States Should Forbid Homeschooling by Adoption Subsidy Recipients

This is the second of two columns focusing on adoption subsidies. In the first column, I focused on the general need for more scrutiny on recipients of adoption subsidies. In this column I discuss the need to prevent abuse of adopted children who are removed from school.

The recent deaths of two teenage girls in Iowa and the escape of another from an abusive home has resulted in heightened media coverage and proposals for an overhaul of Iowa’s entire child protection system.

Natalie Finn, age 16, Sabrina Ray, age 16, and Malaiya Knapp, age 17, had several things in common. They were all abused by their adoptive parents, who collected subsidies from the State of Iowa. And they were all withdrawn from school on the pretext of being home-schooled.

As a consequence, one of the first lines of defense against child abuse – the observation of school personnel – was absent.

When adoption subsidies are paired with homeschooling, the combination can be lethal, as blogger Sandra Halverson Reicks points out in a recent post. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) has reviewed hundreds of cases of severe or fatal abuse and neglect of home-schooled children. A disproportionate number of these children are adopted or have special needs.

Federally funded adoption subsidies are available to parents who adopt children with special needs from foster care. Each state sets its own definition of special needs, which may include age, ethnic background, sibling group status, medical condition, or disability.

Maximum basic monthly subsidy rates are usually in the range of hundreds of dollars per child, and depending on the state can be in the thousands for children with more intensive needs. Multiply this by the number of children, and adoption subsidies can be a sizeable addition to family income.

As the North American Council for Adoptable Children puts it, “Adoption subsidies make it possible for children with special needs to be adopted by loving families who require additional resources to help them thrive.” We don’t want to return to the days when foster parents could receive subsidies but could not receive equivalent payments if they adopted the children in their care.

But clearly, adoption subsidies provide an opportunity for unscrupulous people to take advantage of vulnerable children and taxpayers. Foster children are monitored, but adopted children are not, which leaves school personnel as the main safety net for reporting abuse or neglect. By withdrawing their children from school to ostensibly home-school them, abusive adoptive parents can effectively isolate them from the world.

When public funds are provided for the raising of children, there needs to be some oversight. School personnel is required to report all suspected abuse and neglect. These reports are crucial for the safety of children. Many homeschooled children killed by their parents might have been saved if they had been enrolled in school.

Therefore, as Reicks recommends in her blog, parents receiving adoption subsidies should be required to enroll their children in public or private schools.

“When there’s public money involved, there needs to be transparency,” writes Reicks. “It’s not enough for Iowa’s Department of Human Services to become involved after a complaint is filed. One visit does not compare to regular observations from the public or private school system.”

This does not seem too much to ask of adoptive parents, especially if the only alternative would be to require periodic home visits by adoption staff.

One might ask how this requirement would be enforced. The answer is fairly simple. Parents receiving subsidies should be required to sign a document at the beginning of each school year identifying the school the child attends and giving permission for the school to release the child’s attendance records at specified intervals throughout the school year. Continued receipt of the subsidy would be contingent on return of the form by a certain date.

The agency would request attendance records periodically, perhaps after each quarter. A history of frequent absences, or a parent’s refusal or nonresponse to the request, would also trigger an investigation.

What about young people who refuse to go to school? In these cases, clearly something is wrong, and it may well be appropriate for the state to offer assistance to the adoptive parents in dealing with the situation.

All too often, proposals like this one are rejected on the grounds of interfering with the freedom of parents. But no parent is required to receive an adoption subsidy. Those who are receiving taxpayers’ money to care for our most vulnerable children should be willing to allow their wellbeing to be monitored.

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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, on Facebook at Fostering Reform or on Twitter@fosteringreform.


  1. I’m sorry but I disagree with the article. I would hope that the home studies of potential adoptive parents are completed thoroughly to catch red flags before they are matched with a child. Adoption subsidies are absolutely necessary to help families who are interested in adopting a child with special needs. If parents, adoptive or not, want their child to be home schooled, then that is their right; and just because a child is home schooled does not mean that abuse is the incentive to do so. I am not denying that it doesn’t happen because I have seen it (coincidentally, it wasn’t adoptive or biological parents, it was a relative). I don’t agree that because subsidies are received, that should open those parents up to extra scrutiny by the child welfare system. There is a period of time between time of placement and finalization of adoption where they are having home visits (in OH, a child must be in an adoptive home for minimum of 6 mos before finalization can occur). Schools are not the only resources for the protection of children-there are Dr.’s, hospitals, family, friends, counselors, law enforcement-that can report suspicions of child abuse. Tax dollars also pay for low income parents to receive health insurance, food stamps and cash assistance…does that mean those parents should be forced to submit to visits from child welfare agencies if their kids are not in public school?

  2. The problem is not that people adopt children with special needs – that is to be applauded – or that home schooling is for the purpose of hiding from oversight. The problem is not properly vetting the parents in the first place. You solution would hinder and discourage the vast majority of loving adoptive parents, wanting to give kids a permanent home in order to avoid a tiny number of people that have scammed the system. Focus your attention on proper vetting practices and don’t penalize the incredible parents that bring these kids home and love them.

    • I agree. If home schooling is the best way to help a traumatized child catch up and learn safely, then it must be an option. We have to do a much better job assessing potential parents–not denying kids a potentially positive opportunity to learn. Parents who abuse and home school are also going to abuse without homeschooling.

    • Those who truly adopted to give kids a permanent and loving home AND who are receiving adoption subsidies (that you and I and millions of other taxpayers pay for) should be willing to be vetted, and find an appropriate school for this child(ren). If they aren’t willing to go that extra mile, oversight, for the sake of these children who’ve gotten a bad rap, then they were never fit enough or loving enough. And through the vetting process, their application to adopt should be denied.

      These children deserve people who are qualified, dedicated, and loving. They deserve a society that is looking after them, preventing them from getting sent to live with scammers.

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