The Social Worker At Your Door: 10 Helpful Hints

By Christopher J. Klicka, Senior Counsel for the
Home School Legal Defense Association

April 19, 2006

More and more frequently, homeschoolers are turned in on child abuse hotlines to social service agencies. Families who do not like homeschoolers can make an anonymous phone call to the child abuse hotline and fabricate abuse stories about homeschoolers. The social worker then has an obligation to investigate. Each state has a different policy for social workers, but generally they want to come into the family's home and speak with the children separately. To allow either of these to occur involves great risk to the family.

The  home school parent, however, should be very cautious when an individual identifies himself as a social worker. In fact, there are several tips that a family should follow:

Always get the business card of the social worker, in case you or an attorney representing you wishes to contact the social worker later. If the situation is hostile, immediately call HSLDA and hand the phone out the door so an HSLDA lawyer can talk to the social worker. We have a 24-hour emergency number.

Find out the allegations.
Social workers frequently tell the families they can only give the allegations after they have come into the home and spoken to the children separately, but this is not true, according to federal law.

You do not have to let the social worker in your house without a warrant or court order, unless there is a true emergency in your home. When children are taken from the home, it is usually because families waived their Fourth Amendment right to be free from such searches and seizures by agreeing to allow the social worker to come inside the home. A warrant requires a probable cause which does not include an anonymous tip or a mere suspicion. This is guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the courts.

Sometimes it is advisable to allow social workers to talk with children, particularly where severe allegations are involved. In these instances, an attorney, chosen by the parent, usually is present. At other times, HSLDA has had children stand by the door of the home and greet the social worker, but not be subject to any questioning.
Nevertheless, federal law requires all social workers to tell you the specific allegations at the "initial time of contact."

Tell the official that you will call back after you speak with your attorney. If you are a member, call HSLDA. In many cases, HSLDA attorneys are able to solve the the situation immediately. Most cases are resolved within a few weeks. A small percentage of cases go to court. Cases that do go to court and involve homeschooling are often handled by HSLDA. The remaining cases are referred to other attorneys.

Ignore intimidations. Social workers often bluff. They will routinely threaten to acquire a court order, knowing full well that there is no evidence on which to secure an order. In 99 percent of the contacts that HSLDA handles, the threats turn out to be bluffs. However, it is always important to secure an attorney or HSLDA in these matters, since there are occasions where social workers are able to obtain a court order with flimsy evidence.

Offer to give the officials the following supporting evidence:

A statement from your doctor, after he has examined your children, if the allegations involve some type of physical abuse;
References from individuals who can vouch for your being good parents;
Evidence of the legality of your home school program.

Bring a tape recorder and/or witnesses to any subsequent meeting. The discussion at the meeting should be limited to the specific allegations and often you should avoid telling them about past events beyond what they know. Anonymous tips are all that a social worker has, which is not sufficient to take a family to court. What you give them can and will be used against you.

Inform your church, and put the investigation on your prayer chain. Over and over again, HSLDA has seen God deliver homeschoolers from scary scenarios.

Avoid potential situations which could lead to a child welfare investigation.
Do public relations with your immediate neighbors and acquaintances regarding the legality and success of home schooling.
Do not spank children in public.
Do not spank a child who is not your own unless his or her parents are close Christian friends.
Avoid leaving young children at home alone, or in an automobile.

In order for a social worker to get a warrant to come and enter a home and interview children separately, he is normally required, by both statute and the U.S. Constitution, to prove that there is some cause. This is a term that is synonymous with the term probable cause. Probable cause or cause shown is reliable evidence which must be corroborated by other evidence if the tip is anonymous.
In other words, an anonymous tip alone and mere suspicion is not enough for a social worker to obtain a warrant.