June 13, 2003

Child Protective Services Considers its Options

June has been a busy month for HSLDA members in Ohio; social workers have been knocking on doors all across the state. HSLDA attorney Scott Somerville has assisted homeschooling families who have had their parental rights challenged in Jefferson County, Ashland County, Cuyahoga County, and Greene County in recent days. Thanks to Ohio House of Representatives member Diana Fessler, Mr. Somerville has been able to take his concerns about how these families have been treated to the heart of the state agency. On June 5, 2003, Representative Fessler, attorney Somerville, and three high officials in the Department of Job and Family Services held a conference call to discuss this issue.

Mr. Somerville informed the Section Chief of Child Protective Services and the Bureau Chief of Family Services of the ongoing pattern of problems HSLDA member families are experiencing. The officials explained that they had to be very careful in what they said, because of the implications of a "recent court case." That case was Walsh v. Erie County Department of Job and Family Services, decided January 22, 2003. Mr. and Mrs. Walsh, who are homeschoolers and HSLDA members, objected to a social worker's demand to enter their home and speak to each of their children privately. When police officers and social workers threatened to force their way into the home, arrest the father, and take the children away, the family filed suit in federal district court. The judge agreed that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution applies to social workers as well as to police officers. This has huge implications for agencies that have ignored the constitutional rights of families for so long.

Mr. Somerville emphasized the number of problems that HSLDA member families are having in Ohio. A family in one rural county, for example, had been "indicated" as being negligent, with a "moderate to high" risk level. HSLDA advised the family to ask the agency to explain why it had done so. Instead of providing any explanation of the finding, the agency insisted that all investigations are "confidential," and that the agency could not tell the family anything. Instead of having an opportunity to confront her accuser, this mother was told that she could not even know who her accuser was. Instead of having an opportunity to appeal the agency findings, she was told she could not know what the findings were.

Representative Fessler was firm and direct in her comments to the Child Protective Services officials. The agency promised to provide her with written answers to a number of hard-hitting questions. Mr. Somerville expressed hope that homeschoolers could work with the agency to resolve problems, but made it clear that HSLDA has 3,500 member families in Ohio who are ready to stand up for their constitutional rights.

As matters now stand in Ohio, Child Protective Services workers have fair warning that they need to respect the constitutional rights of HSLDA member families. Given the sheer size of the Department of Job and Family Services, and the enormous potential liability after decades of constitutional violations, it may take some time to bring real reform to this system. Every member family of HSLDA is a vital part of a network of "change agents," with a shared vision of liberty and justice for all. Scott Somerville will be speaking in more detail about these issues at the Christian Home Educators of Ohio conference in Columbus on June 26 and 27. For more information on the conference, go to www.cheohome.org.