November 7, 2011

Trivial Allegations Funding Minnesota Social Work?

According to a Minnesota social worker who spoke with Home School Legal Defense Association recently, local social services agencies receive $50 for each mental health screening they complete. “This money allows us to help fund the next family assessment,” the social worker told HSLDA Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly. “It’s a way that families can help each other out.”

Help each other out? Sounds like a conflict of interest.

In this case the social worker was conducting a “family assessment” after allegations of “educational neglect” had been filed when a report came in that the family’s children were “not in school.” The investigator threatened to file a CHINS petition if the family did not cooperate with the assessment. Although the social worker acknowledged that the mental health screenings were optional, he strongly encouraged the family to fill them out. Donnelly’s involvement helped the family get through the family assessment without subjecting their children to unnecessary mental health screenings or other intrusive actions. The social worker left the home satisfied that there was no educational neglect.

In another situation, homeschooling parents of two special needs children were investigated over allegations of child abuse when one of the child’s therapists noticed a small bruise on his forehead. As it turns out, the child received the bruise from bumping his head while climbing into a car. Even though the bruise was minor, the therapist explained, as a mandatory reporter she was bound to refer the incident to the local children and family services agency because she didn’t know whether it had happened innocently or not.

While the therapist is considered a mandatory reporter according to Minnesota law, a mandatory reporter is only required to contact children and family services if he or she “knows or has reason to believe a child is being neglected or physically or sexually abused.” A minor bruise on the forehead of a 6-year-old should does not meet this threshold for mandatory reporting. Unfortunately, too many inexperienced professionals like this therapist do not exercise common sense. This lack of judgment can result in families undergoing intrusive, unsettling and unnecessary investigations from social services.

While protecting children from genuine abuse and neglect is an appropriate governmental function, HSLDA encounters many allegations such as those mentioned above. Families should not be subject to social services investigations just because their children are not in school or have bumps on their heads. However, in today’s society, too few people exercise common sense and good judgment or ask simple questions before they pick up the phone to call social services. Unfortunately, public policy allows for this kind of intrusive investigation, and as a result families who have done no wrong often suffer.