Home Schooling Family ripped apart by Children's Court
The Doe family (name changed) in KwaZulu-Natal were devastated. They home school their children for reasons of their religious conviction. In April, the Children’s court ordered that the three young children be removed and placed in the care of their grandparents, where they are compelled to attend school.
The only reason for removing the children provided by the court and the social workers is that the children don't attend school.
The grandparents live more than an hour's drive from the Doe family home. After nearly a year of conflict between the parents and the grandparents about the home education, the grandparents had asked that the children be placed in their care. According to the grandparents the parents were infringing the children's right to education by not sending them to school. Social workers and the court agreed.
In reality, only the eldest child (10) is liable to compulsory school attendance. The younger ones (3 and 6) have now also been placed in school.
At first, the parents were free to visit the children and did so almost every day. Later, the court changed this to weekends only. The parents were still allowed to speak to the children by telephone.
Later still, all visits were forbidden. It was claimed that the parents have a bad influence on the children. However, the parents were still allowed to phone the children.
The children complained about unacceptable incidents in the home of the grandparents, and another social agency became involved. This resulted in the children being removed from the grandparents and admitted to a "place of safety" near the home of the parents. Contact was still limited to telephone conversations only.
Two days later, the children were "temporarily" returned to the care of the grandparents, but the family circumstances of the grandparents' home must now be investigated by a social worker.
At the end of August, there will be yet another court appearance.
In addition to several social workers from two different agencies, a lawyer had been appointed to "represent" the children. She did so at several court appearances, although she has not spoken to the children to this day. The parents have been representing themselves all along.
The parents' access to the children had been restricted because the grandparents and social workers judged that the parents have a "bad influence" on the children. Also, although the two younger children are not liable to compulsorily school attendance, in order to "maintain the sibling bond" according to the social workers. The latest development is that they want to remove the eldest from the two younger ones, because she is judged (by the social workers) to have a "bad influence" on them!
Over the past year, the desperate parents had attempted several avenues to resolve the issue. They tried to enlist the eldest child with a full-service curriculum suppliers, and applied for registration with the KZN education department. The department lost the papers. The parents did not find strong support from curriculum supplier either.
Recently, the parents bought the another curriculum system for the eldest child, and finally managed to obtain a registration with the education department, which they received this morning. There is, however, no certainty that this will persuade the court, in the light of the fact that only school attendance satisfies the social workers, and in view of the claims of unspecified "bad influence" that have been established.
Understandably, the parents and the children are all severely traumatized by now, and the father approached the Pestalozzi Trust for assistance immediately when he learnt of its existence yesterday.
The Trust will do its utmost to assist the family. Because the family are not members of the legal defence fund, the Trust is severely restricted in the ways in which it can assist the family.
The Trust has been advised that the best action at this stage is to launch an urgent application in the High Court for the return of the children to the care of their parents. That requires funds that the Trust cannot expend on non-members. For that reason, the executive of the Trust has resolved to start a fund-raising campaign. Donations can be made into the Trust account: Pestalozzi Trust, ABSA, 4048112677, Hatfield 335545. Please use the reference: Return Children.
In the meantime, Trust members who live in the vicinity of the family have been alerted to their plight so that they can offer such emotional and other support as they can. Your prayers for this family are greatly needed.
Posted by Leendert van Oostrum on the [tuisonderwys] forum.
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Leendert van Oostrum published the following on Facebook
This Takes the Cake!
The Doe family, about whom we reported two weeks ago, was informed by the KZN Education Department today that the registration for home education of their eldest child (the only one of school age) will be revoked.
The registration had been issued on 27th July, more than eleven months after the parents had applied for it!
It appears that, somewhere in May, social workers laid charges against the parents in terms of the compulsory school attendance provision in the SA Schools Act, and the police are investigating.
When the police investigation enquired from the education department about the progress with the application for home education, the education officials got spooked and now want to revoke their belated registration "because there are charges against the parents".
The irony being: If the education department had, last year, performed the registration in reasonable time (30 days), there could not have been any charges against the parents!
Of course, it is not so easy to revoke a registration once it has been given - the homeschooling associations wrote that part of the SA Schools Act back in '96, and Parliament included it in the final Act. With competent advice and representation, the family can prevent the registration being revoked.
In addition, the charges laid with the police cannot succeed because the necessary written notice had never been issued to the parents. Again, this attempt will fail if the family are competently represented.
The aspect of the attacks on this family that fail, is the trauma that they are all going through - children and parents. To top it all, Mrs Doe is pregnant and the baby is due next week. Understandably, she is in a very bad state emotionally, and her husband is very worried about her and the baby.
