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Why the System is Failing Homeschool Children

A family fighting over custody in Family Court

Personal History with Child Services

In past posts we have highlighted and discussed some of the many issues that go hand-in-hand with homeschooling. We have yet to dive into potentially one of the biggest issues and risks posed to children. Today we are going to discuss the very system meant to protect children: Child Services. As I have mentioned previously, Mom had Child Services called on her several times over the course of my childhood. I never once spoke directly to anyone or even laid eyes on a social worker. 

While Mom spoke with them at the front door, we would hide and cower in the master bedroom. After calling the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, they never came back and never looked in on us. The actions or investigations done by the social services is beyond negligent, even without the aid of the HSLDA. Let’s break down why and how Child Services are statistically and systematically failing at their job. Also, how they are partially to blame for the rampant abuse and neglect across our nation.

What Tragedy looks like for Homeschool Children

While recording a recent episode for our podcast, Julia and I covered the tragic case of Christiana Glenn. Christiana, an 8 year old, homeschooled child in New Jersey died of severe malnutrition, abuse and an untreated broken femur. Homeschooled by her single mother, she lived in a terrible environment filled with abuse, starvation and torture. Tipped off a minimum of 4 times over a span of 5 years, Child Services failed to act. Outsiders, concerned friends and family reported in regard to the welfare and treatment of the 3 children in the household. Child Services assigned a caseworker, who should have conducted home visits once a month. There is no evidence or confirmation by the DYFS that this ever occurred before they marked the case as “unfounded”. Researching this case was difficult for me emotionally as well as hard to find actual information about Christiana’s case. It never made national news. Just like so many of these cases that only get coverage within the states or counties they occur in. 

I found a fantastic article called SYSTEM IS FAILING CHILDREN by Randy Burton. Burton is the Founder of Justice for Children, and his article lays out the facts behind an increasingly failing system. He points out “A major portion of our legal system’s failure to protect abused children occurs in state family courts”. He describes a common situation, like the one I came from. A situation where a non-abusive parent is seeking a divorce or separation from the abusive parent. One in which a custody battle ensues in an effort to protect the child. 

Judicial System Fails Homeschool Children

The legal system sets off the initial chain reaction of indifference and unwillingness to act on the child’s behalf. This he attributes to a “judicial system from which the protective parent and child are seeking justice and protection”. Unfortunately, the court “is comprised of judges and court personnel who lack sufficient training in child abuse issues”. This means that the courts are then “often indifferent to the child’s allegations of abuse, particularly allegations of sexual abuse”. Statistical data shows the amount of false sexual abuse claims by children are beyond minimal. Often on the basis of their relationship with the lawyers, rulings and appointing of attorneys are often made by judges. As a result, attorneys become “puppets” of the court. 

This leads to “the protection of the child and any due process to which the child is entitled” being “given little or no consideration”. Sadly, “the abuser is frequently given unrestricted visitation with the child, if not outright possession. Child abuse, whether sexual or physical, and child protection becomes only incidentally a custody question”. This is troublesome on so many levels, but I can corroborate this from experience.

 I was already an adult living outside of the home when my Dad filed for divorce from my Mom. My sisters and I adamantly told Dad he had to fight for custody of my two youngest siblings. The two youngest at the time were still living with Mom. My sisters and I provided testimony about our Mom’s abuse and refusal to teach school at the court proceedings.  

I found out much later that Dad’s lawyer thought we were all exaggerating and lying. As frustrating as this is, it helped win him custody of the girls. The court seems primed to disregard the testimony or reporting of any kind of abuse by children. This is infuriating and proves what I believed growing up; thad that no one cared what happened to us.

I am not going to paraphrase what Burton says about the failings of the judicial branch. I simply believe he says it best: “Traumatized originally by the perpetrator, the child is victimized again by the legal system designed to protect him/her. This legal system was originally put into place in order to identify children who had been abused or severely neglected by their parents or caretakers, remove those children at risk of further abuse or neglect and place them in protective custody (or terminate parental rights and place the child with adoptive parents), and bring perpetrators of child abuse and criminal neglect before the bar of justice. However, since its creation, this system has devolved into one where incompetent, ineffective, overwhelmed, and sometime corrupt government officials and entire bureaucracies, who are accountable to no one, are making decisions resulting in abused and neglected children being left in dangerous homes”.

