I read the headlines. The story made me sick to my stomach, and I knew what else was coming. Blaring headlines claimed “disturbing pattern” and “the sinister side of homeschooling.” Instead of focusing on the abusers, the media all turned its attention to homeschoolers and how more regulation, more oversight is needed.
And after reading story after sensationalized story about children whose abusers chose homeschooling to hide their sick, sadistic habits, I did start to wonder. What if? Are homeschoolers really these horrible animals we’re portrayed to be? What if we decent homeschoolers are offering a cover to those who abuse? Do we need more regulation, more involvement, just so we can prevent these horrible cases?
So I dove into studies. Statistics. Research. I started looking and comparing and finding the facts. I’ve spent a long time trying to understand this mess, and I’m finally ready to share what I found.
Short answer: no. Homeschoolers are not more prone to abuse. Those who are most vocal in saying so are lying – twisting the facts to prove a very biased point.
Who is the CRHE?
In every article I looked at, one particular name kept coming up: The Coalition For Responsible Home Education. They are always quoted as calling for more regulation, more oversight, and in most cases, very specific oversight that includes mandatory doctors visits and home visits for homeschoolers. They have a slick-looking website that looks official. They claim to speak for homeschoolers – the spokesperson, Rachel Coleman, was herself homeschooled. They speak with the voice of authority and they have case after case of awful evidence lined up on their website.
The problem is that they do not always cite sources. They played hard and loose with the facts. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is not a reliable resource.
Their Research Fast Facts page states this:
“Perpetrators of severe child abuse often homeschool.
A 2014 study of child torture found that 47% of school-age child torture victims were removed from school to be homeschooled.”
A local homeschooler helped me find that 47% study and tear it apart. That damning 47% number in the study equals about 8 children over a 17 year time span. (Note: trigger warning. The Knox study contains graphic images and descriptions of abuse. While the CRHE does not specifically cite the study’s author, the Washington Post interview with Coleman does. Edited due to my bad math.)
The study specifically looks at 28 cases in an attempt to define the term torture and pinpoint risk factors to help authorities identify torture situations. Of the 28 cases, a third were not school age. Of the approximately 17 remaining cases, 47% homeschooled. That actually puts the majority or equal amount in a public school setting with a plethora of mandatory reporters (edited to reflect the 1 undetermined case.)
The study’s conclusions did not mention homeschooling as a risk factor. Nor did it point to homeschooling as a form of torture. The conclusions of the study were never designed to apply to the general population, and attempting to use the study to justify massive oversight is a blatant misuse of the data.
While the CRHE might have laudable goals, their methods and bias contaminate any good they may do.
What’s really going on?
So what do the statistics actually say? It’s a difficult mess to wade through, but one thing is very clear. Homeschooling is not listed as a risk factor for any of the major sources that I checked.
What are risk factors? The situations or environments that lead to abuse, or that abuse victims are commonly found in. According to the 2015 Child Maltreatment Report, a compilation of national statistics released by the Children’s Bureau, primary risk factors are:
■ Alcohol abuse (caregiver)—the compulsive use of alcohol that is not of a temporary nature
■ Drug abuse (caregiver)—the compulsive use of drugs that is not of a temporary nature
■ Domestic violence (caregiver)–abusive, violent, coercive, forceful, or threatening act or word inflicted by one member of a family or household on another
2015 Child Maltreatment Report, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Administration for Children and Families Administration on Children, Youth and Families Children’s Bureau. Released Jan 2017.
The CDC elaborates a bit more about risk factors, breaking it down into Community, Family, and Individual risk factors. They list things like a young parental age, low income, community violence, and parental stress, among other factors. Homeschooling is not included in any of the lists.
