Homeschooling To Hide Abuse

I recently wrote about what happens when abusive parents homeschool. In this post I want to look specifically at cases when abusive parents start homeschooling in an effort to hide their abuse. In other words, these aren’t parents who start homeschooling for religious or educational reasons, or even because they like the control it gives them. These are parents who start homeschooling because there are abuse reports being made against them by their children’s teachers.

I’ll warn you once again: This won’t be fun to read.

Let’s start by looking at Calista Springer. Calista attended her local public schools until 2005, when her parents pulled her out of school to homeschool her after several child abuse complaints were registered against them.

Calista Springer lay tethered to her bed by a dog collar while her siblings went off to school each morning.

For two years, Springer’s parents claimed their eldest daughter was home-schooled, an assertion police now say was a ruse to hide child abuse.

That ruse came to a tragic end in February 2008, when fire swept through the Springer home, located across the street from the St. Joseph County Courthouse in downtown Centreville, a small town 35 miles south of Kalamazoo.

The 16-year-old died in the fire, unable to free herself from the strap that bound her to her bed.

There were no school books or educational materials found in the Springer home after the fire, according to a source familiar with the criminal case against the parents.

“Home school played a role in Calista’s death,” said prosecutor McDonough. “They basically eliminated any person who could have reported abuse, and the justification was the home school law.”

Legislators have not found a compromise to both protect those who might be abused and educational freedom.

“The Legislature should be able to reach some sort of middle ground, where everybody can agree (what) is in the best interest of the kids,” McDonough said.

“We’re not talking about parents who are educating their children — we’re talking about people taking advantage of the law to hide abuse.”

Next, here is an example from a recently published dissertation:

As an administration of a junior high school, I was aware of a seventh grade girl who struggled socially. Being quite close to a female teacher, she often confided in her that her home life was difficult. While living with her father in a grandmother’s home, conversations between father and daughter were often accompanied with body language that suggested abuse. As questions about this possible abuse were raised, the father responded by pulling his daughter out of public school and homeschooling. Threats were also made to the school that the Illinois State Board of Education would be called to report this school district’s mishandling of his daughter’s education. Since he worked full-time and seemed mentally unstable, I had concerns about the welfare of the child, but had little recourse.

We’ll follow this with a Wisconsin girl, who was pulled from public school after allegations of child abuse were raised. Years later, she finally escaped her severely abusive home.

A criminal complaint details years of alleged mistreatment, including denying the girl food, keeping her in a basement with an alarm system, choking and striking her.

“This has been going on for years,” assistant Dane County district attorney Matthew Moeser said.

The girl, now 15, was found by a passerby earlier this month as she walked in her pajamas and barefoot along a McFarland road. Authorities said the girl weighed 70 pounds.

The complaint states the girl’s face appeared sunken with her collarbones sticking out, and that she was”gorging” on food after authorities got her to care. The complaint states the girl gained 17 pounds in a matter of days.

According to the complaint, the girl told authorities Drabek-Chritton often denied her food, while Chritton claimed food would trigger diabetic reactions and render the girl prone to violence. Court documents state Drabek, two small children in the household, and Chritton and Drabek-Chritton would eat normally, while the girl would scavenge for food from garbage and go days at a time without eating. Her stepmother, Drabek-Chritton, was listed in court records as 370 pounds. Authorities said there was no evidence to support family claims of the girl’s alleged medical conditions, including eating disorders.

Finally, a boy in Colorado, who was physically abused by his adoptive father, was pulled out of school after abuse allegations were raised.

Suspicions about the single father’s treatment of the then-14-year-old arose in early 2008, soon after he enrolled the boy in Craig Middle School.

Among the warning signs reported to the Craig police officer assigned to the school were the boy’s sporadic attendance and his fearfulness around others, said police Cmdr. Bill Leonard.

In early 2009, the boy came to school with what appeared to be a black eye. The school officer and a Moffat County Social Services caseworker went to Lovato’s home and questioned him and his son, Leonard said.

“The father said the injury was from playing football, and the son backed that up,” Leonard said.

Before it went any further, Lovato took his son out of school, telling Moffat County School District officials he was going to home-school him.

“That got him under the radar,” Leonard said.

When there are suspicions of abuse, a sudden decision to remove a child from school can be a red flag, said Shirley Rhodes, El Paso County Child Protective Services administrator.

“The vast majority who home-school do it for the right reasons — religion, culture, education,” Rhodes said. “But in instances where there is abuse, there’s no opportunity for someone to see it or to question them.”

Note that in three of the four above cases, the abuse later came to light—Calista died in a fire because she was chained to her bed, the Wisconsin girl physically escaped the hell in which she was living and was found wandering by the side of a road, and the boy in Colorado eventually called the local sheriff’s office and reported his abuse. In the last case, that narrated by a public school administrator, the abuse may never come to light, and may instead fly under the radar indefinitely. It is impossible to know how many children are living this reality as I write.

A 2008 case in which four children were found dead in Washington, D.C., after being homeschooled for nearly a year prompted questions about homeschool regulations (of which the district had exactly zero). Discussion soon turned to abusive parents’ intentional use of homeschooling to remove their children from outside observation.

Clive R. Belfield, a professor of economics at Queens College and formerly a researcher at the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia Teachers College, said that “limited compliance and follow-up” gave abusive families “an excuse to get out of being observed.”

Mitchell L. Stevens, an associate professor of education and sociology at New York University, said school officials, who are required by law to report suspicion of child abuse, were society’s best watchdogs of how parents treat children.

“Home schooling removes children from a lot of that surveillance,” Mr. Stevens said, adding that the vast majority of home schooling families are “overwhelmingly trustworthy people who place a very high value on parental autonomy.”

