Homeschooling and Child Protection
Homeschooling is parent-directed education that meets the requirements for regular school attendance. The U.S. Department of Education in its 2007 National Household Education Survey estimated that “1.5 million students (1,508,000) were homeschooled in the United States.” In that same study, parents were asked why they homeschooled their children. “The three reasons selected by parents of more than two-thirds of students were concern about the school environment, to provide religious or moral instruction, and dissatisfaction with the academic instruction available at other schools.”
Almost all states specifically list professional school officials as mandated reporters. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that “professionals submitted more than one-half (56.5 percent) of the cases referred to and assessed or investigated by child protective services (CPS), with education personnel the most frequent source of reports (16.2 percent).” As the number of children being homeschooled increases, the number of reports of suspected child abuse and neglect by school officials regarding those children is obviously decreasing dramatically.
Whether or not there is hard evidence that abuse among homeschooled children is more frequent or severe than those who attend public or private schools, it is not surprising that there is concern by child welfare advocates that homeschooled children may be at risk for undetected abuse simply because these children do not have the benefit of oversight by school officials. Accordingly, some CPS officials would like enhanced authority to intervene, in particular the right to speak directly and privately to the child.
While there is no intrinsic antagonism between home schooling and child protection, it seems that there is an increase in the number of legal actions alleging that child protection services workers illegally search the residence of parents who are home schooling their children.
To what extent have the courts established that this Amendment regulates social workers’ civil investigations? What is the balance between the need for CPS workers to challenge the parent’s Fourth Amendment rights versus the importance of the government’s interest to justify an intrusion into a person’s home? These and other questions are asked following the death or injury of children who were removed from a school setting.
Homeschool advocates note, however, that without definitive evidence that there is an increased risk of abuse, there should be no cause for undue scrutiny and suspicion of homes in which children are homeschooled. Indeed, they ask poignantly, how safe are children in public and private schools? In both cases, we dare not underestimate the formidable task faced by CPS workers.
An unabridged version of this article originally appeared in Policy & Practice, 70(1), 29, 35.
 E.g., Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-304; Haw. Rev. Stat. § 350-1.1(a); Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 22 § 4011-A(1); Mont. Code Ann. § 41-3-201(2); Neb. Rev. Stat. § 28-711(1); Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1509.
 http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/educator/educatorb.cfm#backntwo, Identifying reasons why educators are concerned about child abuse and neglect (2003).
 See e.g., Gross, J. (January 12, 2008). Lack of Supervision Noted in Deaths of Home-Schooled. New York Times. Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/12/us/12bodies.html