Guest Post: HSLDA—Why We Fear the Child Snatchers

A Guest Post by Anonymous

I wrote a post for Homeschoolers Anonymous. My parents know. They are supportive. They understand, after years of homeschooling, that there are some crazy people who believe some really crazy things in homeschooling.

I love that they not only understand that, but readily acknowledge it. My parents, like many other homeschooling parents, got sucked into the system. But they broke free, as I did as well.

We’ve been talking a lot lately about HA, in fact. It’s been good. Healing, really. It’s one thing to get affirmation from your peers that you’re not crazy (a watershed moment). But getting affirmation from your parents?


Anyways. So word got around that I contributed to HA. I was never secretive about it. But some people assumed that, since I contributed to HA, I was accusing my parents of child abuse.

Which is weird, because I never said that. I would never say that.

Sure, my parents got sucked into an abusive culture. But I would never say they abused me.

But some people started talking. And that talk got around to my mom. Someone approached her and asked her if she was doing ok.

“What do you mean?”

“You know, with your kid accusing you of child abuse.”

My mom freaked out. She immediately came to me and told me about this.

“I support what you’re doing, but I am terrified!”

“Terrified of what?”

She told me about the previous conversation.

I said, “I never accused you of abuse.”

She said, “I know. But they could take away your brother!”

I have a younger brother, still a minor, thought almost legally an adult.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Who would take him away?”

“The CPS! Someone who doesn’t like us could read what you wrote and the CPS could take him away!

I was confused.

“But I don’t understand. I only wrote one thing for HA, and I said you were good parents. I said I found the culture abusive, not you.”

“But they could misinterpret that and use it against us! I support HA, but I need to protect your brother, too!”

“Who is they this time? I don’t understand.”

“The CPS!”

“But… All us kids love you. I would defend you in court. Why would it even go to court? You have one kid at home who isn’t even being homeschooled anymore. And he hasn’t been spanked in probably half a decade. And he’s the most socially adjusted kid in the family. Seriously, there’s nothing to worry about.”

“You don’t know the CPS like we do.”

At this point I was no longer confused. I was simply not following. My family has never interacted with the CPS during my homeschooling experience.

“What do you mean, know the CPS?”

“You might not be aware of this, but the CPS hates homeschoolers. They take kids away.”

Well, I was aware of that line of thinking. But in my entire life of being homeschooled from K-12, we never knew a family that got threatened by the CPS on the grounds of homeschooling. All we knew about such situations was from HSLDA’s e-lerts and Court Reports. In my adult years, I know CPS employees. I even know former homeschoolers that work for the CPS.

But my mom was nonetheless terrified. Despite all her kids but one being graduated with undergraduate (and even graduate) degrees, and the last kid not even being homeschooled, despite the fact that none of us were abused, despite the fact that the CPS wouldn’t even bother with an allegation based on an anonymous tip based on a misinterpretation of a blog post based on general issues not specific to my family, my mom was terrified.

My mom was not terrified because she is gullible. My mom is very thoughtful and perceptive. In all honesty, I understand her fear. See, we were daily bombarded by HSLDA e-lerts telling people the CPS had it out for homeschoolers. CPS workers were the minions of Satan — even worse, they were the minions of secularism. We were trained by my parents how to answer “worried” (read: secular, Satanic busybodies) individuals — neighbors, distant relatives, the grocery store clerk who saw us with our mom during “school hours.” Everyone I knew, universally, feared the CPS. If homeschoolers actually had campfires and told ghost stories in the dark of night, they would tell stories of the CPS — those diabolical child snatchers who rose from the pits of Hell to eat the souls of Christian youth. 

This isn’t by any means an experience unique to me. Consider this post from The Eighth and Final Square, entitled, “we were taught to fear the people who could help”:

When we were kids, we heard the horror stories…the kids who were taken away from their parents because they were spanked; the kids who were taken away from their parents because they were playing outside during school hours; the kids who were taken away from their parents because they were Christians; the kids who were taken away from their parents just because they homeschooled. Even Frank Peretti wrote a book about a single dad whose children were taken away because he was a Christian and the demon possessed people thought he molested them.

From a very young age (actually, probably when I started school), we were instilled with a fear of CPS. We were told we had to make our beds or CPS would take us away because we had no sheets. We were told we had to keep our rooms clean because CPS would take us away if our rooms were messy. When those threats didn’t work, my dad took further measures.

