Homeschool Abuse and Neglect Research: How Many Homeschooled Kids Are Abused?

While many positive research findings have been associated with homeschooling, scholars, policymakers, legislators, and parents are curious about the relative rates of abuse and neglect of public school students, private school students, and homeschool students. To date, a paucity of studies have addressed this topic.

How many public school kids are abused? How many private school kids are abused? How many homeschooled kids are abused? What are the different rates? These questions abound in various settings. Shakeshaft (2021; see also, Shakeshaft, 2004) noted that, based on the most recent research available (which is old), 9.6% of all school students in grades 8 to 11 reported contact and/or non-contact school educator sexual misconduct that was unwanted. She estimated that this would be an estimated 5.6 million public school and independent school students of all 2021-2022 school year students being subject to sexual misconduct by an employee of a school sometime between kindergarten and 12th grade. Shakeshaft also noted that no comparable data are available regarding homeschooled students.

The Evidence

Table 1 presents the few extant studies that directly address, in some way, the abuse or neglect of homeschool students. Brief descriptions of the studies, in chronological order of publication, follow.

Study Finding Method (Johnson, 2001)
Coalition for Responsible Home Education (2015) Conventional school and homeschool students experienced the same rate of maltreatment Descriptive cross-sectional
Connecticut (2018) 33% of students withdrawn from school to homeschool in families with unfounded or founded reports to children’s services Case study, non-representative
Dills (2021) No clear evidence of an increase in reported incidents of abuse in states that relaxed controls on homeschooling. Explanatory cross-sectional, over time
Knox et al (2014) 47% of the maltreated children had been in school but were now allegedly homeschooled Case studies, non-representative
Maranto (2021) Abuse rates declined in United States as homeschool rates rose Descriptive, longitudinal
Ray (2018) No relationship between degree of state regulation of homeschooling and the abuse/neglect of homeschool students Explanatory cross-sectional
Ray (2015, 2022) Homeschooled abused at a lower rate than conventionally schooled Descriptive cross-sectional
Williams (2017) Conventional school fatalities more than homeschool Descriptive cross-sectional

Knox et al. (2014) studied a non-representative and non-consecutive case series of 28 children with evidence of long-term physical abuse, neglect, and/or psychological maltreatment. Some 13 of the children had been enrolled in school, and were typically already involved as a case with Child Protective Services, and were then removed from school under the auspice of homeschooling.

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (2015) created a database from “… publicly available online news articles and, in some instances, court records to find and document the cases of severe abuse or neglect in homeschool settings.” They did not state that the database is representative of the overall homeschool population. The organization found that there was no statistically significant difference in child fatality rates between homeschool children and public school and private school children.

Williams (2017) used various sources of data across a ten-year period to examine child fatalities due to abuse and neglect. He found the following: “Legally homeschooled students are 40% less likely to die by child abuse or neglect than the average student nationally.”

Ray (2018) was interested in whether there is any association between U.S. state government controls over the practice of homeschooling and the rate of abuse of homeschooled children. He used the database of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (2015) and found no statistically significant relationship between the degree of state control or regulation of homeschooling and the frequency of homeschool child abuse or neglect.

The State of Connecticut (2018) mixed theoretical argument with some empirical evidence after they reviewed data, not collected to result in a representative sample, from six “… school districts’ withdrawal/homeschooling practices …” They described case examples of alleged child abuse or neglect from six school districts and presented no finding about the overall rate of abuse or neglect of students who were withdrawn from an institutional school to be home educated.

Only one statement to abuse that was based on empirical data was provided by Maranto (2021, p. 127). “In fact, about 1% of children annually are estimated to suffer abuse, and those rates seem to have declined in recent decades even as homeschooling has grown …”

Dills (2021) presented preliminary findings based on data from 15 U.S. states on homeschool laws, deaths of children, and child maltreatment fatalities and cases. She found no clear evidence of an increase in reported incidents of maltreatment in states that relaxed legal controls or bans on homeschooling.

