• Fri, Sep 20 - 5:00 pm ET

Some Parents Are Creepily Using Homeschooling As A Cover For Abuse

child's deskHomeschooling is often hotly debated in terms of child development, “socializing,” and simply having the time and means to shoulder your child’s education. But among the usual parenting talking points that often dot homeschooling narratives, the question of a child’s safety isn’t even one of the top five, until some reporting proves that it very well should be.

The Daily Beast reports that the website Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, which only launched in May 2013, has created a database of homeschooled children who have been abused to death based on local news stories and official documents. Launched by two women who were homeschooled themselves, Heather Doney and Rachel Coleman‘s website has been reportedly keeping an eye on the growing number of homeschooled kids who have been imprisoned and starved — by their parents.

But before we all start giving homeschooling parents the sideways glance, the granted “incredibly spotty” research we do have on homeschooling doesn’t suggest that they’re all child beaters:

Coleman, an Indiana University Ph.D. student who studies the role of children in the Christian right, does not believe that homeschooling parents are more abusive than others. Some 1.5 million Americans kids are taught at home, and there’s no reason to think that more than a small fraction of them are subject to severe violence. Indeed, Coleman says she wouldn’t even rule out homeschooling her own children. But she argues that because the practice is almost entirely unregulated in much of the country, it can make abusive situations worse, allowing parents to hide their crimes and denying kids access to outside authority. “Homeschooling enables parents to isolate children,” Coleman says. “That can enable them to abuse them.”

Regulation of homeschool is still reportedly very minimal, even in states where regulation has been implemented:

In 10 states, homeschooling is completely unregulated, and in 15 more, parents only have to notify their school district that their kids will be learning at home. There are no minimum educational standards for teachers, no curriculum review, no testing or monitoring to make sure that any education is taking place at all….Even in states with more regulation, like North Carolina, required testing is administered by parents, who are responsible for mailing the results to authorities. “The law gives its officials no right to enter homes or to inspect any records besides test scores,” says a state legal summary put out by the Home School Legal Defense Association, the nation’s premier Christian homeschooling organization.

Michelle Goldberg‘s reporting cites many cases of children being abused to death by their homeschooling parents. Among the most chilling is the story of 33-year-old April Duvall, now part of an online support group for women from fundamentalist homeschooling families. The circumstances of her homeschooling experience illuminate why abusive parents opt for significantly less regulated education for their victims:

Before her parents stopped sending her to school, she says, her father, a far-right evangelical pastor, worried that he’d get in trouble if he left marks on her after a beating. “My parents were abusive as long as I can remember, but my dad was afraid they would get caught,” Duvall says. Then, in second grade, her mother started teaching her at home, and “my dad stopped being scared that he would get caught.”

People who abuse children should always be scared that they will get caught.

(photo:  daphne680816@kimo.com)

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  • DatNanny

    I would never call keeping your child home to abuse them “homeschooling”. This article rubs me the wrong way, it seems to be making a correlation between homeschooling children and abuse, rather than pointing out that some abusers keep their children at home and register them as homeschooled.

    I think homeschooling is a very valid alternative if you have the means. The state of public schools is pretty frightening right now, and I’m seriously considering homeschooling my future children when the time comes. (Of course, this is coming from a teacher.) It’s a great option for children who don’t learn optimally in a structured traditional environment.

    Testing is inherently problematic, and I hope testing of homeschooled children does not become the solution here. But if random checks and home evaluations are required to make sure a child is not suffering abuse or neglect, I would completely be behind that being implemented for children registered as homeschooled.

    • Rachel Sea

      Exactly what you said. Although people really dedicated to keep their kids off the radar will still do so, by not registering them for anything. There are all kinds of ways to keep off the government’s rolls.

    • Ennis Demeter

      Why not test? All other children are tested.

    • Andrea

      This surprised me.

      All schools (private and public) have to be accredited. If your home is your school, why wouldn’t you have to go through it as well?

    • CW

      No, not all brick-and-mortar private schools are accredited. Many are, but that’s a voluntary thing not a legal requirement.

    • Andrea

      Yes, but I was under the impression that if a school wasn’t accredited, the diploma wouldn’t mean anything? I live in the South and there was a HUGE hoopla when Clayton Co (an Atlanta metro district) lost its accreditation because it would cause a lot of problems for the graduating class.

