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Pennsylvania social worker and hospital face HSLDA lawsuit after seizing custody of newborn
March 28, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
The Home School Legal Defense Association is taking on the case of a Pennsylvania couple whose baby daughter was briefly removed from their custody at birth because the mother refused to approve a Hepatitis B shot right away.
According to the site, Scott and Jodi Ferris had planned on a home birth, but went to Hershey Medical Center on advice of their midwife when Jodi went into labor prematurely. The baby was born in the ambulance in the hospital parking lot. Jodi Ferris claimed that hospital staff were unresponsive when she asked them about the baby and vague when she asked what an injection they had given her was for. Hospital officials insisted on holding the baby for 48 hours and eventually admitted they were doing so because they were afraid they might get sued if the baby was released.
The HSLDA further reports that a social worker then visited Jodi Ferris and said she was investigating allegations that had been made against the couple, but said she wasn't legally allowed to tell Jodi what the allegations were. When Jodi declined to answer questions, the social worker allegedly threatened to take the baby right away. The social worker implied that the problem involved the Ferrises' refusal to approve a vitamin K shot for their baby daughter. Jodi replied that no one had asked her about the shot and she had heard hospital workers say they already had given the baby the shot. Hospital workers then allegedly wanted permission to give the baby a Hepatitis B shot, which Jodi Ferris said she would agree to only if they tested her and the baby to see if either of them was positive. The hospital said this wasn't possible and they needed to give the baby the shot anyway. When Jodi Farris asked if the situation could wait until her husband returned to the hospital, the social worker left the room and called the police. Hospital workers took custody of the baby without a court order, claiming she was suffering from an illness or injury. The social worker approved the Hepatitis B shot without permission from the parents.
Police then allegedly made Jodi Ferris get up from her hospital bed and escorted her out of the building and off hospital grounds because she had refused to sign a "safety plan." She was told she could return every three hours to nurse the baby, so spent the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot. The baby was returned to her parents' custody at a custody hearing the next morning.
The HSLDA said it's taking the case because it believes the social worker and the hospital workers both abused their power here and because it is concerned about an erosion of parental rights. It is asking for donations on its website to help it pursue a lawsuit against the hospital and the social services agency.
So what's going on here? I would hope this isn't typical of social service investigations, but I've heard enough horror stories to think it's not unheard of either.
I would speculate that Scott and Jodi Ferris, who home school their older children, were already on the social worker's and the nurses' radar before mother and daughter were wheeled into the hospital. Many doctors look askance at women who plan to give birth at home and use a midwife instead of a OBGYN and think it puts the baby at risk of death or injury. The Ferrises may have been known to hospital staff already for their beliefs in home births and use of a midwife, particularly since they have older children. I wonder if a nurse on the maternity ward was just waiting for an opportunity to report this family.
A number of social workers are also suspicious of home schoolers. Parents are legally permitted to refuse vaccines for a child for reasons of religious belief and/or personal conviction in all but two states; Pennsylvania law explicitly permits parents to refuse the Vitamin K and Hepatitis B injections on religious grounds. However, doctors and social workers both tend to frown on parents who question vaccinations, despite that law.
In short, Scott and Jodi Ferris are apparently on the fringe, which left them vulnerable to this sort of harassment by doctors and social workers and that isn't acceptable.
Social work is undoubtedly a thankless job, since they're accused for being too intrusive or for not doing enough. However, this appears to be a case where the social worker was clearly intrusive and there was absolutely no reason for the parents to lose custody of their baby even for a few hours. I wish the HSLDA and the Ferrises success in their lawsuit. This shouldn't be allowed to happen again in any state, ever again.
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