January 27, 2011

Mississippi Moves to Protect Children

On January 17, 2011, Mississippi State Representative Andy Gipson introduced legislation intended to protect children and their parents during social services investigations. House Bill 985 would require that social workers be trained in their legal duties to protect the constitutional and statutory rights of children and families from the initial time of contact in an investigation through any intervention with the family.

This Mississippi bill is an effort to comply with the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) which requires states to adopt and implement measures protecting families during social services investigations. Specifically, states must adopt provisions and procedures to (1) require child protective services personnel at the initial time of contact to advise individuals subject to a child abuse and neglect investigation of the complaint or allegation made against them and (2) require child protective services workers to be trained in their duty to protect the statutory and constitutional rights of those they are investigating. The Mississippi legislature previously complied with the first of these two requirements by passing a bill during its 2007 session.

Why is CAPTA important to homeschooling families? Home educators are not the only families who encounter threatening investigations by social workers. But the fact that parents have chosen this educational option for their children places these families in a suspect class in the mind of many social workers. More often than not, when HSLDA families are being investigated, some aspect of homeschooling is part of the case. And the danger to the family is that the vast majority of social workers have no knowledge of the limits placed on them by the United States Constitution, particularly the search and seizure protections in the Fourth Amendment. Most social workers wrongly believe that they are not subject to the same constitutional limitations as police officers, including those related to the interview and removal of children.

In all, 23 states have complied with federal law to some extent by enacting one or both of the CAPTA protections. With the legislatures in all 50 states having sessions during 2011, this provides an opportunity for states with partial or no compliance to enact this important safeguard for families. To this end, HSLDA stands ready to assist in any way we can in getting a bill introduced and passed this year. If you are interested in spearheading this effort in your state, we encourage you to contact the HSLDA legal assistant for your state.