Late one evening, five-year-old Madison* was out of her bed, speaking and singing so loudly that she was on the verge of waking up her three siblings. Her father, Michael, asked her to quiet down, but she just got louder.
“Honey… shh… shh…,” Michael finally whispered as he gently put his fingers on his rambunctious daughter’s lips. “You need to quiet down and get in bed or you are going to wake the others up.”
Madison quieted down and went to bed. The next day, however, she gave her Sunday School teacher a dramatic account of what had happened. Instead of going to Madison’s parents and asking for an explanation though, the Sunday School teacher spoke with church leadership and was instructed to report Madison’s story to child protective services (CPS).
The next day, Michael and Sarah Bryson received a call from a CPS investigator informing them that a report had been made alleging physical abuse of Madison by Michael. The Brysons had no idea what the report could be about, so they asked for more details. The investigator refused to tell them anything more. Instead, she demanded to “see” the children and their home within 24 hours.1Michael and Sarah told the investigator they would call her back.
The Brysons are members of Heritage Defense, so they quickly called the 24/7 line reserved for members with urgent legal situations. They were immediately connected with one of the Heritage Defense attorneys. The attorney promptly contacted CPS on their behalf, got more details about the report, and called the Brysons back.
The attorney informed the Brysons that Michael was being accused of attempting to suffocate Madison and that the CPS investigator wanted to interview all of their children. Michael and Sarah were stunned. Through details provided by the CPS investigator to the attorney, the Brysons were able to guess the origin of the report.
“There was one day last week when I shushed her and put my fingers on her lips,” Michael remembered. “Maybe that was it?”
Later, Michael and Sarah spoke with Madison who confirmed that she had told her Sunday School teacher an embellished version of what had happened. The teacher had asked Madison if she felt like she was suffocated. Although Madison did not even know what that word meant, she had said “Yes.”
Michael and Sarah were devastated that someone from their own church would report them without even seeking an explanation from them first. If the Sunday School teacher and church leadership seriously thought that Michael had attempted to suffocate Madison, why did they even let her go home? The teacher and church leadership obviously did not take Madison’s story very seriously, yet without even talking to the Brysons, they had reported it to a government agency with the power to take their children away from them. It seemed like everyone involved with making the report was just trying to cover themselves without considering what effect it might have on the Bryson family. Understandably, the Brysons felt betrayed.
To help them answer the allegations, multiple references provided letters to CPS vouching for the Brysons’ good character. Nevertheless, the CPS investigator still wanted to conduct interviews with the family. With the Brysons’ consent, the Heritage Defense attorney agreed on their behalf to an in-person interview with Michael, Sarah, and Madison with the attorney present.
At the meeting, but before the interviews, the attorney spoke one-on-one with the investigator about what questions she planned to ask. The investigator said she would like to do a “global” interview, especially with Madison. To avoid the problems associated with those kinds of interviews, the attorney informed the investigator that he would not be permitting questions beyond basic information and the scope of the allegations. The investigator agreed to respect those limitations, but demanded to interview five-year-old Madison without her parents present. In response, the Heritage Defense attorney insisted on being present to observe and ensure the interview was kept within the bounds discussed.
During Madison’s interview, she told the investigator what had happened, including that her father had “lightly” put his fingers on her lips for a couple of seconds to encourage her to quiet down. After just a few minutes of questioning, the investigator was able to determine that the entire situation was all quite innocent. In fact, the investigator herself even explained to Madison that it was okay for daddies to do that and that she should not have been loud while others were sleeping. At the conclusion of the interviews, the investigator made it clear that she would be submitting the case for closure.
For over two months, no one heard anything from CPS. Although CPS in the Brysons’ state is required to send the families they investigate a closure letter, they very frequently fail to do so. Everyone just assumed the case was closed.
