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Devoted parents Holly and David Schulkers settle lawsuit with state CHFS over social workers’ actions

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

Holly and David Schulkers of Fort Thomas can now move on with their lives, now that a new son, baby Ashton, has joined their family and they have finally settled their lawsuit against the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Their ordeal with the Cabinet started in February, 2017 with the birth of their daughter, Allie, who is now a kindergartener.

A time of joy and celebration of the birth of a daughter turned into a nightmare for the Schulkers because a required and routine urine test conducted in the hospital was positive for opiates. Holly was shocked, because she wasn’t a drug user, had only taken prescribed medication for high blood pressure — and had consumed nothing that could account for the positive test. It turned out that she had eaten a snack that included poppy seeds that might explain a false positive and that all the tests of the baby and its umbilical cord were negative. Her personal physician supported her insistance. Holly continued to breastfeed her newborn and her personal physician planned to dismiss her from the hospital the next day.

Holly and David Schulkers

The hospital, however, could not release the baby because of an internal policy that required, after a positive result, that the baby be held for observation for 72 hours. Holly stayed with the baby during that time, and subsequent tests of the baby showed negative results.

But the Cabinet was engaged, and the Schulkers alleged in their complaint that overzealous social workers, who were subsequently named in the lawsuit, told Holly that “to help her be a better mother to her children” she would not be allowed to be around any children without supervision “until this gets figured out.”

For Holly and David Schulkers, it was already “figured out,” but they were presented a “Prevention Plan” to sign that was permanently stamped with “ABSENT EFFECTIVE PREVENTIVE SERVICES, PLACEMENT IN FOSTER CARE IS THE PLANNED ARRANGEMENT FOR THIS CHILD.” The Schulkers signed off, thinking they had no choice and — under terrific pressure — looking to keep their family intact.

In addition, the social workers — without either Holly or David’s knowledge — visited the schools their other children attended — and questioned them in private about whether they were “neglected” or “abused” and whether “mommy used drugs.” Needless to say, the children came home that day terrified and crying.

Allie Schulkers, now a kindergartener

Their family life was completely disrupted and Holly lived in fear that “her doorbell would ring and Social Workers would take her children away.”

This went on until the Cabinet finally the case closed the case on April 7, 2017, with a finding of “unsubstantiated abuse.”

Paul Hill, a Fort Mitchell lawyer, represented the Schulkers in their lawsuit and there were several decisions along the way. Judge William Bertelsman ruled against the “qualified immunity” argument for the Cabinet and its social workers. That was appealed and the Cabinet lost the first appeal, filed another for an “en banc” hearing — and lost that one too in 2020.

The case was set for trial for September, 2022, five years and seven months after the birth of the Schulkers’ daughter. All in all, there were 6000 pages of court documents involved.

There is finally a happy ending for this family, however. They were able to reach a settlement agreement with the Cabinet and its new lawyer, David Lovely, during a grueling day of negotiations overseen by Judge Candace Smith, a magistrate judge in the federal court’s Sixth District.

Judge Smith gets nothing but praise from Hill and the Schulkers. “She did a great job in bringing both parties together and arriving at a compromise,” said Hill.

“The important thing to the Schulkers is the impact their case has had legally,” said Hill. “The case has established new law regarding interrogating children within their school setting. It has also made clear the limits social workers must abide by in creating “Prevention Plans” for parents prior to Court intervention.

“To that end, the Cabinet should be commended in removing the stamped language within their Prevention Plans that stated ‘Foster Care was a planned arrangement for the child’ when it was not.

Paul Hill

“Once the people in change in Frankfort learned that this was stamped on every Prevention Plan handed out in Northern Kentucky, they removed the language.”

The Schulkers are relieved — and are glad they stood up for themselves and their family.

“We have told our children that it’s important to ‘stand up,'” said David. “So, we did that.”

Holly said, “I”m just glad it’s over and we can move on with our lives.”

Theirs is a full life — even without long drawn-out litigation — with seven children, age ranges from a freshman in college to a newborn.

But, she too, is glad for the example for the children, including a daughter who was very conversant on the subject of “civil disobedience” in social studies class.

She had a good example of her own, learned right at home from loving parents.

See the first of the NKyTribune’s stories about Holly and David Schulkers’ story here.

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  1. Matthew Steiner says:

    Personally, having battled corrupt case workers for over a year now, I know for a fact that this system is designed to punish not support parents. If you look closely, you can see how case workers in Fayette County for years have been influencing “So called unbiased” evaluations i.e Feinberg Study, Heather Risk assessments and all other parties in the case to perpetuate their agenda to remove children from good solid homes while giving them to “Foster” care parents who want to adopt. This bypasses so many protections, so many fees, so many laws. And it is happening all the time because of corrupt case workers. Is Foster care the new Paid For Adoption Process

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