The Homeschooling’s Invisible Children project began in May 2013 when Rachel Coleman and Heather Doney, both homeschool alumni who had spent time studying homeschooling at a graduate level, became interested in the ways that homeschooling can be used to conceal and intensify child maltreatment. After learning about the role of popular homeschooling leaders Michael and Debi Pearl and their book To Train Up A Child in the maltreatment deaths of three homeschooled children (Lydia Schatz, Sean Paddock, and Hana Williams), Coleman and Doney began collecting cases of severe abuse and neglect in homeschool settings. Appalled by the scope of the problem they had identified, they soon felt the need for a way to organize and present these cases. They used the model of Pound Pup Legacy, an online community that worked to raise awareness of problems in the adoption and foster care systems, as a basis for the design of the HIC database. Working on HIC inspired Coleman and Doney to become two of the founders of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) later that same year, bringing the HIC project with them. Today HIC is operated by CRHE’s program staff.
CRHE operates on the principle that homeschooling is a powerful tool in the hands of caregivers. When caring, responsible parents homeschool in an effort to improve the lives and educational outcomes of their children, homeschooling can operate in the best interests of the child. When unscrupulous parents homeschool in an effort to control their children and prevent them from accessing the outside world, homeschooling can be detrimental to a child’s best interests. The current lack of legal oversight of homeschooling enables child maltreatment by allowing abusive parents to isolate their children and control their social interactions, impeding their ability to seek help, tell others of their abuse, or be seen by people who could help them.
Abuse and neglect can happen in any educational context, and we support efforts to detect and prevent child abuse in every educational setting. However, the system currently in place for protecting children from abuse and neglect in the United States assumes that they will attend school and be seen by mandatory reporters, who may notice signs of abuse or neglect and to whom children may go for help. Homeschooled children are essentially invisible to much of the child abuse and neglect detection system currently in place for school aged children.
Existing child protection measures do not prevent all child abuse or neglect—social services typically must receive multiple reports before determining a case to be founded, and it has many documented failures of both action and inaction. Yet while we support efforts to improve social services, we recognize the vital role they play in safeguarding children’s right to the care necessary for their well-being, physical and mental safety, and respect for their human dignity. When abusive caregivers use lax homeschooling laws to avoid the scrutiny of social services, it is the caregivers—and the laws that enable them—who are ultimately culpable for the negative outcomes.