    • CW

      In my state, students whose schools are not accredited can take a high school proficiency exam (similar to the exit exam that public high schools require for graduation) in order to validate their diplomas. I’m not sure whether it is required for admission to the public colleges or not but basically all the folks I know who homeschool high school have their kids take it.

    • DatNanny

      I have issues with the standardized testing in public schools; because of them, rather than a curriculum based around learning, the curriculum becomes based upon test-taking, and the tests in place are not suitable for evaluating all types of students. Learning for the purposes of test-taking doesn’t stick, which adds to the loss of information students experience when out of school.

      Evaluating parents does become problematic as well, because I do think it is the parent’s right to teach what they want their child to learn. If a parent wants to exclusively teach creationism in their science portion, well, it’s not what I would do, but they have a right to it. The point of homeschooling IS to teach the curriculum you want for your child, as well as what you think is best for your child. Testing is difficult because it does bring in a government standard which you may not agree with.

      This article isn’t about whether children learn better homeschooling or in traditional school. It’s about abuse. Random checks to make sure a child isn’t being physically or emotionally abused or neglected are necessary. Teaching your kid a different curriculum, or not having them at grade level as per the government standard, is not abuse. Our focus should be the child’s emotional and physical well-being when monitoring for abuse, and testing them on curriculum standards is not the way to go about that.

    • Blooming_Babies

      I agree with everything you said except the creationism, even homeschool children must understand the theory of evolution, agree with it or not. Religious fundamentalism is not a good reason to avoid basic education.

    • Angela

      In regards to the curriculum, where should the child’s right to an education override the parent’s right to restrict information? Many fundamentalists not only teach creationism instead of science but they deliberately limit their daughters’ educations. In their view daughters are to be future homemakers so their “curriculum” consists of cooking, cleaning, religious indoctrination, basic reading, and no math or science. Basically by the time they’re old enough to decide for themselves they have no options available other than marriage.

      Or what about parents who misapply unschooling to mean basically leaving the kids to their own devices without the proper stimulation and oversight?

      The fact is that I believe that educational neglect is just another kind of abuse. Parents should have the right to direct their child’s education and teach their personal beliefs within reason, but children also have the right to a decent education and I don’t think parents should get to override that.

    • noelle 02

      You reminded me of when a woman I actually respect very much spoke in a meeting about how she wondered if she was doing a disservice to her daughter to give her a quality education with the end result college admission because marriages were stronger and the family unit better as a whole when women were not as educated and did not have as good of employment options so were more determined to make their marriage work. I actually believe she had a good point, particularly because her daughter is now fifteen, scored beautifully on the SAT’s, and is planning to do joint enrollment at a quality university next year. Sadly, some women wonder that question and decide not to make education a priority for their daughters.

    • Angela

      “marriages were stronger and the family unit better as a whole when women were not as educated and did not have as good of employment options so were more determined to make their marriage work”

      To me this actually sounds dangerous as it means that a woman may be trapped in an abusive marriage. Also it seems that the man might be less inclined to be a good husband because he know his wife can’t leave, but that is my opinion. If you want to choose this for your own life I respect that choice. However, while I support the right of parents to teach their beliefs and values to their children that once the children are grown they should have the freedom to choose for themselves. If your friend doesn’t want her daughter attending university at 15 that’s their right. If when she turns 18 she still wants to attend the parents have every right to refuse financial support. But I don’t believe parents should be able to permanently tether their daughters to home by refusing them a basic education.

    • noelle 02

      I think she has a valid point and what she says is true. However, she has carried on to give her daughter an excellent education and is fully supportive of her daughter going to college at 16. The young lady intends on becoming an electrical engineer as a matter of fact. What I was trying to say is that the mom questions whether female education is a good thing in the long run for families while simultaneously giving her daughter a phenomenal education. I think the mom has an interesting point, but I’ve told my daughter since she was little that college is nonnegotiable. Even if she does choose to be a SAHM, she needs a good education behind her and a marketable skill set in case of death or divorce or financial hardship. Or in case she decides to throw her initial plans away and finds that she prefers working outside the home, which would be another great option and one she should have.

