Friday, May 30, 2008

For the children

I had a chance to talk with Mike Dean from the First Freedom Foundation the other evening on the way back from Congressman Ryan's town hall meeting in Janesville (more later on that).

For those of you who don't know, the First Freedom Foundation is an invaluable organization for the conservative movement in Wisconsin. From everything to educating the public about the proper role of the judiciary, to fighting for virtual schools, to defending free political speech, the First Freedom Foundation has played an important role.

But we were talking about one of the less "splashy" cases involving the child welfare bureau in Milwaukee County. Yet it is cases like this one that make parents naturally distrustful of government playing a role in family life.

The case arose in 2003 when someone antagonistic to the family filed an allegation of child abuse. The parents fully cooperated with police, who investigated and found no basis for the complaint. However, {Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare case worker Dana} Gresbach later went to Good Hope Christian Academy where the children were enrolled and asked to see them without their parents' knowledge. Principal Cheryl Reetz asked to call the parents and to be present during the interviews but, following Bureau protocol, Gresbach refused and said that wouldn't be necessary and that she would contact the parents later.

Reetz brought the children to be interviewed by Gresbach, but besides talking to them, Gresbach also told them to partially disrobe so she could check for marks or bruises. Gresbach did not tell Reetz what she intended to do and did not obtain Reetz's permission to disrobe the children. Gresbach later contacted the children's parents, who were extremely upset that a stranger had told the children to disrobe - something they had warned the children that a stranger was never to do.

The family then filed suit in federal district court, which held Gresbach personally liable for disrobing the children without consent of their parents or Reetz. Gresbach appealed, claiming that following Bureau protocol was "reasonable" and that the law was unclear that her actions violated 4th Amendment rights. The 7th Circuit disagreed, finding that the law had been well settled in Doe v. Heck, a 2003 decision issued by the 7th Circuit in an earlier case filed by Dean and Crampton over a similar investigation by the Bureau in 1998.

What makes this case so disturbing is that this is not the action of a rogue operator in the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare. This is standard operating procedure. As the FFF points out in their last newsletter,

Dean stated, "We've been telling the Bureau for 10 years that their procedures violate basic 4th Amendment rights. They spent a lot of money on junkets and conferences after Doe came down, but nothing changed. Social service agencies have done whatever they like for so long that they've never bothered to create constitutional procedures that safeguard parental rights. We hope today's decision in Michael C. will be the incentive they need to take the constitution seriously."

During the discovery portion, the FFF asked what happened in the interval between the Bureau losing the last case and being sued in this case. Despite thousands of dollars of taxpayer money being spent on junkets and seminars, nothing changed. The caseworker even claimed she was told that the results of the last case did not apply in her activities.

And talk about a nightmare for the parents. Kids are told over and over again - in the schools, churches and even the cub scouts - never to let anyone undress them or touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. And yet, here is a clear case where someone acting as an authority figure does just that.

It's getting to the point where you have to remember to pack the kid's attorney along with the kid's lunch and homework.