Homeschoolers and Social Services

Some materials published by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) include frightening scenarios that depict homeschoolers being threatened by agents of Social Services. But what are the chances that a homeschooling family would ever have contact with Social Services? Does HSLDA truly offer any real protection? And what other resources are available?

Accurate Statistics?

The Home School Legal Defense Association’s July/August 2001 Court Report includes lists of the organization’s “Top 10″ for number of contact with CPS (Child Protective Services). It shows families in Virginia having 18.37 CPS contacts per 100 HSLDA members between February 2000 and January 2001 (although it does not specify whether the “contacts” were between CPS and members, or members’ contacts with HSLDA—such as from those asking for information about CPS). That equals about one in 5.4. If these figures are accurate, an astonishingly high number of HSLDA members are contacted by CPS.

Frightening Scenarios

What Parents Should Know About Child Welfare Agencies” was the title of a presentation at the October 23, 1999, HSLDA Support Group Seminar held in Richmond, VA. HSLDA attorney Scott Woodruff related stores of CPS workers and assorted law officers forcing their way into people’s homes, then claiming they were admitted voluntarily. He told a horror story of a family whose children were clued in, by CPS questioners, to the possibilities of child sexual abuse.

Accompanying this frightening talk was the 16-page “Dealing With Social Services Contacts,” section of the Seminar workbook. The first page of that section begins with: “More and more frequently, home schoolers are turned in on child abuse hotlines to social services agencies.”

The seminar workbook also includes a 5-page publication titled “What Is HSLDA?” which presents the following senarios…

  • “A truant officer is at the door. He pushes his way in. He will not leave until he can take your children to the public school. What can you do?
  • “A police officer is at your door with an arrest warrant to take your six-year-old child. Who can you call?
  • “The local public school official insists that your home school arrangement is not legal and threatens you with criminal charges. Where can you get help fast?

“The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is the answer…”

What could possibly frighten dedicated parents more than the belief that their children could be seized by an unfeeling government agency?

However:

A glaring contradiction to the implied risk to homeschoolers was revealed when, during Mr. Woodruff’s talk, another HSLDA attorney, David Gordon (who recently left the organization), piped up from the back of the room. Mr. Gordon said, “Out of the 60,000 members, if I got 1 call a day [about CPS problems] — about 200 per year — which I don’t, that would equal only 1/3 of 1% of members. Nobody here should be afraid. Most [CPS] reports come through public schools. Nine out of ten end up unfounded or unsubstantiated.”

Via subsequent private E-mails, it seemed Mr. Gordon’s assertion was supported by Scott Woodruff and HSLDA founder Michael Farris.

When HSLDA attorney Scott Woodruff was asked about CPS contacts, he wrote, “the likelihood of this [a homeschooling family being reported to CPS] happening to any one family is small, but since the impact can be devastating, everyone should have accurate background information.”

In an e-mail letter written in January of 2000, responding to questions about the rate that homeschoolers in general, and HSLDA members in particular are investigated by CPS, Michael Farris wrote that HSLDA does not “keep specific centralized data on each contact,” but he addressed the topic in a general fashion, stating that “Most home school families will go through their entire child-rearing years with no contact whatsoever from social services. It is impossible for us to say with any accuracy what the percentages would be, but it is not insignificant–that is some number approaching zero.”

  • “…less than 1% of our…member families have been investigated on an annual basis.”
    - J. Michael Smith, current president of HSLDA,
    Interview with The Old School House Magazine,
    March 27, 2002
  • One of the most frequent problems facing innocent homeschool families in Virginia is that of social worker investigations based on anonymous tips.”
    -HSLDA bulletin on HB2831,
    January 28, 2003
  • “HSLDA handles literally hundreds of social services contacts each year. Our most recent statistics show that from July 2002 through June 2003, we received 815 calls from homeschooling families facing a social services investigation. That’s an average of 68 calls per month, more than two calls per day, including weekends”
    -HSLDA article on Crosswalk.com,
    October 1, 2003

Which is it? Less than 1/3 of 1%, as asserted by Mr. Gordon, or Mike Smith’s “less than 1%,” or the bulletin’s “one of the most frequent problems,” or “not…some number approaching zero,” as claimed by Mr. Farris, or the 68 calls per month, or the 18.37% depicted in HSLDA’s Court Report?

Where is the Benefit?

According to HSLDA’s Frequently Asked Questions, the organization will help “members through the initial stages of child abuse and neglect investigations. We remain involved in follow-up litigation if home schooling is an issue.”

This assurance is vague, and there is no legal contract binding the organization to represent you.

HSLDA’s application form requires prospective members to state whether they have “been investigated for or charged with child abuse, neglect, or any other related charges within the past 5 years,” and, if so, directs the applicant to “explain when the investigation occurred, if there was a finding of abuse or neglect, and if it has been fully resolved,” and “send copies of any court documents attached to your application.”

Interestingly, the form lists requirements of the members, but doesn’t say what HSLDA will do for them — only what it won’t. Where is the benefit in membership if HSLDA does do not guarantee it will do anything?

Resources and Information on Social Services:

Download Your Free Book

A very informative, free book:
Making Reasonable Efforts: A Permanent Home for Every Child (86-pages). Developed with support from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. Written by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Child Welfare League of America, Youth Law Center, and National Center for Youth Law. [Also available for online reading.]

The Experts on CPS Reports

  • “Generally 20-30% of the reporters are from the school system.”
    -Betty Zarris,
    Virginia CPS Policy Consultant
    (804) 692-1220
  • “Homeschoolers are not targeted by CPS in Virginia. Home schooling is not considered a risk factor.”
    -B. Zarris,
    Virginia CPS Policy Consultant
    (804) 692-1220
  • “Homeschooling is not viewed as an indication of risk of abuse and/or neglect.”
    -Alice F. Koenig,
    Virginia CPS Program Consultant
  • “Spanking is not child abuse.”
    -Edwin H. Schuster,
    Child Protective Services Program Specialist
    VA Department of Social Services
  • “Most [CPS] reports come through public schools. Nine out of ten end up unfounded or unsubstantiated.”
    -HSLDA attorney David Gordon,
    HSLDA Support Group Seminar,
    October 23, 1999
  • “The likelihood of this [a homeschooling family being reported to CPS] happening to any one family is small, but…everyone should have accurate background information.”
    -HSLDA attorney Scott Woodruff,
    private e-mail to the author
  • “Most home school families will go through their entire child-rearing years with no contact whatsoever from social services.”
    -Michael Farris, HSLDA founder,
    private e-mail to author
  • “Organizations that sell CPS insurance are selling something based on fear. Instead of buying into it you should inform yourself and understand your rights.”
    -Edwin H. Schuster,
    Child Protective Services Program Specialist,
    VA Department of Social Services

In Virginia, families contacted by CPS have a right to:

  • ask the CPS worker for positive ID
  • know the nature of the complaint
  • refuse entry to the CPS worker (but the investigation will continue)
  • refuse to show the CPS worker any part of your home
  • ask the CPS representative to come back at another time, to meet in a neutral location, or to wait for the arrival of a trusted individual
  • ask the CPS employee to leave at any time
  • file an appeal before the finding is determined
  • the right to appeal after a finding is made
  • “If you’re following the state’s homeschool requirements, CPS is not going to get involved because of homeschooling.” –Edwin H. Schuster,
    Child Protective Services Program Specialist,
    VA Department of Social Services
  • “Virginia has no definition of educational neglect.” –Edwin H. Schuster,
    Child Protective Services Program Specialist,
    VA Department of Social Services

Updated: January 13, 2008

 
 
 

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