Homeschooling and Child Abuse, Child Neglect, and Child Fatalities
Brian D. Ray, Ph.D.*
February 2, 2016**
Copyright © 2016 by Brian D. Ray
Keywords: homeschooling, child abuse, child neglect, child fatalities, public school, private school, research, research findings, evidence-based, “homeschool child abuse”
News stories, anecdotes, and some research regarding school teachers and other personnel doing evil things to students and children have become common in the United States (Shakeshaft, 2004; Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation, 2016). News stories, government data, and research reports on parents harming children is also available (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016).During the past few years, some news stories have implied a special connection between child abuse, child neglect, or child fatalities and homeschooling. This brief paper addresses the following question: Has any research been done that provides any empirical evidence regarding the rates of child abuse, child neglect, or abuse-related child fatalities in homeschooling families compared to the rates in the subpopulations of families who engage in public schooling or private schooling?
Review of Literature
Since 1983 I have been carefully following research on homeschooling (home education, home-based education, home school) and have acquired an extensive bibliography on it. A recent thorough search of available literature has resulted in identifying only two published items relevant to the question posed in this paper – one original research study report and one article using publicly available data.
I (Ray, 2015) surveyed adults who were churched while growing up in order to explore and understand the relationship between their church experiences, family relationships, education/schooling experiences, and cultural inputs during childhood and their Christian beliefs and behaviors as adults. The total sample size in this nationwide study is 9,369. As part of this, a nationwide representative sub-sample of 907 subjects was purchased from a national, independent business and used as a comparative baseline to enhance the integrity and validity of the study. Data on how many years they spent in public schools, private secular schools, private Christian schools, and homeschooling during their K-12 school years were collected. Only one question in the survey instrument (questionnaire) dealt with the abuse of minors (i.e., sexual abuse).
In a simple statistical analysis, it was revealed that those who were homeschooled were significantly less likely to have been sexually abused as minors than were those who were public schooled and those who attended private Christian schools. Further, there was no significant difference in the rate of having been sexually abused as a child between those who were homeschooled and those who attended private non-Christian schools.
Only one other published article, utilizing publicly available data, appears to have directly addressed the topic of this paper. An organization called Homeschooling’s Invisible Children (HIC) (2015) summarized various disparate sources of information in an attempt to address child fatality rates within homeschooling families compared to non-homeschooling families. They found no statistically significant difference between general public and homeschool fatality rates.
Unfortunately, however, HIC’s presentation of their findings was misleading. Factually, they claimed that their “… preliminary research suggests that homeschooled children are at a greater risk …” This claim is false. Their findings suggested no such thing. Their statistical findings were that neither group was at greater risk than the other. Presentation-wise, they stated early in the article (paragraph 3) their theme that homeschools are dangerous to children. However, HIC did not reveal that their actual findings showed no significant difference until late in the article (paragraph 11). More implicit bias emerged in the following: “This finding does not yet reach the threshold for statistical significance …” (paragraph 11). Language such as “not yet” might clearly reveal a hope and a bias on the part of the authors, but not any kind of empirical objectivity. The vital point is that they found no significant difference and should have clearly reported this at the beginning of their article instead of making the biased and misleading claims.
To date, there has been only one report of research utilizing original data directly related to homeschooling and child abuse, child neglect, and child fatalities. That study asked one question regarding sexual abuse and found that adults who had been home educated reported being abused at a lower rate than those in two other groups and at the same rate as a third group. One organization (in another article) worked to collect information from various sources in an attempt to estimate child fatality rates within the homeschool population. The authors of that article found no significant difference in fatality rates between the general public and the homeschool population. Based on this very limited base of information, one might say that there is no reliable, empirical evidence that homeschooled children experience any more abuse, neglect or fatalities due to neglect than do children who attend public or private institutional school.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Child maltreatment prevention. Retrieved January 25, 2016 fromwww.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childmaltreatment.
Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. (2015). Some preliminary data on homeschool child fatalities. Retrieved September 03, 2015 from http://hsinvisiblechildren.org .
Ray, Brian D. (2015, January 30). Gen2 Survey: A spiritual and educational survey on Christian millennials. Retrieved March 12, 2015 from http://www.nheri.org/research/gen2-survey-a-spiritual-and-educational-survey-on-christian-millennials.html .
Shakeshaft, Charol. (2004). Educator sexual misconduct: A synthesis of existing literature. Washington, DC: United States Department of Education. Retrieved January 18, 2015 and December 18, 2012 fromhttp://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/misconductreview/report.pdf. Retrieved July 19, 2005 fromhttp://www.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/misconductreview/report.pdf.
Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation. (2016). Retrieved January 25, 2016 from www.sesamenet.org
Keywords: child abuse, homeschooling, abuse in homeschooling environments, homeschooling and concealing abuse, research, homeschool abuse, public school, private school, homeschool compared to public school, homeschool vs. public school
* Brian D. Ray is president of the National Home Education Research Institute (www.nheri.org) and internationally known for his research on homeschooling (home education, home-based education). He is a former professor at the undergraduate and graduate levels and classroom teacher in public and private schools, and serves an expert witness before many courts and legislatures. He holds a B.S. in biology from the University of Puget Sound, an M.S. in zoology from Ohio University, and a Ph.D. in science education from Oregon State University.
** Slightly revised February 5, 2016.