Traumatizing the Innocent Isn’t the Answer

Note: is not a “homeschool organization.” We support the right of all parents to direct the education, as well as the upbringing and care, of their children. But, as the recent Turpin case from California has prompted many to call for over-regulation of those who choose to homeschool, we felt a response was in order.

As details emerge from the Turpin story in California, many are calling for more regulation and government oversight of law-abiding homeschooling families. And while every one of us is horrified by the trauma these parents inflicted on their children, we must proceed with caution. Answering tragedy with hysteria could lead to equally unwanted consequences.

The Turpins were registered as a private school under California law and claimed to be “homeschooling” their six school-aged children. Instead, they were abusing and neglecting their 13 children, ages 2 to 29, all of whom were found to be extremely malnourished. The details of the abuse cannot and should not be minimized. No child should ever have to endure what the Turpin children lived with for so long.

But should an entire population of nurturing, law-abiding homeschooling families be punished for the actions of one couple? That is what some are now proposing.

Some argue that the state should intrude into all homeschooling families’ houses to take a look around and make sure no abuse is taking place. The state, they say, should make at least one or two visits every single year.

Non-homeschooling families have the peace of mind that a CPS worker won’t come knocking on their door at any moment throughout the year without provocation. But homeschooling families would be robbed of this “private realm of family life which the state cannot enter.” Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 (1944), at 166.

And what about that investigator who is supposed to sign off on whether or not abuse is taking place? If he or she mistakenly concludes that nothing untoward is going on, there is always the possibility that something tragic could happen on his or her watch. On the other hand, saying there is abuse when in fact there is none has no detrimental results for the investigator. Suddenly, every homeschooling family looks like a potentially abusive household.

The vast majority of parents who homeschool their children do so for a variety of moral, practical, and educational reasons. For many, it is enough that homeschooled students tend to score highly on educational placement tests and may turn out better adjusted for success after graduation. These parents choose to take on the immense task of homeschooling because they want the best education, leading to the best life possible for their children.

Yet, we are being asked to swallow a very different narrative: if families homeschool, they only do so to hide abuse. One pro-regulation organization even claimed abuse is “all too common” and “widespread” in homeschooling households, with no statistical evidence to back up the claim. Even the (also pro-regulation) editorial board of the Sacramento Bee wouldn’t buy that, recognizing that “such cases are not the norm for homeschools.”

To a school administrator or child services investigator, however, the solution is simple. Just get into the home of every family who homeschools, and we can save all the abused children.

So every family not in public school can expect that impending knock on the door, along with the threat—spoken or unspoken—that their children could be taken away. Every cabinet and fridge will be opened, every decision questioned, every scrape or bruise made a cause for suspicion and alarm.

And in every such instance, in the name of preventing child abuse, another child is subjected to trauma against their sense of continuity and security. “The younger the child, and the greater his own helplessness and dependence, the stronger is his need to experience his parents as his lawgivers—safe, reliable, all-powerful, and independent,” say Goldstein, Freud, and Solnit in their seminal series on the best interests of the child (Joseph Goldstein, Before the Best Interests of the Child (New York: The Free Press, 1979), p. 25).

But the cost to the innocent families is of no concern, apparently. They are just collateral damage in the war to ensure that evil never happens again.

It’s an approach more fitting of Orwell than of the American Constitution. The Supreme Court has held that “the statist notion that governmental power should supersede parental authority in all cases because some parents abuse and neglect children is repugnant to American tradition.” Parham v. J.R., 442 U.S. 584 (1979), at 603.

All children deserve to feel safe in their homes—safe from abuse, safe from unwarranted intrusion, and safe with their parents, period.

Child abuse is an outrage, and it must be stopped. But that cannot be achieved by traumatizing the millions of innocent homeschooled children who deserve to be taught in peace, free from the stress (or worse) that will arise from systematic government intrusion into their home.

Action Item will continue to monitor the legislature in your state for any new efforts to clamp down on the rights of innocent parents and their families. You can help by letting us know at if you learn of any threatening bills in your legislature. And your generous donation today will empower our efforts in every state to protect the fundamental rights of all innocent families.


Michael Ramey
Director of Communications & Research

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