By the time they returned home from their errand, a child protective services caseworker and a law enforcement officer were waiting at the door to investigate them for child abuse.
That's according to Jim Mason of the Home School Legal Defense Association, who blames the false report on panic over COVID-19 social distancing rules. A letter from child services, which I reviewed, confirmed the existence of the complaint.
The parents, referred to as "Bill and Kristy," are homeschoolers. Kristy had moved to Kentucky in advance of Bill. When they arrived at the bank, the parents opted to let their two oldest children wait in the car. The younger five — yes, a big family — accompanied them into the building, which had a COVID-19 warning sign on the door.
They were not treated warmly. The teller asked why on earth they'd brought their kids in and told them to stand six feet away. Kristy explained that to open a joint account, both parents had to be present. Letting the kids wait in the car could prompt a call to 911.
Back at home, the authorities confronted Bill and Kristy, who discovered that someone had called in an anonymous tip claiming that a mother of five had taken her children out with a man who wasn't their dad, and they had bruises on their arms indicative of rough grabbing.
The investigator proceeded to question the kids away from the parents, and he made at least one of the boys take off his shirt to look for bruises. Kristy told Mason that the investigator wanted to do the same with the girls but she objected, so he only pulled up the girls' sleeves and took photos.
But ... if the kids were wearing long sleeves (it was cold), how had anyone spotted bruises? Of course, the caller got other information wrong, too: Bill was very much the kids' father.
The parents presume the call came from someone at the bank. Whoever it was provided the exact kind of information — bruising, suspicious man, etc. — that prompts a Child Protective Services investigation.
When Bill handed over his license, the investigator could see from his last name he was not an "unrelated male." And when the kids showed their arms, it was clear the bruises didn't exist. Case closed? If only.
When I spoke with Mason by phone, he said that once an investigator checks for the supposed crime and comes up empty-handed, he or she should leave. To continue snooping is "a terrible thing and a waste of time."
But all too often, investigators insist that they must robotically keep probing: opening the cabinets, checking out the fridge. This Kentucky investigator even questioned the family about which home-school curriculum they were using, as if that had any bearing on the case.
That's why the Home School Legal Defense Association, as well as its allies at United Family Advocates, have been trying to get "off-ramp" legislation passed. Once an investigation comes up empty-handed, the investigator should simply leave rather than continue down a checklist of possible problems.
The groups are also hoping that, someday, the states will outlaw anonymous reporting. That way, it would be harder for people to weaponize the system against families that get on their nerves. Currently, it's just far too easy to open a case.
Finally, parents in Kentucky — and the rest of the country — deserve something like Utah's "Free-Range Parenting" bill, which says that simply taking your eyes off your kids is not neglect. Because it's not. In times of COVID-19, it can be the safest option of all.