Child torture cases have distinct characteristics such as starvation, isolation, and homeschool used to cover the abuse. Another pattern of homeschool child torture cases has been revealed this year by the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate. Based on a study of six school districts, 36% of parents who pulled their child from public school in order to homeschool them did so after a Department of Child and Family Services (DCF) investigation revealed that they were abusing the child(ren). Instead of stopping or slowing down the abuse, the parent(s) instead figured out a way to continue the abuse, and to even escalate the abuse to torture or homicide without being found out: homeschool. When parents with a prior abuse history pull their children out of school to “homeschool” them, this needs to be understood as an escalation and cover up of their criminal activity.
In April 2018, the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) released a report titled Examining Connecticut’s Safety Net for Children Withdrawn from School for the Purpose of Homeschooling—Supplemental Investigation To OCA’s December 12 2017 Report Regarding the Death of Matthew Tirado.
Matthew Tirado was an autistic, intellectually disabled 17-year old-teenager who was withdrawn from school by his mother, Katiria Tirado, so that her abuse and neglect of him would be hidden. Katiria started a homeschool for Matthew and his sister, whom she also withdrew from school to abuse. Katiria’s abuse of Matthew escalated to torture, and lead to his death on February 14th, 2017. Connecticut, like many U.S. states, has no regulations around homeschool, which made it very easy for Katiria to legally start one.
Under the guise of being “homeschooled”, Matthew was starved, denied water, and physically tortured up to his death. The 5’8 teenager was emaciated and weighed only 84 pounds when law enforcement discovered him after his mother called 911 to report that he was vomiting and unwell. Matthew died at the hospital shortly after being transported there by emergency services.
From the Child Fatality Investigative Report:
The Office of the Chief State’s Medical Examiner found that Matthew had “numerous injuries in various stages of healing,” including multiple “broken ribs, a laceration to the head, several bruises and contusions on his upper body, a pattern type injury to the upper back and bed sore type injuries to the buttocks.” The Medical Examiner’s office reported that the injuries “appeared to be the result of long term abuse and neglect.” Pictures obtained from Ms. Tirado’s cell phone confirmed that she had locked and shuttered her refrigerator and kitchen cabinets, restricting Matthew’s access to food. Text messages obtained by police investigators allegedly reflected Ms. Tirado’s knowledge that her son was starving and the criminal warrant alleged that Ms. Tirado “intentionally prevented [Matthew’s] access to food,” with Ms. Tirado reporting to a relative that Matthew was forced to seek food “from the garbage and [he] would drink cooking oil, ketchup, and syrup if these items were accessible.”
As we have seen in previous cases mentioned in this blog, child torture victims commonly experience food and water deprivation, are more likely to be abused by their mothers, are disabled, and suffer prolonged physical abuse.
Katiria Tirado was charged with Manslaughter in the First Degree and Intentional Cruelty to Persons. She plead guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 17 years in prison, to be suspended after serving 11 years, and 5 years probation. She was also charged with educational neglect.
Like homicide victim Erica Parsons, family, friends and community members rarely, if ever, saw Matthew. He was kept hidden away because Katiria knew that it was obvious Matthew was starving and abused. The Department of Child and Family Services (DCF), had been in contact with Katiria regarding Matthew and his sister multiple times leading up to his death, starting back in 2005. DCF closed the case a month before Matthew’s death, a serious error on their part.
It turns out that many families studied by the Office of the Child Advocate had been in similar situations:
Based on the data requested from the six school districts, OCA learned that over a span of three academic years, 2013 through 2016, there were 380 students withdrawn from the six (6) districts to be homeschooled, and that 138 of these children (36 percent) lived in families that were the subject of at least one prior accepted report to DCF for suspected abuse or neglect. The majority of these families had a history of multiple prior reports to DCF of suspected child abuse or neglect. OCA also learned that none of the six districts had protocols to conduct follow up with the withdrawn student or his/her family, such as an assessment of academic progress or a portfolio review of work, as suggested by the State Department of Education in previously-issued agency guidance.
Like many states, Connecticut does not regulate homeschools. Since there are no regulations, there is no plan for the Department of Child and Family Services to follow when a family with an open case or prior cases starts a homeschool. The fact that so many families who pull their children from school have prior cases with a child abuse investigating agency indicates that regulations around homeschool are necessary. From the report:
Data Regarding Family Child Welfare Involvement for Children Withdrawn
from School to Be Homeschooled in the Six School Districts Reviewed By
OCA. N= 139.
– 17 children lived in families with 1 prior accepted report to DCF and where
there was no substantiation for abuse/neglect.
-90 children lived in families that were the subject of multiple prior accepted
reports to DCF.
-Range of accepted reports to DCF was 2 – 30.
-43 children lived in families that were the subject of 4 or more prior accepted reports to DCF.
-Most families (more than 75%) in the cohort OCA examined were the
subject of accepted reports dated 2013 to the present.
When a child who has been involved in a CPS, DCF, or other child welfare reporting system has been pulled from school in order to be “homeschooled”, this needs to raise alarm bells. A victimizer of children is not going to stop the behavior because they were the subject of a report by DCF. A victimizer wants to continue the abuse and torture in peace, without being disturbed or found out.
Reports indicate that reasons parents give for homeschooling include disability. From the U.S. Department of Education Statistics About Non-Public Education in the United States: ‘ [In 2011],17% of parents said that the child having special needs was the reason, and 15% said the child having a “physical or mental health problem” caused them to homeschool.’ I have shown in this blog repeatedly that higher numbers of disabled children are homeschooled now, and that disabled children are at higher risk for abuse.
Once in a homeschool, there is no requirement for a child like Matthew Tirado to recieve disability accommodations, therapies, special education, or support in any way for their disabilities. The chances that someone will find out about the abuse drop significantly, as the child is further isolated from every aspect of society. The Connecticut DCF, which obviously messed this case up very badly, prompting the OCA report in the first place, has no protocol to follow around homeschool. No one does, because there is no regulation of homeschool in Connecticut, just as there is little to no regulation around homeschool in many U.S. states.
When a family with prior DCF reports pulls a child from school in order to homeschool them, there needs to be a policy and a regulated course of action for the child welfare agency, and other entities, to take. Stricter regulations around starting a homeschool in the first place would act as a deterrent. Criminals who victimize children will find the loopholes that exist and exploit them. We need to work on closing those loopholes, holding people accountable, and understanding that criminals use homeschool to cover the most heinous of child abuse crimes.