November 5, 2012

HSLDA Helps Family Close Abuse Investigation

Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly defends homeschool freedom in Ohio. He and his wife homeschool. Read more >>

An unexpected phone call caught one member family off guard as the social worker on the line scheduled an abrupt visit for later that day. The purpose of the visit was to “follow up” on allegations of abuse and neglect.

The parents were shocked and surprised by the report (as most people are when they receive such calls) and were unsure how to respond. Should they let the social worker in the house? What were their rights? How could they protect their family’s privacy without making it look like they were hiding something?

Help is Available

Mrs. Seldon decided to contact Home School Legal Defense Association and was able to speak with Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly. Social workers follow a uniform checklist that often includes a home inspection and one-on-one private interviews with all children in the home. But these actions are often unnecessary and risky for families.

While many social workers are well trained and concerned primarily for children’s safety, some take it upon themselves to conduct wide-ranging fishing expeditions, looking into other areas where they may have “concerns” unrelated to the original report.

Once he understood the specific allegations, Donnelly was able to advise the Seldon family on how to give appropriate cooperation to the social worker without forfeiting their rights or allowing the investigation to continue beyond what was necessary. When the social worker came to the home, the Seldons were prepared to answer the allegations and the social worker was able to close the investigation after one meeting.

“Thank You!”

In an email to HSLDA, Mrs. Seldon wrote, “The [Seldon] case was closed without any questions! Praise God and Thank You Mike and staff at HSLDA!”

Most people are not prepared to handle the unexpected and sudden intrusions that social workers intentionally impose on families when they receive reports of abuse or neglect. A common tactic is to try to catch people off guard so they are more likely to talk openly about the report, something that is not always the best course of action. Remember that social workers are investigators and are looking for information to use for their own purposes—not necessarily in your family’s best interests.

However, the U.S. Constitution protects your “right to silence,” that is, from speaking to government officials in an incriminating way. The truth is that the government has no power to force anyone to talk except by a valid court order.

However, applying this in a respectful and appropriate way in the context of an abuse or neglect investigation may not come naturally. HSLDA attorneys routinely handle these investigations and are able to provide specific help to families going through these situations. You have a constitutional right to counsel and your HSLDA membership gives you access to the wise, experienced advice of our attorneys at any time.

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.