Kansas is reeling from a child abuse story that has made national headlines.
In 2015 the remains of 7-year-old Adrian Jones was found in a barn in Wyandotte County. His body had been fed to pigs. His stepmother and her husband, Adrian’s father, have pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.
The story is shocking. It is beyond horrific. And it is moving people to action, as it should.
But in an unusual twist, the case has prompted calls for … more homeschool regulations in Kansas.
More laws on homeschooling will not stop child abuse
The reason why homeschooling is even mentioned is because Adrian’s parents had claimed they were running a “homeschool” for a brief time.
(Frankly, we don’t care if they claimed they were running a hotel resort; they’ve lost all credibility with us.)
As a result, some organizations like the Coalition for Responsible Home Education are proposing a system for “preventing parents who have been convicted of serious crimes from homeschooling, and … flagging cases where families with concerning past social services involvement begin to homeschool.”
“It’s not that homeschooling makes parents abusive, but rather that homeschooling exacerbates risk factors that are already there,” said Coleman. “We need a system for flagging and identifying at-risk homeschooled children. We must prevent child abusers from hiding behind lax homeschool laws.”
While this may sound reasonable on the surface, let’s take a closer look.
The problem with making more laws
Here’s another true story.
In 1995, Debora Green was convicted of starting a fire in her own house in Prairie Village that killed 2 of her 3 children. She was also convicted of poisoning her estranged husband with ricin.
Both she and her husband were experienced medical physicians.
Where are the calls for more regulations on doctors, to make sure they don’t intend to murder their families?
Obviously, the laws are not the problem.
Even with the strictest laws and regulations for teachers, educators, coaches and other professions all involving close contact with children, child abuse still occurs.
The answer isn’t more restrictions, which criminals never obey anyway. The answer is identifying and flagging problem cases before they get worse (more on that below).
More regulations almost certainly will hurt homeschoolers
Furthermore, once laws restricting homeschool freedoms are in place, worst-case scenarios like the Acevedo case in New York can result.
The Home School Legal Defense Association is suing the city of New York for harassing more than 24 homeschool families who have done nothing wrong.
Even after the homeschoolers followed the laws – filing the required paperwork informing the state of their intent to homeschool – the state threatened to report them to child welfare for “educational neglect.”
“Tanya Acevedo, a brand-new homeschooling mom, was falsely accused and investigated even though she had done nothing wrong,” reads a statement from HSLDA’s website. “HSLDA is suing the city on her behalf.”
Instead of using taxpayer dollars to chase and harass innocent families like the Acevedos, why not work on flagging and identifying at-risk children, period? Regardless of whether they are being homeschooled, in private school, or public school?
The solution to stopping child abuse (as outlined by the government)
When confronting this issue, we need to realize the scope and scale of child abuse around the nation.
“Every day, four to eight children in the United States die from abuse or neglect at the hands of their parents or caretakers,” says a report from the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF).
So what’s the solution?
The report concluded that the best way to reduce deaths was to focus efforts on well-documented risk factors (and homeschooling did not make the list of risk factors).
The single strongest predictor of a child’s potential risk for injury death?
A prior report to social services.
These children are 5.8 times more likely to die from intentional injuries, according to CECANF.
And we see this in the case of Adrian Jones.
Even people calling for more homeschool restrictions admit that “the Joneses had prior contact with both police and social services.”
Furthermore, we know this approach works.
CECANF highlighted two success stories where communities drastically reduced neglect and abuse fatalities.
One of them is right here in Kansas: Wichita.
After Wichita experienced a steep upswing in child deaths, the community got involved. They investigated the deaths and found most of them were coming from specific zip codes.
The community devoted extra energy and resources, just to these zip code areas. More than 60 community organizations joined the effort.
The result? In 2011, 2012 and 2013, there were no maltreatment deaths. (CECANF report, pages 70-73)
Adrian Jones’ family was the subject of multiple prior social services reports. But this case did not receive the kind of extra attention and resources that saved children’s lives in Wichita.
Let’s focus our limited resources on helping other children who we know are at risk.
Not on conducting a homeschool witch hunt, but identifying the at-risk children before more abuse and deaths take place.