Home Schooling and Child Abuse. Is There A Link?

I was up late last night trolling the internet for abuse in the news. I noticed a disturbing number of articles in the last few days involving child abuse cases with home schooled children. It peaked my curiosity and so I started looking around for more information on the topic of home schooling and links made previously to reported cases of child trauma. What I came up with was both interesting and thought-provoking. Highlighted were arguments of parental entitlement to regulate their children’s learning as well as a noticeable lack of community concern for the hidden lives of some such children, until after the abuse has already occurred. It made me think about my own education growing up, abuse and parental entitlement of children.

According to Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., author of Facts on Home schooling, there were an estimated 1,700,000 to 2,100,000 children (grades K-12) home educated during 2002-2003 in the United States. Home schooling appears to still be the fastest-growing form of education in this country.

Like many statistics, these numbers are based on those children that are actually reported to the government, which got me thinking about all of those children that go unreported and possible abuse cases that are easily missed.  In reality, it’s hard to know how widespread abuse might be with children who are home schooled because the government doesn’t have a competent system in place to keep track of them.

A Dark Side to Home Schooling
Parents Kept Social Workers Out Until Police Called In

I am not a product of home schooling. Like many, I grew up in a system that was federally regulated. If I didn’t show up to school for the day, you can be sure that our house got a call from the principles office to see what was going on and why I was not there. I was accounted for. This is not the case for children who are home schooled. There are no attendance lists, no phone calls home and no uniform monitoring of their safety. A perfect environment for abuse to flourish undetected.

Now, I can hear the naysayers commenting already. They may argue that home schooling and child abuse are two separate issues. While there are children who are abused by home schooling parents, children are not abused because they are home schooled. Agreed. However, where there are no rules or regulations, there is a greater risk for abuse of children to go undetected.

NJ Dad Accused of Raping 5 Daughters

How do we as a nation protect parents’ rights to raise their own children while the safety of these same children in the home? In reality, home schooling will never be taken off the table and admittedly; there are countless children who are home schooled who flourish in such environments. However, I believe that we need stricter guidelines for home schooling practices.

Children who are schooled outside of the home have a better chance of someone, whether a friend, teacher or community member recognizing signs of abuse and reporting it to the authorities.  A child beaten and abused at home, does not have the same advantage.

Like it or not, child abusers who home school are less likely to be caught than parents who send their children to regular school. Home schooling can be an isolating environment, where violence can go unnoticed from the public eye. A bruise or fearful demeanor seen by a teacher, who are mandated to report, can easily be hidden when a child is kept at home. Access for children to resources that would educate them on abuse, it’s prevalence and assist them in finding help would remain out of reach. Day to day monitoring of children and their overall welfare is put in the sole hands of caregivers who if they so choose to abuse, have full access to children, without ever being questioned. One case I read established that a girl who was home schooled by her parents, was later found murdered a full year after her murder because authorities didn’t even know she’d been missing. If this same child had been missing a year from a regulated system, her disappearance and murder may have been  avoided by early detected. The system is not perfect by any means, but there are advantages to regulated schools that a home schooled environment lacks when it comes to keeping our children safer.

Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz Charged with Murder of Their Daughter

There is no lock tight panacea to this issue, however we as a community should have a greater voice in how our education is regulated. A proposal for regulation could be to mandate and include home schooled children’s physical exams for review and that children be visited by social service representatives throughout the year to evaluate their physical and mental wellness. I also think that parents who are homeschooling should have more stringent guidelines if they choose to be their children’s sole educator.

Home schooling is currently regulated by individual states and many of these have a limited mandate for parent credentials. This in itself is perplexing to me, as I cannot think of another such important profession that would allow students to be taught without the proper training to do so. The question as to why this is acceptable for our nation’s children remains unanswered.

Additionally, I believe that parents choosing to home school their children should have required training in the areas of  child behavior, discipline, safety and development and resources in their community that they may not otherwise know of. Perhaps, a step in the right direction in an effort to protect parental as well as children’s rights. What’s your take on the issue?


We have received quite a bit of feedback on this blog, much of which we couldn’t post because it involved inappropriate personal attacks and insults.  This blog was not intended to enter the debate of home schooling vs. standard schooling.  It seems this debate is very polarized and involves some extreme reactions that lead many commenters to ignore the issue of this blog entirely for their own agenda.  We are now aware that there is a big debate in the UK on this very subject, but please understand our blog has absolutely nothing to do with that debate.

We ask that you approach with an open mind and if you are too intimately attached to the issue of home schooling please address your comments to the appropriate forum.

