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?

Addendum:

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

WSO

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Talking To Children About Their Bodies And Abuse

When it comes to talking to children about abuse, it’s safe to say that most parents have a hard time starting the conversation. I’ve received emails from people who aren’t sure how to introduce the topic of private parts in general, let alone the topic of abuse and what that looks like. Admittedly, talking to your child about their body is a delicate task. However, without open and honest dialogue and clear definitions, we can’t expect children to protect themselves if these conversations have never taken place.

When talking to children about their bodies, I think it’s really important for parents to outline what they want to cover and terms that they will use to talk about body parts. Personally, I feel that body parts should be termed, as they would be at the doctor’s office. Cutesy terms, or “comfortable names” can sometimes cause confusion in children, as well as embarrassment about their bodies. Children needs to know the technical terms for their parts and that there is nothing dirty or shameful about them. In creating a safe and honest starting point, communication can become easier and gives children the respect they deserve regarding their bodies.

I was taught that private parts are considered that which is covered by a bathing suit or undergarments. Picturing this and explaining it will allow a clear picture for children. Any area that is not visible is private and is “off limits” to anyone else. Children should have a clear understanding that they have the right to voice their opinions and ask questions when it comes to their body. People such as healthcare providers who may need to assist during medical visits and exams, but children should still be able to voice any concerns they may have, just as you or I would.

Role-play and other games can be a good way to create scenarios with children that allow them to ask questions and think about things they may say in circumstances where they are uncomfortable. Additionally, the use of dolls with removable clothing can be a good tool for parents and caregivers to talk about body parts and inappropriate touching.

You don’t have to go it alone. Feel free to use literature and sites already in place as aids for discussion. You know your children better than anyone. Some children respond better to dialogue and others are more visual learners. Figure out what works best for the both of you.

Remember to relax. Children are like sponges and will often react to your reactions. If you are nervous or uncomfortable, they will see that and find it more difficult to ask questions. Take your time and leave the topic open for discussion down the line. Casual check-ins can also be helpful as they allow for further discussion and more practice for you. You never know what additional topics may come up, simply because you created a safe place for them.

Lastly, talk to other parents and see if they are talking to their kids. You may find that you are not alone in your fears and anxiety surrounding the topic. By talking with others, you may learn other fun ways to talk to your kids or help others to do the same.

Remember, we are all responsible for creating a safe community. Thanks for doing your part.

Children Should Know

The overwhelming majority of children are abused by a family member or family friend.  More often than not the abuser is a parent, step-parent, or guardian.  I think that’s a reality we haven’t quite come to terms with.  I know we didn’t when I was growing up.

Probably the only education I ever received as a child about the danger of abuse was a  30 minute session in a 5th grade class once.   I remember that it was taught by my English teacher.  I could tell how uncomfortable and awkward she felt in front of the class, trying to talk about what to say if a stranger came up to us and asked us to follow ‘him’ down an alley.  I was taught to say no, but I wasn’t quite sure why I was saying no.  Just that it was important that I did say no.  There was no context, just that this fictitious ‘bad guy’ wasn’t to be followed.  I thought of some of the supervillains I read about in comic books.  On the off chance that Dr. Doom showed up on my afternoon walk home from school I knew what to say.

Education hasn’t improved much since that day in grade school.  We are still uncomfortably limping into inadequate conversations with our children about what to do, when, and who.  Except we are so leery about the ‘who’ part because the ‘who’ may be attending PTA meetings, may be more close to us than we would like to think.

Educating our children about how to speak up for themselves is not an always popular proposition to a parent.  Parents want obedient children, and it’s those same obedient children who are most vulnerable.  If there is anything that is most obvious in looking at the statistics it is that children aren’t using their voices.

There are arguments that children shouldn’t know about abuse.  They are too young to be exposed.  Yet we already know that millions of children are already being physically and sexually abused right now.  I guess the above philosophy has, in a sense, already written off those children as damaged goods.

Parents aren’t comfortable with the idea of their children telling them no, in any case.  That is precisely what education provides for them, the option to say no.  An option to defend themselves.  This rarely comes up consciously in my discussions with parents, but it always rears it’s ugly head in the periphery.  The argument against abuse education that never quite makes itself known.  This is why our parents should be educated as well.

Our expressed priority is to protect our children.  But there is a catch to this.  We don’t want to protect them from us.

So we still ask ourselves why our children are so vulnerable.  We wonder why there are millions of victims of abuse out there.  It’s because the children don’t know.  Organizations, like (Wo)Men Speak Out, exist to educate our men, women, boys, and girls about abuse.  Boys and girls are the most vulnerable demographic to the scourge of abuse.  Are they too young to know about abuse?  Millions learn one way or the other.  Sadly, it seems that, for most, the most harmful way is ruling out over the other.

This may make you wonder what your school is doing to educate their students.  You may even ask yourself what you are doing to educate your children.  It’s worth an inquiry.  Talk to your kids.  Check in with your school.  It’s worth a call.  It’s worth raising your hand at the PTA meeting and starting a discussion.

If you believe your children are ready to be given the tools that may save their life one day, then bring an organization in that knows how to talk to the kids.  Not the awkward English teacher I had way back when.

Abusers rarely look like Dr. Doom.  Yet, that may be all the protection we are providing our children.

DrDoom