Child abuse is a serious issue that can occur in any group or culture. Whether it’s a public school, private school, or homeschool, or whether it’s a Christian, atheist, or Buddhist group — child abuse can be found everywhere. This tragedy is no respecter of demographic differences. It is important, therefore, that homeschool groups equip and empower themselves with the right information and tools to be able to fight abuse. Homeschool groups also need to equip and empower their members.
To this end, here are 10 steps your homeschool group can take today to make children and families safer:
1. Ask your homeschool group if it has a child protection policy.
Whether it’s your national organization, state support group, or local co-op, any and every organization that works with, for, and around children should have a child protection policy. So ask your homeschool group(s) if it does.
If it does: Ask to review it. You have a responsibility to make sure that the groups to which you entrust your kids have such a policy in place. Don’t just assume they do. Ask. Children deserve a safe, nurturing environment for their education. Make sure your group’s policy is appropriate, sufficient, and up-to-date. If you’re not sure if it is, do some research.
If it does not: Ask that one is made. Be firm about this. Child protection policies are essential to keeping children safe as well as protecting the integrity of your organization.
2. Plan an awareness event.
Organize an all-parent, mandatory meeting for your homeschool group or organization. (If you need help doing so, here is a step-by-step planning guide.) It doesn’t have to be long — even an hour or two will suffice in the beginning. During this event, explain to your group’s members the seriousness of child abuse, why homeschoolers cannot tolerate child abuse, what child abuse is, and the responsibility of every member and family to report abuse to the proper authorities. At this event, introduce to your members any new action steps your group is taking, such as a child protection policy, special speaking events, a resource library, etc. Make this awareness event a regular occurrence every 6-12 months. Consider planning a longer event (such as an entire day) where multiple professionals can present important information on the topic.
3. Invite a child abuse prevention expert to speak to your homeschool group.
There are many organizations dedicated to preventing child abuse. These organizations have significant knowledge and expertise. They also have dedicated individuals who are eager to speak to community groups about child abuse prevention. Contact one of these organizations and ask to have a speaker present to your homeschool group. Examples of organizations whose local chapters you could contact are RAINN, Prevent Child Abuse, and G.R.A.C.E. We at HARO are also willing to speak to any homeschool group.
4. Invite a child welfare or social work professional to speak to your homeschool group.
Myths and paranoia about the child welfare system often discourage or prevent many homeschool parents from reporting known child abuse. So while educating yourself and your community about child abuse is important, you also need to overcome stigma about the system in place to help those who are being abused. To this end, consider inviting a child welfare or social work professional to speak to your homeschool co-op or organization. Ask them to explain what they do, what happens when someone makes an anonymous tip, and how they work to protect children and families. Getting to know such a professional on a personal level — and letting them get to know you — can go a long way in overcoming myths and paranoia that keep children from receiving the help they need.
5. Do some research.
Go to the library or get on your computer and start researching! Learn about what child abuse is, what the warning signs are, how to report child abuse, common characteristics of child sexual offenders, how sexual offenders attempt to discredit child witnesses, — and that’s just the beginning! Knowledge is power. Equip yourself with that power so you can keep the children in your communities safe.
6. Ask that background checks be done on anyone working professionally with children in your homeschool group.
Many homeschool co-ops and organizations hire outside help to teach certain classes that parents feel inadequate teaching. Many also offer childcare for younger children while parents teach older children. For anyone in your group that volunteers or is being paid to work with children, require that they go through a vigorous screening process. This process should involve a professional background check.
7. Ask that anyone who is a leader or works professionally with children in your homeschool group takes a mandatory reporting class.
There are an abundance of free classes online (here is an example) that you can take to learn what a mandatory reporter is required to report. While “mandatory reporter” is a term defined by law, it behooves anyone working professionally with children to understand the dynamics of child abuse and what should be reported when (and to whom). Encourage your group’s leaders, teachers, and volunteers to take one of these classes so their knowledge about child abuse prevention goes above and beyond.
8. Establish best practices in your homeschool group for reporting abuse.
The best practice for reporting abuse is, of course, to report abuse as soon as you become aware of it.
But it is important that your homeschool co-op or organization, as part of Step #1 (Create a child protection policy), establishes “best practices” for who reports abuse, how to report it, and who the abuse gets reported to. You do not want a situation where multiple people are told about a case of child abuse but no one reports it because they think someone else did. Your group should have a clearly written policy about the exact steps to take, who takes them, and how to follow-up to make sure those steps were taken. There are numerous places where you can get information about child abuse prevention best practices; the National Children’s Advocacy Center is a good place to start.
9. Proactively encourage your group’s members to teach children accurate sex education and information about child abuse.
Encourage your homeschool group’s members to educate their children about sexual abuse. Parents need to teach their children what abuse is and empower them to say, “No!” This means, of course, that they need to teach them about sex — which they 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.
10. Put together a library of resources about child abuse, prevention, and recovery that is publicly accessible to your homeschool group’s members.
Ask your homeschool group or organization to start assembling a library of resources about child abuse, prevention, and recovery. There are many helpful books available on all of these topics. Allow your group’s members and families to access these resources for free.
The above 10 steps are of course not the only things your homeschool group can do to help prevent child abuse. But they are all important and are easy, simple steps you can take today. Child abuse is a serious issue in homeschooling and we need to start treating it as such.
For more information, see HARO’s Child Abuse Resources.