Homeschooling families and communities need to equip students and parents with adequate information about child abuse. What are ways you can encourage yourself, your family, and your community to talk openly about child abuse?
We have a few suggestions to get you started. And we want to make clear that these suggestions are by no means exhaustive. They are, rather, some starting guidelines for personal and communal action:
1) Report abuse.
Report, report, report. If you learn only one thing from reading this, please let it be this: If you suspect or know a child is being abused, report it immediately to the authorities. Call a hotline, call 911, or better yet, call both. Do not delay, do not make excuses, and do not turn a blind eye. Get on the phone and make a report. Child abuse is a criminal action. It is not covered under Matthew 18; it is not something to be handled “in house” by you and your friend, by your pastor, or by your homeschool leader. Child abuse is to be handled by the authorities. If you suspect or know a child is being abused, report it.
2) Educate yourself and your community about abuse.
If you’re going to take child abuse seriously, and if you’re going to commit to reporting it when you suspect or know it’s happening, then you have to know what abuse is. Organize an annual or bi-annual evening for your homeschool group where you learn how your city, state, and country define child abuse. Educate yourself on the differences between abuse and neglect. Find out what hotlines are available to you, have community awareness days where you discuss the warning signs of abuse and neglect, and empower yourself with information.
Similarly, educate your kids, too. Teach them what abuse is. Empower them to say, “No!” This means, of course, that you need to teach them about sex — which you might not be comfortable hearing. But this is a great example of exactly why sex education is vitally important. Children need to know the proper names for their body parts, they need to know what is good touch versus bad touch, they need to know their bodies belong to them and no adult should make them do anything that makes them uncomfortable, and they need to have the words to use to express themselves to you if they experience abuse. It’s not enough to just say, “Speak up if you’re abused.” You need to also teach your kids what abuse is in the first place. They need to feel a sense of ownership and empowerment over their own bodies, not shame or secrecy or guilt. If kids already feel their bodies are shameful, guilty, or secretive, how will they feel free or strong enough to tell you about the abuse that only exacerbates those feelings? There needs to be openness and freedom to talk about these things in families and communities if we’re ever going to bring abuse to light.
3) Stop the propaganda against social workers and child protective services.
Many homeschooled children grew up with an absolute terror about social workers and CPS. Parents have used this terror to silence their children. This terror is even used from one parent to another to keep parents from reporting each other when they knew abuse was happening. Yes, social workers and child protective services have made mistakes. They’ve made a lot, honestly. But amazing foster parents exist; homeschool parents work for CPS; homeschool alumni who are social workers. These people and organizations work tirelessly to protect our children, and are increasingly knowledgeable about homeschooling — even with firsthand experiences as homeschool parents or students. So if we’re going to fight child abuse successfully, we need to stop with the myth that they are a cabal of demonic child-snatchers.
4) Develop relationships with your local school board and CPS.
Ultimately, if there’s anything that homeschoolers, school boards, and CPS should be united on, it’s helping kids. So we want to encourage you, as parents and communities and leaders, to develop positive relationships with these entities, rather than antagonistic ones. Reach out and build relationships, even on a personal level. Let them get to know you as individuals, as families; build trust; show them you have nothing to hide; show them you have so much to offer. By building better relationships, you not only aid homeschooling as a movement, you also build partnerships that can help identify kids in need, as well.
5) Listen to children.
None of these suggestions are worth anything if you don’t do the first step of listening to children. A child risks so much when speaking up about abuse; you need to take their side. When a child tells you they were abused, or tries to tell you but just can’t find the words or courage, believe them. Believe them and report it immediately. Then stand with that child, support them, and be their ally and advocate. Do not tell them it is their fault, do not get angry at them; show them nothing but unconditional love. It doesn’t matter who the child says abused them; it might be someone you know, someone you care deeply about — your husband, or another one of your children, or your pastor. But you have to set aside your disbelief and other loyalties.
The above article is reprinted from HARO’s presentation Facing Our Fears: How the Voices of Homeschool Alumni Can Help Homeschooling. You can download a PDF of the full document here.