So here’s the take home message.  We are not against home schooling.  It’s quite popular in this country and very successful on a number of counts.  However, with no regulations, no safeguards (however flawed) an abuser can, and will, take their children out of regular school and be under very little scrutiny doing it.  We know because our organization works with the victims every day.  So we applaud those home school parents who take their role seriously and make sure their kids are integrated into society.  But to say that there should be no regulation, no safeguards, no checks what so ever is an environment that those who choose to abuse can thrive in.  Like it or not, we parent our children, but we don’t own them.  A child has every right to be protected by their communities, from their communities, by their parents, and from their parents.

A number of comments questioned why we would want to change the existing system to ‘save a few kids’.  In our organization, every child counts, and we are committed to saving every one.  The statistics tell us that 1 out of every 4 girls, and 1 in every 10 boys,  are sexually abused before the age of 16.  So that’s more than just ‘a few kids’.

Thank you for all the productive comments and lively discussion.

Chris & Ophelia de Serres


8 thoughts on “Home Schooling and Child Abuse. Is There A Link?

  1. My take on the issue is that this is a bit of a non-sequitur; this is an over inflated view of the potential for abuse.

    There’s a bigger picture here, and that is that Home schooling is fulfilling for MOST of those who practice it, not the minority, and to cast all home educating families as being high in potential for abuse is simply baseless.

    There are many who home school because their children were abused in the school setting. So for these families, you’re suggesting that after a state fails to safe-guard these children and the parents take action to remove their child from an abusive environment, that the same state and officialdom should then have a right to have further access to the child with powers to undermine the parent’s work on supporting their child, and their educational process. Think about how that would feel for both the child (the victim) and their parents whom are supporting helping to rebuild that child’s life, self esteem, and appetite for learning?

    I’m willing to bet there is a much higher volume of survivors of abuse from the state school environment within the home school community, than there are potential victims of abuse in the home environment. So for which victims should we legislate or pursue empowerment here?

    This is just one argument against the type of controls you propose, and there are many many more.

    I’m from the UK, and home educators in the UK are currently under a sustained attack from both Government and media, and safe-guarding and an over inflated view of the potential for abuse is the stick that is currently being used to beat them.

    There are many, many eloquent articles out there from UK Home Educators that pick up a lot of these points and refute them far better than I can. I can only strongly suggest you take some time to go and find them, and re-evaluate your position on this.

  2. Good points. You may have missed this: “there are countless children who are home schooled who flourish in such environments.”

    The suggestion was that parents should meet some minimum standard in schooling children. Which I couldn’t imagine you’d be against. Abuses happen in school even as it’s regulated by the state and federally. Home Schooling is only regulated by the state, and quite poorly by many.

    So even as the large majority of child abuse takes place in the home an abusive parent can take their children out of school and only be concerned with next to no regulation in many states.

    But to put that aside for a moment, I can’t think of a reason not to have a federal minimum standard for all parents who want to home school their children. Can you?

    • Pretty much everything Rashel said. Since you asked for opinions – 🙂 – it is mine that a few isolated incidents of horrific abuse are nothing to create countless loads of paperwork, trouble, and expense – not to mention beleaguer the vast, vast majority of homeschooling parents who are doing as good a job as anyone else with the difficult job of parenting. These isolated families have terrible and tragic tales; but do not let the media mini-frenzy lead you into believing the (oft-supported by mainstream ignorance) concept that homeschooling families are isolated and creepy.

      Something like 97.5% of children in America are in public school (as opposed to homeschooling / unschooling / life learning).* I am skeptical that the function of school is effective in “catching” and halting abuse, although we’ve certainly seen enough Afterschool Specials that paint that story (and of course, it has happened on occasion).

      I think these very isolated cases of abuse and death are very sad – just as the many cases of abuse by teachers on their students, or abuse in homes where children go to school every day – are very sad. Terrible things happen and I know how desperately we sometimes wish we could make those things go away by a broad-brush policy or policies that seem “just in case” or a safety net.

      “I believe that parents choosing to home school their children should have required training in the areas of child behavior, discipline, safety and development and resources in their community that they may not otherwise know of.”

      Enforcing a “class” for parents, state-wide, should be either enacted for ALL parents or none.

      “The suggestion was that parents should meet some minimum standard in schooling children. ”

      Wait, are you talking about teaching them the three Rs, or are you talking about learning to break abuse cycles? I’m confused.

      I am sure you are well-intentioned, as I hope you trust I am as well. I just want to point out that as a homeschooler people are always making assumptions; many people fear or revile what they do not understand. The media’s recent focus is prodding at those coals of ignorance. If I may be allowed a silly metaphor.