Then, more than ten weeks after the interviews, the CPS investigator sent the Heritage Defense attorney an email indicating that not only was the case not closed, but that the investigator needed to see Madison again, interview the other three children, and conduct a walkthrough inspection of the home. Moreover, if the Brysons were not in agreement, she said she had been advised to seek a court order to force the family to comply.
The attorney contacted the investigator to discuss the matter further. The investigator admitted that the initial allegations were baseless, that none of the allegations involved the other children or the condition of the home, and that there were no new allegations. Naturally, the attorney then asked why there was any need for the kind of intrusive interviews and home inspection she was demanding. She explained that her supervisor and CPS protocol compelled her to ensure the other children were safe, even though absolutely no concerns about their safety had been raised and that the only concern about Madison’s safety had been completely resolved.
After several conversations with the attorney, CPS ultimately agreed to close the case (nearly a month later) after the Brysons provided additional references and allowed CPS to see Madison one more time (but not interview her again) at a neutral location. CPS was never allowed in the Brysons’ home or to interview their other children.
Michael and Sarah share their thoughts on the experience:
There is nothing that can prepare you for the immediate feeling of a punch to the stomach when the voice on the other end of the phone says “I am with Child Protective Services and we have had a report of abuse filed against your family.”
We enrolled in Heritage Defense at the very beginning of our homeschooling career, over nine years ago. We were already members of a legal protection group specifically for homeschooling, but when Michael heard a representative from Heritage speak at a conference and explain that they were there for any other type of CPS involvement or investigation, he felt it would be worthwhile to have as well. For those nine years, and through three moves in two different states, that little magnet lived on our refrigerator… a ‘just in case’. It never really occurred to us we would ever need to actually use that 800 number, but we paid our small payment each month just for the security of knowing it was there. Once in awhile we would re-evaluate if we needed to keep it up, but always decided it was worth having… ‘in case’.
Every monthly payment we ever made became instantaneously worth it when we received that phone call on a November afternoon. Even in that moment of panic, Michael remembered everything he’d read from Heritage’s materials about what to ask, and what your rights were when confronted by CPS. He was able to keep a clear head, stay firm on the phone with the investigator, and, thanks to that nearly decade-old magnet on the fridge, have an attorney retained within literal minutes of hanging up with CPS.
The feeling of protection and defense it brings to have an attorney who not only knows the law inside and out, and how best to protect your family, but also handles all communication with the investigator so you don’t have to, is immeasurable. Being under investigation by an agency who has the power to interrogate your children, investigate your home, and make all kinds of unnecessary demands is one of the most helpless feelings in the world. Our attorney was able to bring back a sense of control and security in a time when we felt powerless.
When CPS came back, after months of silence, during which time we hoped and prayed that our nightmare was over, he was thankfully there to immediately fight again on our behalf and get our case finally closed with no further trauma to our children.
No one thinks they will be the ones reported. It would have never, in a thousand years, entered our minds that we could be turned in by our five-year-old’s brand new Sunday school teacher of all people. During the investigation, I told every friend I could to immediately sign up with Heritage Defense. CPS has far too much power, control, and authority, and the vast majority of families have no idea how to navigate this broken system when a sudden investigation turns your world upside down. We are so thankful to our attorney for his compassion, guidance, and tireless effort on our behalf during these five months. We will continue to be loyal members of Heritage Defense until our last child is out of the home. A thank you isn’t enough for the gratitude we have for all they did for us.
If you are a member of Heritage Defense, we hope it is an encouragement for you to know that your membership is going to help families like the Brysons. If your family is ever falsely accused of child abuse or neglect, we are ready to defend you and your rights.
If you are not yet a member, please join today to have 24/7 access to experienced attorneys ready to defend your family.
* Names changed for privacy
1 In our experience, when an investigator demands to “see” the children, it typically means they want to separate the children from their parents and interview them privately. When they indicate they want to “see” the home, it typically means they want to do a complete walkthrough of the home, including inspecting the fridge, freezer, pantry, firearms storage, and more.