Social Workers Don’t Have It Out for Homeschoolers (According to HSLDA’s Own Numbers)

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on September 14, 2015.

A New Jersey homeschool family is suing after a social worker visited their home and asked questions about their curriculum, their children’s medical history, and the safety of the firearms stored in their house. Buried deep in an article about the case are these paragraphs:

The case highlights the tension between state social welfare agencies and homeschool families as the number of children being educated at home continues to grow. More than 2 million children are now involved in homeschooling, said Michael Farris Jr., spokesman for the Home School Legal Defense Association.

“When we get calls, it will more than likely be about a social case worker who says, ‘I got a call from someone else who says you’re not educating your kids,’ or ‘We’ve heard that you’re spanking your kids,’” Mr. Farris said.

“Homeschoolers are a unique case, especially because there will be someone, a family friend or even a family member, who disagrees with their choice to homeschool, so they’ll call in an anonymous tip,” he said. “That’s what we’re seeing probably the most.”

These paragraphs—and especially Farris Jr.’s quote—make it sound as though it is extremely common—nay, essentially universal—for homeschooling families to be reported to social services. But is this really true?

I do have some personal experience in this area. I was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school and we never had social services called on us. In fact, to my knowledge, social services was never called on any of the homeschooling families I knew growing up, at least during the years I was there. And yet, Farris Jr. wants to make it sound like friends or family members who disagree with families’ choices to homeschool are making near-constant calls to social services.

Of course, my experience is purely anecdotal. Perhaps HSLDA’s statistics are more complete—after all, they have 80,000 member families and urge these families to call them any time a social worker shows up on the door. With that many member families and the frequency with which homeschooling families are reported to CPS just because they homeschool, their phones must be ringing off the hook!

Well, no, they’re not. Only last month, Slate revealed this:

Farris said his group gets 300 calls a year from dues-paying members worrying about “social workers at the door.”

As Slate points out:

This number . . . represents just 0.35 percent of the HSLDA’s membership, assuming each call came from a different family.

And then there’s also a 2013 HSLDA article that contained this paragraph:

The evidence suggests that abuse in homeschooling families is rarer than in the general population. In 2011 (the last year for which data are available), 6.3% of all children in the U.S. were involved in abuse investigations. The same year, HSLDA assisted approximately 1.2% of our member families in child protective services (CPS) investigations. The vast majority of these investigations were based on frivolous accusations (such as the children being seen outside during school hours or concern about a possibly messy home) and closed as unfounded. While this statistic is not comprehensive, it can be seen as an indicator of a generally low rate of abuse among homeschoolers.

I’m not sure how to bridge the gap between 1.20% and 0.35%—that’s a pretty big discrepancy—but either way, that’s a very low percentage of homeschoolers overall. In fact, these numbers reveal that homeschoolers are less likely than other families to have social services called on them. While the article stats that 6.3% of children overall are involved in abuse investigations each year, the number I found was closer to 4% for both abuse and neglect. Whichever number you use, homeschool families are less likely than other families to be reported to CPS.

The article quoted above suggests that homeschool families are reported to social services less often than other families because they are less likely to abuse their children. While this is certainly possible, it should be noted that abusive parents who homeschool are more able to isolate their children from adults who might see and report than are parents who send their children to school. Without more research, it’s hard to know all of the factors that may be at play here.

But I have to say, there is some serious irony in the fact that those at HSLDA believe they can argue both that homeschooling families are constantly reported to social services by upset friends or relatives and that homeschooling families have a low rate of child abuse based on of how infrequently people call social services on homeschooling families. 

Of course, if HSLDA was honest about how infrequently their member families are frivolously reported to social services—i.e. almost never—they would probably have a harder time maintaining members.

6 comments

  • “Of course, if HSLDA was honest about how infrequently their member families are frivolously reported to social services—i.e. almost never—they would probably have a harder time maintaining members.”
    Exactly! I am a homeschool mom and I used to be TERRIFIED (because of HSLDA’s emails, which thankfully, I never joined) that someone was going to try to take my kids away for NO REASON. They should be ashamed at those scare tactics! As if Social Workers aren’t overworked enough and have nothing to do but harass people who are minding their own business!

