That Sunday evening after Emily’s safe return home and the ensuing confusion with the police department and Social Services, I didn’t sleep well. I spent the night in the land of “What if…” A dreadful place, I’m sure you’ve visited once or twice. “What if” lies in the same region as “If only.” Both are damaging, peace disturbing places that paralyze and confuse the inhabitants who reside there. I’d say, don’t go there…but if you must, don’t stay for long. One night was more than long enough for me:
“What if Social Services calls tomorrow, Roger?”
“What if they want to interview our children?”
“What if they accuse us of neglecting Emily?”
“If only I’d called her in earlier!”
“If only I’d done a head count after I called them all in!”
“If only I’d been outside with her!”
See what I mean? A terrible, terrible place to visit…
Nevertheless, the next morning dawned bright and beautiful and with the sunlight, the fears of the previous night’s events began to recede, just as nightmares do at the break of day. I said goodbye to my husband that morning, sat down for a quiet cup of coffee and basked in the peace of the new day.
Until the phone rang.
Social Services. Once again, icy dread filled my veins. This caller was far from polite. Identifying herself as an office supervisor, she made it abundantly clear that a file now existed in their database and that questions needed to be answered. When would I like to set up a home visit? I immediately tensed and was now on the defensive. I did my best to remember all the caveats I had received from an attorney friend who cautioned me in the past, should our family ever have a run in with Social Services. Under no circumstances do you allow them into your home! Once they’re in, they’re in and you have relinquished your rights. Make them get a warrant, but hold firm. Your home is your castle.
I took a deep breath and asked the social worker to outline the legal necessity of this interview:
“Mam…whenever we receive an allegation of neglect an investigation must be conducted. We need to set up a home interview.”
“Excuse me, the police officers told us they had mistakenly made the call to Social Services. That this was clearly not a case of neglect. This makes no sense. Why would you need to conduct a home interview when there are no allegations?”
“We have a file and that file will need to be closed. The only way to close the file is through investigation. We will, of course, need to interview all of the children…”
“I’m sorry…I can’t agree to that! We were told that this issue was closed. The police assured us that no further investigation was necessary. We are fine, the children are fine, I don’t understand why you would have a file that calls for an investigation of a non-issue. This makes no sense…”
“It doesn’t matter what the police told you. They have their procedures and we have ours. This is the procedure. When can I set up a home appointment?”
“I’m not comfortable with inviting strangers into my home…I’m sure you understand. We are in the process of moving, the entire living room is full of boxes. Whatever investigation you’re conducting will have to be concluded quickly and at an alternate location. We’re moving…”
“Moving? Is this a recent decision?” (Did she think we were going to “cut and run?!”)
“We’ve been in the process of securing a new home since December, so no, this is not a recent decision.” ‘
“I’ll have the worker assigned to this case give you a call to set up an appointment as soon as possible. You’ll need to bring all the children…”
The phone call concluded, I immediately called my husband. Shock and disbelief. These people were not going to let go. It appeared that a “fishing expedition” was being organized and that I had very little time to prepare for the “trip.” My dear friend and neighbor was also horrified by the turn of events. As a home educator, she too feared how this investigation could impact her own family. She made a few calls to HSLDA, who had very little to offer in the way of advice, as this was not specifically a home schooling legal battle. We feared it could soon become one; this is a tactic that has been exercised in more than one occasion by Social Services. Without money, the law hasn’t much to offer. Despite all efforts on our part, it eventually became quite clear that our family was in this alone. Buoyed by the prayers, calls and support of our friends and parish priest, we plunged headlong into the onslaught.
The following day, another case worker called to set up an appointment. She once again insisted upon a home interview. I politely declined. She asked if she could interview the other children. Once again, I politely declined, terrified the entire time that I would be seen as hostile, all the while trying to maintain cheerful composure. I had begun keeping very careful records of all conversations:
“We really need statements from the other children in the household…”
“May I ask why? The other children were not missing, nor were they party to Emily’s actions. She wandered off on her own. Her father and I are the ones that can give you any other information you require. What possible insight could the other children provide? There is no police report naming the other children nor are we legally required to subject them to questioning.”
“You are correct. There is no legal requirement, but it would be helpful.”
“And there are no allegations of neglect, so there is no need to interview the children.”
“Will the child in question be allowed to attend the meeting?”
“I’ll have to confer with my husband. You see Mrs. X…we are good parents, and do everything within our power at all times to choose very carefully the people whom we allow to talk to our children. I still do not understand what on earth is going on. Put yourself in my place…does this seem reasonable? We are told there are no allegations of neglect, Social Services will not be called and now I have your office insisting upon interviewing my entire family. This makes no sense whatsoever! Hasn’t anyone even read the police report?”
“I don’t have a copy of the police report, though I have requested one. Much depends upon the police report…once I have a copy with the officer’s statement, perhaps our interview will take a different tone.”
“Wait a minute…you don’t have a copy of the police report? I do!! Shall I read it to you?”
“No, mam. I’ll be picking up a copy later today. We’ll discuss the report at our meeting.”
That was it. Guilty until proven innocent, everything hinging upon a police report that my husband was able to pick up the following day, but a government office wasn’t able to locate. It seemed odd they were more than able to get the “wheels of justice” turning–without a statement, without a complaint and without any witnesses.
The next few days were spent in research. I pulled copies of the Constitution of the United States and Amendments, the Ohio Child Protective Services Manual outlining protocol, and statistics on illegal practices and death rates of children removed from homes by Social Services.
The stories that I read online were heartrending and terrifying and many had begun much as our encounter had. Mistaken identity, anonymous callers and sometimes no traceable source for an investigation and subsequent seizure of a child. This government office has practically no oversight and is given immunity in nearly every case in which they have violated the constitutional rights of individuals and families. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule, but I feared that we were being sucked into a whirlpool, one in which the rights of the family are always secondary to the rights of the State.
My husband and I talked about whether Emily would be allowed to attend the meeting. He felt that she should not, that she wouldn’t understand the procedure and didn’t want strangers questioning his child. I took a look at my sweet little girl…
“What if I simply take her with me, dressed up like the little doll she is, but don’t allow them to talk to her? After all, they say they simply want to make sure she’s okay. Let’s show them. Let them look, but not touch…if we keep her home, perhaps they’ll think we have something to hide, or that we harmed her after the events of that Sunday evening. I think we should quell their fears. I’ll do the talking. I’m going in loaded for bear! May God have mercy on them, they have a much bigger fight than they realize…”
Brave words, hmmm? Nearly verbatim, I’m sure. I felt like a mother tiger whose cubs were being threatened. All the days and nights of praying, worrying, preparing and finally trusting that God would protect us, that He would give me the words I needed to defend our family, were invaluable in tempering us for the potential backlash that could occur. My dear friend, Krislynne, came to offer her support. I feared leaving the children alone. Clementine was with them, but as a minor child, I feared that while I was in the meeting with the case worker, these evil people could make their way into my home and take my children. Krislynne agreed to stand guard. I begged them to keep the blinds closed and not to answer the door until they heard from me.
Armed with a file full of papers, notes and research, and little Emily by my side I strode as confidently as possible into the office of the case worker.
What happened next took me completely by surprise…
To be continued…