The Trust already has lawyers in KZN working hard to resolve the issue as soon as possible. Thank you to everyone who has contributed towards the costs of the case. Until now, about R4000 has been contributed. Of course, much more will be needed, but the case can now get under way. There have been some very substantial individual donations, but a large proportion of it is composed of small amounts. As one donor remarked - every Rand counts.
Leendert van Oostrum reported the following on the Tuisonderwys mailing list:
Die Trust het gereël dat 'n prokureur die gesin Doe verteenwoordig by hul volgende verskyning, volgende week in die Kinderhof.
Mev Doe se baba word die volgende dag verwag, en die ouers is uiters bekommerd oor die uitwerking van die traumatiese gebeure van die afgelope maande op die moeder en baba.
Die saak is van groot belang vir lede van die Pestalozzi Trust want dit sal regsekerheid bring oor die verwydering van kinders om geen ander rede nie as dat hulle nie 'n skool bywoon nie....
Die verslaggie vervolg op die Trust se Facebookblad - in Engels, omdat die saak reeds internasionale belangstelling verkry het. Kyk by https://www.facebook.com/tuisonderwys?fref=ts
Leendert van Oostrum published the on Facebook https://goo.gl/YYMh0e
DSD TREATS HOME LEARNERS AS "CHILDREN IN NEED OF CARE AND PROTECTION"
The Pestalozzi Trust has had another complaint from a member, that a social worker demands a "home visit" because she had received a report that the children are homeschooled.
From the events, it is clear that the Department of Social Development classifes any child who is homeschooled is "a child in need of care and protection".
This has serious implications: The criterion for deciding whether to investigate a report to social services is whether there is "reasonable grounds to believe" that a child is "a child in need of care and protection". If they persuade a children's court that there are such "reasonable grounds", the court can order the social worker and/or the police to enter the family home to investigate whether the child is indeed in need of care and protection, and to report back to the court.
(Note: without such a court warrant, no social worker or police officer may enter your home against your will. Most social workers will, instead of getting a court order - which is not so easy - try and intimidate you into allowing a warrantless entry into your home.)
Clearly, social workers are operating from the assumption that the mere fact that a child is homeschooled also means that there are such "reasonable grounds".
The Pestalozzi Trust will continue to challenge this assumption in every appropriate case that our members bring to us.
Leendert van Oostrum published the on Facebook https://goo.gl/YYMh0e
UPDATE: The Doe case is underway
The Trust has arranged for an attorney to represent the Doe family at their next appearance in the Children's Court next week.
Mrs Doe's baby is due the following day, and the parents are very concerned about the effect of the traumatic events of the past few months on the mother and baby.
The case is of great importance to the members of the Pestalozzi Trust, because it will bring legal certainty on the removal of children from their parents for the only reason that the children are not attending a school.
The Trust therefore made the very unusual exception to take on the case. An attorney was engaged to represent the family, but because of the importance and complexity of the case she was also instructed to also brief a senior advocate (SC) to take the case into the High Court if the children are not returned to their parents next week (the return of the children is not likely).
(Clearly, the outcome is also of deciding importance to all homeschoolers, and not only for the members of the Trust.)
The provisional budget for the case is R200 000,00. That includes the fees for attorney and Senior Counsel, expert witnesses in the fields of psychology and education, as well as travel and accommodation for various role players. The Trust may possibly also have to pay for a junior advocate to assist the SC.
If either party appeals the outcome of the case to the Appeals Court or the Constitutional Court, the costs of the case will be well on their way to half a million Rand.
The sad thing is that, if a member family of the Pestalozzi Trust had been in the position of this family, the whole matter could have been nipped in the bud right when it started, and probably by the staff of the Trust themselves. (The Trust is not primarily there to defend its members in court. It's primary purpose is to resolve such issues before they get into court.)
If the conflict could have been resolved early on, the children and the parents could have been spared life-changing levels of trauma. And the financial cost of repairing the damage would have amounted to about one percent of what it will now cost.
This family has suffered dearly, and still do, not because they are bad people, but because they were too trusting and did not investigate or guard against all the possible consequences of their choice for home education. There is a lesson in that.
The following discussion between Leendert van Oostrum and Shirley Erwee on the Tuisonderwys mailing list provides additional insight into the case.
Yes, we investigated the records of the case in detail. Unbelievable as it is, there is no other reason to be found other than that the eldest child did not attend a school.
This case has been before the children's court a dozen times, and even made a short detour in the High Court. NO other accusations have been made against the parents, other than that 1) the eldest child did not attend school and 2) the parents are "indoctrinating" the children not to attend school.
Several social workers from other agencies have expressed to the parents their shock at the removal of the children.