    • Just wanted to add that I am a college graduate with post graduate education….not that I’m naive but they prey on people’s fears…homeschooling was new for me and I wasn’t sure of myself…. HSLDA’s plan is calculated. Shame on them.

    • Agreeing with Nanci. It wasn’t until I came into contact with HSLDA that I became paranoid of CPS. I’ve only known one of my close friends that had CPS called on the family. Her teenage son had walked over the hill to a neighbor’s house to return something that she had borrowed (the neighbor was a public school teacher, no less); he took his 3-year old sister with him because the child wanted to go for a walk. A snoopy neighbor called CPS when they saw the teen return without the 3-year old (the girl had come back with another brother when the mom sent something else over to the teacher’s house. The neighbor that called CPS failed to see this transpire). Anyway, CPS came out, told my friend about the call, and she let them in. The workers saw the children were fine, the house was in order, (they didn’t even ask to look at the school records), and they told her about the report. She was able to explain what happened that day, and the workers realized that the concerned neighbor was in error. The CPS workers said that they had to check everything out because of the call, and they apologized for the intrusion. She never heard from them again. Since my friend had a large family, she could not afford HSLDA’s fees. My guess is that she hadn’t read the publications or gotten the emails to make her paranoid, because she didn’t think twice about letting them in. I know I would’ve had a major coronary had it been me! In my 18+ years of homeschooling, I have heard of only two other families that had CPS called on them, and that’s because their kids were outside playing during school hours.

      I dropped my HSLDA membership this year because I realized that it wasn’t necessary. I have two kids in college and one in high school. My documentation is always in compliance. I’ve concluded that as long as I’m educating my children, and following the laws of the state, then I really don’t have anything to fear.

      The fees for HSLDA have gone up through the years and many families cannot afford them. Another friend of mine told me that she also quit her membership to HSLDA because of the seemingly unnecessary high rates (over $100 now). She told me that it wasn’t necessary because the states where homeschooling is widely accepted (or very little oversight), there were few complaints filed against homeschoolers, with most of them being divorce cases anyway. (She got this pertinent piece of info from a group that doesn’t push the memberships). I find that parents that “actually homeschool” honestly don’t run into problems with CPS. There may be an exception to this, but from my experience, it seems to be a rare occurrence.

      • Years ago, we had neighbors who were doing drugs in their house….the police were there all the time and told us….there were two little boys living in that crazy house….the other neighbor called CPS several times about it, and although they’d come out to check, the kids stayed right there….it was sad, but there was nothing they could do they said. When I saw all that going on and CPS not removing the kids from a house where there were drugs, I was able to laugh about HSLDA’s scare tactics….but how many people do pay those exhorbitant dues out of fear?????

    • True! I was one of the Fearful Faithful for almost two decades, paying the high dues for years in advance just so I could get a “discount” (and a “free history video”!). We were “highly encouraged” (pressured) by our homeschool group to join, because “if” we were contacted by DSS/CPS, and we weren’t members, well…tough luck on you! BUT, even if this would probably NEVER happen, then by joining, you would be HELPING OUT other homeschool families who couldn’t afford the fees (altruistic appeal). I thought the membership to HSLDA was something akin to an “insurance” plan, where I would have access to a lawyer that was versed in homeschool laws should I be investigated by DSS/CPS. I didn’t realize that part of the “membership” would entail endless emails requesting money or instructions to “call or write” the politicians for my state to promote or destroy potential laws that may (or may not) disrupt my right to homeschool. After awhile, it got very tiring so I sent the emails to my spam folder. And yes, in most states, the goal of DSS/CPS is to keep the families together, even if it means the kids will be returned to the most wretched of circumstances. My friend, a foster parent, said that the system is glutted with children from these homes. So it is even more highly unlikely that DSS/CPS will take the time to investigate stable families that homeschool.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    But I have to say, there is some serious irony in the fact that those at HSLDA believe they can argue both that homeschooling families are constantly reported to social services by upset friends or relatives and that homeschooling families have a low rate of child abuse based on of how infrequently people call social services on homeschooling families.

    doublethink, comrade, doublethink.

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