There seem to be constant stories in the news of extreme criminal child abuse. It is sickening, and these stories are far too common. These victims are children who do not attend public school and whose parents claim to be homeschooling them. Let me emphasize that this is NOT typical of most homeschoolers, but homeschooling is a convenient cover to avoid discovery and arrest.
Because of the nature of the issue, there is no data that will tell us the overall number of parents who homeschool in part or in whole to conceal abuse. The data we do have suggests that among parents who abuse school-age children so severely that their abuse can be deemed torture, homeschooling is a popular choice.
Extreme Criminal Child Abuse
Severe child abuse can involve extreme isolation, starvation, physical abuse, and neglect of healthcare, education, and other important developmental supports. These crimes are often uncovered when someone reports suspicion of abuse to Child Protective Services (some states use different names) and the suspect families are investigated.
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) states, “Our preliminary research suggests that homeschooled children are at a greater risk of dying from child abuse than are traditionally schooled children. This preliminary finding is based on an analysis of the cases in our Homeschooling’s Invisible Children (HIC) database and on national government reports on child maltreatment. When we compare the rate of child abuse fatalities among homeschooled families to the rate of child abuse fatalities overall, we see a higher rate of death due to abuse or neglect among homeschooled students.”
A major concern among many fundamentalist homeschoolers is being visited by CPS (Child Protective Services) because they feel the state has no business interfering with issues in their homes. Strong support for fundamentalist homeschoolers comes from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which has been very successful in preventing state involvement with homeschoolers. However, HSLDA is on record as NOT supporting child abuse even to the point of recommending reporting of suspected abuse to CPS in some cases.
Stories of Terribly Tragic Child Abuse
One might think the prevalence of such extreme child abuse is overstated. I wish it were, but here are examples of very recent incidents.
The Hart Children
Time reports (March 26, 2018) “Two weeks after a family of eight plunged off a California cliff in an SUV, investigators remain bewildered by how little they know about the Harts, who homeschooled their children and faced allegations of child abuse stretching back 10 years. Jennifer and Sarah Hart and three of their children — Markis, Jeremiah and Abigail — were killed in the crash, which authorities now suspect was intentional. Police believe the Harts’ three other children were also in the car, though their bodies have not been found.”
CHRE responds: “The Hart children’s deaths occurred two days after a child protective services official visited their home following a report made by a neighbor that one of the children had come by her home a dozen times asking for food, stating that he was being starved as punishment.”
“Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit that advocates for homeschooled children, did not find the details of the case surprising. ‘The Hart children’s abuse and tragic death fit many of the themes we have identified since we began maintaining our Homeschooling’s Invisible Children database in 2013,’ said Coleman. ‘A disproportionate number of severe and fatal child abuse cases in homeschool settings involve adoption.’”
The Turpin Children
The Turpin family. Image credit news.au.com.
From the Los Angeles Times (January 16 2018) “The siblings were discovered after one of them escaped through a window and called 911…When deputies arrived at the house…three of the children were tied up. The couple punished their children by beating and choking them, tied them to beds for weeks or months at a time and deprived them of food…
“Deputies at first assumed from the children’s frail and malnourished appearances that all of them were minors but later determined that seven of them were adults, according to the Sheriff’s Department…Their undernourishment was so severe that the 29-year-old weighed only 82 pounds…A 12-year-old victim weighed the same as an average 7-year-old.”
CRHE adds: “CRHE…has learned that the thirteen Turpin children, found emaciated and chained in a home in Perris, California, on Sunday, were homeschooled. “This case fits a pattern we’ve seen of isolation and imprisonment in abusive homeschooling situations,” said Rachel Coleman…the organization’s executive director.”
From the Springfield Patch (September 21, 2017) An indictment returned Wednesday charged Rebecca Ruud, 39, and Robert Peat Jr., 31, with first-degree murder and an alternative count of child abuse resulting in the death of Savannah Leckie…bone fragments identified as the teen’s were found in a burn pile on the couple’s rural property…Savannah was homeschooled and her only contact with others came from working as a junior firefighter in Theodosia, where Ruud was a volunteer firefighter…Ruud’s ex-boyfriend, Buddy Smart, told investigators he had seen her discipline Savannah by forcing her to crawl through a hog pen and making her to bathe in a pond, the affidavit states.
CRHE writes: Earlier this month, the ashes of sixteen-year-old Savannah Leckie’s body were found concealed on a farm in a rural area of Missouri. Authorities believe Rebecca Ruud, Leckie’s birth mother, dissolved her body in lye before burning it. “Savannah is at least the third sixteen-year-old girl to die of child abuse in a homeschool setting in the past twelve months,” said Rachel Coleman.
Homeschooling and Child Abuse
I am not suggesting that homeschooling causes such tragic child abuse but that homeschooling is a convenient way to avoid detection and possible arrest. But there IS another form of child abuse that is more typical of fundamentalist homeschooling. We will talk about that next time.