The Sad State of Homeschool Child Protection Policies

It has now been over a decade that homeschool alumni have been speaking up about the widespread abuse and neglect they experienced in their families and communities. Homeschoolers Anonymous was founded over a decade ago now; the Coalition for Responsible Home Education recently turned 10 years old (donate to and share their current fundrasier!); Homeschooling’s Invisible Children has been documenting horrific and often deadly cases of child abuse and neglect in homeschooling for over 10 years, locating nearly 200 fatalities from 1986 to the present (indicating homeschooled children are at a greater risk of dying from child abuse than are traditionally schooled children). And the number of homeschool alumni speaking up is growing—and exponentially so, as homeschooling has become the fastest-growing form of education in the United States. The Homeschool Recovery subreddit alone has over 24,000 members today.

But despite a decade of personal pleading, professional advocacy, and political lobbying by homeschool alumni, the homeschooling movement in the United States is—by and large—still completely disinterested in listening to alumni voices. A prime example of this disinterest is the homeschooling movement’s continued refusal to adopt the most basic of child protection measures: child protection policies. While some might excuse the homeschooling movement’s disinterest in regulatory solutions to child abuse and neglect in homeschooling due to the movement’s adoption of parental rights absolutism, there is no reason why homeschooling co-ops, support organizations, and conference companies should not have fully developed and robust child protection policies in 2023. These policies involve neither government nor regulation. They simply require communities to actually commit to taking child abuse and neglect in their midst seriously. (There are even free resources and curricula specifically made for homeschoolers on this issue!) Unfortunately, even that is asking too much of most homeschoolers.

I recently reviewed the so-called “child protection policies” of all the major state homeschool organizations in the United States. And to be frank, the state of these policies is abysmal. The fact is, most homeschool organizations still do not have child protection policies—and this lack applies to co-ops and conferences as well. By and large, even though it is 2023 and it is a widely established best practice to have a child protection policy if you’re working with children in any capacity, homeschoolers have made zero efforts with regards to child protection. They do not have child protection policies, they do not host annual child abuse awareness and prevention days, and they do not invest in campaigns to educate other homeschoolers about child abuse. So it is only a handful of organizations that actually have a policy in the first place.

But it gets worse. Because among the few homeschool organizations that do have a child protection policy, most of the policies are a joke. A quick glance at the policies—and a quick glance sometimes is all you get, because the policies have little to no substance—reveals that homeschoolers are still putting very little effort into child protection. And that is being polite. Really, homeschoolers have completely failed the assignment.

Let me give you some examples. Here is the alleged child protection policy for the Christian Home Educators Association of California (CHEA), one of the largest state homeschool organizations in the United States:

…and that is it. No, you are not missing anything. This is literally the extent of the child protection policy created by one of the largest state homeschool organizations in our nation: one sentence and one link. Apparently CHEA cares so “deeply about the well-being and safety of children” that they could not be bothered to even do their own assignment. Instead, they just pass the responsibility of educating their members to a far-right homeschool lobbying organization, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). HSLDA is notorious for their mishandling of child abuse and neglect in homeschooling communities and is the reason why homeschooling is so unregulated in the United States in the first place.

Let us look at another example. Here is the child protection policy for Homeschool Louisiana, a state homeschool organization with hundreds of families. It is slightly more robust than CHEA’s, but that is not saying much. The policy is a few sentences as opposed to just one sentence. Those sentences are not anything to do with actual child protection measures, however. They consist of nothing more than rhetoric about taking child abuse seriously—and then they provide absolutely zero instruction about how they will actually do so. There are no guidelines or rules and there are no mechanisms for enacting and enforcing the policy. Instead, after a few flowery sentences, the “policy” concludes with links to—once again—HSLDA.

Here’s yet another example. This example is from HEAV, the Home Educators Association of Virginia. HEAV, which boasts on their website that they have “more than 2,000 web pages of Virginia homeschool information, resources, field-trip ideas, and more,” has dedicated a single page to their child protection policy. That single page is very similar to Homeschool Louisiana. In fact, some of the language (like “Under no circumstances would HEAV want our homeschool freedoms to shield child abuse or domestic violence” and “we have no civil authority to act regarding allegations of child abuse or neglect” and “Laws that address child abuse and neglect, as well as domestic violence, are in place”) is so similar, it appears that some of these state homeschool organizations are just copying each other’s work. (See how IAHE, the Indiana Association of Home Educators, also copies this language and so does MiCHN, the Michigan Christian Homeschool Network, and so does TEACH CT, The Education Association of Christian Homeschoolers of Connecticut, etc.) Also like Homeschool Louisiana’s policy, HEAV’s policy consists of no guidelines or rules and no mechanisms for enactment and enforcement. And yet again, their policy primarily consists of links to HSLDA.

I do not think it should be necessary to say this, but apparently it is necessary: links to the Home School Legal Defense Association are not a child protection policy. As I have written elsewhere, a thorough child protection policy should both exhibit four qualities as well as entail at least five elements. The four qualities every child protection policy should exhibit are: visible, agreed to, comprehensive, and implemented. And the five elements every child protection policy should entail are: foundational principles, protective measures, rules and procedures for responding to policy violations and abuse allegations, survivor support, and mechanisms for implementing the policy. None of the above policies meet these most basic of requirements.

If homeschoolers really cared about child abuse and neglect, they would do better.