April 27, 2005

Social Workers Ignore Parental Rights

When social workers came to Bob Widget's [not his real name] house in April, he immediately called HSLDA. Attorney Dewitt Black took the call and helped the family respond to allegations that a child had been bruised. Although Black refused to let a social worker into the home, there was an agreement to go and see the family's chiropractor, a mandatory reporter, to have him check the child for injuries. Within 24 hours, another report of abuse was made and the family agreed to take their children to a nearby advocacy center to meet with investigators. When they arrived at the center, they were handed paperwork to sign before the interview could take place. Bob was concerned by what he read, since it seemed to waive all rights and authorize the use of his children's testimony against him in court. He asked the social workers to fax the papers to HSLDA for our review before he signed. The social workers refused.

Things happened quickly after that. The parents had taken the children to the center to allow them to be interviewed, and they were already with social workers when the questions about the paperwork arose. The children all explained to the investigators that they loved their parents and wanted to go home, and were promptly returned to Mr. and Mrs. Widget. The social workers also handed them a paper labeled "Confidential Team Recommendations" with a signature line for the "client/guardian." Instead of asking the parents to sign the form, however, the social worker had signed in their place. When questioned, the social worker explained that the team had taken temporary custody of the children without even informing the parents. She signed as "guardian" because she insisted she had the legal authority to do so.

Nebraska law permits police officers to take a child into temporary custody if "a juvenile is seriously endangered in his or her surroundings and immediate removal appears to be necessary for the juvenile's protection." If a child is taken into custody in this way, the police officer must file a report with the county attorney within 24 hours. No such report was filed in this case. HSLDA has contacted the ombudsman for Nebraska's Health and Human Services to draw attention to this surprising situation. The Widget family is still together today, but HSLDA will be working with homeschool leaders and state legislators to make sure that procedures are in place to protect parental rights.