Public officials in Washington, D.C., were so concerned about the potential for parents to abuse the district’s lax (read: nonexistent) homeschooling laws that they passed new homeschooling regulations in the wake of the case—the first time in fifteen years that any state (or in this case, district) had increased oversight of homeschoolers.

There have actually been at least three state task forces that have concluded that homeschooling played a role in children’s injury or death at the hands of their parents. These cases include an Akron, Ohio, case of child starvation (see this document for a description of this case and the task force report), a North Carolina case of a child’s death from suffocation (see the task force report here), and a Florida case of death due to abuse (see the task force report here). In the Florida case, young Nubia Barahona was removed from public school to be homeschooled following several child abuse allegations. A year and a half later, Nubia was dead. The resulting “Nubia Report” offered the following recommendation:

DCF should work with the school system and Department of Education to devise an efficient alert system, with appropriate follow-up inspections, for at risk children removed from the school system and placed in “home schooling.”

A state task force on child abuse in Pennsylvania made this same recommendation, which is why some Pennsylvania legislators are currently working to pass legislation that would result in increased monitoring of parents who choose to homeschool within eighteen months of having had a substantiated child abuse report made against them. No state currently has such a law. The Home School Legal Defense Association, in a perhaps not so stunning PR move, is opposing this legislation.

Under current law, homeschooling offers parents who are the subjects of child abuse complaints from their children’s schools to opt out and drop off the radar. And we know for a fact that this can and does happen.

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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.

  • Alix

    It seems to me that if school officials suspect abuse, and then the child is abruptly pulled out of school for homeschooling, that should count as enough of a red flag to warrant mandatory reporting and a mandatory investigation.

    • Sally

      I agree. I am skeptical of some of the “checks” suggested in previous posts, but this seems reasonable.
      One other thought I had. If a family wants to abuse children, I think they can move to a new school district (or even a new state) and just never enroll their kids in school (or just notify the school if that’s required in that state). Do CPS (DCFS) investigations travel with people across state lines?
      I know it’s harder for people to move than it is to just pull a kid out of school and claim to homeschool them, so this law is better than nothing. But because of homeschooling in all 50 states (and DC), new neighbors who homeschool aren’t going to raise any red flags for their neighbors. So that’s what I’m wondering, can people just leave the state if they want to get away from CPS (DCFS)? Anyone know?

      • Guset

        But it takes a lot more money to move than to just pull the child out of school. And they have to get new jobs, etc.

      • Sally

        Oh, I know. I’m just wondering whether CPS records follow them thereby not even making it worth doing. -Or if CPS records don’t follow them, making it perhaps worth the trouble to some people.

    • valarltd

      OTOH, we pulled our youngest (for her last semester) from an elementary school where one administrator told me to my face she would see my children taken from me if it was the last thing she did, because SHE wanted them and she was a foster parent who would do so much better and give them a good Christian home.

      I have had neglect complaints filed against me for things about the kids on days they weren’t at school! “Came to school without socks” was a common one when one of my sons was in an “I hate socks” phase.

      The last time around, my daughter was reported for wearing a t-shirt for a furry convention and talking about going to Mabon rituals when the other kids were talking about Christian church. (the report made it sound like I was taking my 12 year old to conventions and pimping her out, all the while using porn to desensitize her and her brothers. I am pleased to say all three children were very honesty and visibly peeved with the officer who was asking questions)

      We aren’t hiding abuse. We’re hiding from constant harassment.
      The saga can be followed here and in subsequent posts:

      • Alix

        1. If you aren’t hiding abuse, then you aren’t the subject of the post.

        2. No system will ever eliminate all problems. But if our priority is to protect children, then yes, unfortunately, some innocent families will get investigated. Our goal should be to ensure that Child Protective Services are capable of distinguishing real abuse from false allegations, not to hamstring them so they can’t investigate.

        I honest-to-god don’t get responses like yours. From what you’re relating here, one school administrator (or more than one?) was harassing you, but apparently CPS was just doing its due diligence. Which is what should happen.

        I’m not saying don’t homeschool. I’m saying there needs to be a safety net in place, and that certain things ought to trigger it, because those triggers will catch a lot of serious abuse. Monitoring homeschoolers, or at least investigating why they’re being homeschooled, is a good way to catch the kids Libby Anne is talking about, who were pulled out to be abused.

      • valarltd

        Because it would be one more level of harassment on already harassed families.

        “We’re going to make you miserable until you flee, and then we’re going to punish you FOR fleeing.”

      • Alix

        Your case is not every case.

        Once more with feeling: I never said you should be prevented from homeschooling. I find it really telling that even investigating you is considered “harassment.” Funny, I consider that “due diligence.” And you have yet to show that CPS was the problem, or harassed you. Everything you’ve said here, again, indicates they weren’t the problem at all.

        But there are a lot of kids who get yanked specifically so they can be abused, and in those cases there are often warning signs that this is what’s happening. You’d rather let kids suffer horrific and preventable abuse at the hands of their parents than have to deal with some embarrassing questions from CPS? Really?

      • MrPopularSentiment

        “Due diligence” can easily become harassment if it is targeted against a particular individual for reasons other than those stated.

        I’ve had one issue with a mandatory reporter already (my son grabbed a radiator and burned his hand. INSTEAD OF TREATING HIM, the doctor at the emergency room detained me for over an hour to ask me all these leading questions that were very clearly trying to sniff out abuse. Meanwhile, the damage to my son’s hand was getting worse because that’s how burns work). Now, of course, CPS wasn’t called and the questioning never went anywhere and eventually she bothered to look at my son’s hand, but that’s just one instance where a perfectly well-meaning rule backfired and ended up harming the very person it was supposed to protect (the rule was to assess potential abuse BEFORE examination so that families don’t seek treatment and then walk out before someone can follow up – though that seems stupid because they took my son’s health card so they had our home address on record. Seems like even if I had walked out, they could have followed up).