This blogger’s dad even preyed upon that fear as a manipulation tactic:

He was trying to get us to do something better or more than we were doing already. We were in the living room. I’m sure he had lectured us, and I don’t even remember what led up to it, but he said something like “because you didn’t do ‘x’ I’m going to call CPS on you and they’re going to take you away.” We were immediately terrified, but I thought he was making a sick joke. Then he went into the other room, to get the phone off mom’s desk. By then, Ben, Joe, and I were completely freaking out and sobbing. One of the boys, I think it was Ben, hid behind the couch. I don’t remember what mom was doing, and my memory of looking at dad is a little fuzzy because of my terror and the tears, but I think I remember him laughing, or at least smiling.

It’s hard to shake this sort of fear when it is daily reinforced from all the people you look up to in life. Years later, it still leaves residue on your brain:

At the end of August (I escaped July 4/5th), an anonymous tipster called CPS on my parents and when I heard about it the terror came rushing over me again. Even though I had just escaped from all sorts of abuse and toxicity, I was terrified my younger siblings would be taken away from my parents and would be separated. Of course my parents followed standard HSLDA procedure (don’t let them in, call HSLDA right away, don’t let them talk to the kids individually alone), and nothing came of it. I wonder what would have happened if HSLDA wasn’t around, and the kids had been allowed to talk to CPS workers alone. Probably still nothing, because even if they hate it, they are still brainwashed to defend my parents. I was.

This fear that so many of us share is not based on reality.

This is based on HSLDA consistently and vehemently telling us to fear the CPS.

Feel free to call the CPS extremists and vigilantes. But the CPS is extreme and vigilant about one thing: protecting kids. And we do them no good by vilifying them. The business of protecting kids is one of the most complicated, intense, and bureaucratic jobs out there. From my experience, the CPS is more in danger of being inadequate than it is of being overreaching. Even HSLDA attests to this, painting (accurately or not) the more publicized “homeschool abuse” stories as CPS failures rather than homeschooling failures.

This is one of the not-so-good legacies HSLDA is leaving—convincing innocent families that the CPS is a bunch of marauding child snatchers. Convincing kids that their potential lifelines are the stuff from which nightmares are made.

So thank you, Michael Farris, for inadvertently convincing my parents that me speaking out about my homeschooling struggles could get my brother taken away.


This post was originally posted on Homeschoolers Anonymous

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.

  • Neil Rickert

    I think “CPS” is short for “Child Protective Services”. But I was wondering for a while when reading that. Around these parts, “CPS” stands for “Chicago Public Schools”.

    • Sally

      Yes, and yes. :) We say DCFS, but a lot of the country says CPS. I have to translate depending on the context.

      • jaciem

        And, just for fun, in Texas it’s DCPS. Heh.

    • Mishellie

      Yep. I was going to say the same. DCFS it is!

      • CarysBirch

        Where I live it’s DHHS.

      • Shiloruh

        where l live it is CYFD!

    • aim2misbehave

      I think it’s a regional thing – east coast it was typically “CPS”, west coast and midwest seemed to be more “DCFS”

  • Noelle

    My parents were visited by CPS once. They were reported by an ER physician, and rightly. Not because my parents injured my brother. Not because they abused us. But because there was a potential warning sign, and it is CPS’s job to look into that.

    The story: my youngest brother dragged a chair into the kitchen twice in a 2-week period to reach something off a shelf. He was a fairly strong 2 year-old, but not graceful, and fell off the chair in his reaching. Forehead hit linoleum and broke the skin. Mom rushed in, the blood from the small head wound woundn’t stop with normal pressure, and she promptly took him in for appropriate medical attention. Two stitches and home. Repeated the same activity 2 weeks later, 2 stitches and home.

    The second time prompted the CPS visit. I’m actually very impressed. We lived in Detroit at the time. It would’ve been a very busy ER with many children in and out with injuries. And on the second time, they noticed a possible pattern and called. Good for them.

