Saturday, 29 May 2010

Home education used as a cover for child abuse and neglect

We looked yesterday at the use in America of 'home education' as a way of concealing the true rate of truancy and dropouts in the Texas school system. I speculated that this sort of thing could become more common here as the numbers of nominally home educated children increase. I want to look now at the extent to which home education might be used as a cover for child abuse and neglect. We shall look at the American example again, because of course home education is far more common and generally accepted in that country.

In Britain, cases where home education is associated with sexual abuse and murder are probably quite rare. When they do come to light, they often make the national headlines. In the USA, where there are far more home educated children, such cases have become commonplace. Here are a few recent examples, chosen more or less at random. The police in Monument, Colorado are hunting for Monique Lynch and Hanif Sims. They began home educating their child in 2008 and then moved house recently, leaving the corpse of their child under the floorboards. Police are still investigating a bizarre cult in Baltimore run by a woman who styled herself 'Queen Antoinette'. The group spent a lot of time reading the Bible and home educating their children, one of whom was starved to death as a punishment. In York, Pennsylvania, a man called Nathaniel Craver also starved his home educated child to death. Paradise, California; Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz beat their adopted 11 year old daughter to death. They have nine home educated children, three of them adopted. Home educated Jeanette Marples, aged 15 was tortured to death by her parents in Eugene, Oregon. In Santa Ana an Englishman called David Allen Goddard has been arrested for the terrible sexual abuse of a teenage girl whom he was supposedly home educating.

And so it goes on. These are all cases over the last month or so; none made particularly big headlines. It is quite possible, indeed likely, that the more common that home education becomes, the more common will become such cases of abuse and murder. As home education grows in this country, we can probably expect to see more cases of abuse and murder of supposedly home educated children here. I say 'supposedly' because of course in these cases home education was actually used as a cover for abuse and neglect. As readers will remember, one of the terms of reference of the Badman review of elective home education was to investigate the extent to which claims of home education could be used as a cover for child abuse such as neglect and sexual exploitation. This provoked fury on the part of some home educators, the impression being given that such things were almost unheard of.

The problem is, both here and in the United States, not home educators as such. Parents home educating their children are probably no more likely to abuse or murder them than those who send them to school. The problem is that when regulations and monitoring are ineffective or non-existent, then some people will claim to be home educating in order to harm children. Without investigating the claim that they are home educating, it is all but impossible to detect these people.

What is the response of home educators in this country? It is twofold. Firstly, they try whenever possible to ignore such cases which involve home education. The dreadful affair in Plymouth a month ago, when parents deregistered their thirteen year old daughter from school, declined visits and then used her as a sex slave has been absolutely ignored. Home educators like to think that such things do not happen. When it is impossible to ignore a case involving the cruel mistreatment of a home educated child, such as happened in the case of Khyra Ishaq, the tactic is a little different; they pretend that she was not a home educated child at all. How can this be done? Very simply, if you have the right mindset.

Khyra Ishaq's mother took her children out of school in order to teach them at home. There seems no doubt at all that this was her intention. She bought a lot of exercise books and workbooks for maths and English. She couldn't cope with the task, but that was certainly her intention. Home educators point out though that she failed to comply with the Education (Pupil Registration) Regulations 2006, which cover the deregistration of children from school to be home educated. Regulation 8 Italic(1)(d) says that a child's name is to be removed from a school's register if: He has ceased to attend the school and the proprietor has received
written notification from the parent that the pupil is receiving
education otherwise than at school.
Ah hah! Angela Gordon was not aware of regulation 8 (1)(d) and gave only verbal notification. Because she did not write a letter, her child was never technically deregistered from school and cannot therefore be considered home educated. How cool is that? So you see, this wasn't the murder of a home educated child at all, but merely the death of a truant. Quite a different matter. One up to the home educators in ridding themselves of an embarrassing fellow home educator in this way. What a bunch of weasels!

A while ago, some fool called Carlotta on the blog Dare to Know, named me as somebody who would have blood on his hands if the Children, Schools and Families Bill passed into law. I have a suspicion that some of those who opposed this legislation so vociferously are far more likely to be in that state than I am. There can be no doubt that some people claim to be home educating in order to harm children. The attempt was being made to detect and deter these individuals. This was frustrated because it was seen as an infringement of the 'rights' of genuine home educators. Perhaps a little more thought might have been given to the rights of the children and a little less to the 'rights' of the adults involved.