        That’s why I keep being so hesitant with the measures that Libby Anne mentioned – it’s not enough that it could do some good, it has to not do too much bad as well. When we set out with the idea that we want to protect all the children and that we aren’t going to be too concerned about “perfection” or balancing the needs of families or even with thinking through ways that the rules could be abused, we set ourselves up for trouble.

        Now, I do think that not allowing a family to homeschool during an investigation makes sense. It also makes sense to say that the investigation must continue even if they do start homeschooling (or even move across state lines – holy crap, is that NOT considered a red flag already??). It also makes sense to say that a family that has had concerns about abuse raised within the last, say, 18 months, should have some follow up work with a social worker. I do think that these measures are a reasonable balance.

        There is certainly the possibility that a family might be undergoing a serious smear campaign from a teacher or school administrator, and that this could complicate matters, but I think this would be rare enough to make the potential good outweigh the potential harm (especially if the time limit is something like 18 months, and where a harassment case might be made against the school authority who is causing the problems).

      • Composer 99


        Please don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

        As things stand your reply to Alix, and your follow-up, reads like you are suggesting that mitigating the harrasment you and your family receive from biased/bigoted school administrators and increasing CPS/other pertinent agency oversight of homeschooling to catch more cases of child abuse are mutually exclusive, and that other readers must support one or the other.
        I don’t believe that is your intent, so can you clarify?

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Okay, gotta echo Alix here in competely not getting responses like this. You are responding to a post that cites specific examples of horrifying abuse that was enabled by lax regulation. And your response is “Waaaaah, people are mean to me because I’m pagan!” Look, that sucks and it is wrong but I simply do not care about that as much as I care about kids being fucking burned alive while chained to their beds. I’m sorry I just don’t.

        I have been seeing these kind of responses all over this blog, sometimes to in response to guest poster’s personal accounts of abuse they faced at the hands of their own parents! Apparently, some people think that such a space is an appropriate place to pontificate about their personal virtue and moan about their persecution. “Yeah, okay, your parents beat you and terrorized you but *I* have to deal with neighbors thinking I am weird! Oh, the humanity!” Can these people hear themselves (or read themselves, rather.)

        I never knew there were so many raging narcissists in the world until Libby started blogging about homeschooling issues. Sorry to come down like a ton of bricks but I have about had it up to here with this tin-eared, self-centered, callous nonsense.

      • Sally

        I think there’s a difference between whining and trying to discuss both sides of an issue. The reason we need to discuss more than one view is that one view just gets everyone agreeing and the problems with that view aren’t fleshed out. When people give apposing views (even if they seem narcissistic to you), if we have a real discourse, we come up with better ideas.

        Maybe reform is needed in the CPS system as part of all this. But unless someone can tell their story about how CPS can be misused, we miss the opportunity to consider the whole picture. The abuse in Libby Anne’s post *is* horrifying and unacceptable in our society. What are *all* the factors we have to consider when trying to address it? We have to be able to at least talk about various angles, including the views that offend us.

      • Alix

        I guess I just fail to see why we can never try to address any of the problems with homeschooling without being derailed by this whole song and dance about how CPS is Evil.

        That’s not what this post was about. It’s about some serious problems with how homeschooling is currently (un)regulated and how to fix that, not how CPS is corrupt and need fixing.

        Do you really not see how that’s derailing?

      • MrPopularSentiment

        We’re not. That’s not what is happening.

        We’re discussing an issue and looking at potential solutions. Part of that is acknowledging that we are working in the real world where the institutions that are set up to protect children are flawed. If our goal is to protect children, we want to do that in a way that does not protect them from one form of abuse while subjecting them to another.

        If a solution is proposed that involves CPS, it is not derailing to talk about how CPS can be a double-edged sword.

        (EDIT: I should add, maybe it isn’t. Maybe this person is wrong or misrepresenting what happened to his/her family. Maybe the flaws in the CPS system are very small compared to the benefits of the abuse they can prevent. But how can we know that for sure if we just stomp our feet and scream any time someone tries to talk about it?)

      • Alix

        Except here’s what I see, repeatedly:

        “Here’s a problem with unregulated homeschooling. We need to make sure it’s harder for homeschoolers to abuse kids.”

        “But regulation might inconvenience me! A few people might harass me!”

        And then it turns into a big argument about harassment, and the point – that we ought to be trying to minimize abuse – gets lost in the muddle.

        And, well, yeah, harassment is bad. No one’s said otherwise. But that’s an argument for making sure CPS is well-funded and well-trained, not a reasonable argument against any regulation, mandatory reporting, or CPS visits in general.

        It just seems to me that this line of argument privileges adults’ freedoms and emotions over children’s lives, and that is absolutely not something I’m comfortable with.

      • MrPopularSentiment

        Okay, and here’s what I see:

        “Here’s a problem with unregulated homeschooling. We need to make sure it’s harder for homeschoolers to abuse kids.”

        “Okay, but we need to do so in a way that doesn’t doesn’t set up too many barriers for non-abusive families to choose the path that works best for them.”

        Maybe some people just really don’t care about kids being abused. Certainly, that seems to be the HSDL’s position. But what I’ve seen among commenters here (and, to be fair, I don’t read every single comment, so I accept that I may have missed this if it happens) is merely a caution that any practical solution proposed needs to be carefully considered within a broader context.

        I’ll give you an example: Zero tolerance policies in schools sounded like a great idea in the wake of Columbine. The problem is that there’s no evidence that they are actually effective at preventing school shootings, and stories of children being expelled or otherwise punished for absurdly silly things abound. In other words, a policy that made a whole lot of sense to people ended up not only being ineffective at solving the problem, it created a very serious problem of its own.