During the short high court hearing (to get the children out of the "place of safety" where they had been put for two nights) the judge also remarked that children should not be removed from their parents merely because they do not attend school.
The reasons given (by social workers) for removing the two younger children as well are: 1) "to preserve the sibling bond" (and what about the parental bond?) and 2) "because the parents might also not send THEM to school when they reach school-going age".
Both "reasons", but especially the latter one, makes me wonder at what age they are going to remove the new baby. Will they wait until he is weaned, or are they going to stand outside the delivery room to take him away at birth?
I am relieved to hear that the Trust is going to be involved in this case as the outcome will be hugely significant. I have confidence that their defence will be handled competently with the Trust's expertise and knowledge of the laws pertaining to homeschooling.
However, I am going to ask the question that I've been asked a couple of times and which no one seems to be asking here, but everyone is probably wondering.
Was it really ONLY because of homeschooling that the children were placed in foster care?
When this case was mentioned previously (before the Trust took on the case) the comments people made were things like:
"Something doesn't add up...there must be more to the story....why would welfare take the two younger children as well, if homeschooling was the only cause for concern?...Something's fishy....it must be more complex than that...what do the grandparents know that we don't know?...". etc. etc.
People can't believe that government officials would do such a thing without good reason. (Some of us know that they do, but its still shocking!)
Has child welfare indicated that there were any other causes for concern...any other alleged neglect or alleged incompetence on the part of the parents?
Personally, I am sure that the Trust would not take on a case like this, were there other reasons for concern, but please confirm this for everyone.
Comment from Ruby Harrold-Claesson, the attorney of Domenic Johansson : "It is amazing that KwaZulu-Natal, a province in South Africa - after having suffered decades of torture caused by laws and practices initiated by Europeans, are now traveling the path that Hitler paved in his "laws", and that Sweden's coalition government - after the brutal, traumatising kidnapping of Domenic Johansson - passed in 2012."
PROGRESS REPORT 23 SEPTEMBER
At today's hearing in the case of the Doe children, the parents were awarded unsupervised access to the children over weekends and public holidays. So the parents drove over to fetch the children this afternoon, and they will stay with the parents until Sunday evening. School holidays start at the end of next week. The parents will be fetching them again for the holidays.
This is a major improvement from the previous regime of supervised access only, as well as no access: for the entire month of June, for example, the children and the parents had been prohibited from seeing each other.
However, the children have to return to the home of their grandparents and to continue to attend school until the case is finalized.
The next hearing is scheduled for 20th October, by which time all the reports by psychologists and social workers must be in. (And by which time the children will have been away from their home for six months!)
Today's decision by the court confirms that there is no indication that the children are in any danger from their parents, and supports the theory that the matter is about the home education of the children and nothing else. Today's events reduced the case to brass tacks: it is about home education versus school education. Observers perceived an apparent animosity towards home education on the part of the social workers and on the part of the attorney appointed to "represent the children".
There were strange events in the course of the hearing, eg social workers and the attorney for the children had agreed during a mediation on the morning before the case that the children should be returned to the parents to be home-educated. During the course of the hearing, however, they changed around completely and insisted that it was important that the children remain at school.
Today's decision also serves to remind us how important it is to resolve matters like this as early as possible. The longer they stay in the courts, the more complications arise, the more they drag out, and the costlier they become.
We are so grateful to the Lord that the family is united, even though it is not permanently. Please pray for the family to survive the inhuman stress that they have been subjected to for five months already, and which is now likely to continue for at least another month. We trust and pray that the Lord will enable the legal team and everyone else involved in the matter to continue supporting the family as is necessary.
The picture shows the Does' legal team, funded by some donors, but mostly by the Pestalozzi Trust. They are, from left to right, Adv. Deon Schaup; Mrs Paula Barnard (the attorney in the case) and Adv. Avril Potgieter (SC).
From : Pestalozzi Trust
PROGRESS REPORT 15 OCT
At the follow-up hearing on the Doe children this morning the various reports by psychologists and social workers were still not ready, and the case was adjourned again until the 20th of November. This was more or less as expected under the circumstances.
It is also considered likely that the court will want the children to complete the school year before continuing with their home education.
The positive aspects include that the children may continue to visit their parents unsupervised every weekend and school holiday.
This confirms our original impression that the school attendance was the only reason for the removal of the children. This also demonstrates, however, that such a case develops a life of its own once it gets into court. It is therefore essential that one should, as far as possible, avoid getting into court in the first place.
In addition it is significant that the court allows the children to stay away from school the coming Friday and Monday to have another long weekend with their parents. This seems to suggest that school attendance is no longer considered to be of paramount importance.
From : Pestalozzi Trust