Why We Have to Talk About Homeschooling and Child Abuse

In early March, HSLDA’s Scott Woodruff accused the media of “hurting the cause of child abuse reduction” by drawing attention to cases where parents have used homeschooling to hide abuse. In his piece, Woodruff writes that “experts in the field have worked to identify common risk factors in child abuse and neglect” and links to an article from the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect which he says does not include homeschooling as a risk factor. What Woodruff fails to mention is this article does list “social isolation” as a risk factor. While many homeschooled children have large social networks, homeschooling gives malicious or negligent parents the ability to isolate their children in a way they could not if their children attended school.

That homeschooling can be used to isolate children is something we can’t risk not discussing.

Woodruff quotes the director of the Jackson County, Kansas, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) stating that: “We have no evidence that children who are homeschooled are more likely to be abused or neglected.” Woodruff’s use of this quote is problematic on several levels. First, we have “no evidence” because little attempt has yet been made to conduct statistical research on this question—in other words, we do not know either way. Second, the question of primary importance is not whether homeschooled children are more or less likely to be abused or neglected but rather what happens when homeschooled children are neglected or abused.

Homeschooled children do not have the same daily contact with mandatory reporters as children who attend school. Because of this, homeschooling offers abusive parents a way to isolate their children and thereby conceal and intensify their maltreatment. We have spoken with numerous homeschool alumni who also had experience attending school; they have told us the abuse was worse when they were homeschooled, because their parents knew they didn’t have to hide their bruises. Additionally, Barbara Knox of the University of Wisconsin found that nearly 50% of the cases in her 2014 study of child torture involved homeschooling. “This ‘homeschooling’ appears to have been designed to further isolate the child,” she wrote of these cases. The ability for abusive parents to use homeschooling to isolate their victims should not be taken lightly.

When the mother of young Janiya Thomas of Florida began homeschooling, the girl’s caseworker suggested that the change might be good for her, giving her more one-on-one time with her mother. If that caseworker had been aware that unscrupulous parents sometimes use homeschooling to isolate their children and thereby conceal abuse, Janiya’s move to homeschooling amidst the household’s long history of child abuse and neglect reports might have sent up a red flag. The same is true for Emani Moss, whose parents began homeschooling her after teachers reported bruising on the girl’s back. Imani had spent several months in foster care two years prior, and her removal to homeschooling, like Janiya’s, should have sent up red flags. Dozens of children have died over the last four years alone because politicians and local government officials have not taken seriously the potential for abusive parents to use homeschooling to isolate their victims. 

The real problem here is not media coverage but rather homeschool advocates’ insistence that “homeschooling” and “child abuse” should never be used in the same sentence. This is a problem we have grappled with since our inception as an organization. Many homeschool advocates, understandably concerned that an educational method they love may get a bad name, have argued that this is an abuse problem, not a homeschooling problem. But what kind of problem does it become when homeschooling is used to isolate a child and in this way plays a very real role in concealing or intensifying abuse?

We have to be able to talk about this. It is in homeschool advocates’ best interests to stop denying this problem and start addressing it. We don’t want their educational method associated with child abuse any more than they do, but the real solution is to fix the problem, not to ignore it and pretend it’s not there.

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