    The visit itself, as recounted by my mom after the event (I was in school at the time, a 7th grader), was embarrassing. Not because of CPS. She was also impressed they cared. They were civil, asked a few questions, and left without any further inquiry. It was my step-father who embarrassed her. He was angry at the worker for daring to ask my mother questions. He considered it an affront to her parenting and her as a person. How dare anyone accuse her of hitting her children? Shut up, she tried to mentally hiss at him. They’re only doing their jobs. You will only make things worse by yelling at them. She was a calm soul, and handled the situation well.
    As a physician, I’ve sat through many lectures on child abuse, how to notice the signs, and know when to call the authorities. The stories and pictures were heart-breaking. As a resident on inpatient pediatric rotations and ortho rotations, I was face to face with the horrors of horrible injuries parents inflict on children. Some still give me nightmares. On my pediatric rotation, I spent a day with CPS and saw what their job entails, complete with home and court visits. It is a very hard job. That there is fear, mystery, and otherness associated with it does not help. Everyone would benefit from a good education on not abusing children, recognizing abuse, and knowing how our current system works.

  • Sally

    I am really confused. Who was the dad who made his boys cry and hide by threatening to call CPS? Was this the guest poster’s dad or was the guest poster telling of another family’s dad?
    Whoever the dad was, the DAD was emotionally abusing the kids! I understand that HSLDA gave him the tools, but this dad was cruel to say such a thing to his boys for not doing as they were told. That’s just sick.
    Meanwhile, it is terrible how HSLDA is creating fear among adults who don’t know better (it’s even worse that some parent would use this to terrify his children).

  • Jamie Hanauer

    As someone who has worked with (not for, but with) CPS for 17 years, I can say with authority that CPS is made up of fantastic, wonderful people who only want the best for children and families. I can also say, however, that all people are fallible, and that there are times — many times, in fact — when CPS workers can judge a situation incorrectly or let their negative feelings cloud their better judgment. And even when the parents prove in the end that they are not abusive or neglectful, oftentimes their kids have to be placed in foster care while everything gets straightened out in the court system. That alone is terrifying. I’m glad that justice usually prevails in the end, but to have your kids removed from your care while facts are getting straightened out…. wow. This is especially frightening when the children are very small, and/or breastfeeding. So I do see validity in both saying CPS is wonderful (they are!) and saying CPS is terrifying (they are!), even for parents who should technically have nothing to fear. I actually posted something last night about a similar issue with the foster care system. Its greatest goal is to help, and it is made up of good (no, great!) people, but sometimes “helping” actually hinders, although inadvertently.

    • Staceyjw

      Couldn’t agree more!

    • Joykins

      I had an unexpected interaction with CPS due to a misunderstanding about something my child said. They took him from school and it was the most terrifying 2 hours of my life until they gave him back. The social workers were professional–nice people, all– and quickly cleared up the issue simply by not giving a literal-minded child leading questions–but still there was a home visit and the whole thing was extraordinarily stressful.

  • Elizabeth Hiatt

    I worked for the Dept. Of Family Services for a year and I can say that in my experience the very opposite of these parents fears are true. The goal of the CPS system is to keep families together, often in spite of horrific circumstances. I saw photos of absolutely disgusting homes (fecal material on the floors, rotting food, etc) and the children were never removed from those homes, they helped the family clean their home and usually set up meetings with a caseworker to discuss continued cleaning. There was one case I will never forget where a baby had a clearly neglectful mother and he was not removed from her care until she refused to treat his chronic medical problem and after some period of time in foster care he was given right back. The reality is that there are not enough foster homes, if a child is removed it is almost always because very serious abuse or neglect is occurring

  • alfaretta

    Libby Anne, I don’t think there’s anything inadvertent about the effects you are experiencing from the things Michael Farris says — HSLDA prospers in direct proportion to how fearful they keep homeschooling parents.

  • Composer 99

    So thank you, Michael Farris, for inadvertently convincing my parents that me speaking out about my homeschooling struggles could get my brother taken away.

    I’m 100% convinced that “thank” should be another word.

  • Staceyjw

    Personally, I do find CPS threatening, and I fear them, even though I am a good parent with a stable, loving home. My feelings come from experience, as I have never been a HSer or religious, and wasn’t even aware of them growing up. I will admit, I have seen very little compared to all that goes on, but the little I saw was not pretty.

    In one situation, a Mom was abusing/ neglecting her toddler: beatings, choking, suffocation, etc. ALL his CPS workers knew, but other than occasionally removing him (then returning him), they did nothing. Finally, after 6+ years, and many foster homes, Mom was told to let him be adopted, or CPS would move to terminate her parental rights.
    My friends, who had loved and fostered the *whole family* (fostered Mom as a pregnant teen), offered to adopt him, and were approved. At the last minute- his new room was ready, he was SO excited- CPS said “Nope! They have too many kids!” As if they hadn’t known. There was SO much heartbreak for all involved!!!