    • CW

      No, in my state private schools (including private homeschools) are not required to administer standardized tests to their students. Why should wealthy families who can afford to spend $25+k per year per child for a brick-and-mortar private school be able to skip testing while middle-class homeschoolers have to test?

    • Melissa T

      Because tests are typically a poor measure of academic success, and they are unhelpful to those of us who have a different view of education. My “7th grader” is tracking above her peers, but had you tested her in 2nd, she’d be behind in some areas. She was and is not learning disabled, stupid or undereducated, we simply went about the business of education in a much different way at those early elementary ages. She didn’t really take off on reading, for example, until she was 8. A year later she read through the Narnia series with a high level of comprehension. She’s taking a Comp and Lit class right now with a private co-op for high school credit, because that’s where she’s at today. It’s not because I hurried to catch her up, but because the foundation I laid in the beginning (unschooling/Montessori/Waldorf style) allowed her to gain a love for learning and the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in later elementary grades. BOO to standardized testing being a measure of home-educated learning!

    • Angela

      I agree that homeschooling can be advantageous for the reasons you’ve described but I would support some type of annual evaluation for homeschoolers although I would allow parents to choose either testing or portfolio submission. I also feel that homeschooling parents should be tested to demonstrate that they understand all of the core subjects for the grade level they are teaching at (or require them to engage tutors for subjects they fall short in).

      In addition often seen negative homeschooling experiences brushed off as not being “real” homeschooling which I think is very unhelpful. If we wanted to address the problems in public schools we wouldn’t negate the really terrible ones by saying, “That’s not real public schooling”

    • Angela

      Also just wanted to add that I think annual evaluations can be beneficial even aside from issues of abuse or neglect. I’ve actually known several very dedicated homeschool parents who genuinely didn’t realize that their child was behind grade-level in certain subjects because it was their first time teaching and they were learning as they went.

    • CW

      Private homeschools should be subject to the same level of regulation as brick-and-mortar private schools. If brick-and-mortar public schools are not required to administer standardized tests to their students (as is the case in my state), then neither should private homeschools. I do test my kids every so often for planning purposes, but the results are just for me and not any bureaucrat’s business since I’m not receiving any taxpayer funding.

    • Angela

      I agree that there should not be a different standard for private schools and homeschoolers and I do think that those who want to opt out of testing could at least compile a portfolio to demonstrate that lessons are actually taking place. To me it has nothing to do with funding and everything to do with a child’s right to a basic education. I don’t think parents should be able to strip children of that right.

    • CW

      What about parents who put their kids into a lousy public school when they could afford private school? Isn’t that denying the child his/her right to a decent education?

    • Angela

      Even lousy public schools have minimum standards that need to be met and if a homeschool is unable to match even the worst public school then that likely indicates a problem.

    • Justme

      No, because parents can do what they want with their money. Besides, private school doesn’t always mean “better.” And quite frankly, if parents can afford private school, they are most likely living in a middle to upper class area that has access to great public schools. Also, many school districts are going to open enrollment where a child can enroll at any of the public schools in the district. If a child in a “bad” school zone wants to transfer to the better school, they can.

    • noelle 02

      I would absolutely support a law that required a portfolio or standardized test score to be submitted yearly to validate homeschooling.

    • Gem

      In New York, that already is the case. Starting in fourth grade, home-schooled kids have to take the same state tests that public and private schooled kids take. I, as a home-schooling parent in NY, also have to submit reports for evaluation four times a year to my local district. I also have to send a letter of intent and complete an IHIP at the beginning of each school year to be approved by the district. At the end of every year I also have to submit a write-up of everything we covered during the year, again to be approved by the district. A lot of my (NY) home-schooling friends complain about how rigid NY is in regards to home-schooling, but I like it this way.

    • Allen

      I think the difficult thing with evaluating homeschoolers is that flexibility in curriculum and scheduling can be part of the motivation for homeschooling in the first place. A standardized test can’t always discern between “neglecting the child’s education” and “carefully covering material at a different pace to suit the child’s needs.”