  1. A bit early on a Saturday for a subject which is wildly controversial....

    First of all, I do agree that to deny the cases mentioned above involved home ed at all is plain stupid. Whatever Angela Gordon did or didn't do in letter writing overlooks the fact that she did tell the LA (even if she was supposed to actually tell the school)- she thought she was home educating as did the LA and even the elective home ed department who visited her. The issue isn't though the education -but whether the child could/should have been saved. Here it seems very clear that if the social services departments had been efficient enough to do their job properly then she would have been. Yes, she might not have starved to death had she been in school (not least because the staff fed her) but she might have equally well met another terrible fate, since she wasn't living in safe circumstances at all, and her "parents" were mentally unstable. Even more efficient HE laws may not have helped because there was some evidence of an education taking place when they were visited and a lot could happen between visits (indeed it did - the child died.)

    The Plymouth case is equally shocking, although I am assuming that since the abuse was long term, the actual HE was never more than a cover to stop the girl 'telling'. As there seems to have been no initial contact from the EHE department that does show that the LA were actually failing in their powers to at least make enquiries about the home education and one presumes that Plymouth have at least learnt that lesson. Yet overall responsibility should lie with the social services who actually returned the child at a much younger age to her abusive parents because the foster parents couldn't cope with her sexualised behaviour - which one would have thought should have raised all sorts of alarm bells.

    So what is the answer - how can anyone stop "home educators" abusing their children? Obviously one could ban home education which would be 100% effective as far as the statistics go; but I hope Simon that you are not proposing that! The solution I suppose you are advocating is some kind of "safe and well visits"... but would that actually help? Starvation of children/sexual abuse/murder all seems to occur with much more frequency in the non-HE population, and in all the non-HE cases which have hit the headlines recently, the abuse has been carried on despite contact with outside agencies such as health visitors, doctors and social workers. If that didn't help then, how would the odd visit to an HE family be any more effective?

    Without wanting to sound like a stuck record, I do think the best solution lies with more positive LA relationships. We don't know if the Plymouth case would have come to light earlier if there had been some contact between the LA and the family - I suspect that the "cover" cases like that may still continue. Families who want to actually HE however would have more contact with the LA if there was something positive that they could get out of it, which would be a great deal simpler than the current battles between uncooperative families and over bearing LAs. Ultimately though, no legislation is going to wipe out sin, and that is what we are talking about with these terrible cases.

  2. Actually just read the case reports on Jeanette Marples; again she suffered years of abuse whilst still at school, including starvation; the school again helped her; repeated referrals to the SS system ; even spent some time in care but was returned- grandma reported abuse. Yes she idid whilat being "home educated" but it seems that the US social services are as useless as ours at noticing abuse and acting on it, despite referrals.

    All sounds very familiar!

  3. What I am saying Julie, is that having to meet officials, discuss the educational provision and open up the home to local authority officers would probably act as a powerful deterrent to anybody whose sole aim was abuse rather than education. Such people would be reluctant to draw attention to themselves in that way. Whereas simply dropping a line to the school and refusing any further contact makes it a lot easier for these people to operate.

    No system is foolproof and of course most abused children are at school. I just have a horrible suspicion that the publicity which home education has been receiving and the the now widely known fact that no checks are made and that the local authority has no right to visit, might have the effect of ecnouraging some people to use it as a cover in the future; that is to say deregister their children in order to abuse them. It is happening more and more in the States and I can see it happening more often here as well.

  4. I can understand that it is theorteically possible that fewer" using HE as a cover for abuse" people might dereg if they felt that they would be checked up on; so that might apply to our Plymouth case. But that isn't true is it of Khyra? - her mother seemed to want to HE to protect her children from the non Muslim world; and several of the US cases were clearly dedicated home educators - it was their discipline that cauased the deaths. I bet they were actually very efficient curriculum using families too.

    Actually - looking for a common thread... did you notice that all the US cases, like Khyra, were not living in fully biological families? All either had a step parent involved or were living in adoptive families (as was of course the Spry family). So perhaps banning step-parents or adoptive parents from raisng children would be more efficient at reducing abuse?

    (Before I get shouted at, I should point out that our family comes into the latter category!)

    So what can actually be done that would work?

  5. Yes, I too noticed the step parent connection! Tragically, step parents tend statistically to be pretty bad news for kids. Adopted children too feature in those cases that I cited. You ask what can be done. The suggestion was floated a few months ago in this country about safeguarding checks on men living with single mothers. There was a howl of protest about this, but it might have raised alarms on some of the cases which I mentioned above.

  6. "Whereas simply dropping a line to the school and refusing any further contact makes it a lot easier for these people to operate."

    If they refuse all contact the LA can issue a SAO.

  7. anon-If they refuse all contact the LA can issue a SAO.

    Can issues SAO not have to by law!

  8. "anon-If they refuse all contact the LA can issue a SAO.

    Can issues SAO not have to by law! "

    Yes, that's what I said, what's your point?

  9. "In York, Pennsylvania, a man called Nathaniel Craver also starved his home educated child to death."

