Strip Searches Harm Children

Three-Year-Old Girl Strip Searched Without Parental Knowledge

Parental Rights Foundation & Friends File Vital Court Brief

This morning the Parental Rights Foundation filed a friend of the court brief (“amicus brief”) with the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in the case of Doe v. Woodard. Our brief provides the court scholarship and caselaw about the harm to children, parents, and families caused by unfettered investigations, including those that involve strip searches of young children.

The case arises from incidents in 2014 when Woodard, an investigator with El Paso County (Colorado)’s Department of Human Services (DHS), allegedly conducted a strip search of a three-year-old without parental knowledge. The search took place at the girl’s Headstart preschool and stemmed from allegations of physical child abuse (ultimately deemed unfounded). The mother didn’t learn that the search had taken place until days after the entire investigation was closed, when her daughter commented while riding in the car, “I hope [the investigator] doesn’t come [to my school] again, because I don’t like it when she takes all my clothes off.”

The first time the mother heard of the intrusion was through these horrifying and heart-breaking words from the mouth of her three-year-old daughter!

The mother filed suit, but it was dismissed under the principle of qualified immunity for the investigator.

The question on appeal is whether conducting a strip search of a child without parental consent violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, including the child’s right to be free from unreasonable and warrantless searches and the parent’s right to direct the upbringing and care of her child.

Our brief deals specifically with evidence that child welfare investigations harm families. This is not to say investigations are never warranted; where true abuse or neglect exists, the harm caused by an investigation is (sometimes infinitely) preferable to the harm being caused in the home.

But far too often investigations are opened on innocent families who languish under the harsh scrutiny of a government agency for months before the parents’ names are finally cleared. During that time, the very foundation of a child’s ability to trust can be shaken, as the greatest authority in their young lives—their parents—prove powerless to protect them from the intrusion.

According to numbers from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services for 2016, as many as 83% of all investigations involve innocent families whose children were traumatized only by the investigation itself, not by any other form of abuse or neglect.

We are proud to have prestigious partners with us on this brief.

Diane Redleaf participated as attorney for the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, as did Dr. Martin Guggenheim and Carolyn Kubutschek, attorneys for the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. Pennsylvania attorney Mark Freeman and the Parent Guidance Center also aided with and signed onto the brief.

These are highly respected scholars and organizations in the field of child welfare and family protection, and we are honored to join with them.

Our aim is that the court will give due consideration to the harm these investigations can cause.

We could not have achieved this alone. This and all our efforts have been funded through the generous donations of supporters just like you.

But we are not finished yet.

Now that we have not only submitted briefs (this was not our first) but also had notable scholars join us on them (this is a first), there is a good chance more requests will be forthcoming for us to file similar briefs on parental rights. But will we be able to afford them when opportunities arise?

Your generous tax-deductible donation today can help us answer in the affirmative.

Would you partner with us to continue to provide critical support in cases like Doe v. Woodard that have the potential to otherwise harm your parental rights?

Thank you for partnering with us in these endeavors.


Michael Ramey
Director of Communications & Research

Be sure to tune in to the Facebook page Wednesday, April 25, at 11:30 a.m. EDT. Our President Jim Mason will interview GRAMMY ® winner and board member Marvin Winans, pastor of Perfecting Church in Detroit, on the topics of his music, ministry, passion for children and family, and an upcoming Parental Rights Foundation report on racial disparity in child welfare. If you have a question you’d like to ask, visit the Facebook page today and leave your question in a comment on the post announcing this Facebook Live event.