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June 14, 2017

Iowa's Government Oversith Committee invited HSLDA to testify.

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Iowa Asks HSLDA Attorney to Help Them Better Protect Children

Last week HSLDA weighed in publicly and emphatically on a somber question: How can Iowa better protect children from abuse and neglect?

A state legislative hearing had been called in response to the deaths of two 16-year-old girls within the past nine months. Both were former foster children who had been adopted under the oversight of the Department of Human Services (Iowa’s social services agency), and their parents received monthly adoption subsidy checks. Both teens died from horrible abuse, and both families had been the subjects of prior abuse reports to social services.

The six-hour hearing, which represented a rare gathering of lawmakers outside Iowa’s regular legislative session, drew a standing-room-only crowd and statewide media coverage. As the Iowa contact attorney for Home School Legal Defense Association, Scott Woodruff traveled to Des Moines at the request of the joint Government Oversight Committee to help address this issue.

You can watch a Facebook video of the hearing here.

Since these tragedies came to light, the Department of Human Services has been subjected to tremendous scrutiny. The head of the agency resigned, and other officials recently announced they have hired outside experts to review how the department conducts its child protection efforts.

Focus on Risk Factors

Both of the children had been withdrawn from public school by their adoptive parents and were being homeschooled when they died. Two legislators at the hearing believed that increasing homeschooling regulations would help prevent such deaths.

Woodruff disagreed.

His proposal for improving Iowa children’s safety came from the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF). According to the commission’s 2016 report, you can save lives by developing a policy firmly grounded on statistically valid risk factors. The number one risk factor that overshadows them all is when a family under current investigation has a prior report of abuse or neglect.

Based on this simple principle, Woodruff proposed that any family reported a second time for abuse or neglect be subjected to a more muscular response—both in ascertaining the facts of the case and in offering help.

He made a point of stating that this policy should apply to any family.

This distinction is crucial. If we want to protect children, we need to develop more effective child welfare policies across the board—not single out some families for government monitoring simply because their children do not attend traditional school.

Countering the Criticism

Some critics have exploited this crisis to justify attempts to restrict homeschool freedom.

During the last legislative session, Senator Matt McCoy introduced Senate File 138, which called for every public school system to visit every homeschool family’s home once per quarter. Officials were to observe every homeschooled child in order to “check on the health and safety” of the children.

McCoy continued to call for restrictions on homeschool liberty at last week’s hearing. He called Iowa’s 2013 homeschool reform bill—which brought the state closer to the mainstream by reducing wasteful red tape—a “reckless, senseless, gutless bill that essentially requires no accountability.” He then repeated his commitment to seeking legislation that will require some sort of “well-being check” for homeschool families.

We will be sure to monitor bills filed in the coming legislative session. As we have in the past, we will alert member and friends if any legislation arises that requires their attention and action.

Safety in Community

Critics of homeschooling, including a legislator at the Iowa hearing, claim it leads to isolation.

However, homeschooling could never have become the thriving educational option that it is today without a strong sense of community. By banding together, homeschoolers haven’t just influenced legislation and legal precedents. They’ve also formed support groups, co-ops, tutoring services, and sports teams.

Homeschooling has never been—and must never be—a go-it-alone proposition.

To succeed, homeschoolers need friends and compatriots for encouragement, advice, and pooled resources.

That’s why HSLDA has committed a lot of resources toward connecting homeschool families with one another. We maintain a database of homeschool groups—from statewide organizations to local coteries.

We employ a group services coordinator to help equip and support group leaders. We even offer a membership discount to folks who belong to a group that meets certain criteria. And we encourage homeschooling parents to ask for help from each other when they need it and offer help when they can.

Homeschoolers are truly in this together.