HSLDA and Child Abuse: An Introduction

As a homeschooled child, Michael Farris, the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), was my hero. It was HSLDA, I believed, that had given my parents the right to homeschool, and that continued to protect our rights against government encroachment. This made what I have learned about the organization upon adulthood that much harder to absorb and fully comprehend. Put simply, HSLDA is doing everything it can to keep people from reporting child abuse and to inhibit child abuse investigations, has opposed laws against child abuse, and is working to undo compulsory education laws altogether, effectively decriminalizing educational neglect.

HSLDA was in 1983, ostensibly to protect families’ right to homeschool. In practice, however many of its cases today deal not with homeschooling but with child abuse allegations. If you read through HSLDA’s Court Report, you will find story after story of HSLDA defending homeschooling parents against child abuse allegations. Homeschooling is today legal in every U.S. state, and HSLDA has gone far, far beyond its original mandate. In fact, it appears that HSLDA is today more preoccupied with sheltering child abuse than it is with protecting the legality of homeschooling.

Let me offer the Stumbo case as an example. In September of 1999, a neighbor saw the Stumbo’s two-year-old naked and unattended in the family’s driveway and registered an anonymous tip with Child Protective Services. After receiving the tip, a CPS worker appeared on the Stumbo’s porch and asked to interview the children to ensure that there was no abuse taking place. On HSLDA’s advice, the Stumbos refused to grant the CPS worker any access whatsoever to their children. The CPS worker then went to a judge and got a court order to interview the children. In spite of the fact that the case had nothing to do with homeschooling, HSLDA appealed the order and eventually won; the court found that there was too little evidence of abuse to justify a court order. HSLDA had hoped the court would find that interviewing a family’s children would count as seizure under the fourth amendment, but was disappointed as the case was decided more narrowly.

I remember reading about the Stumbo case in Home School Court Report when I was kid. It was played up as this grand scary thing, as though the kids were about to be removed from their parents for no reason whatsoever. At the time I wasn’t aware of the legal background surrounding the case—including the reality that there was never an attempt to remove the children from their parents and that the case primarily involved not homeschooling but rather the proper procedures for child abuse investigations. Whether or not the CPS took the proper actions in the Stumbo case isn’t the issue. The issue is that HSLDA has moved beyond defending the legality of homeschooling and into the world litigating against child abuse investigations—sometimes with rather disastrous implications for abused children.

And HSLDA isn’t shy about this shift, either. For example, this statement was included in a paper from the 2000s on how to deal with CPS investigations:

HSLDA is beginning to work with states to reform the child welfare laws to guarantee more freedom for parents and better protection for their parental rights. HSLDA will be sending out Alerts to its members in various states where such legislation is drafted and submitted as a bill.

“Child welfare laws” means laws dealing with child abuse and Child Protective Services investigations. “Better protection for … parental rights” means protection against accusations of child abuse and CPS investigations. This has nothing to do with homeschooling and everything to do with protecting parents’ absolute control over their children, and absolute freedom from state interference, no matter what that means for the well-being of the children themselves.

From what I have learned in the time since my teenage years spent pouring over each month’s Home School Court Report, it appears that there are four primary ways that HSLDA is complicit in aiding and abetting child abuse and educational neglect: (1) They work to minimize the reporting of child abuse; (2) They seek to stall the investigation of child abuse; (3) They defend the legality of excessive corporal punishment; and (4) They oppose any homeschooling regulation whatsoever, even when it is merely intended to ensure that learning is actually taking place. This post introduces a series addressing these issues (click the links embedded in this paragraph to see each post) and revealing HSLDA’s troubling relationship with child abuse and educational neglect.

Homeschooling Parents Dismiss Alumni Voices Again
HSLDA on those "Radically Atheistic" Public Schools
A Letter from Jesus and Living in Fear
More Blatant Hypocrisy from Chris Jeub
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://thechurchproject.me Tracey

    First thing that pops to mind here is, this reminds me of the issues causing the Catholic Church to catch so much flack in recent years. This is rampant covering up of the worst kind of problems because religion should look shiny and nice. Outrage seems the proper emotional response.

  • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com L

    You can’t give parents unlimited rights over children and still have the children retain any rights. HSLDA and the fundamentalists think this is GOOD. Children shouldn’t have rights. We need to protect the parents (because it’s those in power that need our protection).
    Nevermind that many parents do abuse their children, especially when taught by patriarchy they are like god to their children (and god was loving enough to have his son killed for the world, and god is loving and good enough to send most of the world to hell). Any laws protecting children persecute the church by restricting the freedom of parental rights.
    How did parental rights get elevated over all else?
    I am so done with them…

  • Teresa

    I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but Michael Farris wrote a novel about CPS and anonymous tips (http://www.amazon.com/Anonymous-Tip-Michael-Farris/dp/0805462937). I read it several times when I was growing up and hated CPS for years because I thought they would take me away from my parents. Now I see what a poorly written propaganda piece it is and how much it altered my perception of the organization for years.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I read that book too! And it was scary as heck! It scared me more than Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness did, and that’s saying something!

  • http://thewordsonwhat.wordpress.com/ Rob F

    Former blogger dogemperor wrote a whole series of posts at the DailyKos about dominionism and child abuse (and other topics). See them here, in particular the three-part series in August 2007.

    In particular, one of them draws my attention to a rather disturbing script (which is not from the HSLDA). It is a coaching guide on how to handle visits from CPS.

    (PS: I hope this isn’t a duplicated post, as I keep getting a “you are commenting too quickly” error even though I’ve only posted one comment [this one] here today).

