How To Handle Visits From Social Service Agents
By Christopher Klicka, Esq. Winter 95/96
This was first presented at the November 1993 National Center for Home Education Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia.
NATHHAN was granted permission to published it in the Fall 1994 NATHHAN NEWS. We now bring you this up-dated form.
NATHHAN strongly encourages you to join HSLDA before any difficulties arise. Even if you are confident you are safe, joining HSLDA helps those families less fortunate who are being hassled and presently represented by HSLDA.
NATHHAN membership includes a 15% discount on HSLDA's $100 yearly membership in the USA and now in Canada. HSLDA has a payment plan for homes experiencing financial difficulties. Discount unavailable with payment plan.
Mr./Mrs. Innocent an unprepared parent
Mr./Mrs. Orwell a social services agent
Eager-to-Please a home-schooled child
Mr./Mrs. Wise a prepared parent
Scenario 1: How not to do it, featuring a parent who is not prepared when a social service agent arrives at the door.
[ It is 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and a knock comes at the door. INNOCENT opens the door and finds an agent from Child Welfare Services on the doorstep.]
ORWELL: We recently received a report that your children are being abused or neglected. I need to inspect your home and talk to each one of your children separately to verify or negate this information.
ORWELL: If you don't allow me to come in, I'll have to get a police officer and a warrant, and things will become much more complicated. I know you don't want that. I'm sure we can resolve this matter today if you'll just cooperate.
INNOCENT: Well....uh....I'm not really ready now, but I guess so, okay. If we can work this out....
ORWELL: You just cooperate and everything will be just fine. First of all, what are the names of your children?
NT: Well, we have twelve children!
ORWELL: And what are their birth dates?
[The scene shifts to a discussion with one of the twelve children.]
ORWELL: So let's talk about Little Eager, What's Eager's birth date?
INNOCENT: Eager was born in 1989, on April 2nd.
ORWELL: Would you call him so I can speak with him?
INNOCENT: Can I stay here with him?
ORWELL: No, I'm sorry. I need you to go out of the room. It's very important that I interview each of your children individually and privately so they can be completely open and honest.
[Unprepared parent leaves the room, and the social service agent begins to interview Eager-to-Please]
ORWELL: Hello Little Eager! My name is Orwell, and I work for the government. I visit boys and girls all over the city to find out how they are doing and if they have any problems I can help them with. I'm happy to meet you today. How old are you, Eager?
EAGER: I'm six years old.
ORWELL: Eager, where do you go to school?
EAGER: I don't.
ORWELL: What do you mean, you "don't go to school?"
EAGER: Well, I stay home here with my mom.
ORWELL: Your parents don't let you go to the public school?
ORWELL: Don't they like public school?
ORWELL: Eager, do you have any friends that go to public school?
EAGER: Yeah, some of my friends who live next door and down the street. They get on the big yellow bus in the morning and drive away.
ORWELL: And they come home in the afternoon?
ORWELL: Do you get to play with them in the afternoon?
EAGER: Yes I do get to play with some of them.
ORWELL: But you don't get to play with them during the day, do you?
EAGER: No, it's just me and my brothers and sisters.
ORWELL: Do you ever wish you could play with your friends while they're gone all day?
EAGER: Yeah, I do. I get a little lonely. I miss them sometimes.
ORWELL: So, your friends are all gone away to school and you miss them. You wish you could be with them and play with them.
EAGER: Yeah, like Johnny next door. He tells me a lot of fun things about public school. I'd kinda like to go there some time.
ORWELL: Eager, have your parents ever said why they don't like the public school?
EAGER: They say it's bad cause I'll learn bad things there.
ORWELL: Do your parents let you play with any of the neighborhood kids?
EAGER: Well....uh...there are some kids down the street that I can't play with. One time I tried playing ball with them, but my parents came out and said that their parents don't believe the same as we do, so they didn't want me hanging around them.
ORWELL: So, your parents won't let you play with these other children?
EAGER: No. I get a spank if I play with them.
ORWELL: What do you mean you'll "get a spank"?
EAGER: Well, uh, I get a whupping.
