A New Jersey homeschool family is suing after a social worker visited their home and asked questions about their curriculum, their children’s medical history, and the safety of the firearms stored in their house. Buried deep in an article about the case are these paragraphs:
The case highlights the tension between state social welfare agencies and homeschool families as the number of children being educated at home continues to grow. More than 2 million children are now involved in homeschooling, said Michael Farris Jr., spokesman for the Home School Legal Defense Association.
“When we get calls, it will more than likely be about a social case worker who says, ‘I got a call from someone else who says you’re not educating your kids,’ or ‘We’ve heard that you’re spanking your kids,’” Mr. Farris said.
“Homeschoolers are a unique case, especially because there will be someone, a family friend or even a family member, who disagrees with their choice to homeschool, so they’ll call in an anonymous tip,” he said. “That’s what we’re seeing probably the most.”
These paragraphs—and especially Farris Jr.’s quote—make it sound as though it is extremely common—nay, essentially universal—for homeschooling families to be reported to social services. But is this really true?
I do have some personal experience in this area. I was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school and we never had social services called on us. In fact, to my knowledge, social services was never called on any of the homeschooling families I knew growing up, at least during the years I was there. And yet, Farris Jr. wants to make it sound like friends or family members who disagree with families’ choices to homeschool are making near-constant calls to social services.
Of course, my experience is purely anecdotal. Perhaps HSLDA’s statistics are more complete—after all, they have 80,000 member families and urge these families to call them any time a social worker shows up on the door. With that many member families and the frequency with which homeschooling families are reported to CPS just because they homeschool, their phones must be ringing off the hook!
Well, no, they’re not. Only last month, Slate revealed this:
Farris said his group gets 300 calls a year from dues-paying members worrying about “social workers at the door.”
As Slate points out:
This number . . . represents just 0.35 percent of the HSLDA’s membership, assuming each call came from a different family.
And then there’s also a 2013 HSLDA article that contained this paragraph:
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.
I’m not sure how to bridge the gap between 1.20% and 0.35%—that’s a pretty big discrepancy—but either way, that’s a very low percentage of homeschoolers overall. In fact, these numbers reveal that homeschoolers are less likely than other families to have social services called on them. While the article stats that 6.3% of children overall are involved in abuse investigations each year, the number I found was closer to 4% for both abuse and neglect. Whichever number you use, homeschool families are less likely than other families to be reported to CPS.
The article quoted above suggests that homeschool families are reported to social services less often than other families because they are less likely to abuse their children. While this is certainly possible, it should be noted that abusive parents who homeschool are more able to isolate their children from adults who might see and report than are parents who send their children to school. Without more research, it’s hard to know all of the factors that may be at play here.
But I have to say, there is some serious irony in the fact that those at HSLDA believe they can argue both that homeschooling families are constantly reported to social services by upset friends or relatives and that homeschooling families have a low rate of child abuse based on of how infrequently people call social services on homeschooling families.
Of course, if HSLDA was honest about how infrequently their member families are frivolously reported to social services—i.e. almost never—they would probably have a harder time maintaining members.