Stats and Facts on Child Abuse

  Here is a good chunk of some stats and facts to get us thinking about Child Services:

“According to the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, 3 million new reports of child neglect or abuse were made in 1993, one report every 10 seconds. The recent National Incidence Survey III conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services found that fully 72% of all reports received by CPS, or 2,160,000 reports of abuse or neglect, were never investigated by CPS. 1993 records from Children’s Protective Services (“CPS”) show that almost half of all children who were confirmed as abused or neglected did not receive any follow-up assistance from CPS. Of those cases reported, an estimated 1,299 children died from abuse or neglect. 90% of those children were age 5 or younger. And, 42% of the children who died had been previously reported to CPS as being in danger”.

Important to note here is that “These preventable child deaths are not merely the result of incompetency or excessive caseloads”. No, in fact they are “the direct and predictable consequence of a social service delivery system that places a higher priority on preservation of the family unit and rehabilitation of the offender than on protection of the child”.

When Preserving the Family Unit Gets Dangerous

This so-called “preservation of the family unit” is a leading factor behind continued abuse. This policy still stands, even after a case has been reported, “investigated”, or deemed “unfounded”. Child Services place keeping the family together (even with evidence of abuse or neglect) as their main priority instead of the child’s safety and well being. According to a more recent study done by the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, “In 2008, approximately 122,350 children (16.1 percent of all substantiated cases of child maltreatment) were officially counted as victims of child physical abuse. In 2008, child physical abuse alone was responsible for 308 fatalities (226.9 percent of all CA/N fatalities)”.

What is truly mind boggling is that 72% of reported cases go un-investigated. I believe every case that is reported should be investigated to the fullest extent of the law. We are talking about children who have no rights and are at the mercy of those who care for them.

 Every report received by Child Services whether suspected or known, should be taken very seriously. A concerned friend, family member, or citizen isn’t going to call to report without a strong belief of misconduct. They most often have a valid reason for suspecting neglect or abuse. Maybe they have even witnessed something that constitutes being worthy of investigation. 

When Child Victims are Treated Differently than Adult Victims

Burton also points out that “Fundamental to understanding why we are failing the abused child is the fact that children who are victims of crimes are treated differently from all other victims of crimes. Only in instances of crimes against children does our law enforcement establishment allow CPS, a social service agency, lacking law enforcement training, experience, and priorities to receive the initial report of abuse, to perform the initial “civil” investigation of the crime, and dictate the progress of the criminal case”. 

It is tantamount to sending a med student in to perform a complex surgery without training or experience. After all of this time and all of the data showing the ineffectiveness of this system, it’s time to reassess. Why are we not demanding more training, improving the laws to better protect children? Should we continue throwing money at a bureaucracy that continues to fail and often make a problem worse? When reported on, an abusive parent often threatens and coaches the child to stay quiet. Punished further and coached to provide answers that will deter agents from taking further action, children suffer. Action that could not only help the kids, but save their lives. 

“Only in cases of child abuse is a victim forced by the state to live in the same home with his or her abuser” , which further compounding risks for children. Additionally Burton points out that “only in cases of child abuse is a person denied the right to be safe in his or her own home. This points out a fundamental issue involving the rights of children: They have no rights. Because children cannot speak for themselves, they are denied access to justice and equal protection under the law”. 

This is tragic! Just consider any kind of crime like, theft, break-ins, domestic abuse or disputes, or violent offenses. If called in and reported to police, the crimes I just listed would mean a quick response. The police would show up at the scene within minutes. They would take a report, remove the perpetrator or the victim from the scene, etc. This doesn’t happen for children. 

