Many Homeschool Families Have Past Child Welfare Reports, CT Study Finds

For Immediate Release: New data suggests cases where homeschooling is used to hide child abuse or neglect are disturbingly common

Canton, Ma., 05/18/2018—Last month, the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) released a report finding that 36% of children withdrawn from school to be homeschooled between 2013 and 2016 lived in families with at least one prior accepted report of child abuse or neglect. “This finding backs up concerns we have voiced about lax homeschool laws for years now,” said Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children. “While opponents of oversight claim that homeschool abuse cases are isolated or rare, the OCA report suggests they are much more common than anyone realized.”

In Connecticut, reports to Department of Children and Families (DCF) are either accepted or “non-accepted” based on whether an allegation meets the state’s definition of abuse and neglect.) Since 2012, accepted reports have entered a two-tier system: lower-risk reports are assigned to a Family Assessment Response (FAR) track that connects families with services while higher risk concerns are investigated and given a finding of substantiated (when investigators find evidence to support the allegations) or unsubstantiated (when they do not).  

In order to conduct their study, the OCA obtained lists of all students withdrawn to be homeschooled between 2013 and 2016 from six school districts and cross-referenced these names with records from DCF. The OCA found that 36% of these children lived in families with at least one prior accepted report of abuse or neglect, and that the vast majority of these children (88%) had families with multiple reports or a single report that was substantiated. Of the 380 students withdrawn to be homeschooled in these school districts, the OCA found that:

  • 63.4% lived in families not subject to any accepted report
  • 4.5% lived in families subject to a single accepted report that was not substantiated
  • 8.4% lived in families subject to a single accepted report that was substantiated
  • 12.4% lived in families subject to 2-3 prior accepted reports
  • 11.3% lived in families subjected to 4 or more prior accepted reports

“It is well known that abusive parents can and sometimes do use homeschooling to isolate children and conceal child abuse,” said Coleman, pointing to a 2014 study of child torture in which 47% of the school-age victims examined had been withdrawn from school to be homeschooled. In that study, researchers found that this homeschooling was “designed to further isolate the child”; that it “typically occurred after the closure of a previously opened CPS case”; and that it “was accompanied by an escalation of physically abusive events.”

CRHE’s policy recommendations, which are based on patterns observed in the cases of severe and fatal abuse and neglect catalogued in the Homeschooling’s Invisible Children database, include creating a screening system to catch cases where a child has been withdrawn from school to be homeschooled following a concerning history of child welfare reports. No state currently has such a screening system.

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is a national organization founded by homeschool alumni and dedicated to raising awareness of the need for homeschooling reform, providing public policy guidance, and advocating for responsible home education practices.

Rachel Coleman

Rachel Coleman

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