        I don’t want to see that happening with homeschooling regulation. And it scares me to see comments responding to simple calls for careful consideration being reacted to in this way.

      • Alix

        Fair enough.

      • Sally

        But can you see that as this discussion continues, those of us who do or did homeschool are trying to come up with solutions too? But if the only people who can comment are those who have one view, the solutions that might be the most workable will be missed because someone is perceived as valuing adults over children. We need to consider all options and find fault with those options to then come up with better ones. Not everyone who objects to an idea is going to offer an alternative. But we still need everyone’s voice.

      • Alix

        those of us who do or did homeschool are trying to come up with solutions too?

        It doesn’t entirely feel like that, to me. It feels a lot like we were discussing apples, and y’all decided to discuss oranges, while insisting that’s a natural part of the conversation ’cause it’s all fruit.

        And in this case in particular, it really feels like we started talking about a very particular kind of case, and then people started objecting by moving the goalposts. I am really not following some of the leaps in the conversation in these threads.

      • Alice

        Also, people have a wide range of definitions for harassment.

      • MrPopularSentiment

        So is a perfect world one where all kids are just automatically taken at birth and then raised by government workers who have training in childhood development and are therefore obviously much better qualified to parent than biological parents?

        I mean, seriously… asking that we not knee-jerk and instead try to find a solution that BOTH protects children AND does not open non-abusive families to potential discrimination really doesn’t seem like an obvious sign of narcissism to me…. Though maybe that’s just exactly what a narcissist would say!

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Oh for pity’s sake…

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        For the record, MrPopularSentiment, although I don’t necessarily agree with everything you say, I have found you to be perfectly reasonable. (Well that is, until you trotted out the conservative paranoid fantasy about children being seized from their famlies and raised by the gub’ment. Yep, you got our number, that’s totally want we want.) I have no problem with debate over practical solutions. What I do have a problem with is people using verified accounts of horrible violence, some of which have been told first-hand by the survivors, as platforms to talk about how perfectly perfect your own homeschooling family is and how much it gave you a sad that somebody looked at you cross-eyed for making that decision. There have been commenters here have full-on hijacked the comment threads of posts where people share extremely sensitive personal information about being violently victimized by their parents in order to tell us about the horrible persecution of being thought a bit odd–often without even a cursory acknowledgment of what has been said in the OP. I cannot recall you doing that, but it is something I have seen a whole lot of and I’m just completely floored at the amount of insensitivity and self-absorption it would take to even think such a response is appropriate. I mean, I’m sorry, but who does that? Apparently a lot of vocal homeschooling parents…

        You want to debate the issue and raise concerns about privacy and harassment? Fine! There’s a respectful and constructive way to have that conversation. Responding to a post that documents in detail the violent abuse of children–whether it’s about other children or about the author hirself’s childhood–by saying “Hey, I didn’t do anything wrong! And, boohoo, people sometimes disapprove of my choices, I’ve got it sooooo tough.” is not the way to do it. That is not debating, it is derailing and, yes, it is narcissistic. If somebody wants to make an actual cogent argument (which you have) and also illustrate it with some anecdotes fine, but this is not all about them. Yet, “me, me, me” seems to be all some people can say. If you are talking about nothing but yourself, you are not debating public policy. Because public policy isn’t just about you.

      • MrPopularSentiment

        “Well that is, until you trotted out the conservative paranoid fantasy about children being seized from their famlies and raised by the gub’ment.”

        Fair enough. I was responding to the tone of your comment that seems to be implying that families being harassed or potentially separated from their children without cause is fine as long as we’re stopping abuse – in other words, it’s okay to break a few eggs as long as we get our omelette.

        I related earlier about how abuse-catching policies caused physical harm to my son. Not anywhere close to being burned alive while chained to a bed (thank goodness!), but harm none-the-less.

        My concern is that child abuse is so horrible that we react to it emotionally at the expense of doing so logically – and doing so could cause harm to children who are not being abused by their parents.

        “What I do have a problem with is people using verified accounts of horrible violence, some of which have been told first-hand by the survivors, as platforms to talk about how perfectly perfect your own homeschooling family is and how much it gave you a sad that somebody looked at you cross-eyed for making that decision.”That’s fair. I’m sorry if I’ve ever crossed that line.

        “You want to debate the issue and raise concerns about privacy and harassment? Fine!”
        Could we do that? I mean, you guys are THE crowd I can talk about these things with. Would Libby Anne be willing to open up a post just for debating what regulations are appropriate and which are too prone to problems? Not that I think it would fix things, since some people will comment higgeldy-piggeldy as they always do, but speaking selfishly, it’d be awesome to have a dedicated space to talk about that.

      • Libby Anne

        “Would Libby Anne be willing to open up a post just for debating what regulations are appropriate and which are too prone to problems?”

        That’s a really good idea! Thanks for the suggestion!

      • MrPopularSentiment

        “If you aren’t hiding abuse, then you aren’t the subject of the post.”

        This is an extremely problematic statement, and has been used to excuse all sorts of invasions of privacy. The whole current TSA “security theatre” (that has resulted in detaining people who were guilty of travelling while coloured) is built almost entirely on the idea that people who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear.

        Anyways, as a side note, my mom was investigated when I was a child because I went to school without shoes. Because I hated shoes. She’d make me put them on and I’d take them off and hide them as soon as I was out the door. She had a similar issue to the person you were replying to in that the school administrators REALLY didn’t like her and were just trying to find anything they thought might stick (she was a foreigner in an extremely xenophobic country, and a single mother in an extremely conservative country – talk about a double-whammy!).

