Know your rights or lose your rights

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Last year in Idaho, 23,599 families were reported to the Idaho Health and Welfare Child Protective Services. Idaho law requires mandatory reporting by all persons suspecting abuse. Reporting can be anonymous and may be done by anyone. While anonymous reporting might encourage broader involvement by the public, it can also be abused by others such as an angry ex-spouse, a disgruntled neighbor or some unknown individual making a rash decision.

Of those 23,599 cases reported, 10,159 were assigned for a comprehensive safety assessment that included a home visit. While 80 percent of those visits by CPS found no indications of child abuse, a growing culture within Idaho CPS deems it acceptable to use coercion and bullying to get into homes, sometimes telling families they must cooperate with extensive investigations. Even when the referrals are for “educational neglect.” These investigations sometimes involve photographing the inside of the house, looking in their cupboards, determining parenting philosophies and detaining and questioning ALL the minor children in home. Questioning may be pursued on subjects not even related to the referral.

What is so disturbing about these methods is that the CPS Social Workers use these tools to grow their agencies into big time businesses. The social workers sign families up for new services during and through this process. The government must serve a need, not create needs to serve and grow their staff and budget. Remember, 80 percent of these visits resulted in no action, yet now CPS has collected a lot of private information on families and likely created undue tension and anxieties in these homes.

While this may be well intended by CPS, citizens need to remember that without consent, or a warrant, or probable cause with exigent circumstances, no CPS staff or any government worker (including a police officer) can enter your home. There is ample case law in federal and supreme courts to prove this.

With the help of concerned families from across the state, I drafted and introduced simple legislation, HB-170, to help address this CPS overreach. This bill will improve and focus the efforts of CPS while protecting family rights. The bill would require any Department of Health and Welfare employee, at the beginning of any investigation, to provide a simple written form notifying parents of their legal rights. The CPS worker would give this form when they come into face-to-face contact (direct and in person) with the parents or person in custody of a child or children that are part of the investigation. This would bring transparency to presumably innocent parents and help them to remember their rights in a time when they may be surprised or caught off guard with a visit from CPS staff. This bill does not in any way alter or affect CPS’s mandated requirements of gaining consent or having a warrant or having probable cause with exigent circumstances.

Here are some of your rights when government shows up at your door:

• The right to not answer questions in order not to incriminate oneself is found in the Fifth Amendment. Some have said that only applies to criminal cases, but the Supreme Court has applied the Fifth Amendment to criminal and civil investigations.

• The right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant is in the Fourth Amendment. This covers the entering of a home or property and being detained for questioning.

• The right to have the benefits of legal counsel is found in the Sixth Amendment.

• The right to privacy in the parent/child relationship and the due process of law is found in the 14th amendment.

HB-170 passed the House floor and is scheduled for a Senate committee hearing this Monday.

Rep. Heather Scott represents District 1A in the Idaho House of Representatives.

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