The success of homeschooling has been well documented, and the number of homeschools in NC continues to grow. The Erica Parsons case has brought a lot of unwarranted attention to the homeschool community. In July, Erica’s adoptive brother reported her missing nearly two years after he had last seen her. Her adopted parents have said that they didn’t think Erica was missing; they thought she went to live with her biological grandmother two years ago when she was thirteen years old. However, other family members have said that Erica’s biological grandmother died five years ago. Since July, there has been an unfruitful search to find Erica. The fact that the Parsons had notified the state that they were operating a homeschool has caused assertions that the disappearance of Erica was not detected earlier because she was homeschooled. It is interesting to note that the Parsons were receiving more than $600 a month from the state because of Erica’s mental disability when she was adopted. Apparently, the state was not holding the parents accountable for the money they were receiving. This money was not connected to homeschooling in any way.
Because homeschool students are not in a traditional classroom, they are mistakenly believed to be “invisible children.” The perception is that the children are home with their parents all day every day. However, the reality is that the typical homeschool student is engaged in a variety of community activities. Studies have shown that homeschool families are more likely than families with children in public school to be involved in community activities. The large majority of homeschool children are very visible.
Many believe that more homeschool regulations would help with the problem of abuse. There have been a variety of regulations suggested as a way to prevent the abuse or neglect of homeschooled children. There are four common suggestions for preventing child abuse in homeschool families. 1) Require DNPE to perform an annual inspection of homeschool records at the home. 2) Have homeschoolers report to the district superintendent of schools every semester. 3) Require criminal background checks of parents before they can homeschool. 4) Have parents take abuse prevention training before they can open a homeschool.
The primary problem with all these possible regulations is that the focus on abuse prevention is in the wrong place. Schools exist for the purpose of education; they are not oriented to prevent child abuse. More importantly, these suggestions will not prevent child abuse.
According to DSS statistics, about eighteen percent of all substantiated reports of abuse or neglect in NC are reported by education personnel. About seventeen percent of the reports are from human services personnel, and more than twenty-two percent of the reports are generated by law enforcement and the courts. Nationally, more than eighty percent of child fatalities due to abuse or neglect happen with children four years old and younger. Therefore, school personnel have no opportunity to detect abuse or neglect in children who are most vulnerable. In addition, there are instances of school children who are being abused for years whose abuse is never detected by school personnel. The abuse is finally reported by another source, such as family or police.
If a parent is abusing a child, it is unlikely that an annual inspection of homeschool records or meetings with a district superintendent will have any effect. An abusive parent can surely anticipate those meetings and insure that everything appears to be normal when the meetings happen.
Criminal background checks are unlikely to prevent child abuse. There have been numerous reports of school personnel abusing or covering up the abuse of students in their care, and they have all had criminal background checks.
As for abuse prevention training before parents can open a homeschool, this training is not effective enough to justify making it mandatory for all parents before they can homeschool. In NC, homeschools are opened when the child is seven years old, and the age group most vulnerable to child abuse and neglect is four years old and younger. Are we going to require mandatory child abuse training or criminal background checks before one can become a parent?
In November, it was discovered that a Union County DSS supervisor was abusing a foster child. The supervisor had notified that she was operating a homeschool. The eleven-year-old child was found handcuffed to the porch with a dead chicken tied around his neck. Most likely the DSS supervisor had been the subject of a criminal background check and not only had taken child abuse training classes but had conducted many of these classes herself.
A major reason many families choose to homeschool is to protect their children from abuse at school. Many homeschool families can cite physical or cyber bullying of their children at school, with school personnel unable or unwilling to stop the abuse, as a reason they chose to homeschool. Others have reacted to the news of school shootings and teachers having sex with underage students.
Child abuse and neglect is a serious problem in our society. It happens in homes, in schools and elsewhere. There is no simple solution. While I believe that there is less abuse in the homeschool community than in the general population, it does happen in the homeschools. We need to be aware of the signs of abuse and our responsibilities. NC law requires all adults who suspect abuse or neglect to report their suspicions to the authorities. Those failing to do so are guilty of a misdemeanor.
NCHE is committed to informing the homeschool community about this issue. We have had workshops at our annual conference and articles in the GREENHOUSE and on our website with information about abuse prevention. Education is the best solution. It is incumbent on all to be aware of the problem and of the signs of child abuse and to do our part in preventing it.
Signs of Child Abuse or Neglect in Children
Adapted from http://www.helpguide.org
- Is excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong.
- Shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive).
- Doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver.
- Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, throwing tantrums).
- Has frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts.
- Is always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen.
- Has injuries that appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt.
- Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home.
- Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days.
- Has clothes that are ill-fitting, filthy, or inappropriate for the weather.
- Has hygiene that is consistently bad (unbathed, matted and unwashed hair, noticeable body odor).
- Has untreated illnesses and physical injuries.
- Is frequently unsupervised or left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments.
- Is frequently late or missing from school.
- Has trouble walking or sitting.
- Displays knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to his or her age, or even displays seductive behavior.
- Makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason.
- Doesn’t want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities.
- Has an STD or pregnancy, especially under the age of fourteen.
- Runs away from home.