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Okay, but Libby isn’t the TSA or anyone with the authority to invade people’s privacy. She is a blogger writing about abusive parents. When parents show up on that post and have nothing to say to it but “Hey, *I* don’t abuse my kids!” it is perfectly appropriate to say “Then she’s not talking about you.” Kind of like how when men show up on posts about rape or domestic violence just to let everyone know that *they* personally don’t rape or beat women, it’s perfectly appropriate to say “Then we’re not talking about you.”

      • Conuly

        No, she isn’t, but we are all discussing things to do to reduce abuse. Some of those things are intrusive.

      • aim2misbehave

        I think one of the big things here with people complaining about “harassment” and CPS is that they’re conflating the two. Usually, in stories like valarltd’s, and some that I’ve seen on other threads, the harasser is someone that they’ve decided doesn’t like the parent(s), and they know CPS has to do their due diligence. Granted, in some more rarely encountered subcultures it may take CPS some time and more involved effort to sort out the truth from the lies, but I’ve known a few people who work in CPS or related groups and they work in CPS because they’ve got an almost sacrificial desire to help children, so they’re not happy when adults sic them on each other like dogs in an attempt to get revenge or something.

      • Alix

        That’s precisely what pissed me off with valarltd’s comments – nowhere does e say that the harasser was CPS, but the implication is that CPS was doing wrong and “harassing” er because, apparently, CPS took accusations of child abuse seriously and dared to investigate. Which is its damn job.

        I mean, what do people want instead? No CPS? No organization set up to protect children from their abusive parents?

        And yet somehow, every. single. post. on abusive homeschoolers dissolves into a referendum on this very question, and a resounding chorus of “but I’m not abusive, so CPS is corrupt for even thinking about investigating me.” When CPS has, y’know, no way to know that until they investigate.

        It’s like people want CPS to be psychic. I really wonder if they have the same objections to, say, police investigating murder cases.

      • Sally

        I’m so sorry this has happened to you. What a difficult experience. I can only imagine!

  • Lauralee Moss

    As a teacher, thank you so MU h for bringing this to light. I’ve seen students leave to be “homeschooled.” Some for very good reasons whose parents will work with them.

    • Lauralee Moss

      Sorry. Others are isolated to hide abuse.

  • Constance P

    Abusers will abuse, regardless of homeschooling or not. While I realize that some homeschool adults feel they received an inferior education, that is not, always, or usually, correct. In our case, our daughter’s LD went undiagnosed and it was homeschooling that *freed* her- to learn at her own pace and in her own style.

    • Aeryl

      No one is saying that public school children are safe from abuse. What we are saying is that public school children are at the very minimum, exposed to mandatory reporters, are allowed an 8 hour escape from the abuse, and are given the opportunity to eat, things that abused homeschool children don’t get.

      • Constance P

        Unfortunately even public schooled kids get overlooked. There is no fail safe method.

      • fencerman

        A minimal level of supervision is still infinitely better than no supervision at all. A public school student can’t exactly show up to class delirious from dehydration and locked into a dog collar; a homeschooled student clearly can.

      • Aeryl

        No one is demanding a fail safe method, they are demanding SOMETHING be better than NOTHING.

    • Rosa

      would a few followup visits from social workers have prevented that? Or made you think “Wow this is a hassle, it’s not worth it”?

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Is this like “People will kill people anyway so why not let random, un-screened schmucks stockpile assault weapons if they want to?”

    • Nancy Shrew

      Congratulations, this post isn’t relevant to you, then.

  • MrPopularSentiment

    I’m sorry if I keep coming back to this, and I hope you’ll recognize it as me really trying to wrap my head around the concept rather than just trying to be difficult, but I’m still struggling with the idea of home visits as a default for homeschooling families.

    I’m currently a stay-at-home parent, and I indeed to keep my son at home at least until mandatory education begins at first grade. This has never been questioned, and you’ve never mentioned this as a potential excuse for abuse, despite the fact that it means that my son can be kept at home with me, with absolutely no oversight except what I expose him to, for over half a decade (first grade starts around age 6-7, depending on when the child’s birthday falls).

    Would you also argue in favour of mandatory home visits for any family with a pre-school aged child who is not in a registered daycare? Or is isolation-based abuse only an issue once the child is school aged?

    (NOTE: If the family has a history of being investigated for abuse, particularly if these are ongoing or have been substantiated, anything that looks like an attempt to hide further abuse is definitely a concern and mandatory home visits if they choose to homeschool makes completely sense. My issue is with treating all homeschooling as suspect.)

    • coupdefoudre

      I don’t have time to go re-read the post, so correct me if I’m wrong, but –

      “I’m still struggling with the idea of home visits as a default for homeschooling families.” –

      Who is saying this? I’m pretty sure all that is being suggested in the post is what you ended up concluding with -”If the family has a history of being investigated for abuse, particularly if these are ongoing or have been substantiated, anything that looks like an attempt to hide further abuse is definitely a concern and mandatory home visits if they choose to homeschool makes completely sense. “

      • MrPopularSentiment

        Sorry, I really didn’t make myself clear, did I? I was responding to something that Libby Anne had said in the comment section of a post a few weeks ago. She was asked what she thought would be reasonable legal measures to address the abuses she talks about, and regular home visits from a social worker was one of her ideas. We back-and-forthed it a bit in that comment section but, because it was tangential to the initiating post, I can’t find it again. So I opted to respond here instead.

      • Libby Anne

        To be specific, I think my idea was something along the lines of requiring families to get a sort of charter or license to homeschool each year, and having one step in obtaining that be a visit to the home to view the schooling area. I suggested that speaking to the children might also be a part of that, but not in a grilling to poke for abuse sort of way so much as just ensuring that the children have contact with a mandatory reporter. And again, these are just thoughts I’ve had as I’ve considered what can be done, it’s not my final word or anything.

      • MrPopularSentiment

        Thank you for clarifying.

