Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Home education and abuse; the last post for a while

I am so busy with writing lately, that I really cannot spare any time for this blog; at least for a few months. Before I go, I must answer a point made today by Anne, who comments regularly on here. She said, quite correctly, that:

‘According to the NSPCC in June 2012, there are no collated statistics for actual child abuse in the UK’

This is true. We have no idea at all what the actual rate of abuse is among children in this country. All that we can ever talk about are rates of detected child abuse. Now the thing about child abuse is, the more you look for it, the more you will find. It is like ants in the garden. If you just go into your garden and glance around for a few seconds, you might very easily conclude that there are no ants about. If, on the other hand, you were to get down on your hands and knees in a flower made and peer through a magnifying glass for half and hour; you would see loads of them.  This accounts in part for the high levels of detected abuse among children under three. They are seen and examined more than other age groups. When children roll up their sleeves for their MMR jabs, doctors sometimes notice bruises or burns. When babies are see by Health Visitors, some are noticed to be ’failing to thrive’, as the jargon has it. Because they are seen so often by health professionals, often with some of their clothing removed, the signs of physical abuse and neglect can often be detected.

There is a natural and uncomfortable corollary to this. If seeing children more will lead to more cases of abuse being detected, then seeing them less will result in fewer cases being uncovered. We have no idea at all whether home educated children are more likely to be abused than those at school, but we can be reasonably sure that fewer of those children will be detected as victims of abuse. In fact it is highly likely that in addition to this, different groups of children will suffer different rates of abuse; for cultural,  ethnic, religious or other reasons. It is unlikely that the level of abuse in such a distinct and unusual group as home educating families would be the same as the general population; but we have no way of knowing if it is higher or lower.  All we can assert with confidence is that fewer cases are likely to be detected, for precisely the same reason that more cases are detected among children under three. The more you examine children, the more abuse will be detected; the less you examine them, the less abuse you will find.

All this of course does not tell us anything useful, but it certainly explains the uneasiness of some professionals about home educating families. Such concern is not limited to home educators; although that is the only sort of concern that readers of this bog are likely to be aware of or care about. There is anxiety about orthodox Jewish communities in places like Stamford Hill in London and also in some fringe Christian groups. One such group has a crossover with home education, for its members try to keep themselves separate from ordinary society and do not send their children to school.  

Anyway, fascinating as this topic is, and illogical and  ill informed as those commenting here tend to be,  I must leave it for now and get on with my work. I shall be back in a few months time.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Home educating parents presenting as problem families

I’m afraid that we are fast approaching a time when I will have to abandon this blog for a month or two. This is caused by the pressures of work. Before doing so, I want to spend a couple of posts looking at a question that a number of people have asked here recently. This is why local authorities apparently target home educators wholesale and do not fine tune their attentions so that they are focused more upon the families who actually need help; perhaps those where children are at risk. This is an easy enough question to answer, although the explanation will not be a very agreeable one for many home educating parents. Today I shall look at bullying in this connection and in a day or two we will examine abusive families.

I  remarked a few days ago that some home educating parents, whether wittingly or otherwise, seem to mimic the lifestyles and conduct of habitual abusers. I pointed out that this was apt to draw unfavourable attention to them. Many of the characteristics of these families are also uncannily similar to those that one sees regularly in the families of bullies. This is very curious, because of course research indicates that a perhaps a third of home educating parents withdraw their children from school because they are being bullied. Bullying is a very complex phenomenon though and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the bully from his victims. Yesterday, for instance, my attention was drawn to a boy who had supposedly killed himself because he was being bullied. It seemed an open and shut case, until we learn that he had himself been investigated by the police and social services over allegations that he assaulted a girl and also that he had been accused of violence  towards other pupils. Things are seldom as they first appear when you look at bullying.

When I worked with families with difficulties, those with whom I worked and I would sometimes discuss the common factors to be observed in the parents of children with emotional and behavioural problems. I was working with under fives, but we later heard about many of these children and learned how they did at school; usually, very badly. The parents often conformed to a pattern and it was, oddly enough, similar in many ways to the stereotypical abusing parent. They would not keep appointments with health or education professionals, their children often missed their vaccinations, they were ‘difficult to engage’, most did not want anybody coming into their home, they were aggressive and blamed everybody else but themselves for their children’s problems. Later on, they might typically move their child from one school to another; often on the grounds that the kid had been bullied. Now this pattern is well enough known to teachers, social workers and so on. It is, as you might say, a familiar syndrome. Unfortunately, it is also an eerily accurate description of many home educating parents!

