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.

So, how do you think she did? What, if anything, would you add?

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.

  • lauraleemoss

    Pretty good. Unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot to be done since the police/ investigators will see him as a less serious case.

    • Christine

      Actually this case has more hope, because the father might be able to use any evidence of these problems as grounds to get more custody.

      • lauraleemoss

        That means that the father would intend to do something. He might, which would be wonderful. In so many cases, nothing is done.

  • Mel

    Refusal to replace glasses can be the basis of a medical neglect claim. I’d strongly recommend contacting a lawyer since the father might be able to get better reception from the court for custodial interference especially since his son is illiterate and lacking the glasses he’d need to learn how to read.


  • Trollface McGee

    This is actually good advice. If there is a child custody agreement, then there is much stronger grounds for CPS and the court to get involved than a parent exercising their “right” to homeschool without those restrictions (yay for divorce in some cases). They need to work with the father and a good lawyer and maybe his kid might have some hope.

  • Ibis3

    If the father was deemed unsuitable as well, perhaps these grandparents could sue for custody.

  • Sally

    I know of several cases where homeschooling mothers were no longer able to homeschool because a judge ruled in the divorce that the kids had to go to school. I’m sure it’s situation specific and even judge specific, but it does happen.

  • María Orellana

    Dear Libby Anne,
    I want to congratulate you for the article “How I Lost Faith in the “Pro-Life” Movement” but in that article there are many comments and I think that you’ll never see mine. Sorry for comment here.
    I want to ask for the permission to translate the article to spanish but always recognizing you as the author and puting the link to the original. I really want this information will reach as many people as possible.
    If you agree with this, please email me to or