The justly named “House of Horrors” in California sickens me. David and Louise Turpin sit where they belong, in jail, awaiting trial for starving, chaining and abusing their thirteen children. 94 years to life doesn’t seem like long enough.
It didn’t take long until lawmakers, journalists and others began calling for increased regulations on homeschools in order to prevent these kinds of tragedies from occurring. But what kinds of regulations would be necessary to really prevent cases from falling through the cracks? What kinds of rights and liberties are we willing to give up to grant the state the power to enter private homes and investigate parenting? And if preventing child abuse is really the motivation behind such calls, why do we only demand increased oversight when the case hitting the news involves a family that calls itself homeschoolers?
Child abuse is a pervasive and complex problem in the United States. There are close to 700,000 confirmed cases per year, and an average of 1,670 children die of abuse and neglect, usually at the hands of their parents. Homeschooling makes the news, but how aware are lawmakers like Jose Medina of the actual risk factors for abuse? And how willing is he to send social services knocking on the doors of all those who fit the profile to investigate conditions?
Some of the most significant risk factors tied to child abuse:
- Being under three years old. Over 1/4 of victims and almost 3/4 of those killed are under 3.
- Special needs which increase parental burden (One of the leading causes of death for children with Agelman’s is murder)
- Nonbiological, transient caregivers living in the home (mom’s boyfriend or a step father)
- Low parental education
- Single parenthood
- Low income
- Parental mental health issues
- Community violence
- Disadvantaged neighborhoods
So if we really want to tackle the problem of child abuse in this country, we should send the authorities to check on poor, single women living in the getto, right? But somehow, we instinctively know that this is not right. You don’t just profile people like that, and you don’t just send authorities to investigate private citizens without this little thing we call probable cause.
Unless they homeschool. Then all of a sudden it seems crystal clear that more regulation will solve the problem.
Except that the very system we have set up to protect children is also flawed. In our foster care system — made up of families the state has hand selected, trained, evaluated and inspected — abuse rates often run higher than in the general population.
I honestly don’t know what the answer is. I wish I did. Unfortunately, calls to regulate homeschooling in response to horrific abuse cases are motivated by that feeling that we need to “do something.” But reactions to high profile and exceptional cases do not make good laws. In this case, they would restrict liberty, expand the influence of government in private individuals’ lives and most likely do nothing to help actual victims of child abuse.