June 27, 2007

Playing In 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 and reported the incident to social services, along with other allegations.

The social worker assigned to the case refused to disclose the allegations to the family. The Gillens called HSLDA for assistance.

HSLDA attorney Scott Woodruff called the social worker, who refused to talk to him at all, even after receiving written authorization from the parents confirming Woodruff as a legal representative. Woodruff then called the social worker’s attorney. He also refused to be candid about the allegations, but at least he authorized the social worker to talk to Woodruff.

Once social services had finally removed the barriers to effective communication, Woodruff questioned the social worker and learned that, in addition to the allegation about playing in the trunk of the family car, the neighbor claimed 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 arranged a conference call between himself, the Gillens, and the social worker.

Mrs. Gillen explained that the vehicle trunk in which the children were playing 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. She explained that on warm winter days, not uncommon in southeast Kansas, the children sometimes play outside lightly clothed, as appropriate for warm weather—which could include bare feet and no coats. Their dog is rambunctious when he is being fed, and 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. She said the children did not play on top of old cars, but acknowledged that there were several inoperable cars in the yard.

Her calm, straightforward explanation of the facts put to rest every issue.

But then the social worker asked to interrogate all the children. Social workers often try to question vulnerable, naive children, hoping they will blurt out something they can use against the parents. On Woodruff’s advice, and with every allegation already refuted, Mrs. Gillen declined this request. The disappointed social worker finished the interview, and the family began their wait for the final decision.

Two weeks later, the family received a letter saying that the allegations had been ruled unfounded. By following HSLDA’s legal advice, the family was vindicated, and their children were protected from becoming pawns in the hands of social services.

HSLDA Social Services Contact Policy

We desire to advise our members in every contact with a social worker and/or police officer in investigations resulting from allegations of abuse or neglect. If homeschooling is an issue, we will represent our member families until the issue is resolved. On Fourth Amendment unreasonable search and seizure issues, HSLDA will advise our members whenever the privacy of their home is violated by forced or coerced entry for the purpose of an unsubstantiated investigation. HSLDA membership benefits do not extend to court actions resulting from non-homeschooling matters. However, in circumstances where there is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, HSLDA may, as we have done in the past, choose to take the case in an effort to establish legal precedent.

 Other Resources

The Social Worker At Your Door: 10 Helpful Hints (HSLDA members only document)