        The reason I’m having so much trouble with this is that I do see the issues you are bringing up as very valid, and I’m struggling to find a better way to address them. But at the same time, I question both the efficacy and ethics of home visits.

        Efficacy in the sense that, as another commenter pointed out in another post, doctor visits can’t fulfil this function because families only have to abstain from abuse for whatever time period leading up to the visit – so wouldn’t the same apply to these home visits?

        And the ethics, well, I think I’ve covered that, lol.

      • Libby Anne

        I don’t think you can catch it all without banning homeschooling, which I’m not in favor of. But I do think that home visits like I described would catch at least some. The simple reality is that there is no perfect fix, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find a fix that catches at least some abuse.

        I understand where you’re coming from and I think that part of the issue is that there needs to be a balance between protecting the interests of abused kids and not placing an undue burden on families who are doing things right. HSLDA places that balance way over on one end, basically saying it’s okay if there is some abuse, because no regulation on homeschooling is ever ever okay. I don’t think that’s a healthy balance and you clearly don’t either, but between the two of us we differ on where that balance should be.

      • MrPopularSentiment

        I don’t think that “some child abuse is okay,” not at all. I’m just cautious about statements like that we should make it our goal to eradicate child abuse (as opposed to, say, reduce child abuse as much as we can). I don’t think that a War on Child Abuse mentality is helpful, just as the War on Drugs and the War on Terror haven’t been helpful. The mentality leads people to pass knee-jerk legislation that, more often than not, does more harm than good.

        I think the problem about the HSLDA is not that they think that it’s okay if there is some abuse. I think the problem is that they just don’t view children as people. From their point of view, children are the property of their parents, so you can’t child abuse any more than you can have chair abuse or bookshelf abuse. It’s a truly disgusting view, though not at all a historically (or biblically!) uncommon one.

        “I don’t think that’s a healthy balance and you clearly don’t either, but
        between the two of us we differ on where that balance should be.”
        We do :) I am glad that you at least understand where I’m coming from, and I did think that many of your other ideas were quite good.

      • Conuly

        I think, after considering it, that having a social worker do the visit is problematic for two reasons.

        First, it does send the message “we think you might be beating your kids and we don’t trust you”. That simply isn’t the best thing to ensure cooperation and help.

        Secondly, social workers see a lot of bad situations. Sometimes, that can make people inclined to see abuse where there isn’t any.

        Instead, since the goal is to have more eyes on the kid, I think it might be better to use more of a carrot – provide subsidies for extracurriculars for families (no matter how they educate), allow students in the older grades to do dual enrollment (there really is no reason kids who switch classes cannot attend school for just math, band and science, say, while Mom handles all other subjects), offer teaching workshops. If you want something more… firm, it might be better for the kids to be evaluated by a teacher a few times a year (the same teacher yearly, if possible, to build up a relationship) in addition to testing. Teachers wouldn’t seem so threatening, if nothing else.

      • Lana Hope

        yes EXACTLY what I was thinking

      • Lana

        I’m afraid people will just lie for any kind of home visit. I think it will just bring cost dollars, and just eh, I’m doubtful. I definitely think parents accused of abuse should not be allowed to homeschooling, but I’m not so sure what kind of regulations will work for those who were never in the system.

      • Paula Horton Haley

        “The present report includes deaths reviewed in 2007 and 2008, during which time a total of 3,121 children died in Michigan . Local teams reviewed 1,374 child deaths in that same time period” This quote is from a MI. report on child deaths in MI for 2007 & 2008, to choose 1 death & point to homeschooling is scapegoating. This report is an attempt to demonize home schooling. People need to use their heads when considering such things. Abusers do not refrain from abusing, the nature of abuse does not allow for such restraint. This is just another push for the ever growing surveillance state, attempting to stretch the long arm of the Fed’s reach into our homes, to gain control of the population! Don’t fall for it! live free, think for yourself & do your own research!

      • Monika Tillsley

        We actually do have something like regular contact before school in Australia.

        When I gave birth you could opt to go home or stay in the hospital at least a week so they could see how you were coping. If you went home then a midwife visited every day for at least a week. She looked at your set up for feeding, changing, bathing etc and offered help.

        I thought of it as an amazing helpful service for new parents but I guess it would also help detect abuse.

        As my daughter got older regular health centre or GP visits were encouraged to check weight, height etc and keep up with vaccinations. The government sends out letters letting you know when these visits are due and there are little folders you take home from hospital that are progressively filled out.

        Of course you don’t have to go to hospital at all to have a baby and you don’t have to vaccinate or see the doctor. These things are not mandatory. But there are systems in place to encourage them and make it easy for parents. Also there are real benefits and it is all free. But I suppose a consciously abusive parent would avoid these checks.

      • Sally

        We in the U.S. have all these things, too (except no insurance will pay for a week in the hospital if mother and baby are healthy). But for us it depends on how good your insurance is as to whether or not all these things are paid for. In some cases, I believe free clinics are available for those in need. I don’t know how consistently they’re available and what all they offer. Like you, these things are all voluntary.

    • Sally

      I think you make a good point about the fact that no one checks on children 0-6. You could argue that the greatest educational neglect, if it happens, takes place in homes where children have no books and few educational experiences *before* entering public school. And even worse, children can be physically and emotionally abused for those 5 or 6 years. A serious amount of mental and physical abuse can take place during those most formative years.

      Why don’t we do social work checks on *all* families, with the first appointment set up when the mother leaves the hospital with her baby?

      I was also thinking about summer months of public schooled kids.

      We’ve talked in previous threads about whether requiring all kids (including homeschooled) to go to a “safety” class would be better than a “scary” social worker visit. I like what someone else said here about a teacher rather than a social worker being the contact person. That fits better with what happens in public schools (social workers don’t go around interviewing every kid as a safety check in school). But if we’re going to do this, don’t we have to be consistent and require some kind of check for children 0-5 or 6 (asking everyone, not just MrPopularS)?

