Addressing Child Abuse

In Home School Legal Defense Association’s 30 years of close involvement in the homeschool community, we have seen that most homeschooling parents are deeply loving and want to do what is best for their children.

As parents, we choose homeschooling because we want our children to enjoy learning, develop healthy social skills, gain a moral and spiritual grounding, and be prepared for adulthood. Some families choose it because our children are being bullied in school, encountering peer pressure, or struggling with low self-esteem. We want our children to feel safe physically and emotionally.

The desire to protect and nurture children is a powerful motivator for homeschooling parents. When child abuse occurs in a homeschooling family, it is a painful betrayal of what home education is meant to be.

The evidence suggests that abuse in homeschooling families is rarer than in the general population. In 2011 (the last year for which data are available), approximately 4.1% of all children in the U.S. were involved in abuse investigations. The same year, HSLDA assisted less than 1.2% of our member families in child protective services investigations. The vast majority of these investigations were based on accusations that did not rise to the level of abuse or neglect (such as children being seen outside during school hours or a messy home) and closed as unfounded. While this statistic is not comprehensive, it can be seen as an indicator of a generally low rate of abuse among homeschoolers.

But any child who is abused needs help and protection. We would like to encourage our members and others in the homeschool community to cultivate awareness of this critical issue. Addressing child abuse is a vital part of building a stronger, healthier homeschooling culture.

What is child abuse?

The federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) provides the following basic definition of child abuse and neglect that is generally followed for legal purposes:

Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or

An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.

All 50 states have child abuse laws that meet or exceed this definition. You can search for the child abuse laws in specific states here.

While legal definitions vary, the two most generally recognized forms of child abuse are physical abuse (nonaccidental physical injury to a child) and sexual abuse (sexual interaction with or exploitation of a child by an adult, or by another child when there is a power or age differential).

Child neglect is generally recognized to include failure to provide for a child’s physical needs (such as food, clothing, and supervision), failure to meet medical or educational needs, and abandonment.

Rejecting medical treatment for religious reasons, reasonable corporal discipline such as spanking, and homeschooling are not considered abuse or neglect.

How can we prevent child abuse?

Child abuse has immediate and long-term consequences. A child experiencing abuse suffers not only physical harm, but also overwhelming fear, shame, and sadness. The trauma may trigger self-protective behaviors and ways of thinking as the child tries to make sense of what is happening. These behaviors can last into adulthood, affecting the child’s ability to sustain healthy relationships, make mature decisions, and sense God’s love. Abuse victims may struggle with depression, self-harm, suicide, personality disorders, and addictions, and may in turn abuse their own children.

Becoming informed and aware of this issue is the first step toward prevention. Being a concerned, compassionate member of your community—whether your neighborhood, church, or homeschool group—is another important step. Finally, learn the possible actions you can take if you begin to have concerns that a child you know is being abused.

Although HSLDA has expressed reservations about methods of abuse reporting and investigation in the current child welfare system, we strongly believe that when there is reliable evidence that a child is being abused or neglected, the government has a duty to intervene. While the government must exercise this duty in a manner that respects the Constitution, proper intervention can and should be done lawfully. (When there is evidence of an urgent situation, the “exigent circumstances” exception to the normal rules of the Fourth Amendment allows for quick intervention.)

We encourage you to learn more by reviewing our Additional Resources and other articles. Together, homeschoolers can continue building a culture that truly cares for the least of these.

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Do you need help right away?

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline
Call 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) and press 1 to speak with a hotline counselor 24/7. All calls are anonymous. The hotline counselors do not report abuse, but can tell you how to get help in your local area. For more information about the hotline, visit Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline or Help for Kids.

Focus on the Family
Focus on the Family offers a wealth of resources ranging from education to help for families in crisis. Visit Focus on the Family or call 1-855-771-HELP (4357), Monday through Friday, 6:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m. Mountain Time to speak with Focus on the Family Help Center counselors.

If there is an emergency, please call 911.


Please note: Nothing on this webpage constitutes the giving of legal advice.