  • Rilian

    Why does there have to be “cause” for them to investigate? Is it so they won’t waste innocent people’s time? Anyway, I don’t find a naked toddler in his own drive way to be a sign of abuse. But checking to see if people are ok, I see nothing really wrong with that. But what if they say they are fine but CPS thinks they know better …

    • saraquill

      Depending on the weather, a toddler could get dangerously cold or severely sunburned. A lack of clothing also implies neglect. If the child is all by itself in a place meant for cars, which often have access to roads, there is a strong possibility of massive injury or death.

    • BabyRaptor

      Try two at this comment. Word Press apparently thinks I’m commenting too quickly when I haven’t commented yet at all.

      Yeah, some people think beating their kids is fine. Some people think leaving their kids to starve as punishment is fine. Some people think making their kids sleep outside is fine. I don’t think a single reasonable person would argue that CPS wouldn’t know better in cases like that.

      And then you have the people who are trained to lie, much like HSLDA tells them to. Of course they’re going to say “It’s fine.” And of course CPS should ignore that.

      • Rilian

        I was talking about the children saying they’re fine, not the parents. But yes the children could be lying.

      • Anat

        Rilian, the children could be threatened to lie. And a toddler won’t have the foresight to realize they are going to suffer harm if the situation lasts long enough.

      • Nea

        The children could think they’re fine – that doesn’t mean that they really are. If you read the entire court case regarding the beating death of Lydia Schatz (linked to a few days ago), you discover that although the children were made to keep lye soap in their mouths for up to an hour until swallowed soap and lye made them sick and beaten 15 or more times a week, none of them thought that they were being abused. They had been told all their lives that this was right for their parents to do and they deserved it — so they believed it was right for their parents to do and they deserved it.

  • saraquill

    Does HSLDA step in to defend parents who murder their children? With all this talk of parent’s rights more than trumping that of children’s, they might as well.

    • Nea

      I haven’t been able to google the exact case, but I remember being told there was a “parent’s rights” bill being argued in… England? Australia? that sounds very much like the parent’s rights being pushed by HSLDA. It failed when the press started outright calling it the “grow your own abuse victim” bill.

      Ever since, I’ve felt that the best pushback for things like the HSLDA is to get start publicly listing the injuries of the children abused and murdered by their caretakers and telling the world “Do you think this should be legal? Because they do.”

  • BringTheNoise

    Can I post now WordPress? Or is one comment a week “too quickly”?

    (Apologies for using space like this, not sure why WP isn’t letting me post).

    • Nea

      WP is very touchy. I find that the solution is to click “refresh” until the comment goes through.

  • BringTheNoise

    And now, on topic: Doesn’t relying on the 4th Amendment mean that the HSLDA are describing children as “property”? Because that’s pretty disgusting if so.

  • Ibis3

    I’ve seen you use “pouring over” a few times, when it ought to be “poring over”.

    On topic: this is exactly why I think that homeschooling parents* should have mandatory, unannounced, regular CPS visits–preferably by specially trained workers who are familiar with the culture who can circumvent the parents’ lies and obfuscations. Ideally, they’d be accompanied by another specialised worker who can also do a rough evaluation of academic ability and general knowledge as well (e.g. can the 8 year old read at a grade 3 level; does the 12 year old know the general outlines of the country’s history; does the 16 year old understand the basics of biology including evolution).

    *I would also advocate such a program in insular communities like the Amish, Orthodox Jewish, Fundamentalist Mormons etc. where the kids go to schools, but the schools are isolated from the rest of society.

  • Rilian

    I don’t think being naked implies neglect. Maybe that kid just likes being naked. Maybe he was just wandering around and felt like standing in the driveway for a minute. I and many other people have sat in driveways. It’s not really a big deal. An idiot driver could just as easily drive onto the grass and hit you.

    Why is it that these days a kid being alone outside is cause for concern? That was normal when/where I was a kid.

    • http://alisoncummins.com Alison Cummins


      If I were walking down the street and saw a naked, unsupervised toddler in harm’s way I’d look around for whoever was responsible for it and stick around until someone showed up. I wouldn’t assume that the parents were evil people intent on murdering their baby, just that that I should keep an eye on it until the situation became clearer.

      On the other hand, let’s say I were a neighbour who just… um, didn’t feel right about the folks next door; they appeared neglectful, were not affectionate, repelled outsiders, their older kids were mean to animals and they just gave every appearance of being the kind of people who might assault children. And now the baby is wandering around about to head into the street. I might be afraid of the neighbours — they aren’t friendly — so I don’t want to ring their doorbell. But I can’t just watch the kid walk out into traffic and get hurt. So I call CPS.

      Not every naked toddler is abused. (Most naked toddlers are definitely not abused!) But someone was worried about that particular naked toddler. We don’t have the details but we have to assume that something was bothering the person who made the call. We know that CPS doesn’t get called every time someone spots a two year old who took their diaper off. But someone called CPS over this kid. Why?

      • Rilian

        OK, that makes sense.

        I just worry about people going too far with their concern.. that’s poor wording but I mean like freaking out because some kids are playing “unsupervised” in the yard. I played outside by myself all the time when I was a kid (as did dozens of my friends). Those were the best times of my life. If that were happening today, would all our parents be accused of neglect and would we be taken away to a more oppressive environment?

      • http://alisoncummins.com Alison Cummins

        Nope. Why would they?

  • http://alisoncummins.com Alison Cummins

    A short but technical post about a case of child abuse in the ER. This is a blog written for doctors by a doctor, but there’s a revealing mix of technical data and human emotion.