Protect Homeschooled Children from Child Savers

More than a year ago, I wrote a column called Donald Trump and the Child Savers: Not a Band, But They Sing the Same Song. In that column I wrote:

Some of the same people who probably are horrified by Donald Trump seem to have no problem using his tactics in the fight against child abuse.

More recently, I compared the standard rhetoric used, often by self-proclaimed liberals, in the war against child abuse to Kellyanne Conway’s attempts to justify Trump’s Muslim ban.

And now, we have a classic case in point. Self-proclaimed liberal Marie Cohen’s latest column in The Chronicle calls for requiring that every parent who homeschools a child bring that child before a mandated reporter of child abuse for periodic inspection. Try substituting “terrorism” for “child abuse” and “Muslim” for “Homeschooler” and the problems here should be obvious.

As with every other well-intentioned proposal to intrude on families, the problem with this one is the harm it would do to children in 32 states. (In 18 states everyone is a mandated reporter, including every parent, so, presumably, the proposal would have no effect at all.)

But in those 32 states, consider the real-world impact of requiring parents to submit their children to inspection by a mandated reporter, in this case probably a public school teacher:

  • The teacher knows that this child is being brought before him or her specifically to be checked to see if the child is being abused or neglected – that creates an inherent bias toward finding such maltreatment.
  • To the extent that the mandated reporter has been trained at all, it often involves broad, vague lists of “symptoms” or “warning signs.” One website alone lists 77 different “signs” that could be child abuse. They also could have many other causes. At least one of these “signs” probably could be found in almost any child at some point in that child’s life.
  • The mandated reporter knows that if s/he fails to report and then it turns out the child really was abused s/he could face dismissal and perhaps even criminal penalties. There is no penalty for a false report made in good faith.
  • Children will know the purpose of these visits, and they will sense the tension they cause in their families. That makes them, inherently, an act of emotional abuse against the children. As three of the leading child welfare scholars of the 20th century, Anna Freud, Joseph Goldstein and Albert J. Solnit wrote, in calling for far higher standards before ever intervening in families:

Children react even to temporary infringement of parental autonomy with anxiety, diminishing trust, loosening of emotional ties, or an increasing tendency to be out of control. 

Increasing government-mandated surveillance would do significant collateral damage to thousands of innocent  Muslims –  sorry, I meant children – because a few Muslims – er, homeschoolers – are terrorists – oh wait, I mean child abusers.

Why Single Out Homeschoolers?

The singling out of homeschoolers is odd for other reasons as well.

The children most at risk of abuse or neglect are the youngest. So the same logic behind this proposal requires that every child from birth to at least kindergarten age also be presented for periodic inspection.

Something like this, in fact, something even worse, has been suggested by one of the most extreme of America’s latter-day “child savers” – to use the term their 19th century counterparts proudly gave themselves.

The proposal in question comes from Elizabeth Bartholet, another self-proclaimed liberal, greatly admired by both Cohen and Chronicle publisher Daniel Heimpel, who partners with her in exploiting horror stories to attack safe, proven innovations to keep families together. Showing no concern for the trauma it would inflict on children, Bartholet has suggested in her book, Nobody’s Children (p. 171), that every parent of a young child be required to admit to their home at periodic intervals a government-authorized “home visitor.” She specifies that the visitors would be mandatory reporters and the purpose of those visits includes “surveillance.” Indeed, that seems to be their primary purpose.

Bartholet claims that a spy in every living room is no more intrusive than child labor laws. It “would simply provide society with a realistic means of enforcing” laws against abusing and neglecting children. So would a surveillance camera mounted in every room of every home with no way to turn it off. Perhaps Bartholet didn’t suggest this because George Orwell thought of it first.

Cohen even is selective in the lessons she chooses to draw from horror stories; and once again, horror stories are Cohen’s entire argument. In the two Iowa cases she cites, the children were homeschooled. They also were adopted from foster care. In one case, relatives desperate to take in the child were turned down. Yet Cohen offers no sweeping conclusions about regulating foster care or adoption.

Why are homeschoolers a special target of 21st century child savers?  Because we liberals tend to stereotype them as a bunch of right-wing fundamentalists – and we all know what they are like, right?

Those kinds of stereotypes have no place in the war against terror – or the war against child abuse.

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Richard Wexler
About Richard Wexler 50 Articles
Richard Wexler is Executive Director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, His interest in child welfare grew out of 19 years of work as a reporter for newspapers, public radio and public television. During that time, he won more than two dozen awards, many of them for stories about child abuse and foster care. He is the author of Wounded Innocents: The Real Victims of the War Against Child Abuse (Prometheus Books: 1990, 1995).


  1. Marie Cohen needs to first read your book Wounded Innocents and then my book Elusive Innocence, and then take a deep breath and redact her recommendation.

  2. You are correct that Cohen and others calling for government/state controls that target homeschool families is generally based on selective horror stories. She and the others habitually commit the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (e.g., because abuse showed up after a claim of homeschooling, homeschooling caused it) and the fallacy of innuendo.

    If Cohen and others of her thinking want to protect the most American children the fastest, they should promote a law that requires all public school children to be privately interviewed 4 times per year about any and all sexting, harassment, bullying, sexual advances, inappropriate touching, bodily penetration, and more by school teachers, coaches, custodians, administrators, and other school students and publicize the findings in a local newspaper 4 times per year. What would happen to the entire state/public school system and generally blind use of it? Research shows that millions are mistreated in public schools with mandatory reporters around every corner.

    • Here is a link to the Report Stop Hurting Kids detailing harmful seclusion (isolation), restraint (captivity, physical abuse) etc within Public Schools. While Educational informants are the number one reporters of natural parents to the out of control cash for kids child apprehension system, they are least likely to report on fellow collaborators. These actual reports of child abuse and even torture, when reported by natural parents following disclosure by the child are rarely acted upon on and even run the real risk of the natural family becoming a target of unwarranted child apprehension.

  3. Homeschooled kids who are abused are not only more likely to be adopted, they are also more likely to be living in fundamentalist Christian families. There is a prominent fundamentalist Christian family, the Pearls, who have written a best-selling book “To Train Up a Child” that advocates beating children into submission. Yet, we also don’t see laws that prevent fundamentalist Christians from having children or adopting them.

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