Protect Homeschooled Children from Maltreatment

On October 24, 2016, 16-year-old Natalie Finn died of starvation in Des Moines, Iowa. She was found wearing an adult diaper and lying on the linoleum floor of her bare bedroom.

The body of seven-year-old Adrian Jones was found on November 25, 2015 in a barn in Kansas City, Kansas. Adrian was kept in a shower stall, beaten, starved, and eventually killed and his body fed to pigs. Six other children were removed from the home.

Three days before her ninth birthday, a little girl was wheeled into a Kentucky hospital in a catatonic state, with a body temperature of 86, and covered with bruises. She had been tortured nearly to death over by her father and stepmother.

All of these children had something in common: They were homeschooled.

About 1.8 million children, or 3.4 percent of the school-aged population, were homeschooled in America in 2012, the most recent year for which data are available. Clearly most of their parents are not abusive and want to provide the best education for their children, often at great personal sacrifice.

Nevertheless, the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) has collected nearly 400 cases of severe or fatal child abuse in homeschool settings. Many of the families had a history of past child abuse reports and child welfare involvement, according to CRHE Executive Director Rachel Coleman’s testimony before Iowa’s Government Oversight Committee. All too often, she said, the homeschooling began after the closure of a child welfare case.

We rely on teachers and school staff to report their concerns about children with injuries or disclosures about abuse and neglect. “When homeschooling occurs in an abusive home,” Coleman testified, “the ordinary safeguards in place to protect school-aged children disappear.”

CRHE has three recommendations to protect home-schooled children from abuse:

  • Forbid homeschooling by parents who have been previously convicted of any offense that would disqualify them from teaching or volunteering in a public school. Only two states bar homeschooling based on criminal offenses, but according to CRHE, neither enforces them in a meaningful way.
  • Bar homeschooling in households where any adult has had a child removed from the home due to substantiated abuse allegations. Also monitor homeschooling families who have a history of child abuse reports or open CPS cases.
  • Require that homeschooled students have contact with mandatory reporters several times each year.

This can save children’s lives. In 2011, an Ohio 11-year-old asked her online charter teacher to call 911. The police found that she and her two siblings were being beaten with belts and tied naked to their beds with chains and the  girls were being raped by their stepfather. The children were removed from the home.

After the death of Natalie Finn, followed by the escape of Malaiya Knapp from her abusive home, Iowa Senator Matt McCoy introduced a bill to require quarterly checks for homeschooled children.

After the Kentucky case mentioned above, Senate Democratic Leader Ray Jones introduced legislation to bar parents with a substantiated incident abuse or neglect to withdraw a child from school without court approval.

The Iowa bill did not make it out of committee, and the Kentucky Judiciary Committee refused to consider McCoy’s bill.

Homeschooling advocates have a powerful lobby – according to a recent article in the Washington Post Magazine, The Home School Legal Defense Association is one of Washington’s most effective lobbying groups  – and the current political climate in their favor. On the state level, home-schooling interests seem to be powerful as well.

It is hard to understand why responsible homeschooling parents and their advocates would protect that small number among them who are using homeschooling as a pretext to isolate and maltreat their children. I asked Coleman for her thoughts on the matter.

“Many homeschooling parents (though not all) see oversight of homeschooling as a violation of their parental rights,” she said in an e-mail. “At the same time, these parents frequently argue that abuse is not a homeschool problem–that when abuse does occur in homeschool settings, it’s because child services dropped the ball. [But they ignore the reality] that abusive parents use homeschooling to conceal their abuse.”

I hope that the vast majority of loving homeschool parents will tell their legislators and lobbyist to support sensible controls that protect children from suffering and even death at the hands of their parents.

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Marie K. Cohen
About Marie K. Cohen 68 Articles
Marie K. Cohen (MPA, MSW) is a child advocate, researcher, and policy analyst. She worked as social worker in the District of Columbia's child welfare system for five years. She is a member of the Citizen's Review Committee for the DC Child and Family Services Agency and the DC Child Fatality Review Commission and a mentor to a foster youth. Follow her blog at fosteringreform.blogspot.org, on Facebook at Fostering Reform or on Twitter@fosteringreform.

20 Comments

  1. How many children are sexually abused, physically abused and even killed in foster care? How many children are missing from foster care? In California alone, an audit showed registered sex offenders living in over 1000 foster homes. Sorry but the CPS has a lack of good judgment. They’re the last people who should be overseeing homeschooled children.

  2. Sure we can do that, as long as we can have CPS visit any parents house that votes democrat and make sure they aren’t warping their children’s brains. For the love of liberty…you people just don’t know when to stop. You say 400 cases….ok, how many cases of abuse, neglect or homicide have happened in the foster care system? How many children have died in CPS custody. Start there with your baseline and reconsider how idiotic your ideas are.

