Child Protective Services Social Workers
People are often confused about what to do when Child Protective Services social workers arrives at their front door requesting to enter. The U.S Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which applies to California Child Protective Services social workers states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
U.S. District Judge Earl H. Carroll, a Federal judge, has ruled that Child Protective Services social workers have to respect the U.S. Constitution regarding privacy and parental rights, and if they don’t they may be held liable. The ruling comes in an Arizona case in which Child Protective Services social workers, accompanied by Maricopa County deputy sheriffs, made unsupported threats to place a family’s children in custody and arrest the parents if they were not allowed to make what ended up being an allegedly illegal search of the family’s home.
Federal Judge Carroll ordered that a lawsuit by the family against the Child Protective Services social workers and sheriff will be allowed to continue, because the social workers’ concerns were based on “an anonymous tip that the children were being neglected and that plaintiffs’ home was uninhabitable.” Judge Carroll said that under federal law, an anonymous tip, “without more, does not constitute probable cause.” [See Loudermilk et al v. Arpaio et al, D.C. No. 2:06-cv-00636-ROS]
Mary and John Roe sued Beverly Strickland, a Texas social worker, after Ms. Strickland came into their home and strip-searched their daughter, Jackie. The social worker was responding to an anonymous tip making non-emergency allegations. She found no evidence of abuse or neglect. A Federal District Court ruling held that the law in such instances was clearly established; the Fourth Amendment applies to Child Protective Services social workers investigations and this worker should have known that the search violated the family’s rights. Child Protective Services social workers, like police officers, must have a warrant based on probable cause, consent, or there must be an immediate threat to life or limb. [See Mary Roe v. CPS, No. 01–50711]
Child Protective Services Social Workers Must Have a Warrant
In order for an “officer of the court” to enter your home against your will he or she must have a warrant in their hand when they step through your door. If someone has evidence that you have committed a crime, such evidence must be presented to a judge, while under oath or affirmation, and the judge must decide whether that evidence contains sufficient “probable cause” for issuance of a warrant.
Officers of the Court
An “officer of the court” is a title applied to someone who works in the legal system. Most people would assume that only a lawyer or a judge are considered to be an officer of the court, but this is not the case. The term also is used to describe arbitrators, mediators, magistrates, bailiffs, court clerks, justices of the peace, coroners, medical examiners, and other professionals such as Child Protective Services social workers and police officers, who are also considered officers of the court. The use of their skills, equipment and experience is often required to make a decision, elevating their status from witness to officer. An “officer of the court” often is someone who makes decisions and has an impact on the outcome of a case. Child Protective Services social workers often have an impact on a Juvenile Dependency case and it often requires the help of a skilled and experienced Juvenile Dependency Attorney to balance or counter that often-times family destroying “impact.”
What to do When Contacted by Child Protective Services Social Workers
If you are contacted by phone or in person by a Child Protective Services social worker and told that there are allegations made against you, ask the social worker the exact nature of the complaint against you and that they give you the actual state statute number or local ordinance code that you have allegedly violated. Be sure to have pen and paper to record this information at the time is being made. If you are surprised at your door, and do not have a pen and paper, ask for the social worker to wait outside, close and lock the door, and then go get pen and paper before you continue with the unannounced visit.
Your first question should be for the social worker and/or police officer to identify themselves. Ask for their business card and write down any badge numbers.
Should you know in advance an expect an investigation, you can document the incident using a hidden video camera or audio tape recorder. It is not unlawful to conceal the camera or recorder so that the social worker or police officer is unaware of the taping. Many parents employ such devices use such devices to protect their children from abuse from baby sitters. This type of recording on your own property is never illegal, no matter what you are told by the social worker or police officer. In California it is illegal to record a telephone call without the consent of all parties to the conversation. Penal Code § 632. That said, if you were to video tape yourself while talking on the phone so that your side of the conversation was recorded that might be useful to remember exactly what you said.
Must You Allow Child Protective Services Social Workers Entry
You can refused Child Protective Services social workers request to enter your home. Do not succumb to threats. If they persist ask the social worker or police officer if they have a warrant or court order that gives them the authority to enter your home against your will. If the social worker or police officer insists that they do not need a warrant under the circumstances, tell them again that you will be glad to cooperate and allow them to enter your home if they possess a warrant or court order signed by a judge. However, should a police officer demands that you stand aside and insist on entering, it would be advisable abide by the demand to avoid being arrested. The police officer’s abuse of authority is a separate issue that can be addressed at a later date.
Entry for Exigent Circumstances
Under certain conditions, or exigent circumstances, police officers can enter your home without a warrant. Exigent circumstances are chasing a person who is suspected of committing a crime into your home, “in hot pursuit,” and to prevent immediate bodily harm, “in an emergency.” Child Protective Services social workers investigating allegations of child abuse or neglect –especially from an anonymous tip– would rarely be exempt from the legal requirement to have a warrant.
Request to Attend Interviews
These same legal rights that protect you from an unlawful entry are also used to deny a request to travel to an agency office or attend an investigation. You do not have to drive to and show up at the social worker’s offices nor should you take your children to an agency office unless you are served with a court order instructing you to do so. If such request is made, you should immediately notify the social worker that you want time to seek legal counsel. You should not state anything further and simply terminate contact.
Child Protective Services Social Workers Phone Calls
In California, it is unlawful to record a telephone conversation without the consent of both parties. Should you be contacted, via a phone call by a social worker, you ask if he or she agrees that you record the call, before continuing with the conversation. If they refuse, you should terminate that call and instruct them to contact your attorney.
Police Officer Interview
You should never agree to be interviewed by a police officer without having a lawyer present, nor speak with any police investigators by phone nor in person if you are being investigated or accused of any crime.
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