Can You Be Forced to Take a Drug Test Before Your Child Is Found to Be a Dependent?
Once Children and Youth Services receives a report of alleged child abuse they must immediately investigate the claims. There are established laws which define child abuse and outline the Agency’s power to investigate the claims. If the Agency finds that the claims are valid then they must file a petition with the Court to have the child found to be dependent and removed from the parents. According to a June 16, 2020 PA Supreme Court decision (see link below), Children and Youth Services cannot make a parent take a drug test as part of the investigation process before their child is found to be dependent by the Court. The Court looked closely at the law that controls investigations by these agencies. Upon reviewing these laws, the Court concluded that the law does not authorize collecting samples of bodily fluids, without consent, for testing.
This decision differs from the established law in custody cases. In custody cases, a Court may order a parent to submit to drug tests. The Court explains that the law that controls custody cases specifically mentions drug and alcohol evaluations as an allowable expert examination that can be ordered by the Court. Prior Courts have also decided that requiring a parent to take a drug test in a custody matter was allowed because parents have a low expectation of privacy in disputes over child welfare, privacy concerns associated with drug testing are minimal, and the state has a compelling interest in the welfare of children.
This recent decision carries great implications for parents who find themselves dealing with Children and Youth Services. Prior to this decision, parents were faced with an impossible ultimatum. They were told that if they refused to take the drug screen as requested then their children would be removed from their care. As such, parents would reluctantly comply and take the drug test. If they tested positive for any drug then the Agency would use this as evidence to have the child adjudicated dependent and removed from the parents. It is important to get knowledge of this decision out to parents so they understand that they cannot be forced to take a drug screen, and that the Agency cannot remove their children for failure to do so.