      * I am no statistician; I got this number from the National Center of Education Statistics, here: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009030.pdf

  3. Having participated in home schooling (as a parent who home-schooled for two years and socialized with other home schooling families), public school environments (as a parent of a child in a public school and teacher’s assistant), and a CASA (working closely with child protective services and foster children) I express the following opinions with unrelenting confidence.

    As I read your blog I realized that you are inexperienced, expecting your first child and just starting out on the amazing journey that parenthood brings. You will change your mind and opinions many times as you learn more about what parenting involves. With speculative observance, I have shifted and changed over the last 20 years. Reality has a way of doing that.

    I won’t argue the pros and cons, it’s not my desire to sell you on the idea of home schooling. It’s a personal choice that every parent is entitled to.
    If what you believe were true, then laws should be created to inhibit anyone from creating a new life unless they have received counseling, training and mental evaluations.

    Home schooling does not perpetuate abuse.
    Public schools do not deter abuse. Many abused public schooled children fall through the same cracks that home schooled children do. Sure, a child who does not show up to school will be marked absent, and if truancy is an issue, the government will for the most part step in, but in many cases it is too late.

    Abuse is a problem in general. Whether a person sends their child to public school or teaches them at home is not the issue. In either situation, if the parent is abusive, neither situation will deter or perpetuate.

    Bruises can hide beneath clothing, children might be too afraid to discuss their abuse with their teachers, and the harsh reality is, many children are abused AT school. It could be by a teacher or other students. How many children just in the last YEAR have committed suicide because they were bullied in school? How many sex offenders who have not been caught are teachers in our schools, and abuse many children before their actions surface?

    I home schooled, and never abused my daughter. Each year she was tested and on the appropriate grade level. The families I met were equally concerned about the effects of public schools on their children. There were weekly get togethers, field trips and support groups.
    The children seemed well rounded and happy.

    In my dealings with parents of children in public schools, I have to say that there were many of them who were (in my opinion) very mentally unstable. There were also wonderful, involved parents who clearly loved and cherished their children.
    To imply that anyone who takes responsibility for their child and partake in an endeavor such as home schooling has needs a psychiatric evaluation and a teaching degree is a little naive. But I do understand the position you’re in, and the fact that you care enough to research this and form an opinion is wonderful. I hope you will keep an open mind and understand that there are no “sharp edges” to this. It’s a very intricate and complicated issue, child abuse, one that I am very passionate about, but there are no easy answers.

    • One more thing, I do believe in regulation, but I believe it should start before every child is conceived (I won’t go into a tirade about that one), and by no means do I think you are a naive person. I just meant that I learned many things when I became a parent, and I was naive in certain situations. Just because a person has not been a parent does not mean they have no knowledge of what is right and wrong but we learn from experience.
      I dream of the day that not one child will be neglected or abused, so you see, I am still naive myself. 🙂

      • Lisa: I agree entirely that there needs to be better education for parents and parents-to-be so that we PREVENT abuse before it happens. Across the board, this is not the case. A a survivor of abuse and an Advocate in the field, I can say that NO system is perfect. There are parents who home school, by and large who are excellent educators but I think that in an effort to prevent abuse that does exist in such environments, we should have better regulations for them. I am not naive in thinking that children who go to system regulated schools are not abused, which seems to be what some people have taken away from this blog. Obviously, if this were the case our statistics on the prevalence of child abuse would not be as outstanding as they are (and these based on solely on reported cases.) My commentary was of what I have seen both in the media and in my community work/ personally experienced and not blindly stated as some might think. My wish for this blog was to open up a dialogue about what others think without insult or injury to personal ego. At the end of the day, I too wish for a world where no child is abused. That is why we are here. Thank you for your commentary.

  4. I can see a problem with setting a minimum standard, a very big problem. It stems from the fundamental difference between the learning that happens in school and the learning that happens organically. The practice of life-learning (as a form of homeschooling) cannot be measured in the same way school is. That is why many parents choose to facilitate their children’s learning outside of the school system. Perhaps if you did more research on the actual practice of homeschooling and how it can differ radically from school then you wouldn’t need to wonder about this. It seems that what you are asking is that everyone give up their freedoms in order to protect a few children. That what you are suggesting is that homeschooling families sign in and register with some government official every day or every week to make sure their children aren’t being abused or are following some arbitrarily imposed definition of “learning”. Would you want to live your life that way?

  5. From the point of view of a an ex-elementary teacher, I have to admit that we were able to get help for more than one child with home abuse issues just because they were at school and we were listening and noticing. Someone to be trusted other than the parent might be the only way children have the opportunity to get protection. The opportunity of having someone other than the parents watch out for the kid might just not be there in a homeschooling environment as abusers do isolate thier victims, there is no disputing that fact.

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