Dear Prudence on Neglectful Homeschooling

We recently saw Dear Abby respond to an isolated homeschooler, and now Dear Prudence has broached the subject of neglectful homeschooling in a reply to one of her readers.

Q. Child Abuse—Nonphysical: My partner of 15 years has a 14-year-old grandson who visits us every other summer for a week. We have nurtured this young man as best we can. His mother moved him to another state when he was 6 and fails to follow the child-custody agreements (no school report cards, no weekly phone calls, limited visitation). The child cannot read past a grade-two level. He is supposed to wear glasses, but his mom refuses to replace them (he lost them over a year ago—we just found this out this week when we picked him up for our visit). Whenever we send items to him for his birthday, his mother gives them to her younger children or sells them at garage sales. Can we contact child protective services and report this mother for neglect? What actions are available for us to change the life of this young man? He is healthy, respectful, but his maturity level and academic ability are like a 7-year-old. I know it is not physical abuse or even verbal, but I find it inexcusable that a child in America can reach the age of 14 and not be able to read. He doesn’t even know his home address or home phone number, carries no ID. Please let us know what is the best action to take to remedy this calamity. The father has been to court previously to get full custody with no success.

A: Oh, what a tragic mess. I’m astounded that a mother so neglectful and incompetent can retain custody and I hope there is not something worrisome about the father that has prevented the courts from handing the child to him. This child needs a rescue. Before you call CPS—and it absolutely may be necessary—do talk about your plan with the father and make sure you are up to date on the legal situation. It could be that all of you need a conference with a lawyer—a competent one—to discuss how to act in the best interest of this child. I just don’t understand how the mother has been able to get away with flouting her legal responsibilities for visitation, etc. But this boy needs intervention and he needs it before the school year begins. I cannot imagine how a school system has not noted they have a 14-year-old who is illiterate. I’m worried there is no school system and this boy is being “home-schooled.” But you are right, he simply can’t be returned home to this grotesquely neglectful situation.

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