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May 17, 2016

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A Home School Legal Defense Association member family on Long Island adopted their daughter in 2015, welcomed her into their lives, and began homeschooling her. But their story took an unexpected turn a year later when they decided not to accept state money for their daughter.

Tj Schmidt TJ SCHMIDT Contact attorney for New York

The family had received an adoption subsidy for their daughter from the beginning, but they recently began to question whether they should accept the money. Adoption subsidies are typically provided on a monthly basis for a child with a medical or special educational need. The adoption subsidy agreement is a contract between the adoptive parent and the local department of social services. It is renewed from year to year and will often continue until the child is 18.

After careful thought and much consideration, our member family decided to decline the adoption subsidy this year. They notified their caseworker, who immediately told them that she had never had anyone turn down an adoption subsidy. The family explained in a face-to-face meeting with the caseworker that they believed they could provide for all of their daughter’s needs on their own and they were no longer interested in taking state money for her care.

The family thought this was the end of the matter.

Under Suspicion

A week later they received a knock at their door. This time an investigative caseworker with DSS informed them that they had been reported for suspected child abuse or maltreatment. When they asked what the allegations were, the caseworker stated that it had been reported that their daughter wasn’t in school and that, because they had refused their adoption subsidy, DSS needed to make sure that the family could adequately care for their daughter. Shocked that they could be investigated for refusing to accept state money, the family immediately contacted HSLDA for help.

HSLDA Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt reviewed the situation and wrote a letter to the local DSS office objecting to the entire investigation. Schmidt pointed out that the child was being homeschooled in compliance with state law and that this was known to the subsidy caseworker.

Typically, parents have to demonstrate that children receiving an adoption subsidy are in school or receiving an education in compliance with state law. The family’s caseworker knew that the child was being homeschooled in compliance with state law. Schmidt also pointed out that DSS could have simply contacted the local school district and verified that the family was in complete compliance.

Schmidt also expressed outrage that the family had been turned over for an investigation simply because they were declining to accept state money. The family had already met with the caseworker responsible for the subsidy and explained that they were more than willing and able to provide for their daughter’s needs. Schmidt objected to the fact that DSS was trying to use the intimidation of an investigation to force the parents to change their minds and accept state money. Schmidt concluded his letter by urging DSS to immediately close the investigation and leave the family alone. We are hopeful that this will happen before the 60 days normally allowed for DSS investigations, and we are closely monitoring the situation.

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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.