Child Abuse, Homeschooling, and the CECANF Report

Last October, sixteen-year-old Natalie Finn of West Des Moines, Iowa, died of starvation and severe abuse at the hands of her parents, who homeschooled her to conceal her abuse. After meeting with officials from Iowa’s Department of Human Services about Natalie’s death, which occurred in his district, Iowa State Senator Matt McCoy expressed a desire to prevent future such tragedies through legislative change.

In January, Sen. McCoy introduced SF 138, which would require quarterly well-checks for homeschooled children. Scott A. Woodruff, a Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) attorney, subsequently wrote a letter on behalf of HSLDA opposing this legislation.

In his letter, Woodruff misrepresents the findings of the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF), which released its findings early last year, and leaves out information pertinent to the wellbeing of homeschooled children.

  • Woodruff states that the CECANF report does not list homeschooling as a risk factor of child abuse, but he neglects to mention that the report does list social isolation. He also does not mention that 47% of the school-aged victims in a 2014 study of child torture were removed from school to be homeschooled, which the author states “appears to have been designed to further isolate the child.”
  • Woodruff recommends that, rather than looking at homeschooling, states should follow the recommendations of the CECANF report and conduct comprehensive child fatality reviews. Woodruff does not mention that a number of such child fatality reviews conducted in past years have included recommendations regarding homeschooling.
  • Woodruff affirms the CECANF report’s recommendation for more monitoring of children with prior child abuse and neglect reports. However, HSLDA has continually opposed legislation that would create systems for monitoring these children.

We fully intend to hold HSLDA to Woodruff’s professed support for monitoring children with past abuse and neglect reports. The next time legislation is introduced to create a flagging system to catch cases where children are withdrawn from school to be homeschooled after a concerning history of child abuse and neglect reports, we expect HSLDA to support it.

We have responded to Woodruff’s letter in full here.

Rachel Coleman

Rachel Coleman

Rachel Coleman is the Executive Director of CRHE. She was homeschooled K-12 and is an instructor at Indiana University.
Rachel Coleman

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