      I was homeschooled growing up, and it was common for me to be at different levels in different subjects. I took to some subjects very easily and was able to get through the work and move up very quickly. Other subjects were more of a challenge, and I had to take more time with them. Since we didn’t live in a state that required home schoolers to stick to the SOLs just like public schools, my parents had some flexibility to give me time to grasp subjects so I really understood them before being forced to move on. I was a bit behind on reading initially, and I can see how that could have pinged as a warning sign on a standardized test. But I was working at it all the time, and once it clicked, I became a voracious reader.

      I can see the benefits of evaluation, and I think it’s impossible to make sure that kids get a decent education without some sort of supervision in place. But I’d hate to see some of the advantages of homeschooling obliterated because parents are pressured to stick too closely to a teaching style that they decided to homeschool to get away from. There needs to be a little flexibility.

    • Annie

      Don’t be so defensive, the article is about using homeschooling as a beard for child abuse.

    • Joy

      I homeschooled my now 19 year old son from 2nd through 4th grade. His school at the time refused to admit he had any learning disabilities and only offered retention as a solution to his learning issues. They also refused to help him when he was being picked on so severely that he was depressed.

      THAT WAS THE ABUSE HE ENDURED, AT THE HANDS OF HIS PUBLIC SCHOOL.

      At the end of fourth grade we moved to another state and had him tested again…low and behold, he had both Asperger’s and learning disabilities, like I’d said all along.

      He is now in college and thriving.

      Those parents are making use of loopholes that need to be closed.

  • Angela

    There is an organization called Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) that I believe is behind a lot of the problems. It is a conservative Christian advocacy group that started out legitimately when there were laws that barred homeschooling. They were successful in their campaign and every state now accommodates homeschooling families.

    The problem is though that if they want to keep donations coming in though they need to create fear among their supporters about a government that will snatch homeschooled children away from their families on trumped up charges. So they keep fighting against sensible restrictions such as not allowing convicted child abusers or sex offenders to homeschool. Also, because many of their clients are in fact child abusers (there are many hyper-fundamentalists that believe in extreme forms of discipline) they fight to have the definitions of child abused loosened and to take away the authority of CPS investigate abuse.

    • Rachel Sea

      Fundamentalists always ruin it for everyone.

    • noelle 02

      I would classify myself as a fundamentalist Christian, but I am uncomfortable with what HSLDA does personally. I know many women who are highly involved in the group, but I find myself concerned whenever I am foolish enough to flip through one of their publications. I was homeschooled back in the early 80′s and my parents were turned in for child abuse by a family member simply because they were homeschooling my brother and I. I remember being terrified that child services was coming every time the doorbell rang. I remember the genuinely nice man who came by and observed a typical school day and said all was fine. Terrifying as this was for a five year old, I wish child services still sent someone around to verify that all is well in the many homeschools around the country. I am a certified teacher because I wanted to make certain that I would be considered qualified to teach my kids if homeschooling laws ever became stricter. Considering how many families prioritize the spiritual teaching in their homeschools significantly higher than the academic areas, perhaps laws should be stricter. My children take standardized tests every two years instead of the three required by my state law because I am vigilant in ensuring the they are getting a quality education. If their scores ever fell, I would reevaluate our school arrangement to make certain that they are learning to the best of their ability.

    • EmmaFromÉire

      Did a quick search to see what they were all about and I came across the Irish branch. I’m absolutely appalled by the one headline article on it, but it’s made me realise that one of the homeschooled girls I knew growing up must have been part of the HSLDA. She was the kind of kid that gives home schooled kids a bad name – poor at socialisation, judgemental, rude and just a general all round bitch. Her parents were the exact same. The reason I would tend not to advocate for home schooling is that it means you spend a lot of time with the same adults, meaning you spend a lot of time listening to the same viewpoint and that leaves no room for flexibility or varying opinions, attitudes or behaviours. She was like a weird terrifying clone of her parents.

      Also saw looking at the site the same group founded parentalrights.org, that gem of a website dedicated to fighting the UN convention on the rights of the child. Absolute fucking nutters.

  • Blueathena623

    This is one of the arguments I use when people say that public schools are useless or serve no point anymore. For better or for worse, schools serve many purposes, one of which is helping to identify children being abused.

    My sister in law is very religious and home schools and belongs to a Christian home-schooling co-op. I don’t for a second think any of the kids are being abused, but I do wish they got some screenings. Once my SIL and her friend were discussing a kid that was having a lot of headaches and not progressing as well as he should, and they were talking about homeopathic this and that, and I asked if he ever had his eyes checked. Next I heard the kid got some pretty serious glasses. He’s 9. He probably should have gotten glasses years ago.

