Child Welfare and State Supervision of Homeschools

In discussion online recently, the topic of child welfare came up.  Question of the day was, “How do we provide adequate state supervision in order to ensure parents aren’t using homeschooling to cover up abuse or neglect?”  My answer: State supervision doesn’t work.

It does not work in foster care.  Here we are speaking of the most extensively state-supervised family population in the nation:

Sally Schofield, the foster mother of Logan Marr, was found guilty June 25 of wrapping the 5-year-old’s body with 42 feet of duct tape during a “timeout,” causing the little girl to suffocate.

Schofield could face up to 40 years in prison for the child’s death.

“The child-welfare system failed Logan Marr in every possible way,” said Richard Wexler, the executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. “They failed her … by … ignoring her cries of abuse and they failed her by letting her die in that foster home.”

Six weeks before she was killed, Logan was on a visit to her birth mother when, in the presence of a child-welfare worker hired to supervise the visit, she complained that her foster mother was hurting her. “She did this to me and I cried ’cause it hurts me,” the child is heard saying on a videotape, although she isn’t seen.

Despite this information, there was no immediate investigation and Logan’s child-welfare worker failed to make a required quarterly visit to the foster home.

Foster care is the ultimate in state monitoring of families.  Foster parents are background checked, their homes are inspected, and they are given personal training on appropriate parenting methods. Details vary from state to state, but each foster child is assigned a personal social worker and usually a second set of eyes (the Guardian ad Litem), in addition to all the mandatory reporters the child encounters in daily life.

If ever we were going to be 100% sure a child was being kept safe through state-supervised monitoring, it would here.  And yet, even though most foster parents and children do just fine, cases of abuse do occur.

But the Schools are Safe?

Our insistence that government contact or just “being out in public” are means of protecting children from violence is a delusion.

At the small public high school my children attend, two of my daughter’s classmates were assaulted by other girls in the first few months of school.  One was knocked unconscious by another student’s locker-room prank; another had to file assault charges against the student who repeatedly bullied her until the attacks escalated into physical violence.  The administration responds — the incidents haven’t gone ignored — but the reality is that our decision to stop homeschooling and send our children to public school was a decision to move them from a safe environment to a violent environment.

Other parents experience the same thing.  Across town, a friend’s eighth grader transferred from private school into a public middle school in an affluent neighborhood. In her first few months at the school, she’s witnessed one attempted suicide and one attempted murder.  (In both cases, the weapon of choice was the three-story staircase — throw the victim over the railing).  Daily contact with teachers and administrators in no way picked up on the fact that the special-needs student was growing suicidal, nor in the other case that one student was being bullied by another to the point of attempted murder.

Government supervision does not prevent violence, and it does not detect mounting violence before it reaches dangerous levels.

(Need some specifics you can cite?  Here’s a case in Chicago.  Here’s one in Oklahoma City. Teachers ignoring sexual assualt in Palm Beach.  Repeated incidents in Fort Myers. New Haven, Connecticut.  That’s just page one of the Google results for “Public School Assault.”  These are not strangers breaking in.  This is endemic violence.)

What About Educational Neglect?

The final concern targeted at homeschoolers is “educational neglect.”  What if the children aren’t learning what they are supposed to be learning?  For example, what if the kid is supposedly enrolled in Algebra II as a junior in high school, but actually the child can’t even tell if 56 is divisible by 2?  Wait — no, that happened at my son’s public high school.

How about if your 9th grade English class is so incompetent that the teacher has to read aloud all the novels in class (which are grade-level appropriate, not slacking) because otherwise the students would definitely fail?  What if your 9th grade geography students can’t pass a map test identifying the continents?

That would be my daughter’s public school classes.

I have nothing but sympathy for the teachers who have inherited these students and are doing their best to educate children who have no business being promoted grade after grade.  But do not try to convince me that if only homeschoolers were supervised like public school students, educational neglect wouldn’t happen.  Educational neglect is the name of the game in public schools.

What Works to Protect Students?

I am not arguing that because there are problems in government-supervised programs that therefore we should pretend there are no problems in private life.

I am only saying that the evidence is overwhelming that government oversight does not protect children.  It does prevent violence in families, it does not prevent violence at school, and it does not prevent educational neglect.

It simply does not work.

Therefore, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that if only we applied a failed method in a different context, suddenly the method would start working.

What does work?  Strong families and honest citizens.   I know that’s pie-in-the-sky, but it’s also true. The students who excel in the public schools are the students whose parents value education and value their relationships with their children.  The teachers and administrators who excel are those who value education and value their relationships with their students.

The dividing line on protecting and helping children isn’t public vs. private.  It isn’t government-oversight vs. citizen privacy.  The dividing line is good vs. evil.

Goodness cannot be state-mandated, and that is why state supervision fails time and again.

What Laws Then?

We do need laws — strong laws — against harassment, abuse, assault, and true neglect.

Where we go wrong is in thinking that sending government officials in to supervise the private lives of citizens is the effective way to enforce those laws.   It has been proven time and again that this intrusion is no guarantee of safety, and at times even opens the door to greater abuse.

We would do better to let the police and justice system prosecute identified crimes, but focus our prevention efforts not on micromanaging family life, but on identifying those environments that do foster strong family life and strong communities and replicating those successful efforts as best we can.

File:KGB - Still Watching You.jpg - cafe with KGB logos and "KGB still watching you" sign above the awning.

Just ask the Soviets. Police states don’t work. Don’t waste your time.

By Agostino Fedeli from Milano, Italy (Tbilisi, Georgia Luglio 2007 #9) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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About Jennifer Fitz

Jennifer Fitz is the mother of four fantabulous children, and author of Classroom Management for Catechists. She writes online for Patheos and for the Catholic Conspiracy. When she isn't blogging, teaching, or complaining about something, she likes to play outside.