What Can We Do about Child Abuse?
In Home School Legal Defense Association’s 30 years of close involvement in the homeschool community, we have seen that most homeschooling parents are deeply loving and want to do what is best for their children.
They choose homeschooling because they want their children to enjoy learning, develop healthy social skills, gain a moral and spiritual grounding, and be prepared for adulthood. Some families choose it because their children are being bullied in school, encountering peer pressure, or struggling with low self-esteem. They want their children to feel safe physically and emotionally.
A desire to protect and nurture children is the norm among homeschooling parents. Sadly, however, child abuse does occur, and it deeply grieves us.
The evidence suggests that abuse in homeschooling families is rarer than in the general population. In 2011 (the last year for which data are available), 6.3% of all children in the U.S. were involved in abuse investigations. The same year, HSLDA assisted approximately 1.2% of our member families in child protective services (CPS) investigations. The vast majority of these investigations were based on frivolous accusations (such as the children being seen outside during school hours or concern about a possibly messy home) and closed as unfounded. While this statistic is not comprehensive, it can be seen as an indicator of a generally low rate of abuse among homeschoolers.
But no matter how rare, child abuse is devastating—and we in the homeschool community have a responsibility to address it. Having chosen homeschooling out of a motivation to do what is best for our children, we can be part of promoting all children’s welfare.
In this series of articles, HSLDA will be suggesting three steps we all can take to address and prevent child abuse:
- Know what child abuse is.
- Protect our own children from abuse.
- Take action if we know that abuse is being committed in another family.
We hope these articles will be a resource for parents seeking to build healthy families and a strong homeschool community.
Let’s begin with the question, what is child abuse? We may prefer to avoid concrete definitions and tell ourselves, “I’ll know it when I see it.” But such a mindset can prevent us from recognizing abuse if we do encounter it.
The federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) provides the following basic definition of child abuse and neglect that is generally followed for legal purposes:
Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or
An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.
All states wishing to receive federal funds for child welfare programs must use this as a minimum standard for defining child abuse. As a result, all 50 states have child abuse laws that meet or exceed this definition.
What does this mean in practice? In general, abuse includes but is not limited to:
- Nonaccidental physical injury
- Using a child sexually
- Allowing a child to use illegal substances
Neglect includes but is not limited to:
- Failing to provide for a child’s physical needs, such as food, clothing, and supervision
- Failing to meet medical, educational, or emotional needs
The following are not considered abuse or neglect:
- Reasonable corporal discipline such as spanking
- Rejecting medical treatment for religious reasons
HSLDA does not want homeschooling families to be viewed with suspicion simply because of their educational choice. This is why we defend our members in social services investigations related to homeschooling issues and why we work to have the child welfare system respect all families’ Fourth Amendment rights. Homeschooling is at its best when families do not have to worry that a social worker could investigate them for frivolous reasons or use fear tactics to ensure compliance.
However, the government has a duty to intervene when there is reliable evidence that a child is being abused or neglected. The government needs to exercise this duty in a manner that respects the Constitution. There is an “exigent circumstances” exception to the normal rules of the Fourth Amendment that allows for quick intervention when there is evidence of an urgent situation. Proper intervention can and should be done lawfully.
As homeschoolers, we have a part to play in seeking justice for the victims of child abuse. We chose homeschooling because we love our children and want them to learn in a safe environment that honors their uniqueness. As we bring that attitude of compassionate nurturing to every aspect of raising children, we can help to build a culture that truly cares for the least of these.
Please note: Nothing on this webpage constitutes the giving of legal advice.
For further information:
Focus on the Family
Focus on the Family offers a wealth of resources ranging from education to help for families in crisis. Visit Focus on the Family or call 1-855-771-HELP (4357), Monday through Friday, 6:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m. Mountain Time to speak with Focus on the Family Help Center counselors.
HSLDA has compiled a list of additional resources to help you identify child abuse, protect your children from sexual abuse, and find more information. Since some of these resources contain content that may not be appropriate for young or unsupervised children, the page may be accessed only by logging in with your member or nonmember account credentials. (Log-in is simply an extra step to protect children. We do not track log-ins.) Click here to see resources.