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.”[1] 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.”[2]

Almost all states specifically list professional school officials as mandated reporters.[3] 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).”[4] 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.[5]

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.

Daniel Pollack is a professor at Yeshiva University’s School of Social Work in New York City and a frequent expert witness in child welfare cases. He can be reached at

An unabridged version of this article originally appeared in Policy & Practice, 70(1), 29, 35.

[1], page 1.

[2], page 2.

[3] 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.

[4], Identifying reasons why educators are concerned about child abuse and neglect (2003).

[5] See e.g., Gross, J. (January 12, 2008). Lack of Supervision Noted in Deaths of Home-Schooled. New York Times. Accessible at

1 Reply to "Homeschooling and Child Protection"

  • Happy Elf Mom
    March 29, 2013 (11:57 am)

    Hello! We began homeschooling after the school systematically abused our child. Parents have little or no recourse if they disagree with the disciplinary system in public schools. Even paddling was in our student handbook until two years ago. Somehow magically if the teacher is “certificated,” it is OK to lock children in closets or smack them. This is because parents don’t get away with calling the closet a “safe room” or employing other educationalese terms to the abuse, but teachers can, and there are no good records out there about how much of this is going on. Social services cannot intervene in our state without the superintendent’s finding it is abuse. (I am in Missouri.)

    Then, too, there is the fact that schools are overly permissive in allowing police and social workers access to these children. Homeschooling or not, no rational parent would just allow their child to be spoken to alone in a room with an officer or social worker during some vague fishing expedition. Perhaps doctors and other professionals can afford to be “concerned” because it is not their fourth amendment rights that are violated, and then too, the reality is that people treat the families of doctors and other important people more respectfully than they would most others. So they’re not seeing this intrusion the same way we regular people would.

    I’m not saying there are no abusers who claim to be homeschooling (!!), but I am saying that the system has entirely too much power to begin with. And this is to the detriment of the children.