As you may be aware, the TN Dept. of Education released a proposal for “Wellbeing Checks for ALL TN Children”. The original wording from the toolkit guidelines direct local educational authorities and community partners to ensure every child—birth through 12th grade—receives a wellbeing check consisting of an inquiry into the child’s wellbeing. As of today (8/13) the toolkit link on the DOE website has come down, due to pushback from TN parents.
While we believe that Gov. Lee and the DOE have good intentions, many feel it is an overreach of governmental powers. At HLA, we believe in the parents’ rights to choose the best course of action regarding their own children. Our hope is that our local and state legislators will hear our responses and make changes to this proposed action.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
-As always, our families are wonderful at helping us spread the word – so share this email!
-Contact your local and state government officials – you may click on this button to read HSLDA’s opinion of the wellbeing checks and use their contact tool to automatically email Gov. Lee’s office as well as your state senator & representative. OR, you may contact or email their offices directly.
8/14 Update: Governor Bill Lee and Commissioner of Education Dr. Penny Schwinn released a statement confirming that the toolkit on child wellbeing checks has been withdrawn. It is not being implemented.
8/13 Update: As of August 13, the link to the full toolkit has been removed from the Department’s website. We understand the Governor’s office is currently considering whether to revise the guidelines or set them aside altogether. The quotations below are to the original toolkit, posted on August 11.
On August 11, the Child Wellbeing Task Force directed by Education Commissioner Dr. Penny Schwinn released a toolkit on child Wellbeing Checks with the goal of ensuring “ALL Tennessee children receive a wellbeing check.” The Department of Education has set aside $1 million dollars in funding to support the program.
The toolkit guidelines direct local educational authorities and community partners to ensure every child—birth through 12th grade—receives a wellbeing check consisting of an inquiry into the child’s wellbeing, identification of any immediate needs, and an effort to make resources and services available. The wellbeing check may include an email, survey, phone or virtual call, or a home visit from a “wellbeing liaison,” who may be an educator, community partner, or other volunteer adult “over the age of 20” who has been trained in conducting wellbeing checks, passed a background check, and agreed to maintain confidentiality.
While the guidelines point out that wellbeing liaisons would need a parent’s permission to speak with a child, “it is preferred to talk with each child as directly as possible.” If a parent does not provide permission, the refusal to cooperate will be noted and included in the local entity’s data collection system.
Implementation of the guidelines would be subject to local modifications and advice from local school district legal counsel. But the Task Force requests aggregate information “to determine overall success of ensuring all Tennessee children receive a wellbeing check” and “to make future recommendations,” among other goals.
The collected data would include a “complete roster of all children (birth through grade 12) in the city / district / county, categorized by school enrollment or age” and documentation on whether each child “has received a wellbeing check (Yes / Unavailable / No Permission).”
The initial guidelines (released on August 11) specifically included homeschooled students in the definition of a “child” and in the categories for data collection. These references were removed from a second updated version, which has now also been removed from the Department’s website. The express expectation of the program, however, is to connect with every child, beginning at birth.
The guidelines are no doubt intended to help children who may be struggling due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. And there are surely children with genuine needs. But the proposed program will likely do more harm than good:
- The guidelines are built upon a presumption that parents cannot be trusted. The guidance specifically directs wellbeing liaisons to seek direct contact with children, instead of relying on information from the child’s parents, even though the wellbeing liaison may be a minimally trained 20-year-old volunteer. The US Supreme Court has consistently recognized that fit parents are presumed to act in the best interest of their child absent credible evidence to the contrary.
- Large scale government check-ins like this will inevitably lead to minimally trained government actors scrutinizing the decisions of fit parents where there is no allegation of child abuse or neglect. This kind of intervention can actually harm more children than it helps for two reasons:
- Overburdening the child welfare system with cases reduces the resources available for children in genuine need.
- Government intervention is not benign–it can have a negative impact on a child. It should, therefore, only be utilized when necessary.
- The guidelines are a government funded, one-size-fits-all approach to child welfare that are both inefficient and overreaching. Funding would be better used to provide parents with information and/or training on available resources.
- The guidelines give significant authority to local government actors to collect data on children and families across the entire state, raising legitimate concerns about privacy and profiling.
Summary: While well-intended, the Task Force’s Wellbeing Checks guidelines are overreaching, expensive, and built upon the presumption that a 20 year-old minimally trained “wellbeing liaison” will be able to assess a child’s needs better than the child’s parents. This kind of government intervention will inevitably lead to innocent families being scrutinized by government actors, which will result in less attention and resources for children who are genuinely in need.
Action: No action is needed at this time.
A link to the Department of Education’s summary can be viewed here.
The full toolkit has been removed from the Department’s website. The original can be viewed here.