It is not uncommon for CPS to use police officers in the course of their investigations of abuse/neglect to intimidate parents into waiving their constitutional rights against unreasonable searches to allow investigators into the home without probable cause. In fact, CPS policy requires that caseworkers enter a home to investigate any allegation of abuse/neglect. In spite of the fact that Texas law demands CPS give workers training on the 4th Amendment rights of individuals against unreasonable searches, these workers are trained to get parents to waive that right and allow them into the home. They often threaten the family with legal action or the removal of their children if they do not comply. Most often these investigations are initiated on the basis of anonymous tips, with absolutely no evidence. THSC has responded to several such situations, and a federal lawsuit is currently pending against Arizona caseworkers and police officers for the same kind of constitutional violations. This violation of the law is done in the name of “protecting children.”
We have just become aware of HB 253, which will be considered by the Human Services Committee in the Texas House tomorrow. This bill will make these types of situations worse. The measure would allow the same thing to be done regarding allegations of compulsory attendance violations if the family is also the subject of an abuse/neglect investigation. The bill would allow police officers and school attendance officers to “make home visits” and seek entrance to the home with “effective consent” of those who are under investigation for allegations of abuse and or neglect and also charged with violation of the compulsory attendance statute. “Effective consent” is code language for waiving your 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable searches. In fact, this language reminds me of a section of Obamacare that would encourage social workers to make home visits, and we have the same concerns about that possibility.
The vast majority of allegations of abuse and neglect of children are unfounded and are often made with the purpose of harassing a family. While the purpose of this bill may be to protect children, it will result in opening the door for the further violation of the rights of fit parents to direct the care, control and education of their children.
HB 253 also dramatically increases the penalties for compulsory attendance laws violations, with up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine and the establishment of violation of the compulsory attendance statute as a third degree felony offense after a single conviction.
Should this bill become law we can expect to see two things: school attendance officers and police officers using this new power to intimidate families into waiving their rights, allowing them into the home as part of an assault on their parental rights, and more lawsuits against the state.
The Human Services Committee will take testimony on this bill tomorrow (March 1, 2011). Please contact them and ask them to oppose HB 253 because: it would give too much power to officials to get into homes of innocent families under the guise of compulsory attendance violations, it raises the penalties for compulsory attendance violations and it is an assault against parental rights.