It’s worth noting that our nation’s youngest children are at the highest risk of abuse. 49.4% of children who die from abuse are under the age of 1. Kids under 1 also hold the highest rate of child abuse by age breakdown (24.2% per 1,000 cases.) In fact, 27% of cases are under the age of 3, below school age (edited to correct wrong numbers.) If we’re going to insist on extra regulations for homeschoolers using the reason that they are out of the public eye, then logically we must insist for the same regulations for the little ones.
Let me say it again: homeschooling is not a risk factor for abuse. It is not even mentioned.
America’s abuse problem
After reading these studies and looking at the statistics, one thing is very clear. We have a problem. America has extremely high abuse rates compared to other countries. And while 9 torture victims is 9 too many, that number pales in comparison to the 4 million child maltreatment reports received nationally per year. According to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children who analyzed the 2015 Child Maltreatment Report, 5 children in the US die from child abuse per day. Per DAY!
I’m not going to delve into the numbers of abused children by school employees, because that’s not what this is about. Abuse crosses all walks of life, all religions, all ethnicities. Abuse happens in public schools by public school employees, but that does not erase the abuse suffered by children of homeschoolers, children who attend private school, or children who slip through the cracks into a no-man’s-land of ‘look the other way.’
You see, the one defining factor here of abuse is the abusers. They have a set of characteristics. They have numerous methods of avoiding detection. And sometimes, just sometimes they use homeschooling as a wall to hide behind. But they’re not homeschooling at all – they’re truant. They’re breaking the law by not giving the children the education they need.
Real homeschoolers are not socially isolated. Real homeschoolers do not chain their children to the furniture. Real homeschoolers care that their children get an education, and they do the best that they can to make it a great education. Homeschoolers are not abusers, although some abusers claim to homeschool. There is a huge difference.
Homeschooling as a Protective Factor
Let’s flip this argument around: real homeschoolers actually fit the Protective Factors listed by the CDC:
- Supportive family environment and social networks
- Nurturing parenting skills
- Stable family relationships
- Household rules and child monitoring
- Parental employment
- Adequate housing
- Access to health care and social services
- Caring adults outside the family who can serve as role models or mentors
By nature of homeschooling, children will automatically benefit from most of these protective factors. The supportive, close family unit is nurtured by spending so much time together, and the parenting skills are necessary to survive spending all that time with your kids. Most homeschoolers I know have household rules and child monitoring, plus we actively go out looking for social networks and caring adults. It’s critical to educating our children to find that support and community outside of our own homes.
I challenge you to print this list out and go over it the next time someone claims that homeschooling is a hotbed of abuse. And I also challenge you to make that phone call if you see something problematic. Report abuse. Report suspected abuse. It’s our duty as responsible citizens and parents to protect the littlest of us who have no other recourse. And don’t be afraid to report it again and again – many of the cases I researched had multiple reports to CPS and nothing was done about them.
For what it’s worth, I’m in favor of some oversight and regulation by the state’s educational department. Some. And most homeschoolers I know agree with me – we just differ on what “some” means.
And for all of you journalists and reporters out there happily sensationalizing the “homeschool threat,” do your job. It shouldn’t take a little no-name blogger to do the research for you and expose your source as biased and flat-out wrong. Feel free to use my links to verify what I wrote here – because unlike you guys, I actually linked that stuff so that people can fact check me.
I am NOT an abuser just because I homeschool (I am not an abuser. Period.) Remember that. Remind people of that. And spend all of that energy targeting the real problem: 5 children died today. Did we do anything about it?
Edit: Please note that I edited the numbers for the Knox study from 9 down to 8 because one case (6%) was undetermined. That also affected the statistics, bringing it from 53% public schooled down to 47%, matching the homeschooled number.
I messed up the numbers from the 2015 report as well – due to their weird calculating process (24.4 per 1,000 under 1, etc.) I have edited this to reflect the numbers from the study – 27% of abuse cases are children 3 and under.
While the numbers changed a little, the original point stands. A large number of abuse cases affect children under school age.
And clearly, statistics are not my strength! Sorry about the confusion.