“I really appreciate you helping me out and taking all this time with me,“ Erin told me during one of our many discussions. “I am nobody special, I’m just another person.”
I hated to contradict her, but the fact is she was completely wrong.
She is special. Erin is a single mom who has overcome many struggles to build a safe and loving home for her children. And homeschooling has played an important part in creating that haven.
When she made that comment, I had been working with her for months to try to remove one more challenge she just couldn’t seem to put behind her—an ongoing child protective services investigation.
No Longer Helping
For years, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) had been regularly showing up at Erin’s home or sending police to conduct “wellness checks.”
Investigators first became involved when Erin was the target of domestic violence. As part of the process of escaping this horrible situation, for a while Erin and her sons lacked a permanent home.
Thanks in part to services provided by DCF, Erin slowly got her life together. She acquired an income, found housing, and started homeschooling her sons.
She chose homeschooling because she felt that it would be a good fit for her sons and help protect them from the negative environment she was concerned about in her local city schools. She knew that teenage boys of single moms can be particularly vulnerable to getting in trouble or being bullied. After years of transience, she longed to provide care and stability to her sons as their homeschool teacher.
But even though Erin had reached a good place in her life and was making sure her children were safe and learning, DCF refused to close the investigation. Officials simply shifted their focus and began scrutinizing Erin’s homeschool program.
While we are thankful for the work that DCF and other CPS investigators do to help moms like Erin and to protect children from harm, in this situation officials went beyond their prescribed duty and risked causing unintended harm.
I’ve worked with DCF agents for years. Like most CPS agencies, DCF is a bureaucratic institution with policies that seem confusing to many, even its own staff.
So when Erin joined HSLDA and reached out to our legal department regarding the ongoing visits from DCF and law enforcement, I was able to assess that the DCF investigation had changed and that officials were now concerned primarily with the boys’ education.
From everything I could see, Erin was complying with homeschool law and doing a great job teaching her sons. So there was no reason for the investigation to continue.
Part of the Problem
I tried to communicate on Erin’s behalf with the case workers, whom I had dealt with before, but the bureaucratic inertia of the department’s processes and checklists made it hard to get the case closed.
More troubling was the fact that the investigators were no longer doing any good, but were simply perpetuating the trauma.
As Erin explained, during the process of escaping abuse, she endured many difficult encounters involving law enforcement officials. Even now, unexpected knocks on the door can be unnerving for her family.
“I know that these people are trying to do their job,” she said, “but I’m following the law, and I just want them to leave me alone. After all these years of tough times the knocks bring back bad memories. All we want is to be able to homeschool in peace.”
Knocking on people’s doors to conduct CPS investigations becomes a familiar routine for the people doing it. But for the people subject to an investigation, when a government agent with the power to remove their children knocks on their door, it is at best upsetting and at worst terrifying.
Freeing Parents to Care for their Kids
I reassured Erin every time investigators came to her home, even as I worked with my legal team to try to get the DCF to close the case.
A lot of times, we HSLDA lawyers answer simple questions and smooth the way so that homeschool moms can focus on caring for their children and not on compliance with government rules and officials. But sometimes we have to dive in deep—for example, when a situation like Erin’s comes along.
Every HSLDA attorney is a homeschooling parent or graduate—some are both! And it is our great privilege to serve everyone who needs help with homeschooling.
So when Erin thanked me for my help and then said that she “was nobody special,” I knew better.
“Erin,” I said, “you certainly are special. You are the mother of these three boys, you were made in the image of God, and your life matters.” Like many parents, Erin makes daily sacrifices because her children’s safety and well-being mean so much to her. In my book, this will always be special, and that is why homeschooling is too.
And by the way, we got her case closed. Erin and her sons are now enjoying a new year of homeschooling without DCF involvement.