  • Amie

    Nobody likes getting frisked at the airport or having their handbags searched when they go to a concert, but those of us that have nothing to hide understand that these are necessary to protect our safety and the safety of others so we deal with it. I do not understand why people cannot lend this same attitude to the care of our children. So what if a social worker has to come into your home to make sure your children are well cared for and educated? If that’s the price i’d have to pay to make sure we are giving all children the safety to grow up in a healthy environment, I would do it in a heartbeat. We are all a part of a global community and we have a duty to love and care for those who cannot care for themselves.

    • Conuly

      “Nobody likes getting frisked at the airport or having their handbags searched when they go to a concert, but those of us that have nothing to hide understand that these are necessary to protect our safety and the safety of others so we deal with it.”

      Actually, I don’t think those do a thing to keep anybody safe, and I think that giving up our rights in the name of safety is a bad idea. I even think security theater is, in fact, making us LESS safe.

    • Saraquill

      Comments about “nothing to hide” regarding security checks makes me uneasy. It implies that even if I’m not carrying/doing anything dangerous, I’m guilty by virtue of being displeased with the search.

      • Sally

        Yes, it’s taking me a while to articulate this (through the various threads discussing this), but I think I’ve got the difference between coming in contact with a mandated reporter V being checked by a social worker. Coming into contact with a mandated reporter typically takes place where children are with adults for an express purpose having nothing to do with being checked to make sure the children are safe. The focus is on the reason for being together (swimming lessons, Girl Scouts activities, soccer, school, etc…). No one is checking each child in their care, or interviewing them. That’s not to say adults aren’t alert to the possibility if a red flag appears, but that’s very different than probing. Very different.

        We need a solution for the mandated reporter contact, but I’m convinced it can’t be anything “probing.” Why? For the same reasons we don’t probe every child in our society. There’s kind of a “safe until suspected otherwise” understanding. If we don’t trust that understanding in our society in general, then we need to probe every child. But we don’t do that, because, frankly, that’s no way to live.

        So we need contact for homeschoolers with mandated reporters that isn’t probing (in terms of abuse). If a teacher is checking on educational progress, then that would involve probing of a sort, but that’s not different than children being monitored and probed for what they know in school (something our society does accept). Whether to do that (monitor educational progress) with homeschoolers, I would have a lot to say on what that should look like, but I think that’s another topic.

      • MrPopularSentiment

        “frankly, that’s no way to live” – Yup. Same with all the security checks. Some security for travel, fine. But the current TSA security theatre is invasive. “You have nothing to worry about if you have nothing to hide” is not only a really scary mindset, it’s also a dangerous one. In a free society, the burden is on the government to show guilt, not on the individual to show innocence.

        I do much prefer the idea of obligating parents to provide opportunities for their children to be in somewhat regular contact with a mandatory reporter in a situation like you describe. That makes me MUCH more comfortable because, as you say, the focus is on the activity and not on “sussing out abuse.”

        My only concern with this is the potentially onerous cost. For example, let’s say that I decide to homeschool my son but that we can’t afford soccer lessons for him one semester. Do I suddenly have to either submit to a home inspection or put him in public school just for that one semester? Because option A makes me really nervous, and option B seems like it would be quite an upheaval for a child.

        So I’d definitely support this idea if more free options were available (or easy-to-qualify-for subsidies – I never qualify for subsidies even though we live on very little, but that’s because I put so much money into my son’s education plan. So our salary is too high for subsidies, but directing that money towards day care or activities would actually be harmful to his future. It’s a bit of a catch-22).

        I would also be more supportive of something like inviting families in to talk to a member of their school board/administration at the start of each year where they have the opportunity to show their educational plan, ask for advice, and receive feedback and, as a side bonus, that school official gets to check out the kids for obvious signs of abuse/neglect.

        It’s just the idea of having to let someone into my home who is there for the purpose of judging my fitness to parent my own child, and then letting them – a complete stranger – spend time alone with my son. I think that crosses the “security vs freedom” balance.

      • Alix

        I do much prefer the idea of obligating parents to provide opportunities for their children to be in somewhat regular contact with a mandatory reporter in a situation like you describe. That makes me MUCH more comfortable because, as you say, the focus is on the activity and not on “sussing out abuse.”

        Er. Except the cases being discussed in this post are explicitly cases where abuse was suspected, and the parents yanked the kids from public school. In the cases actually under discussion, pulling those children from school should have been a big red warning flag to all those people responsible for protecting children from their abusers. That is what is under discussion here.

      • MrPopularSentiment

        The discussion in the comments moved beyond those bounds. All but one person (that I’ve seen) agreed that pulling kids from school while under investigation is a huge red flag.

      • Sally

        Yes, the devil is in the details. I think without saying it explicitly, we’ve (various commenters) kind of agreed that the contact with the mandatory reporter needs to be someone not only outside the family but outside the family’s circle. That’s where it gets tricky. And frequency is also an issue. As you say, what if a family doesn’t participate for a period of time(longer than the equivalence of a summer)?

        I co-founded a homeschooling co-op and because of the way we advertised, it was not made up of anyone’s particular circle. Because we were renting a space, we
        had to get insurance, and because we got insurance, we had to have an abuse prevention policy and training. So the parents who attend that co-op even today
        (I’m no longer homeschooling) all get training in safety measures implemented during co-op hours, how to recognize abuse in a child, and who to contact if
        you do. They do anual required training with each participating parent.

        Now if every homeschooler participated in a group like this, they’d get the training and their kids would have contact with mandated reporters (I confirmed that in
        our state volunteer adults are mandated, not just paid teachers and such). I don’t see this happening, but it could be an option for parents who can’t afford soccer. Still, the co-op costs money to participate in. The absolutely
        biggest expense is the insurance (the very entity that got us to put together our policy and training). We offered scholarships, but like you said, you typically wouldn’t qualify.