  3. Abused children go off to main stream school everyday. This is so ludicrous to even suggest. We already have a social service system going rogue with authority and lacking in truly much needed intervention situations elsewhere. When does over reach go too far. Fix the public education school system in the first place and maybe less would be inclined to provide better, safer care at home.

  4. As well intentioned as most liberal/progressive ‘ideas’ are, ie “It’s for the children”, this proposal is ridiculous. Forcing children and parents to ‘submit’ to government overseers is anathema to parent-led education. I homeschool my two children without any interference from the state, and I will continue to do so. The article above fails to mention the quantitative data on children killed, abused, etc WHILE ATTENDING PUBLIC SCHOOL. The homeschool community takes more pride in their children’s education than their public school counterparts.

  5. A simpler way to protect homeschooled and other children from repeated abuse is to effectively partner with parents and relatives to create safety plans for children that work and last. As much as we might want to sort out the “bad” parents from the “good,” we’ll never be 100% right. We’ll never “fix” all the parents we judge to be “bad” either. If we weren’t spending so much of our time and money on foster care and adversarial court proceedings, we would have a lot more time to make sure every child that’s reported into the system has several stable and committed adults in their regular life who know about what was reported, can help make sure it doesn’t keep happening, and most importantly, can best help the children develop as much resilience as possible, even in those situations where we’ve judged the parents as “good” and especially in those situations where we’re not so sure.

  6. There are several problems with Cohen’s opinion. First, research shows that homeschooled children are less likely to be abused/harmed than those in institutional public and private schools http://archive.aweber.com/nheri2010-1/NDlLy/h/Child_Abuse_and_Neglect.htm Maybe she should be promoting homeschooling by more and more parents.

    Second, millions of public school children are sexually mistreated and/or abused by school teachers and other school personnel in spite of the plethora of regulations and laws that control the public school environment and in spite of school personnel being mandatory reporters http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/misconductreview/report.pdf
    http://www.sesamenet.org http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childmaltreatment You can pass all the laws you want and still evil is done to children.

    If Cohen and her type want to protect the most American children the fastest, pass 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, and more by school teachers, coaches, custodians, administrators, and other students and publicize the findings in a local newspaper 4 times per year.

    Finally, the state/government is not our nanny or mother or father in a free nation. Its job is to punish the evildoer if a crime is committed. In a free nation, citizens are considered innocent until proven guilty. In a free nation, parents and others are not treated as suspected criminals and called on to prove their innocence or goodness. In a free nation, parents are not told with whom their children must associate. Cohen tries to flip liberty on its head. Cohen needs to read history (try even the 20th century) to see what happens when nations/states try to control parents’ and others’ behaviors “for their own good.”

    • Thank you for rebutting this absurd and ridiculous article, Marie Cohen should be ashamed of her stupidity.

    • Little late but OH please it is not a ridiculous article. You can’t bury your heads in the sand and pretend public schools are worse.Parents have no right to deny an education or you end up with imbeciles who can’t sign. In public school it is more likely to be caught. In homeschooling the kids get swept under the rug Yes there are good and bad everything but stop denying homeschool abuse happens. Child sexual abuse is more likely to occur in the home. And priests and ministers have been violators as well.

  7. Any child that is being starved to death or kept in a shower stall is not being homeschooled. These children are not attending any school, and when asked the parents are using homeschool as their reason that the kids aren’t attending a public school.

  8. Safeguards don’t disappear. Relatives and neighbors can report abuse of homeschooled children. Teachers are not the only “overseers” and very often, they miss abused signs of abused school children. So do case workers. When compared to children in school, abused homeschooled children are a much lower rate.

    • Just want to correct a couple of errors in your comment. 1. Education personnel are the number one source of child maltreatment reports, providing 18.4% of reports, according to the latest federal report on Child Maltreatment, which you can find at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/resource/child-maltreatment-2015. Clearly other people can report, but educators are most often the first or only ones to do so. 2. There is no data showing whether homeschooled children are more or less likely to be abused than children who go to school.. There is some indication that homeschooled children are more likely than other children to suffer severe abuse. A 2014 study of child torture found that 47% of the school-aged victims had been removed from school to be homeschooled. See http://icher.org/blog/?p=1487.

    • How about correcting all the logical fallacies in your article next? “some indication”? n=28? That’s not even remotely scientifically sound.

  9. The real question is does abuse occur at a higher rate amongst home schooled children, children going to private schools, or public schools?

    Now protecting children is one of the most important things society does, so identifying all of the victims is important.

    • I don’t think that is the real question, because it doesn’t matter. All children are equally important. School staff are the main line of defense against abusive and neglectful parents. If children are not seen by school staff, then they need to be see by somebody else to prevent horrible cases like those I wrote about.

    • Yes it does matter, because if it’s a higher rate for children going to public and private schools, then you should push for more visits by CPS to the homes of children who are publically and privately schooled, not those who are homeschooled.

      This is very elementary logic at play here, how can you be so obtuse?

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