It is no surprise then, that “Allowing CPS to control the criminal investigation and the determination of when or if to remove the child from harm’s way has proved to be a fatal error by law enforcement” Burton explains.  Also distressing to think about is that “Whereas police agencies measure their response time to the scene of adult crimes in minutes (and child abuse cases invariably involve first degree felonies where the child is literally being held hostage by the perpetrator), CPS measures acceptable response time in terms of days. A “priority one” or life threatening report of child abuse means CPS is required under their own guidelines to make the crime scene in 24 hours”. How can we even excuse this or explain this away?

System Dismisses Homeschooled Child’s Perspective

Even more unbelievable to me is that “CPS lacks the victim’s perspective of law enforcement (whose complaining witness must be protected to preserve the criminal case). CPS’s “client” is not the child, but the family. Their goal is to rehabilitate the perpetrator and preserve the “family unit”; to perform a social experiment at the child’s expense. Unfortunately, few of such experiments have shown to be successful. Rates of reabuse in such homes are astronomically high”. 

As a kid I knew that even if I were to report Mom, they wouldn’t take me at my word. I had no rights, that much was clear. Skilled in manipulation, she would talk herself out of the situation and then my life and beatings would get exponentially worse.

Constantly told I was a terrible child that deserved punishment and nothing more, I learned to believe that was true. The system only made that more of a reality the more I learned about it. My only goal became survival and planning a future that was full of hope, love, affection and equality. 

My sister Julia remembers being questioned by the Child Services. When she described what Mom did to them on a daily basis, the agent looked disbelieving. The agent implied they were under the impression she was telling a tall tale. They seemed to conclude that she must be exaggerating to “punish” Mom, because she looked fine and healthy to the eye. 

Unfortunately, studies show that “While some efforts to rehabilitate parents who neglect or abuse their children have been successful, the results have never been predictable. In fact, the overwhelming statistical and clinical evidence indicates that most child abusers will continue to abuse, regardless of rehabilitation programs”. This is what kept me meek, silent, and resigned. 

Bureaucracy, Money, and Misplaced Priorities

“This family preservation bias has been strongly motivated by federal funding which has required, as a condition to receipt of the funds, that local CPS agencies demonstrate that “reasonable efforts” have been made to preserve the family”, says Burton. Clearly the agency needs money to operate. So in order to get this money, they supersede and forgo the needs and well-being of children. They cater to the directive that they “preserve the family unit” at all costs. At the additional cost of the child’s welfare and safety.

“Not surprisingly, when the vulnerable child abuse victim is kept in the same home with the person whom they may testify against and perhaps send to prison, the child often forgets or “recants” the allegations. This would be no different than forcing an adult victim of rape or battery to live with their rapist or batterer during the pendency of the criminal investigation, except that children are placed in even greater danger”. 

Burton hits the nail on the head throughout his article. Especially when he states that “It is inherently contradictory to have the same agency responsible for the investigation of a crime and protection of the child, on the one hand, and the preservation of the abusive family on the other! Despite the best intentions of the most dedicated social worker, a child cannot be protected in an abusive home”. This seems like it should be obvious to everyone. But if it were clear to Child Services, why do they continue to blatantly keep at risk children in unsafe conditions? I guess the answer is also clear: Money/Funding.

What Can We Do to Fix This?

I can’t stop quoting Burton’s article because it is full of incredible insight and research. He also says that “As various parts of the country have experienced “system failures” with CPS, a national consensus has developed that this family preservation agenda is risky and unworkable, and that children must be removed from homes whenever they are abused or neglected. This attitude is strongly supported by research from the social sciences”. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. 

The system at the moment is untenable and one that needs serious reform. This reform will happen when we begin demanding changes from our law-makers and representatives. It is the least we can do for children whose voices are currently ignored. Their claims currently hold no weight in court or in efforts to protect themselves. We can also donate to movements like Justice for Children and the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse. In addition, we should keep up to date on the laws being voted on or passed that impact this issue. Attempt to stay in the loop through these organizations and their website updates. We can be active participants in the demand for change.

About Author

Kelley grew up as the fourth of six children in small town Hodgenville, Kentucky where she and her siblings were all homeschooled until graduation when she escaped off to college. Ever since she has been on a quest for learning and enlightenment. She is deeply passionate about politics, animals (particularly dogs and horses), art, film, fashion, and global issues.

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