    Then there was the mom I knew that had her breastfeeding infant taken away, directly from the hospital, because she was taking her *legal* prescribed, medication, as directed (no, it was NOT pot). Even though she did nothing wrong, it took her 8 months to get her baby back. Baby lived with her mom in that time, who wasn’t stable! Of course, she was not white, but a Mexican woman (US citizen!)- minorities (and the poor) are much more luckily to have kids taken BTW.

    Or the Mom that had been raped by HER Dad (when she was a child) and went to counseling to cope. Her young sons were removed for 18months, even though there was never any abuse, and the rapist was never allowed near them., and they also lived with their father (her husband). She had to jump many hoops, and go to many extra counselors, to get them back. She is still traumatized by the removal, years later, and has panic attacks frequently. It tore her family apart, and almost caused a divorce.

    Or the family who let the MIL baby-sit ONE night, and the MIL took pills while watching the kid, and he injured himself. The kid was removed (and is still in foster care) because the parents were “reckless” in allowing the grandma to baby-sit. No, MIL did not have a criminal record or anything.

    There are several other stories of people I have known IRL, some that ended well, some that did not. The common theme among them, and by far the scariest thing to me, is that what can get your kids removed is all so subjective, and depends a lot on a case workers opinion. You never know if the worker will be reasonable, or will dislike you and make life difficult. Common differences in parenting styles can be cause for

    • Noelle

      Those are all good examples of where the system needs fixing. If as a society we value protecting children, we need to ensure CPS has the resources and training to do their jobs effectively.
      The public in general, and families who find themselves working with CPS, need education on the process, real life goals, and transparency. Having timelines, goals, and knowing where to inquire if there are concerns or questions is necessary. Mystery and a sense of powerlessness benefits no one.
      CPS needs more workers and it needs to train them well to do their jobs. Anyone in a helping field is at risk for burn-out. They go into it with the best of intentions. They want to help others. But then there aren’t enough staff, and there isn’t enough time to do everything that needs to be done, and important things slip through the cracks without a net to catch them. People in the helping professions are often faced with the worst of humanity on a daily basis, but due to the sensitivity of the job they don’t have anyone to discuss it with. All these horrors must be faced quietly and alone. It is a natural human defense mechanism to grow calluses over these wounds, and many are at risk for becoming jaded and exhausted. That’s the last thing you want in a CPS worker. You want them alert, and possessing the right combo of intelligence, toughness, and compassion. People in helping fields often forget to take time to care for themselves. They need to get enough sleep, eat regular meals, exercise daily, and have regular vacations. They need the time and resources to do their jobs. Without these things, you have the ingredients for a broken system. When children are involved, a broken system is indefensible and a recipe for tragedy.

    • Lucreza Borgia

      We go to CPS court tomorrow. Idiocy and incompetence has abounded and only 2.5 years after removal is the court finally getting around to a hearing and that is with my husband being the non-offending parent. Bio-mom relinquished last summer

  • Goatless

    Wait, wait.
    So CPS is so evil that they take kids away for no reason and you shouldn’t let them anywhere near your children. But every time a parent kills their child it’s CPS’s fault, even if the parents didn’t let CPS near their kids.
    That’s ridiculously hypocritical.

  • Scott_In_OH

    That’s a thoughtful, well-written post, Anonymous. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Happy-Elf Homeschool

    I have no doubt HSLDA uses CPS/fear as a fundraising tool.

    I have in fact interacted with CPS about a family that was in trouble for “homeschooling.” They asked me how to do it legally the year before and for some pointers, which I happily gave. Turned out they never bothered to do any work at all. I don’t even understand why they did this or why they would deceive me until the last minute that things were going so well.

    I dislike CPS but yes, I told them the truth.

  • Shay Seaborne

    The people, who buy HSLDA’s line of thinking–corporal punishment, terror of CPS–are a small minority of homeschoolers. You may have been raised in an insular manner, but most of us homeschool because we want our children to be out in the real world, not stuck inside a single building with only local and age-same peers.
    You are extrapolating from your experience that the entire homeschooling realm is the same, and you could not be more wrong.
    The Farrisees use fear of CPS and other government intrusion as a cash cow. They sell fear and reap gold. And they represent only a tiny minority of homeschoolers.
    For more information on homeschooling and CPS, including HSLDA’s role in selling their fear, see the “Homeschoolers and Social Services” page of the Homeschooling Is Legal website (aka “More Information About HSLDA”)

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