March 27, 2002

Class for Attorneys Identifies Religious Families as Likely Child Abusers

On March 5, 2002, Home School Legal Defense Association Senior Counsel Christopher Klicka attended a Virginia Continuing Legal Education (CLE) class for becoming a "guardian ad litem." Such classes are held so that practicing attorneys can stay up-to-date on changes to the law. For seven hours, various lawyers, judicial officials and social workers lectured on many aspects of child abuse and the role of guardian ad litem. A guardian ad litem is an advocate appointed by a judge during a neglect proceeding to represent the child's rights.

During a lecture entitled, "Developmental Needs of Children: Characteristics of Abusive and Neglectful Families and of Children Who are Victims," Kathleen Nussbaum, a licensed clinical social worker, explained that children can form developmental deficits if they "spend two or more hours a day alone at home without an adult " or they "watch more than three hours of television a day." She also quoted a study that found children are harmed if they "put emphasis on selfish values " or "have a lot of close friends who often get into trouble."

However, the lecture took a turn for the worse when the social worker discussed the three family types that she believed typically showed the characteristics of abusive and neglectful families. The first type was obviously problematic, which she entitled "Inadequate Family Type." These families are characterized by "chaotic environment with loose or non-existent boundaries and often overt alcohol or drug problems."

The second family type Ms. Nussbaum described in an incredibly offensive way. She called it the "Religious and Authoritarian Family Type." Referencing the printed material used in CLE classes for guardian ad litems all across the state of Virginia, Ms. Nussbaum defined a religious and authoritarian family type: "A strong focus on male leadership, with strong church involvement. Parents are frequently elders or ministers in their church, and they use their religious authority, as well as Scripture, to maintain control." Such a broad and erroneous definition probably describes 85% of the home school families in America.

This shows us one reason social workers tend to target home school families. From HSLDA's perspective, it seems that home school families per capita are subject to an inordinate number of social worker investigations. Undoubtedly a large percentage of home school families considers themselves "religious" and have strong church involvement. Christian home schooling families typically recognize fathers as the head of the house, and study Scripture on a regular basis as they bring their children up in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord." To many social workers this amounts to an "authoritarian" and oppressive family structure dangerous for children.

Ms. Nussbaum's third type of suspect family is a "Rigid and Controlling Family Type" which is characterized by "rigid, non-permeable, external boundaries." This questionable CLE definition also states that these parents have extremely high expectations of their children.

According to Mr. Klicka, "It is a shame that social workers do not understand that Christian families provide the most solid foundation for children and a loving environment." He went on to say that he was "glad that he attended this seminar, because it only confirmed what he has believed for some time now about the training of social workers and guardian ad litems."

 Other Resources

No Bias Against Religious Families, June 14, 2002