    I've had a look at the laws in a few of the states you mention and all seem fairly highly regulated, certainly more regulated than the UK. For instance, Pennsylvania requires annual registration which includes, names, ages, address, telephone, etc, an outline of proposed education objectives by subject area, evidence of immunisation and receipt of health and medical services required by law, certification that all adults in the home have not been convicted of certain criminal offences, a portfolio of work including a log of all materials used, samples of work, etc. a written evaluation of the students progress by a licenced psycologist or teacher that is based on an interview and review of the portfolio to certify that an appropriate education is taking place.

    Another state specified:

    Home schoolers must average 4 instructional contact hour per day over 172 days p.a.

    The program must include communication skills of reading, writing, and speaking, mathematics, history, civics, literature, science, and regular courses of instruction in the constitution of the United States as provided in section 22-1-108.

    Parents must provide written notification to the school district 14 days before beginning and then annually thereafter.

    If a child being withdrawn from school has truanted during the previous six months there are extra conditions before they are allowed to enrol in the home school program.

    Children must be tested in grades 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 using a nationally standardized achievement test. If a child falls below the 13 percentile they must go to school. If it is decided the child is not making sufficient academic progress according to the child's ability they will again have to attend school. Parents must keep records that include attendance data, test and evaluation results and immunization records which must be produced when required after being given 14 days notice in writing.

    None of this regulation appears to have acted "as a powerful deterrent to anybody whose sole aim was abuse rather than education".

  10. Actually I just looked up this case again - it transpires tha the child was 7 when he died and compulsory "school" in that state is 8, so although this family were indeed home educating and intending to continue to do so, they wouldn't have had any of the above checks until the children were 8.
    However looking at some of the US cases, it is clear that the families were indeed "real home educators" (so not using HE as a cover for anything) but the children still died because they were subject not to a one-off outburst of temper on the part of an adult, but to regular and clearly inappropriate discipline.Here I think that looking at the US for examples causes problems - there is such a difference in lifestyle and outlook. Most of these families were involved in large scale adoptions (sometimes up to 70 children if you read all the cases on the main US website) which is completely incomprehensible in this country. I often complain that UK social services fail but I cannot foresee such happenings here! No wonder so many cases ended in tragedy. I am not sure we can conclude anything from these cases, except to be thankful that it is not happening here- not design a UK policy based on what is happening in the US.

    Simon may be right to suggest that if all those contemplating deregistration knew that it would be followed up, it might deter the few "using HE as a cover" cases ( eg Plymouth). Although any one who has abused their child for nearly 10 years and still managed to get them out of foster care is probably pretty good at the whole smokescreen business.

    Meanwhile in this country, deregistration is still being suggested to vunerable families as a solution to schools attendance statistics. I am visiting a family at the moment where not only was the family told that their only option was to HE (which they had never previously even heard of) but the attendance officer concerned stood in their house and insisted that the deregistration letter was written before they would leave. Inappropriate pressure like that needs sorting out first.

  11. Don't worry about it Peter, it is all in hand - they moved here from another LA- what I am doing for this family is what they asked me to do - help them NOT to home educate (which they have no desire to do at all!)

  12. Julie said...

    Don't worry about it Peter, it is all in hand - they moved here from another LA- what I am doing for this family is what they asked me to do - help them NOT to home educate (which they have no desire to do at all!)

    i do worry Julie! they must put in a complaint at once over the attendance officer in writing to HCC why have they not done this? did you tell them not to?

    lets us know how you get on Julie? time to plant some plants now for front garden

  13. It isn't this LA they need to complain to - it is another authority that failed this family.

    We just need to now identify suitable provision for the child concerned. Nonetheless I don't think the family are the slighest bit concerned about complaining to anyone - they just want the best for their son. It is me who is cross about the whole thing!

  14. Julie says-We just need to now identify suitable provision for the child concerned. Nonetheless I don't think the family are the slighest bit concerned about complaining to anyone - they just want the best for their son. It is me who is cross about the whole thing!

    The family are to scared to complain? cant the missing Jan Lewis help? have you told them about Eton school Julie? i hear the teaching education is really good they!

    What are HCC doing nothing! i guess you could complain for them to HCC? mind you you may not get a job with HCC then!LOL

  15. Honestly Peter, why do you have such a "complaints mentality" - it hasn't exactly got you what you wanted, in fact I am not sure you have got anything positive out of any of your years of letter writing and so on!

    Meanwhile others seem to have been much more effective in getting positive things out of their LAs - take Somerset for example (since HCC is obviously an emotional subject for you)- they have got funding for all sorts of activities and also an exam centre set up and running. They didn't do this by lots of complaints and so on but by deciding what they needed most and then working with the LA to find a way to pay for it. I don't think anyone shouted!
    As a parent I know how I would expect my children to behave when asking for something from me, and I don't expect adults to behave any differently!