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Kentucky parents of 7 investigated for abuse after breaking social distancing rules


The attorneys representing the family say the COVID-19 crisis could lead to more false reports

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A family of nine has found themselves under the thumb of child protective services in Kentucky, after what they say started as a social distancing warning from a bank teller developed into an investigation of possible abuse.

After the story was first reported anonymously, the mother involved has since come forward to explain more details to BlazeTV host Glenn Beck.

What are the details?

Reason reported the parents' story last week, protecting their identities and explaining that the alleged social distancing "offense" occurred shortly after the family moved to Kentucky from New York City.

The parents went to the bank in order to open a joint checking account in early March, and brought five of their seven children inside because the kids were too young to stay outside unattended.

According to the account detailed by the Home School Legal Defense Association, who represents the family:

The teller immediately interrogated [the parents] about why they had brought five kids into the bank at one time. She [the teller] told them they could not get within six feet of her and that they needed to take the children out. [The mother] explained that the children were too young to be unsupervised by an adult, and neither she nor [her husband] could take them elsewhere because the couple were opening a joint account, and both had to be present.

While [the father] stayed with the children away from the counter, [the mother] opened the account, feeling self-conscious as the staff whispered to each other and watched her family suspiciously. When [the father] walked to the counter to show his New York ID and to sign, the bank staff asked why [the parents'] identifications were from different states, which the couple explained.

After the couple left, they chatted on the drive home about how ridiculous the experience had been, only to arrive at their house to find a state trooper and a social worker from child protective services who explained that they were there to investigate an anonymous hotline call claiming, according to Reason, "that a mother of five had taken her children out with a man who wasn't their dad, and they had bruises on their arms that indicated grabbing."

The mother offered to present her children's birth certificates to prove that her husband was, indeed, their father, pointed out that the kids were all wearing jackets so it would be impossible for an observer to see their upper arms, and objected to the male social worker searching under her daughters' clothing. The investigator did make at least one of the boys take off his shirt, and pulled up the girls' sleeves to take photos.

But, despite being presented with evidence that the father was related to the children and that there were no signs of abuse, the social worker was not satisfied. The mother, Mary Sabbatino, told Glenn Beck, "After all was said and done after the initial call...now he wants an investigation because why am I homeschooling and how can I give adequate attention to that many children."

Anything else?

HSLDA cited the Sabbatinos' case as an example of why the organization is pushing for reforms in child protective services, such as ending anonymous reports and banning open-ended investigations.

Vice President of Litigation and Development James Mason wrote of the case that it "appears that whoever made the call knew how to juice up the details with just the right kind of false information to cause an overreaction by CPS."

He added, "I suspect the COVID-19 crisis could lead to more panicked false reports of this kind."

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