        I don’t know what the solution would be for parents who can’t or who choose not to do activities that cost money. Communities you create for free would tend to
        involve the kids never being out from under their parents during the activity. I guess we get back to a class offered and paid for by the government. But how many years and for how many months in every year can you have a “good
        touch / bad touch” class?

        Here’s another thought. In my state, the laws are extremely lax, but you are supposed to teach all the subjects. IMO and experience, PE is one subject homeschoolers can really be lax themselves about. Unless you sign up for something like park district sports or a co-op that has PE (ours did), you are very likely to be totally blowing that subject off (sorry, but it’s true). Maybe every state requiring proof of a PE class (in any form outside the home) X number of months a year because so many homeschoolers are NOT providing it themselves would be an angle. Yes, I think the government in that case would have to pay for it.

      • MrPopularSentiment

        I really like that co-op idea. We don’t have anything like that here, but we do have joint activities (like museum trips) that homeschooling families can do together. There’s one group that’s explicitly Christian, and a second that’s just for homeschoolers without specifying any particular ideology.

        ” I guess we get back to a class offered and paid for by the government. But how many years and for how many months in every year can you have a “good touch / bad touch” class?”

        I think that there’s a lot more you could do with such a class. Just thinking of my own primary education, we had things like a dentist come in and give a presentation about how to properly brush teeth (which included giving out little hourglasses so kids could make sure that they were brushing for at least a minute), we had a firefighter come in to talk about how to properly/safely evacuate a building in the event of a fire (stay low, don’t open a door if the handle is hot, etc), and we had a police officer talk everyone outside to learn how to safely cross a road and the proper signals to use while biking. It doesn’t just have to be about abuse – we could easily broaden that to general health and safety.

        And as kids get older, recognizing signs of a potentially abusive relationship could be added (recognizing controlling behaviour, outbursts of jealousy, invasion of privacy, etc), or a CPR course (with certification at the end).

        Maybe someone else who is homeschooling would like to weigh in, but, personally, I’d LOVE for my local school to offer something like this. Even if it’s mandatory, I think it would be a great opportunity for all kids – public and home schooled.

        As for mandating PE class… eh, I’m less sure about that. I get where you’re coming from, but I’m thinking of my own experiences with PE. I was a chubby kid (hasn’t changed), and being in PE class meant exerting myself in front of everyone, and it was humiliating. All those taunts about “look at the piggy with the red face” and “look how fatty is huffing and puffing” really turned me off exercise, which was quite damaging for my long term health. I got out of PE whenever I could find a way, and I stopped getting physical activity outside of school because I was so ashamed. If I had a child with potential body image issues, one of the reasons I might choose to homeschool would be to provide them with a healthy – rather than a shameful – view of physical maintenance. So to make PE a requirement just… kinda scares me.

        I do get what you are saying, though. Since I decided to get pregnant, I’ve been working very hard on changing my attitudes towards health and towards taking care of myself, and I’m at a point now where I can actually have a lot of fun running around with my son without worrying about what people will say about my giggly bits or red face, and I can climb things with him without worrying about people getting an unflattering view of my butt, etc. So if I do end up homeschooling him, I think that I’d provide a pretty good PE program at home. But I can also see how easily I could have ended up differently, and how I might have just de-emphasis PE out of existence.

        I think a better solution is just to make sure that public schools are opening PE up for homeschooling families so that parents who are not physical themselves can provide that education for their children (without having to be the ones to provide it – sorry for the terrible wording), and then combine that with pediatricians mentioning the importances of cultivating healthy exercise habits in children.

        I do like the idea of parents who want to homeschool having to go in and have a little meeting with a representative from their school board/district before the start of each school year, and that would be a great opportunity for the school to lay out what kind of supplementary help they can offer to parents and how to take advantage of that.

        To make an analogy, the city where I live has a very integrated midwifery system. Our midwives are educated, trained, and licensed, and each one is associated with a particular hospital. As a result, they have a very good working relationship with that hospital (as well as admitting privileges). Because of this, homebirth in my city is considered extremely safe. If anything goes wrong, your midwife can get you admitted to the hospital before you’ve even left home. I chose to labour with a midwife in the hospital and, when things started going pear-shaped, my midwife had no trouble consulting with the hospital’s staff. I see this as the same situation – yes, some people are insane and will want to just have unassisted homebirths and will whine and complain about “the establishment” not letting them have an unlicensed midwife. But for the vast majority of people, such a comfortable relationship between “the establishment” and the “alternatives” is reassuring, and helps to improve safety.

        And that’s what I see here. Before we start talking about punitive/mandatory methods (for families where there is no suspicion or history of abuse), I’d much prefer that we work on improving relationships between homeschoolers and public schools, and open the ease with which children who are homeschooled can also take advantage of those parts of public schools that work for them. In other words, I think not making it an “all or nothing” choice would go a long way towards avoiding the polarization that we’ve been talking about.

  • Shay Seaborne

    If child services was doing its job, these children would not be falling off the radar. The saying “hard cases make bad law” is true; scrutinizing every homeschooling family for potential abuse is no more reasonable than scrutinizing every family with children in public or private school.

    • Libby Anne

      Except that we DO scrutinize every public school student—they are seen daily by teachers who are trained in how to spot child abuse and required to report it.

  • SammyG

    I was homeschooled and abused. I believe there should be welfare checks for homeschool families. Also mandatory screenings of the child to check for learning disabilities and general problems within the home. Parents can fake and lie their way through the homeschooling system (or lack thereof) and the child should be givin a voice to monitor if homeschooling is appropriate in that family.