Abuse and Neglect

Did you know?

Every state has abuse and neglect statutes, however, targeting homeschoolers for additional legislation due to perceptions of a potential link between homeschooling and abuse and neglect may be discriminatory.

Some people have expressed concern over a possible link between homeschooling families and educational neglect or abuse. While the media has shown a few cases nationwide of children that faced harm in a homeschool family - there have been many more cases that are reported of kids from families that do not homeschool.

Societal Issue

Sadly, child abuse and educational neglect is a problem that occurs in all segments of society. It is not a homeschool issue; it is a societal issue. There are mechanisms already in place in state statutes to deal with parents that do not take care of their children. If there is a reasonable articulable suspicion that neglect exists, the proper authorities may seek a warrant based on a probable cause using already established constitutional and statutory procedures. Imposing additional legislation on innocent and law abiding homeschooling families will not solve the problems of abuse and neglect.

If there are truly any families who are neglectful or abusive, whether those families educate their children in public, private, or homeschool, the possibility remains that in a free society protected by constitutional principles there will always be a small percentage of neglect cases that may go undetected.

In any discussion about homeschooling and neglect, parents must always be sure to emphasize that there is a crucial distinction between homeschooling, which is an legally acceptable educational choice; and abuse and neglect, which is a criminally sanctionable deviation from normal behavior among families across the social strata no matter what educational choice they made. Homeschooling is a legal issue that is completely separate from abuse and neglect.

How you decide to educate your children has nothing to do with how you conduct yourself in society. Abuse, child neglect, stealing, drug use, reckless driving and the like, have little to do with how children are educated and, unfortunately, can occur in families whose children are educated in public school, private school, or school at home.

Mandated Reporters

Every state has abuse and neglect statutes. In Connecticut, for example, almost anyone you can think of is a "mandated reporter" - not just teachers and public school administrators, but also church officials, doctors, emergency care workers, social workers, and the list goes on and on. Each time a child comes in contact with any of those people, those people are required by law to report any reasonably suspected (read probable cause) child abuse or neglect.

The choice of the manner in which a child receives academic instruction has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not a child is being abused or neglected. Home school does not equal neglect, anymore than private school equals neglect or public school equals neglect. Whenever there is probable cause to believe a child is being abused, the existing abuse and neglect statutes require investigation and prosecution upon substantiation of the allegation. Imposing "regulation" or additional legislation of homeschooling regarding curriculum, approval, or portfolio reviews, does nothing to reduce abuse and neglect at all. Regulation based on the assumption that homeschooling "hides" a problem such as abuse is discriminatory.

Part of the problem is that there are many myths surrounding homeschooling, some of which the media perpetuates. One of the more prevalent ones is that kids are isolated, and that "at home moms" who educate their children are isolated. In the recent cases reported in the media, surely the women who murdered their children had contact with their husbands, and other family, as well as their community. Someone must have been aware of warning signs. A person doesn't just wake up one day and murder their children. An unstable parent is an unstable parent, and could just as well do their children harm while they are home from public or private school.

Smith, Yates and Laney

Clearly with the Smith, Yate's and Laney cases, there were issues of mental instability of the parent who perpetrated the crime. This is not a homeschool issue, and it would appear that these children's lives might have been saved had the families, doctors and the community in which these women lived intervened. Mandating that these women have a college diploma, do portfolio reviews, test or vaccinate their children, would not have prevented these children's deaths. The Jackson case in New Jersey is also one which legislators may point to as a reason to regulate homeschoolers.

The fact of the matter, and one which the media did not state, is that this family had already been under scrutiny by the Department of Children and Family Services. More at issue in that case is the failures of that government agency, rather than the failures of homeschooling. Additionally, there are certainly enough stories out there of abuse and neglect perpetrated by school employees. Yet with all the rules and regulations out there against neglect, it still happens.

It is unfortunate that the media, in its quest to sell papers or air-time, does not tell the entire story, and we must be ever vigilant to that problem. CBS earlier this year did a story about "The Dark Side of Homeschooling." It was a totally irresponsible piece of reporting, and it was most likely constructed to get ratings. CBS had many complaints about it and lost sponsorship too, when people directed their outrage to the company. Even members of Congress wrote to express their disapproval of this kind of reporting.

Who Stands to Gain?

With that being said, the questions that some people have raised are: What are the financial incentives for promoting a perception that "more regulation" of homeschoolers is needed? Who might be waiting to provide and to benefit financially and politically from this oversight? Who gets control and power when homeschoolers are regulated? Who are the "stakeholders" who might see homeschooling as threat and therefore need to be kept under close scrutiny and accountability? Perhaps the answer may come from corporate education management companies, unions such as the NEA, testing companies, education administrators, government agencies and social engineers, as well as other associated entities.

In the words of Ann Lahrson-Fisher writing at the Home Education Magazine concerning child abuse, "One message does not appear to penetrate official thinking in these cases. Child abusers are criminals. Criminals do not comply with laws that expose their crimes. Revising homeschooling laws to catch child abuse will result in child abusing criminals hiding elsewhere. Refocusing homeschooling laws on child abuse prevention will result in one thing only: a bureaucratic nightmare and the invasion of the privacy of the 99.9+% of homeschooling citizens who are not criminals."

In summary

The more we can distinguish neglect from academic freedom of choice, the better off we are.

Attorney Deborah Stevenson - Executive Director of National Home Education Legal Defense.

Judy Aron - Director of Research, NHELD

Updated April 8, 2007