I recently had the pleasure of appearing on the Human Restoration Project podcast to discuss child liberation theology and abuse in homeschooling. You can listen to the episode here or read the transcript here. One of the topics we discussed was solutions to abuse in homeschooling. This was notable to me because I am so often asked about the problems within homeschooling, but so rarely am I asked to speak to how we can move forward in productive, effective ways to protect homeschooled children. In the podcast, I explained that I see three types of solutions to abuse and neglect in those communities. Here is an excerpt from the transcript of the podcast episode (my comments are indicated by “RS”):
0:07:00.0 CM: So, your work is based around really combating [abuse in homeschooling] and figuring out structural ways that essentially these abuses do not happen. Right now, are there any regulations regarding all of this, or is this just something that’s like occurring and the parents essentially have the rights and we’re trying to change how the laws work?
0:07:22.2 RS: So there’s no federal laws whatsoever about homeschooling, so this is gonna [be] based state by state, and there are a handful of states like Massachusetts, they tend to be the more liberal states, that have some oversight of homeschooling. But I would say the vast majority of states do not have any significant oversight of homeschooling. There, they won’t have laws at all, or when they do have laws or requirements, there’ll be different exemptions or carve-outs that essentially make the rules unenforceable. So, I would say there’s really not any significant or impactful oversight at the moment. And in terms of what I would like to see, I would say I would divide that into three different categories.
0:08:17.4 RS: The first would be communal ones, so, this wouldn’t necessarily have to be regulatory solutions. I think that it’s important [that] the solutions to abuse and neglect in communities not just be regulatory, but they also need to be from the grassroots and also from the top down in terms of just who’s in charge of the communities. So I think there needs to be community solutions to abuse and neglect, and those could be awareness campaigns being led by the major organizations, it could be requiring background checks for people to join an organization like HSLDA, the Home School Legal Defense Association.
0:09:03.5 RS: And then there would be regulatory solutions, and I would divide those into two. One would be child protection, and then the other would be education. The child protection ones are the ones that I care about the most, and those would be things like requiring that every homeschool kid has to see a mandatory reporter once a year, or has to visit or have a doctor exam once a year. So these wouldn’t have anything to do with controlling or restricting how parents teach; they would be more best practices that they wouldn’t even have to be targeted to homeschoolers, it could just be a general rule, like school-aged children should be required to see a mandatory reporter once a year, something like that.
0:09:48.9 RS: And then there would be education regulations. Those would tend to be more controversial, and that would be something like requiring portfolio review of homeschool curriculum. That’s not my wheelhouse, so, it’s not what I push or focus on most, but I do know that other homeschool advocates, especially like the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, those organizations do think that things like portfolio reviews or teacher qualification requirements are important.
0:10:27.8 TW: You know, that’s interesting when you talk about those different regulations we can put in place. “Regulations” can, as a word, [be] used broadly. I guess “interventions” maybe is a better one. When I hear homeschool regulations, my brain immediately goes to, you could put rules on parents or you can put rules on the kids, like a test they have to take or something. You just talked about so many other directions you could go with that. You can target the advocates who are defending these abusive parents in court; you can target the people who are writing the curriculum; you can target the advocacy organizations. And I think that’s maybe a hopeful way to look at [it], is like this multi-pronged approach.
But when I thought about it later, I realized that there are at least four types of interventions we can pursue to address abuse and neglect within homeschooling. Here is a visual depiction of the intervention possibilities:
Community interventions are non-regulatory interventions. These are interventions that come either from within the homeschooling community itself or from outside the community through voluntary associations and relationships. Community interventions can be either from grassroots efforts among ordinary homeschoolers or from top homeschool leadership—and they are most successful when they are a combination of both.
Regulatory interventions are interventions enforced by the government. They are established by legislation or enforcement of legislation. At least two types of regulatory interventions can be applied to abuse and neglect within homeschooling communities: child protection interventions and education interventions. Child protection interventions would be implementing child protection best practices through legislation, like requiring all homeschooled children (or even just all school-aged children generally) to have contact with mandatory reporters a certain amount of times a year. Education interventions would be establishing requirements to ensure the quality of a child’s education while being homeschooled, like requiring portfolio reviews and other record-keeping.
Often when homeschool alumni talk about addressing abuse and neglect within homeschooling communities, homeschool parents and advocates envision regulatory education interventions. That is because those interventions feel the most threatening to parents’ freedom to teach their children however and whatever they want. While that parental rights absolutism definitely needs to be challenged, it can also be helpful to point out that there are so many other ways we can fight against abuse and neglect as well.
If you’re not comfortable with education interventions, that does not mean you can just ignore the fact that there have been at least 173 child abuse and neglect fatalities in homeschooling settings since 1986—suggesting homeschooled children have a greater risk of dying from child abuse than other children. Those facts will not disappear.
But there are other ways you can get involved in your community and help protect homeschooled children. For example: make sure your homeschool organization has a child protection policy. Require background checks in your homeschool organization for every adult who supervises children. Plan child abuse awareness days for your homeschool co-op. Invite a child protection professional to speak at your homeschool convention. Do something.
Professionals outside homeschooling communities can also be proactive in developing relationships with homeschoolers. If you are a child protection professional or a licensed therapist or someone else who understands trauma and wants to help homeschooled children experiencing abuse and neglect, figure out ways to embed yourself into the lives of homeschoolers. Offer to help the Christian homeschool program at your church write a child protection policy. Volunteer to give a presentation at your local secular homeschool co-op on a subject with which you are an expert. Again, do something.
Ultimately, I think we need to use a multi-pronged approach to abuse and neglect within homeschooling communities that incorporates all four solution types. These are complicated problems with deep, intricate roots. To effectively address them, our solutions must be multifaceted and diverse as well.