Studies of Abuse & Neglect

Research on the intersection of child abuse or neglect and homeschooling has long been somewhat limited. Given that most agencies do not collect or report this data, this oversight is hardly surprising, if unfortunate. In recent years, a growing number of researchers have begun filling in these gaps. A look at what researchers have done so far may help future researchers identify avenues for creating studies of their own; these studies also provide important information for policymakers.

Stephen Endress, 2011

In 2011, Stephen Endress completed a dissertation at Illinois State University titled “An Analysis of Illinois’ Practice of Non-Purposeful Homeschooling: Policy Recommendations for Illinois Lawmakers.” Endress was prompted to do this study by concern about incidents he had seen as the principal of a K-8 public school. 

  • Endress uses the term “non-purposeful homeschooling” to describe those who withdraw their children from school in a reactive, rather than proactive, way. 
  • Endress surveyed 451 principals in Illinois and 143 in Iowa. He asked these individuals their beliefs about parental reasons for withdrawing students. They reported that, in their view, 26% of students transferring to homeschooling were withdrawn to avoid ongoing truancy problems.

Endress included quotes from two of the Illinois principals who responded to his survey: 

“My past experience with students withdrawing to be home-schooled was to avoid the compulsory attendance law. I would like to see some regulations on home-school.”

“From my experience, the number one reason has been to avoid legal issues related to truancy. I have had a number of younger high school students with a pattern of poor attendance coming into high school, who once we get juvenile court involved withdraw from school claiming that they are going to be home-schooled. It isn’t a question of the quality of education received because they do not receive any. It is basically a step taken to stay one step ahead of authorities.”  

Read Endress’ full study here: 

Barbara Knox et al, 2014

In 2014, Barbara Knox, a pediatrician who does research on child abuse, along with several co-authors, published an article titled “Child Torture as a Form of Child Abuse” in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma. In the study, the researchers examined 28 children who had experienced child abuse so severe it could be considered torture. 

  • The researchers found that 47% of the school-aged victims they looked at had been removed from school to be homeschooled, and that another 29% were never enrolled in school.  
  • “This ‘homeschooling appears to have been designed to further isolate the child and typically occurred after the closure of a previously opened CPS case. Review of these cases found no true educational efforts were provided to the homeschooled children. Their isolation was accompanied by an escalation of physically abusive events.” 

Read Knox’ full study here: 

Unpublished Kentucky Study, 2016

In 2016, a county attorney contacted us with the results of preliminary research regarding homeschooling families with a history of child welfare reports. While this individual was concerned by their findings, they ultimately did not publish them in any public form. 

  • The county attorney requested a list of homeschooled students from their school district and cross checked these names with court records. 
  • They found that 30% of students being homeschooled in the district were subject, or had a sibling subject to, a past founded child welfare report. 

Connecticut Study, 2018

Concerned by a fatality in a homeschooling family with a history of child welfare reports, the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) conducted a study designed to determine how widespread this phenomenon was. The OCA requested lists of all children withdrawn from public school to be homeschooled over the previous three academic years from six school districts, and compared these names with child welfare records. 

  • The OCA found that 36% of children withdrawn to be homeschooled lived in families subject to at least one prior accepted report to the Department of Children and Families (DCF). Of these children: 
    • 12% lived in families with a single report that was unsubstantiated; 
    • 23% lived in families with a single substantiated report; 
    • 65% lived in families with multiple prior reports; and 
    • 31% lived in families with 4 or more prior reports. 
  • OCA strongly recommends that Connecticut stakeholders consider the unintended consequences of having no clear regulation for homeschooling and the impact on the safety net for children.”

Read the full OCA study here:

Kentucky Report, 2018

In 2017, the Kentucky General Assembly’s Education Assessment & Accountability Review Subcommittee asked the Kentucky Office of Educational Accountability (OEA) to conduct a study of homeschooling in the state. The agency surveyed all school districts in the state. 

  • During the 2016-17 school year, 62% of students removed from school to be homeschooled were chronically truant (absent for at least 10% of enrolled days) prior to being withdrawn from school. The OEA also found that 30% of students were absent for 20% of enrolled days, twice the level for chronic truancy. 
  • The OEA found that the number of high school students transferring to homeschooling increased after the compulsory attendance age was raised from 16 to 18. While the number of homeschooled students in grades K-10 grew by 33% between 2012 and 2017, the number of students homeschooled in grades 11 and 12 grew by 63%.  
  • During the 2016-17 school year, over half of all students transferring to homeschooling were high school students. These numbers, combined with the number of students being homeschooled in each grade, suggest that between ¼ and ⅓ of homeschooled high school students in any given year have been homeschooled for less than a year. 
  • The OEA found that Kentucky homeschool graduates attend in-state colleges and universities at less than half the rate of other Kentucky high school graduates. Those who do attend college are disproportionately more likely to attend two-year public colleges and less likely to attend 4-year public colleges. 

Read the full OEA report here:

Indiana Data, 2019

A reporter in Indiana looked into homeschool transfer numbers at public, private, and charter schools across the state, and found that the number of high school transfers at certain schools was so high as to suggest that school districts may be listing dropouts as homeschool transfers to pad their graduation rates. 

  • McCoy found that 3,700 high school students in the class of 2018, nearly 5% of the total cohort, were officially listed as transferring to homeschooling. 
  • The number of homeschool transfers was concentrated; over half of all homeschool transfers were in just 61 of Indiana’s 507 high schools. 
  • One high school was listed as having 56 graduates, zero dropouts, and 14 homeschool transfers (all during their senior year). 
  • A high school in central Indiana listed 271 graduating seniors, 4 dropouts, and 108 homeschool transfers in its class of 2018. When the school began requiring parents to submit an academic plan to withdraw to homeschool, the number of homeschool transfers in the first few months of school dropped from 53 to zero. 

Read McCoy’s reporting here: 

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