ORWELL: How do you parents "whup" you? Do they use their hands or a paddle or what?
EAGER: They use a paddle.
ORWELL: Like a big wooden paddle?
EAGER: Uh, yeah...It's pretty big!
ORWELL: And they hit you with this wooden board?
EAGER: That's right. Right on my back end.
ORWELL: Eager, when your parents hit you with this paddle on your bottom, do they make you take your pants down?
EAGER: Oh, yeah.
ORWELL: So they hit you with this wooden board on your bare bottom?
EAGER: Yes, I cry a lot. It hurts.
ORWELL: Now, Eager, when your pants are down like that, do they ever touch your bottom with their hands? Do they ever touch you at all?
EAGER: Yeah, sometimes, if they can't find the paddle.
ORWELL: Eager, I'm glad we've had this time to visit. I hope I'll see you again. I'd like to be your friend.
[Social services agent sends Eager-to-Please out of the room, and the unprepared parent returns.]
ORWELL: Mr./Mrs. Innocent, I think there's some abuse going on in this home. I have evidence of physical abuse, sexual abuse....
ORWELL: ....social deprivation, and educational neglect. I'm going to need to have your children stripped so I can see if they have any bruises on their anatomy. I'm also going to have to have your children meet with a Department of Social Services psychologist to determine if they are experiencing any emotional abuse from this social deprivation or educational neglect. Mr./Mrs. Innocent, I have serious concerns about your religious beliefs. And what about all this home-schooling stuff? Do you have any books?
INNOCENT: We have books. We have some books up here...some over there....uh....and under the table.
ORWELL: Let me see where you do this home school. Do you have desks?
INNOCENT: We sometimes teach out children here, on the couch, and sometimes over here....
INNOCENT: Yes.....and sometimes on the floor.
ORWELL: You don't have any desks?
INNOCENT: No, we don't have any desks for the children. We don't need them.
ORWELL: The lighting in this room is terrible. You don't have a school room; you don't have desks. Do you have a blackboard?
INNOCENT: No, we really don't need those?
ORWELL: What about audio-visual aids?
INNOCENT: Well...uh...we go on field trips. Does that count?
ORWELL: Do you have any test scores for these children?
INNOCENT: Well, we haven't really started testing yet. We have a philosophy...you know....that children should not be tested too young. We are going to wait awhile.
ORWELL: So you have no test scores. Are you certified to teach?
INNOCENT: No...but I have a high school diploma from the local public school here! That should be worth something!
ORWELL: Now, Eager told me something that really concerned me. He said that you don't allow him to play with other children.
INNOCENT: Yeah, that's true in a number of occasions. We want to protect our children from families who believe very much differently than us.
ORWELL: Tell me about your religious beliefs.
INNOCENT: Well, we believe the Bible is the Word of God, and we have to do what it says.
ORWELL: All right, so what does the Bible say about child discipline?
INNOCENT: Well, it says in Proverbs that....uh...."the rod is for the back of him who's void of understanding..."
ORWELL: What do you mean by "rod"?
INNOCENT: Well, we use a paddle.
EAGER: Yeah, it's right over here.
ORWELL: May I see it? [Social services agent takes paddle.] I think I'm going to keep this for awhile.
INNOCENT: Wait a minute. I think I need to use that right now. Eager!!!
ORWELL: When you use this paddle on your children, where do you strike them?
INNOCENT: Well, we spank them only on their back end.
ORWELL: Clothed or unclothed
INNOCENT: Well, we pull their pants down...it's more effective that way...and sometimes they wiggle around a bit, you know. It's hard, but we hit them on the back end.
ORWELL: Have you ever bruised a child?
INNOCENT: Well....I mean...not recently.
ORWELL: Mr./Mrs. Innocent, I'm afraid I'm going to have to write this up as a case of substantiated child abuse. I'll make arrangements for your children to meet with our psychologist. Mr./Mrs. Innocent, I'll keep in touch with you. Good day. [Exit]
[It is 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and a knock comes at
the door. WISE opens the door and finds an agent from Child Welfare Services on
ORWELL: Yes, are you Mr./Mrs. Wise? I work with the local social services agency. There's been an allegation made that you've been abusing and neglecting your children....