    • Wendy

      Awwww. Poor kid. Totally agree with your comment. Love public school or not, I know a lot of kids who are better off because someone there was able to give them help they needed.

  • Ennis Demeter
  • Tea

    I was homeschooled from grades 7-12 in a very unregulated state, and I saw the spectrum of normal to downright scary weird in the various groups we hopped between (some were so conservative that my divorced mom wasn’t welcome). I met a lot of girls who were in training for being wives, and nothing else. My mom was abusive, but to the best of my knowledge, that was never a motivation.

    In the five years we did it, I took a standardized test once. It wasn’t required, my mom just did it to gauge where I was. Other than that, we had to keep a “portfolio” saying that I was somehow doing some kind of work, in case there was a surprise evaluation. There never was, I didn’t actually do any school work from grades 9 up after I “tested out” of college and said screw it, because my mom didn’t check my work and I lunged on what any lazy teen would do.

    I never needed to take a GED, our homeschool group just did a “graduation ceremony” with no prerequisites, and bam, I had a diploma that was valid at every college I applied to. Despite having done no school work for three years.

    It kind of horrifies me that I was able to get away with that.

    • noelle 02

      Is it wrong that I almost wish it were still that easy? My little sister doesn’t test well and we are all a little concerned about getting her SAT scores high enough for college admissions. She does fine at home, but putting her in a large group and expecting her to do well on a high pressure test is asking a lot.

    • Tea

      I had some issues with the ACT testing, I also don’t test well or do well in large groups. The good news at least with the SAT/ACT is that they can be retaken, my first round was pretty much devoted to panicking and trying to read the questions. (Round 2 I was a lot more relaxed, and they let me have a magnifier). As much as I hate to say it, most colleges wouldn’t be able to work with such issues, and adapting some day becomes a very miserable necessity. My campus wouldn’t allow you a private testing session without multiple therapist letters and a lot of hoop jumping with disability services.

      I’m completely all for the portfolio evaluation idea, if it was actually enforced or reviewed yearly and not just a “just in case” in my home state.

  • CW

    Most of the “homeschooled” tragedies have been in cases where the families were already involved with the child welfare authorities and pulled their kids from public school. Absolutely it should be a “red flag” if a family already under investigation by CPS decides to “homeschool” and they should receive a higher level of scrutiny. But there is NO evidence that families who have always homeschooled their kids have a higher rate of child abuse than families who don’t homeschool. In fact, most victims of child abuse are below kindergarten age.

  • Amber

    I’m a homeschooling parent in a state with zero regulation and I wish they would at least check on homeschooled kids once a year or so to make sure they’re still alive or not being seriously abused.

    I know people in this state whose parents homeschooled them to hide the fact that they were being beaten and/or raped. I’ve met those people. They sure do exist. It’s horrifying.

    The saddest part is, any time I’ve ever tried to talk about these lost kids with other homeschoolers, all I hear is vicious remarks about how parents should have total rights over their children and they don’t want to be even slightly inconvenienced just because some kids they don’t give a damn about are getting raped. They can’t seem to understand why they should care.

    It made me so sick I completely stopped associating with other homeschooling parents years ago. Too many of them get so defensive about talk of any kind of system to save these children that they actually start defending the abuse. It’s vile.

  • Diana

    As someone who was homeschooled I really, really hate these motherfuckers. So often my kind, loving, intelligent parents were accused of having something to hide because of scum like this. I’ve said it many times. Homeschooling can be great, but it needs regulation and inspection just like any school.

  • Katia

    I would have no problem with the government checking on people. It would likely catch a lot of child neglect and worse. I would not mind the inconvenience for the greater good

    • CW

      Would you be okay with a blanket policy of the government checking on single moms? Because there’s actually evidence that children of single moms are at higher risk of child abuse (unlike homeschoolers). I personally believe that the government should not rely on stereotypes and prejudice, but instead investigate on a case-by-case basis when there is enough evidence to warrant an investigation.

