A Virginia homeschool family has filed suit after a social worker allegedly concocted a false medical diagnosis that government bureaucrats used to take away their children.
The Home School Legal Defense Association is defending Lane Funkhauser and Susan Parker, and their children, whose names were redacted in the copy of the lawsuit released to WND.
Named as defendants are Michael Austin, Brittany Utterback, Jennifer Wimer and Amanda Judd, all social services workers in Clarke and Shenandoah counties in Virginia. Also named are employees of the Henry & William Evans Home for Children, Laura Regan, Mike and Winona Powers and Brent and Missy Rudolph.
HSLDA said all four family members were suffering health problems, making attendance at public school difficult. The parents decided to homeschool their two children and sent the public district appropriate notice.
School officials filed truancy charges, which were dismissed quickly. But in the process, social worker Michael Austin of the Clarke County Social Services agency intervened.
“Austin is not a doctor. He is not a nurse. He is not a psychologist. He is not a medical professional of any stripe,” HSLDA said. “But Austin determined that Susan was suffering from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. This outdated term refers to a psychological disorder in which a parent contends that her child is ill to draw attention to herself. It is extremely rare, and it requires a proper diagnosis by a qualified professional.”
The diagnosis also was wrong, HSLDA said.
“There’s one thing we know for sure about this case: laboratory results showed that the children were actually sick with difficult-to-treat illnesses, and it was not the result of Munchausen by Proxy,” HSLDA said.
The family had already discovered with the help of a physician that the children “had a combination of strep, a parasite, and a bacterial infection called Clostridium difficile (C. diff.) – a condition that kills over 14,000 Americans each year.”
“There were positive lab results showing that the children had C. diff. And the doctor prescribed treatment for the children for these illnesses,” said HSLDA, the world’s most prominent homeschool advocacy group.
Directed to the hospital for services, the family went to Rockingham Memorial, where they were treated. But Austin also had shared his “Munchausen theory” with the hospital and social services.
“Frankly, the hospital staff should have known better. They had a diagnosis from a licensed doctor and valid lab results. But they listened instead to an inventive social worker who was utterly unqualified to be making a diagnosis of any kind,” HSLDA said.
So social workers went to the family’s home and took the children.
“Lane and Susan were cooperative, thinking the social workers were simply helping transport the children to the hospital for additional treatment. But that’s not what happened. The social workers brought James and Kat to the emergency room, where – surprise! – they were diagnosed with C. diff. and prescribed medication,” the HSLDA report said.
Inexplicably, social services workers then argued in court they were correct to take the children, and the judge allowed the investigation to go on, the organization said.
The children “were interrogated repeatedly by employees of the home, who insisted that their parents didn’t love them and that they were never going home, and then tried to get them to give information about how their parents had neglected them.”
In the home, the couple’s son injured his ankle, and staff members told him it was nothing serious and refused to take him to the hospital.
Eventually, Shenandoah County Social Services was ordered by a court, which dismissed actions against the family, to return the children. When the parents took their son to a doctor, they found his ankle had been broken.
And it was revealed the children had been exposed to tuberculosis while at the home.
“HSLDA is fighting for Lane, Susan, James, and Kat because we are sick and tired of seeing parental rights eroded in virtually every area of parenting, including medical and educational decisions. We believe that parents honestly seeking the best treatment for their children should not be punished by irresponsible allegations of child neglect,” wrote Michael Farris, HSLDA founder.
“We are suing Michael Austin, the Shenandoah County caseworkers, and the employees of the children’s home for their negligence and misconduct. When government workers steamroll parents and children, as they did in this case, the government needs a sharp reminder that families have rights.”
The treatment was egregious, the organization contends.
The complaint argues Austin is “not a mental health professional; he is a nonclinical social worker.”
“Upon information and belief, Austin never consulted with, sought advice from, nor spoke with any mental health professional concerning Susan or her family prior to communicating with Shenandoah County Department of Social Services.”
The complaint alleges violations of the Fourth Amendment and the 14th Amendment and wrongful imprisonment.
The action seeks more than $1 million in compensatory damages as well as punitive damages for the family.