GRANT PARENTS THE RIGHT TO RECORD ALL INTERVIEWS AND CONVERSATIONS TO ENSURE ACCURACY AND INTEGRITY OF THE INFORMATION GATHERED AND PRESENTED IN THEIR CASES
Children and parents are interviewed daily by Child Protective Services (CPS) to investigate child abuse or neglect. Such interviews are often conducted spontaneously with no witnesses or only the parent or guardian present. Currently, parents and guardians in California do not have the right to record interviews and conversations with a CPS worker unless the worker grants permission. There is currently no way to ensure the accuracy or integrity of the information gathered by CPS workers and presented in subsequent hearings, where judges often give great weight to worker testimony.
Expressly authorizing a parent or legal guardian to make video or audio recordings of their interview or interactions with a CPS social worker will promote accuracy and veracity of information gathered and equip parents with evidence they may need if a CPS social worker makes an error in their investigation. As with police body cameras, the presence of recorders alone may reduce worker error or intentional falsehoods.
WHY PARENTS NEED TO CREATE A RECORD OF INTERACTIONS WITH CPS SOCIAL WORKERS
Parents need the right to create a record of interactions with CPS because social workers can make serious errors in their investigations. There are many case examples that point to these errors or intentional falsehoods. In 2007, a lawsuit was filed in Orange County for damages caused by two CPS social workers – one of whom threatened a local mother to “submit” to the worker’s will or she would take her daughters from her.(1) The mother alleged that she was coerced into signing self-incriminating statements by threats to take her children away. The mother prevailed in her case. However, she and her children suffered unlawful trauma at the hands of a CPS social worker and may have avoided both the trauma and a lawsuit had the interaction been recorded.
In 2020, a Pennsylvania court found that a parent has a First Amendment right to record a CPS investigation.(2) In In re Y.W.-B., the court found that a mother should have had the right to record child welfare officials conducting a home visit. The trial court had issued an order prohibiting the mother from recording child welfare workers during a home visit. The reviewing court analogized the facts to case granting free speech protections for individuals recording police officers in public spaces.(3) Even though Y.W.-B involved the child welfare agency’s actions within the mother’s home, rather than police actions in the public, the court held that the First Amendment protects “the stock of information from which members of the public may draw” when discussing public issues.(4)
In 2021, Texas passed a law that mandates CPS investigators to verbally remind parents under investigation that they have the right to record interactions and appeal investigation results.(5) The bill was inspired by cases like a 2018 suit where a mother was able to prove through her recording of CPS that workers had knowingly lied, falsified documents, and omitted notations.(6)
In the past several years, there has been a significant growth in the number of police officers using body-worn cameras in response to increased criticism after several controversial police incidents.(7) Body-worn cameras for police help address issues of community trust, increase police accountability, and if needed, collect evidence. The results of a controlled study analyzing police interactions with civilians both with and without body-worn cameras suggests placement of body-worn cameras reduced complaints and use of force reports about police officers relative to officers not wearing body-worn cameras.
Child welfare workers play a role of “family police,” yet their interactions are not similarly recorded. Giving parents and guardians the right to record their interactions with CPS would have analogous benefits that body-worn cameras have had for law enforcement and the communities they police. Recordings could prevent inaccurate reports and deter improper social worker behavior. State legislation in California to create a right to record CPS workers was unsuccessfully attempted in 2014.(8)
PARENTS SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO RECORD DCFS SOCIAL WORKERS DURING INVESTIGATIONS AND BE INFORMED OF THAT RIGHT
Parents and guardians should have the right to record interactions with CPS social workers. This right would not create any burden on social workers, as it is parents who would have the responsibility of recording. Recording CPS interactions would be discretionary, not mandatory. Helping parents create a record of their interactions with CPS can further accountability and transparency in an opaque system. Recordings will reduce social worker error, and result in keeping more families together, avoiding the enormous trauma of unneeded placement and separation.
1. Sarah Thomas, California Bill Highlights Parents’ Right To Record CPS Workers’ Investigations, Imprint, (May 15th, 2015), https://imprintnews.org/journalism-for-social-change/california-bill-highlights-parents-right-to-record-cps-workers-investigations/11533; Eugene Volokh, First Amendment Right to Record Child-Protection Visit to Your Home, Reason, (Oct. 9th, 2020), https://reason.com/volokh/2020/10/09/first-amendment-right-to-record-child-protection-visit-to-your-home/
2. Interest of Y.W.-B., 241 A.3d 375 (Pa. Super., 2020).
3. Fields v. City of Pennsylvania, 862 F.3d 353 (3d Cir. 2017). Federal courts in the First, Third, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits have also explicitly upheld the right of a private citizen to take audio and video recordings of police acting in a public space. Daniel Pollack, Is It Legal To Videotape Child Protective Service Workers Doing In-Home Visits?, New York Law Journal, (Mar. 31, 2021), https://plus.lexis.com/api/permalink/e4df478b-3162-4d25-b78b-e56cde7d62fc/?context=1530671
4. Interest of Y.W.-B., 241 A.3d at 392.
5. Courtney Friedman, New State Law Ensures People Know They Can Record CPS Investigation Interviews, Appeal Results, KSAT, (June 23, 2021), https://www.ksat.com/news/local/2021/06/24/new-state-law-ensures-people-know-they-can-record-cps-investigation-interviews-appeal-results/
6. Please note that Texas is a one-party recording state, meaning parents do not need consent from CPS to record. California is not a one-party recording state.
7. Anthony Braga, Ph.D., James R. Cauldron Jr., Ph.D., William Sousa, Ph.D., Denise Rodriguez, M.A., Omer Alper, Ph.D., The Benefits of Body-Worn Cameras: New Findings from a Randomized Controlled Trial at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, National Criminal Justice Reference Service, (Dec. 2017), https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/251416.pdf; Research on Body-Worn Cameras and Law Enforcement, National Institute of Justice, (Jan. 7th, 2022), https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/research-body-worn-cameras-and-law-enforcement#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20BJS%20report,complaints%2C%20and%20reduce%20agency%20liability.
8. Sarah Thomas, California Bill Highlights Parents’ Right To Record CPS Workers’ Investigations, Imprint, (May 15th, 2015), https://imprintnews.org/journalism-for-social-change/california-bill-highlights-parents-right-to-record-cps-workers-investigations/11533; Eugene Volokh, First Amendment Right to Record Child-Protection Visit to Your Home, Reason, (Oct. 9th, 2020).