A Christian legal group is continuing its fight for a Virginia homeschool family whose children were removed from their home based on “false and under-investigated” allegations that were used to detain them in foster care for more than a month.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) filed a brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on April 11 on behalf of the homeschooling parents Lane Funkhouser and his wife, Susan Parker — in hopes of putting the family’s prolonged legal battle to an end.
The state’s intrusion on the homeschoolers began in July 2012, when social services falsely accused the mother of jeopardizing her children’s health — insisting that she was psychologically unfit to properly care for them.
“In 2011, Lane and Susan withdrew their two children from public school to homeschool them, due to several diagnosed medical conditions that plagued the family for more than a year,” HSLDA reported. “While the couple was seeking medical care for their children, a Clarke County social services investigator came to believe that the family was not actually ill, but that Susan was suffering from a complicated mental disorder called Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP), in which the sufferer fakes medical symptoms or intentionally inflicts an illness on another for the purpose of gaining outside attention and sympathy.”
The parents soon found that they would be punished for the reported incompetence of the state worker, who made a faulty analysis of the medical condition of Parker when she was unqualified to do so. It was also noted that her take on the situation was based on a dearth of information.
“Unfortunately for Susan and the family, this social services investigator reached this decision without reviewing the family’s voluminous medical records, discussing his conclusions with a mental health expert, or even interviewing Susan and her children,” HSLDA Staff Attorney Peter Kamakawiwoole explained. “Instead, he contacted the Department of Social Services in Shenandoah County, where the family lived, with his unsupported theory.”
Acting above the law and without any logical basis, state officials proceeded to violate the homeschoolers’ parental rights and took their children into custody.
“On July 25, 2012, Shenandoah social services investigators came to the family’s home and removed the two children, based on the allegations of Munchausen,” Kamakawiwoole informed. “They neither had nor attempted to obtain a court order. “
When true medical professionals diagnosed the children, the false claims of the unqualified and overly intrusive social worker were exposed, which HSLDA maintains should have freed the children to go back to their parents, as well as clear their mother of the false allegations.
“The children were taken to an emergency room, where the hospital diagnosed them with a parasitic infection and prescribed medication,” the attorney for the nonprofit legal organization continued. “This diagnosis refuted any suspicion that Susan had manufactured the illnesses that her children were suffering, and there was no reason to believe that Susan had done anything other than attempt to obtain medical care for her children.”
But the social workers continued to harass the family by unnecessarily detaining the children even longer, despite not having a shred of evidence to prove that the children were under any danger at home.
“When the children were discharged from the hospital, however, the social services investigators refused to return them to Susan and Lane, placing them instead in foster care,” HSLDA informed. “The children remained there for two weekdays while the investigators delayed in preparing a petition to keep the children in foster care.”
Even more delays ensued, as social services allegedly managed to manipulate the legal system to not give up the state’s custody of the children, which HSLDA maintains was a blatant violation of the homeschoolers’ parental rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
“When this petition was finally brought before a juvenile court judge, the investigators insisted that the children would be in danger if returned to their parents, but they failed to report the results of the medical testing done at the investigators’ request,” HSLDA attorneys explained. “It took more than 30 days before the juvenile court was fully appraised of the facts of the case.”
However, the social services investigators were unable to hide the facts about the situation from the court for long, but when their intentional misinformation was revealed, they denied their culpability — with little to no accountability.
“Once the truth came out, the judge promptly ordered the children to be returned to their parents — over the strong objection of the social services investigators, who refused to acknowledge that they had made a mistake,” the Christian legal group based in Purcellville, Virginia, added.
Taking things to a higher authority
Despite the preponderance of evidence on the homeschool family’s side, justice for them was not delivered by the juvenile court. As a result, HSLDA attorneys filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of Susan and her family in federal court. But the legal system continued to deny homeschoolers justice, as the district court judge dismissed the case in April 2015.
“Chief among the court’s arguments was its belief that the investigators acted ‘reasonably’ because the initial allegations came from ‘mandated reporters,’” the Christian lawyers divulged. “To reach this conclusion, however, the court had to overlook the fact that these same investigators discovered shortly thereafter that their allegations were patently false, and that they failed to follow Virginia’s own law on emergency removals, which requires a stringent showing of imminent danger before authorities can remove a child without prior judicial approval.”
Yet HSLDA attorneys continue to fight for Susan and her family in court, as their recently filed brief contends that the opinion delivered by the district court is flawed in its reasoning in many ways — especially regarding its argument about the so-called “mandated reporters.”
“Parents have a sacred responsibility to care for and safeguard their children … [and] government workers who steamroll parents and children need a sharp reminder that families have rights,” the pro-family organization insists. “When [parents] act to fulfill that responsibility by seeking needed medical care for their children, the last thing they expect to find is resistance from the state, especially when that resistance springs from irresponsible and unsupportable allegations.”