Homeschooling and Child Abuse
So here’s something interesting. In Connecticut, from 2013 to 2016, 36% of the kids who were removed from public school to be homeschooled were in families that had been reported at least once to the Department of Children and Families for suspected abuse or neglect. How many of these families were removing their kids from school to avoid further contact with the state? How many of these families were legitimately homeschooling? Connecticut is one of 11 states with no oversight of homeschooling.
When we were homeschooling, I really liked that Wisconsin had very little oversight of home education. We signed a paper every year that we were covering a certain list of subjects and that was it. But, we could have been lying around watching soap operas all day and no one would have known the difference. (We weren’t. Don’t worry.)
It was particularly nice not to have academic oversight because Christopher was a late reader. When he wasn’t reading by age 9, even with appropriate phonics instruction, we took him for testing and found out that he is dyslexic. We then took him once a week for tutoring for a year and worked on our own program at home. Now he’s in college and doing well. But, if we’d have had someone looking over our shoulder, would we have been pushed to get him to read sooner? Or to put him in school and have him labeled LD? (Which I don’t think would have been in his best interest.) Would the educational establishment have thought that we were educationally neglecting him?
Nonetheless, I know that there are many kids out there in homeschooling families who are abused and neglected. Some of it is benign neglect of education while some is active abuse, like the case of the Turpin family. There is even an organization called Homeschoolers Anonymous that provides support for those who were physically, emotionally, or spiritually abused in their homeschooled family.
How can we catch these families who are engaged in abuse or neglect without infringing on the parents’ right to direct their children’s education. Having an educational specialist check in on the kids is not a great option. Their emphasis is educational and physical signs and symptoms can be missed.
I propose that states that want to keep up with homeschooling families require that each child get a physical examination each year. This is something that should happen anyway. It gets families connected with the medical system and keeps them up to date with immunizations. In addition, medical professionals are trained to look for and see physical abuse and growth deficits (from neglect). This may require that states expand their Medicaid program to ensure that all families have adequate medical coverage. The main thing is does is to get the most qualified person to examine the child on a regular basis.
How can we deal with educational neglect? Since I think that kids below the age of 12 can learn quite well without formal education, I would argue that the state not intervene educationally until middle school age at the earliest. After that, I would not be adverse to having the state check in on families every year or two to make sure that students are at least learning some reading, math, history, and other basic educational subjects.
As a former homeschooling parent, I know that the vast majority of parents who choose to educate their kids at home are doing to get the best education for their children. And the largest fraction of those are not abusive or neglectful. But, some measures need to be in place to catch the kids who are not being appropriately cared for. Having medical personnel be that evaluator protects the education that the parents are directing while allowing an adequate assessment of the child. Having educational assessments start after the age of 12 allows for parents who are unschooling to not worry about whether their younger children are "keeping up". And healthy and well-educated children are what we all want.