In a study of the transmission of culture, religion, and affinity for four school choices to adults who were homeschooled, public schooled, and private schooled, Ray (2015, 2022) asked one question – “Were you ever sexually abused before age 18?” – of the representative sample of U.S. adult participants. “Those who attended public school were 2.57 times more likely (with statistical significance) to have been sexually abused than the homeschooled, those who attended Christian school were 2.11 times more likely (with statistical significance) to have been sexually abused than the homeschooled, and there was no statistical difference between the sexual abuse experience of those who attended non-Christian private schools and the home educated” (Ray, 2022, p. 9-10).

Concluding Thoughts

Are homeschoolers more likely to be abused? Than public school students? Than private school students? The answer has not been conclusively answered by empirical research. At this point, there is little evidence that the public schooled or private schooled are abused, neglected, or otherwise maltreated at any higher or lower rate than the homeschooled. More research will help move us toward the answer.

Further Resources

References

Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE)/Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. (2015). Some preliminary data on homeschool child fatalities, https://hsinvisiblechildren.org/commentary/some-preliminary-data-on-homeschool-child-fatalities/

Connecticut, State of, Office of the Child Advocate. (2018). Examining Connecticut’s Safety Net for Children Withdrawn from School for the Purpose of Homeschooling—Supplemental Investigation To OCA’s December 12 2017 Report Regarding the Death of Matthew Tirado, https://www.ct.gov/oca/lib/oca/OCA.Memo.Homeschooling.4.25.2018.pdf

Dills, Angela. (2021). Is child abuse greater at school or homeschool? (or, “Homeschooling and child safety: Are kids safer at home?), https://www.hks.harvard.edu/centers/taubman/programs-research/pepg/events/future-homeschooling and https://www.hks.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/Taubman/PEPG/conference/homeschool-conference-slides-dills.pdf

Johnson, Burke. (2001). Toward a new classification of nonexperimental quantitative research. Educational Researcher, 30(2), 3-13.

Knox, Barbara L; Starling, Suzanne P.; Feldman, Kenneth W.; Kellogg, Nancy D.; Frasier, Lori D.; & Tiapula, Suzanna L. (2014). Child torture as a form of child abuse. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, 7(1), 37-49.

Maranto, Robert. (2021) Between elitism and populism: A case for pluralism in schooling and homeschooling, Journal of School Choice, 15(1), 113-138.

Ray, Brian D. (2015). Gen2 Survey: A spiritual and educational survey on Christian millennials. Salem, Oregon: National Home Education Research Institute, https://www.nheri.org/gen2-survey-a-spiritual-and-educational-survey-on-christian-millennials/

Ray, Brian D. (2018, March 15). The relationship between the degree of state regulation of homeschooling and the abuse of homeschool children (Students), https://www.nheri.org/degree-of-homeschool-regulation-no-relationship-to-homeschool-child-abuse/

Ray, Brian D. (2022). The transmission of culture, religion, and affinity for four school choices to adults who were homeschooled, public schooled, and private schooled, NHERI Working Paper 2022-02a, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4046167

Shakeshaft, Charol. (2004). Educator sexual misconduct: A synthesis of existing literature. Washington, DC: United States Department of Education. Retrieved February 7, 2017, January 18, 2015, and December 18, 2012 from http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/misconductreview/report.pdf

Shakeshaft, Charol. (2021). Sexual misconduct in public and independent schools and implications for homeschooling. Presented as an invited paper, Harvard University Kennedy School Conference, Post-Pandemic Future of Homeschooling, June 3, 2021, https://www.hks.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/Taubman/PEPG/conference/homeschool-conference-slides-shakeshaft.pdf

Williams, Rodger. (2017, July 28). Homeschool child fatalities fewer than the national average, https://homeschoolingbackgrounder.com/homeschool-child-fatalities-fewer-than-national-average/

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