the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. HSLDA membership benefits do not extend to representation should court action result on non-home schooling matters. However, HSLDA has in the past, and may choose to do so again in the future, take cases where there has been a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment to establish legal precedent.