WISE: Wait a minute. Do you have a business card? We don't just talk to anybody. We want to know who you are, and that, in fact, you work there. Do you have a card, sir?
ORWELL: Uh, yes, just a minute....but, I want you to understand that this is a very important matter. As you can see, I'm from the Department of Social Services.....
WISE: Hmmmm. [Reads name on card.] How long have you been working there?
ORWELL: I ask the questions here. You've been turned in for abusing and neglecting your children.
WISE: Well, what are the allegations specifically?
ORWELL: I'm not in a position to share those with you until I have met with each of your children privately for questioning. After I've talked with them, then I'll tell you.
WISE: Well, I appreciate your interest, and I too, want to get to the bottom of this. I assure you, nothing is going on. There's nothing that we're hiding here. However, I can't even proceed until I know of what I'm being accused.
ORWELL: As I said, I am not going to tell you the allegations until I meet with your children. If you're not willing to cooperate, I'll have to get a police officer. If necessary, we'll obtain a search warrant or court order, and we'll come back and talk to each one of your children privately. It would be much easier though if you cooperated with us here and now, so that we could avoid the unpleasantness of bringing in the police. What's it going to be?
WISE: Well, you obviously have to do what you need to do, and I'm not in a position to stop you. However, you'd be making a major mistake, and I'd hate to see you get in trouble over something like this. As I said I am more than happy to work this out. We'd be glad to meet with you. But I do need to talk to my attorney first. We could possibly set up a mutually convenient time when we could meet to resolve this. But right now, I can't let you into my home. I don't even know what the accusations are!
ORWELL: Good day, then, I'll be back.
WISE: I've got your card here, and I'll call you as soon as I have contacted my attorney.
[After the social worker leaves, the prepared parent calls HSLDA and gets counsel for the next meeting with the social worker. The prepared parent is able to do this because he joined HSLDA as a member in advance! The HSLDA attorney will generally call the social worker on behalf of the member family. He will find out the allegations and try to resolve the situation. If he can't resolve it over telephone, he will set the parameters for a meeting. This meeting is never held in the home, but rather in a designated place away from the home. The HSLDA attorney prepares the parent on what to say at the meeting and recommends bringing a witness or a tape recorder.]
[It is now another day, and the social worker meets with the prepared parent to follow up.]
WISE: Well, it's good to see you again. I understand now that you can let us know what the allegations are.
ORWELL: All right. We received a telephone call from a person who was "concerned because the children were all thin. This person thought that the removal of food was probably a form of child discipline and was under the impression that this discipline may have been a practice of your religion - some "born-again" ideology, or something. The caller cited that the parents give a lot of money to the church and spend little money on groceries, and the caller also mentioned that the mother home schools her children." [This comment is in quotation marks because it came from an actual case.] Are these allegations true?
WISE: They are not true --except for the fact that we are homeschooling our children and we are born again. Do you know what born again means?
ORWELL: Uh....no, but...
WISE: Let me explain. You see, in John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus he must be "born-again" in order to enter the kingdom of God. Since the wages of sin is death, we all need a Savior. Do you know where you are going when you die?
ORWELL: Look, are your children healthy?
WISE: You bet!!
ORWELL: Do they eat enough food?
WISE: Yes. We believe children are a gift of the Lord, and as a result, we have to take care of them, giving them the best possible. Part of that is how we feed them - we make sure they have plenty of nutritious food to eat.
ORWELL: Do you ever deprive them of food as part of your religion, or part of your born-again beliefs, or part of your child discipline, or any of that?
WISE: No, we don't. We can, as our attorney has probably told you, offer you references from individuals in the community who would vouch for the good care we give our children.
ORWELL: Now you realize that we are going to have to have your children meet with our physicians so that they can evaluate whether or not the children have been properly fed.
WISE: I've talked to our attorney about that also, and we have already had our children go to see our personal family physician, and he is putting his report in writing for you. Our children have a clean bill of health.