One of the interesting things about these parents is that they would often claim that their  child was being picked on or bullied at school. Having watched their child as a toddler and three year-old, we often guessed that the boot was on the other foot! So it sometimes proved, because talking to the teachers at the school would occasionally reveal that far from being bullied, little Johnny was in reality an absolute terror to all the other children an d also his teachers.

It is unfortunate that a number of home educating parents should share a profile in this way with the parents of difficult children. I think that what sometimes happens is that rather than professionals being prejudiced against home education as such, they observe many home educating parents and see that they are indistinguishable from the problem parents that they have encountered in the past. I certainly see those similarities myself when reading what some home educators have to say.  So what is happening is that social services, teachers and health professionals are, as home educators say that they should,  targeting families in specific ways; rather than concentrating on entire groups such as home educators and wasting their resources on them. One of the ways that this is done is to look at the behaviour of parents and see if it matches particular profiles. When it does, then those families receive a little extra attention. It is a matter of regret that quite a few home educating parents present in an almost identical way to the parents of bullies and abused children! I shall expand on this theme in another post in a few days, because there are actually things that parents can do which would help them not fit into this pattern.  

Bullying at home

One of the difficulties I find when trying to debate with home educating parents is that they often seem to have a distorted view of the world; a view which blinds them to things which are perfectly plain to everybody else in the country. Take the question of bullying, for example. I remarked yesterday that most bullying  of children takes place in their home and is inflicted by parents and carers. Almost incredibly, there was immediate disagreement! The reason for this is of course simple. It is an article of faith among many home educators that schools are dangerous places, in contrast to homes which is where children may be kept safe. Because of this, there is a tendency to exaggerate hazards in schools and minimise those faced by children at home. Common sense, backed up by all the available evidence, suggests that home is far more dangerous for most children than school. 

Bullying is the use of force, strength or influence to intimidate and coerce others who are weaker than the one doing the bullying. Yesterday, somebody posted some research on here which was so ludicrously irrelevant to the debate, that I was somewhat at a loss to know how to respond; not a common occurrence on this blog! Those conducting the research had  defined bullying as something done by children:

‘Respondents were asked whether they were bullied, discriminated against, or made to feel different, like an outsider by other children.’

Not surprisingly, this survey had gone on to reveal that bullying was something done by children. Obvious really; if you only ask about bullying in relation to other children, then bullying will inevitably emerge as a school problem, rather than one at home. 90% of those asked had claimed to come from warm and loving homes. This settled the matter, at least to the satisfaction of the person who put the results of this research on the comment; homes are loving and warm and bullying takes place at school.  This is of course sheer Alice in Wonderland. People are asked if they have been bullied by other children and this is then used to prove that bullying is an activity carried out by other children. Let us look at the genuine and sustained bullying to which most children are routinely subjected; bullying which has nothing to do with other children and actually takes place  in their homes.

The worst sort of bullying involves the use or threat of violence against the victim. The bully uses superior strength to push the victim around and make her do as she is told. Here are a few surveys that readers might like to examine:




As we can see, for children who experience physical violence; 80% of it is in their home. There are a couple of surveys covering around two and a half thousand people in total which suggest that between 67% and 80% of parents have hit their children. It is interesting to think about those 90% of people in the research quoted yesterday who claimed to have come from warm and loving homes. 90% of people also claim to have been hit by their parents when they were children. In other words; 90% of adults were bullied by their parents when they were little.

I don’t propose to waste too much time on this, because the case is so clear. Bullying children, by using physical violence on them to make them do as others wish, is endemic in this country. 90% of adults have been victims of this bullying and it still happens to between 70% and 80% of children. (Other surveys sometimes find higher or lower rates, but I cannot find one where fewer than 25% of parents admit to striking their children). This is bullying in its worst form; not merely the threat of force, but the actual use of violence. This bullying usually takes place in the home and is inflicted by the adults who are close to the child. It results in many serious injuries and not a few deaths. Every three weeks, a child under the age of five in this country dies as a result of a violent attack. In 80% of these deaths, the parents or carer is the attacker.