  • ILoveJellybeans

    I think there needs to be more oversight on homeschooled children, and more standards in place to make sure children are getting a decent education.
    Yeah, not every homeschooling parent is doing it because they dont want the teachers noticing the bruises and calling CPS, or isnt teaching their child much at all to the point where the child cant read at 10, but there are people who are doing it that badly. There are so many homeschooling parents who oppose any sort of government oversight of their child’s education, but I think that they should be for it, if theyre doing everything right theyve got nothing to hide, and they should do it for the kids who arent being homeschooled properly and are being abused. The HSLDA (a Fundamentalist Christian organisation that protects the rights of homeschoolers) is not helping here, as they have done things that are making it easier for child abusers, such as having a problem with child abuse laws, and making a big deal out of nothing-saying that the government will take peoples kids away for disciplining them, but the kind of discipline the people in the cases were using is actually abusive. They have also protected child abusers, and support extreme physical discipline.

    • CW

      Many people homeschool because they have a problem with the “one size fits all” nature of state (and now national) standards. Some committee of bureaucrats hundreds of miles away in the state capitol or thousands of miles away in D.C. have no idea what is best for the individual student. Additional, having standards is no guarantee that kids will get a decent education- just look at all the kids being failed by government-run schools despite the existence of standards. Absolutely the child welfare authorities should investigate cases of suspected abuse or neglect (including educational neglect) but there needs to be some actual grounds for investigation, not just a blanket stereotype of homeschoolers and/or fundamentalists.

  • Victoria Smith

    I disagree with homeschooling regulations altogether. We are privately funding our children’s education. If the states wish to regulate the homeschoolers they should send us a piece of the pie. I homeschool in New York. The homeschooling laws are not in place to protect children. They are there because the union hates homeschooling. The paperwork is a waste of time. They do not approve your ihip the ihip must contain the standards written in the homeschooling law. Anyone can lie on the ihip, quarterly reports, and end of year assessment. Also you don’t have to test in fourth grade it’s every other year from 5th onward. Testing in 4th grade makes you test more often. You can test online and send the results to th school, I’ve done this. I could have taken th test myself for all they know. The regulations are a deterrent and a legal way for union members to harass legitimate homeschooling families.

    As far as abusive people using homeschooling. I known people who were not legally homeschooling who didn’t send their kids to school because they made them stay home to work. No homeschooling law will ever regulate this illegal activity. There is nothing anyone can do for a situation like this.

    I was abused my entire children and nobody at my public school noticed or bothered to intervene.

    Another interesting fact regarding this issue is the number of children who are abused after the state takes custody from parents. The government is simply not capable of overseeing the welfare of our children and to think they ever will be is just plain ridiculous. I feel sorry for the soles that believe this. Especially the one that likes the regulations in NY. Go look up what the major unions in NY have to say about homeschooling. One of them use to have an anti-homeschooling article on their website. They don’t believe parents should homeschool what-so-ever because they are the education Gods and you are nobody special.

  • Michelle

    We have been stationed with the military overseas in Japan for almost 3 years. There is no regulation whatsoever for US military children whose parents chose to home school them. There are many healthy active families that do home school, they are the large percent, but there are a definite few families around each of the bases in mainland (Yokosuka, Atsugi) Japan that are out right mistreating their children. Many have witnessed first hand some of these US military children stationed in Japan that are home schooled and being abused. Malnutrition in the children, physical and mental abuse, and lack of age appropriate behavior. The pediatricians are either not catching these cases or the parent is hiding the child and not bringing them in for medical care. Also the American families that live off US base (live in the community) in mainland Japan, can “hide out” and it is much harder for NCIS and Family Advocacy groups to get enough evidence to either arrest the parent or get them the counseling they need. Also the large unregulated modeling industry in Japan for foreign models/children is causing some home schooled families to even break off from almost any schooling and break US laws of child work labor laws. One family has openly admitted to taking their 3 children all under the age of 6 to auditions and jobs 6-7 days out of the week, often with days as long as 12-15 hours. US Military must do something to protect these children, normal US laws, child protective services, might catch these,but overseas it is even harder to stop the abuse. The Department of Defense needs to step up, and regulate homeschooling overseas, the modeling industry in Japan for children, and to protect the military child, the same as it would in the DODEA school setting. To report the child abuse and neglect, before something dire happens to a child.