ORWELL: That report does not remove the need for me to personally interview your children.
WISE: Well, I think we went over this before, but our position is that we cannot take that risk. Besides, we've already provided this other information so that you can really close this file because you're going to have references from individuals, the doctor's report, and our own assurance that everything is fine. The reason we don't want you to talk to our children, frankly, is because we don't trust the system. We're aware of statistics that show that 60% of children that are removed from home by the social welfare system shouldn't have been upon later review. We just can't take that risk because sometimes those children are put into foster homes where they are abused. So it has noting to do with hiding anything, it's just that we care so much for our children that we can't take the risk. We don't know you.
ORWELL: Everyone else cooperates, Mr./Mrs. Wise. If you have nothing to hide, then why are you hiding so hard?
WISE: As I said, we'd be more than happy to cooperate if you could guarantee that you would find this "unfounded." But since you can't, and we don't know how you're going to interpret this, and the studies show that many, many families' statements are misinterpreted, how can we take that risk? Would you take that risk with your children?
ORWELL: [Hesitates in knowing how to respond.]
WISE: Please understand, we appreciate your great interest in our family. We know you're just doing your job, and sometimes that can put a person between a rock and a hard place. But we've got certain rights that we talked to out attorney about. We have the right of privacy which comes under the Fourth Amendment which protects us from state officials coming into our home at will, and we're standing on that right. Are you familiar with the Fourth Amendment?
ORWELL: Uh...we did not learn about the Fourth Amendment in Social Workers School. However, I am familiar with the Second Amendment....do you have any guns in your house?
WISE: That's really irrelevant. I'll take the Fifth on that one.
ORWELL: Let's talk about your homeschooling. I have to see your curriculum and facilities. I need to verify that you have enough light for these children to read. For all I know, you're ruining their eyesight by reading to them on a couch or something.
WISE: Well, I've talked to my attorney again about this, and we are legal. We're legally home schooling, and in this state, we're allowed to home school. We've followed the necessary requirements under the law. If you have a problem with this, you need to let the school district know because it's not really in your jurisdiction. Meanwhile, our attorney would be glad to send you a letter verifying the legality of home schooling.
ORWELL: Just because you're legal doesn't mean you're not neglecting your children.
WISE: If you have a problem with our educational program, you'll need to contact the local superintendent. We're on file. I can assure you that we're educating our children. It's part of our religious beliefs. We must teach our children to the best of our ability so that they can become productive citizens. Our philosophy is to provide them the best quality education that we possibly can.
ORWELL: Look, I have specific charges against you: You're starving your children, you're giving all your money away, your neglecting their education, and you're not willing to cooperate with me.
WISE: As I stated, we are going to provide you evidence so that you can find the allegations "unfounded." We're going to provide a statement from our doctor and various references. You have our word on it, and we're known in the community. Besides, we base our decisions in our family on the Scriptures, where we are clearly instructed that "if you harm one of these little ones, it's better a millstone be tied around your neck and be thrown in the deepest part of the ocean." That's a responsibility we take seriously in raising our little ones - that God would hold us accountable - in fact, we would be sinning before Him if we harmed them in any way in discipline, or withholding food as we've been accused of...we would never do those things.
ORWELL: Mr./Mrs. Wise, look, I can tell that you're sincere. I don't know....I'm really concerned about this situation. I wish you would cooperate with us instead of making our jobs so difficult.
WISE: Let me assure you. We care for our children, too, and we appreciate your care. And I believe that you will find this can all be resolved and you can put on file that it is "unfounded." In fact, we'd like something in writing, describing your finding. By tomorrow we should be able to get that statement from our doctor, so we just ask that you hold off any further decision until you can look at this. And if there's still a problem, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
ORWELL: It's obvious that you're not willing to do anything more than you've done. So I'll look at your doctor's report...I just want to say, for the record, that this kind of attitude is what makes it so hard for us to protect children. While you may be very sincere, there are real kids out there who are getting hurt. Your way of dealing with this matter ties us up with lawyers and reports when we should be resolving serious crisis. Good day, Mr./Mrs. Wise.