May 2, 2007

CAPTA Legislation Enacted

On March 14, 2007, Governor Haley Barbour signed into law House Bill 1121, which requires social workers to inform an individual being investigated for child abuse or neglect of the specific allegations against the individual.

The federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) requires states to adopt and implement measures for protecting families during the child investigative process. First, child protective services workers must be trained in their duty to protect the statutory and constitutional rights of those they are investigating. Second, child protective services personnel must advise individuals being investigated for child abuse and neglect of the complaint or allegation made against them. Mississippi’s enactment of House Bill 1121 complies with the second of these requirements. Additional legislation will be needed to achieve full compliance.

Implementing all aspects of the CAPTA requirements is crucial to protecting not only homeschooling families but all families who are investigated by social services for any reason. Unfortunately, most social workers do not know that they are subject to the constitutional limitations of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. Many social workers believe that they have more authority than a law enforcement officer to enter a family’s home to interview the children and inspect the premises. Oftentimes, social workers refuse to advise parents of the reason for the investigation until the parents have agreed to let them enter the home. CAPTA is intended to educate social workers and put a stop to these abuses.

Home School Legal Defense Association proposed the changes to federal law and presented testimony to congress when the CAPTA amendments were being considered in 2003. So far, 22 states have passed CAPTA legislation in some form.