I do not think that any of this has much bearing on home education, other than to show that many home educating parents have a skewed perspective about risks to children. They have a vested interest in portraying schools as dangerous places for children, but the reality is that for the overwhelming majority of children, their home is the place where they are pushed around and assaulted; bullied and intimidated into submission. I have only looked here at the most extreme form of bullying; that involving physical violence. Add in the name-calling, belittling and humiliation that are often mentioned in surveys about bullying and I can't help wondering how far short of 100% the figure for the bullying of children by parents would be.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Domenic Johansson case crops up again

I was interested to see that on several home education lists in this country, attention is once again being drawn to the case of Domenic Johansson in Sweden. As some readers may recollect, this boy was being home educated by his parents in Sweden, who then attempted to leave the country to travel to India with their son. Since then, almost four years ago, the child has been in foster care.

What fascinates me about this business is the way that the story constantly changes and mutates, until you simply do not know what to believe. For example, when first we heard about it in 2009, it was a simple matter of the Swedish authorities not approving of home education and seizing the boy so that he could be sent to school in Sweden. However, the latest twist is that this does not appear to be what happened at all; at least according to his mother. See;


This is the first time that I have read an interview with the mother. All the other information about the case comes from either the father or from various American Christians. You will note that the mother does not seem to think that home education has anything to do with the authorities taking her son. She believes it was because he appeared to be neglected or that she and her husband were too poor to look after him.

There is mention of the famous earthquake in this article, according to which, ‘her husband was forced to return to his native country as his family had lost everything in the calamity’.  I have heard half a dozen versions of this story too, including two different ones from the husband himself.  In one version, he lost all his money and possessions not in the earthquake but by being robbed when he was in a taxi on the way to the airport to return to Sweden. In another, told to an American pastor, he tried unsuccessfully to get to the earthquake zone as he hoped to help there. The mother’s family claim that he was running a travel agency and lost the business as a result of the earthquake. I exchanged emails with Christer Johansson a few years ago, asking what had actually happened. He told me that he could not remember!

I would advise home educating parents in this country to be a little cautious about being drawn into this saga; at least until they have a definitive version of events. There is probably more to this case than meets the eye.

Friday, 3 May 2013

School as a refuge from violence and fear

For many home educating parents, schools are seen as bad places. They are institutions where their children’s special educational needs are not met or where ferocious bullying drives children to the point of suicide; to give just two examples. There is another side to this though. For some home educated children, school is a refuge; the only safe and stable point in their lives and being removed from it can be a disaster which results in great unhappiness or, in extreme cases,  injury or death. I am sure that many readers will be familiar with  the death of a home educated child in Barking a couple of years ago. Here is the summary of the Serious Case review:


As will be recalled, the mother was very disturbed, argued with everybody and ended up by killing her child, who was probably on the autistic spectrum, by forcing him to drink bleach.

I draw attention to this case not because I think that a lot of home educating parents are likely to harm their children, nor to appeal for better and more intrusive monitoring of home educated children. Rather, I want to remind people that school  is sometimes the best thing in a child’s life and  that it can be vastly preferable to what is going on at home. I am not a great fan of schools, but I think that home educators sometimes forget how good they can be for children; providing them with a haven of safety and  the bare bones of a stable life. Not everybody is cut out to be a home educator and for those who cannot cope with having their children around too much; schools fulfill a vital role, both for parents and children.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Sitcom about home education

Readers may be interested to hear that a sitcom called Raised by Wolves is due on our screens later this year. It is written by Caitlin Moran and her sister; both of whom were themselves educated at home. The comedy is about home educated children growing up on a council estate.

A little light relief

Many of those who read and comment on this blog do tend, rather unfortunately, to be the sort of dreary and  humourless  types one would dread sharing a lift with or being stuck next to on a bus. I thought that we might all enjoy a gentle laugh at the following clip from youtube; which will resonate particularly with those concerned at the over-prescribing of drugs like Ritalin: