Social Services recommends stricter monitoring of homeschools

The North Carolina Department of Social Services released its report on four year old Sean Paddock’s death last week. (If you are unfamiliar with the case, I’ve included a summary at the end.) Most of the report makes recommendations for needed reforms considering the failures of the Department of Social Services in this case, however, some reforms of homeschooling are also sought.

From the report (link will start a download):

Findings #5:

  • According to the Department of Non-Public Instruction’s web site, Lynn Paddock had a registered home school, Benjamin Street School.
  • The Department of Non-Public Instruction is unable to make site visits to monitor and support home schools’ compliance with state policy due to limited funding and oversight resources.
  • Home schooling may contribute to social isolation if children are not involved in outside activities and adoptive parents are not utilizing post adoptive services.
  • The Division of Social Services began to gather statistics related to specific school situations in child protective services in May 2006.

Recommendations #5:

  • The Department of Non-Public Instruction should conduct a study regarding a Needs Assessment and pursue funding to support increased monitoring and oversight to home schools.
  • The State Fatality Review Team supports the continued efforts of the Division of Social Services in regard to the gathering of statistics related to specific school situations in child protective services.
  • The State Fatality Review Team recommends that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner begin to track school status at the time of death and make available this information on a yearly basis to the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force and the state-level North Carolina Child Fatality Prevention Team.

It is perhaps interesting to note that the child who died in this case was not of compulsory attendance age, however he did have two older siblings who were being similarly abused. Hopefully, the abuse would have been spotted had the children been attending school. Perhaps not a given when Social Services itself seemed to have difficulty recognizing a potentially abusive situation when it was brought to their attention prior to the children’s placement with the family.

In January 2005, Sean returned from his first visit with the Paddocks with bruises on his backside. Social workers determined that the child must have fallen off a bunk bed, just as Paddock said.

Sean and his older siblings told social workers that Paddock had whipped Sean for playing with the family dog, according to a report released after his death by Wake County Child Protective Services.

“It’s like they were just rushing to get them off the books,” said Ford, who took in Sean and his older brother and sister after they were taken from their parents.” News Observer (article deleted)

I am also curious how the Department of Non-Public Instruction is supposed to “monitor and support home schools’ compliance with state policy.” I am not familiar with North Carolina homeschool law, but it seems that all that is involved with monitoring compliance is filing paperwork. The only inspection I see in the law is the occasional checking of standardized test scores. Even if the Department effectively monitored every homeschool, I fail to see how this would stop any abuse cases.

The bit about social isolation seems out of place in the findings, but I guess so long as we are bringing homeschooling into the child death case, we may as well bring up socialization as well. Then comes The Study. Nebraska has such a study as well, but ours isn’t packages so neatly as a “Needs Assessment.” “Needs Assessment” sounds like there is a chance for the researching body to come to the conclusion that additional oversight is not actually needed. Unlike here in Nebraska, where the sole purpose is to figure out how to increase oversight. Somehow, I doubt the end result will be much different if it proceeds, however.

And I don’t really mind “school situation” being noted in child death cases. It could yield some interesting information for the public discussion. But whoever is compiling the statistics needs to be perfectly honest about who is schooled, pushed out, truant and homeschooled.

Some case history:

Sean Paddock’s story is sad, as all child abuse cases are, and has resulted in quite a stir among homeschooling blogs. In fact, this is the case which spawned the boycott against Homeschoolblogger. He died at the hands of his adoptive mother who had tied him to the bed with several thick blankets. Sean suffocated and died in Febr He also had new and old bruises covering his back from being “disciplined” with a “small, flexible pipe.” His older brother and sister also suffered these whippings. Lynn Paddock, it seems, had gone searching for help with Christian discipline, stumbled upon the materials by Michael and Debi Pearl, and used (or misused) them to abuse the children. But then, if her testimony is accurate, she did not need to look far to find this sort of parenting philosophy. She appeared to have been raised at the other end of a PVC pipe herself. Bruising all and murdering one.

Also important to note is that Social Services had received other reports on this family which were perhaps made more complicated by coming from different counties, but the reports started even before the official placement as young Sean came back to the foster home with bruises and (along with his siblings) reported that the Paddock’s had spanked him for trying to play with the dog.  Corporal punishment is generally illegal for all foster situations, and leaving bruises is whether or not you are fostering.

The prosecution sought first degree murder charges, but not the death penalty. She was convicted.

And last week, another homeschooled boy died at the hands of his parents. Tied to a tree overnight. It is a sick world we live in.

Hat Tip: the blog formerly known as HE&OS

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30 Responses

  1. You mentioned he was adopted. I don’t wonder that he might have had “special needs” that manifested themselves as discipline issues. I can tell you from personal experience that if you have children with special needs, you can expect zero support from the schools, and in fact schools WERE the abusers of my Elf. The thought that some snippy little Miss of a social worker would be able to visit my HOME, and then mandate that my children go to SCHOOL where they will be abused, is more than astounding to me.

  2. All abuse cases are sad and tragic, and people naturally wonder if “someone” could have done “something” to intervene, and as in these two cases, prevent the death of a child. But I am getting tired of the kneejerk “we must monitor these homeschoolers!” reaction. In the vast majority of cases such as this which, DSS has been involved with the family at some point, and signs of possible trouble have been ignored or overlooked.

  3. Abuse is not a home school issue, it is a “parenting” issue. (Hate to even use the word parent in the sentence.)
    If they are going to designate the child’s school situation, then they do need to list all school situations. Track those statistics. Many of these tragic cases happen to children that are not even school age, though.
    Are people who would be abusive, attracted to home schooling so they can “hide”?
    Maybe, I don’t know. But I do think it may be part of a sub-culture that misinterprets the Bible.
    Do I think that means home schooling should be regulated?
    My husband cannot stop cars randomly at will, just to see if they are maybe hiding drugs in their car. He must have probable cause.
    The same measure should be applied to all families, home schooling or otherwise.
    Witch hunts are out dated by a couple hundred years.

  4. It is surprising how many of these cases end up having prior reports which weren’t taken seriously. Which also brings up calls of reform to CPS…that they need to investigate every allegation, which takes away their ability to screen out the less concerning reports, chase down everything, and in turn perhaps allow yet more abusive situations continue.

    And so long as they are monitoring “school situation” maybe they can publish the percentage of these children were either in the system or placed in their home by the system.

    And when these studies confirm what we already know, ie., that most child abuse occurs in children who are not of school age, then I fear the inevitable will be greater suspicion on those who choose not to send their children to daycare/preschool.

  5. If the relevant adults didn’t believe the children when they said the abuse occurred, how on earth is monitoring supposed to help?

    Sounds like a case of C.Y.Rear-end to me.

  6. I think commenter Christy is on to something. Those who have something to hide might decide that claiming to be homeschoolers is a good way to escape prying eyes. That’s sad and scary, but in no way reflects on true homeschooling parents who want the best for their children.

    As for Mrs. Paddock being raised at the end of a PVC pipe, that’s no excuse. Someone has to break that chain of abuse. It can be done with God’s help.

  7. I was just remembering how [nhen (dot) org/LegInfo/default.asp?id=420] NHEN was successful with stopping this in North Carolina last time around.

  8. Barbara, I agree that her abusive upbringing is no excuse. That isn’t why I mentioned it. Quite a big deal was made of the Pearls but I have a feeling they served as more of a justification for what she was doing.

    And I shudder to think that there would be very many people who actively choose homeschooling in order to hide abuse. As homeschooling becomes more well-known, it may actually happen more. In most of the cases I have read about thus far, the parents were not actually homeschooling according to the law. In both the Jacks’ and Ramirez’ cases, the abusing parents had not even done the minimal requirement of filling out a notice of intent. They said they were “homeschooling” but they were not following the law even in that.

    Thank you, JJRoss. Actually, I may have some more thoughts later. 🙂

  9. Incidentally, anytime someone pulls a child from school during or following a CPS investigation, I do think the state may have probable cause to continue monitoring the situation. I don’t know how you can give them that authority seeing as the cases are usually marked “unfounded.” Maybe it is too rare of an occurrence to be of concern. But then, if we knew that kind of information, it might direct policy that would actually be helpful without interfering with the vast majority of parents who do not abuse their children.

    I’m curious about the percentage of parents who actively plan to abuse their children as opposed to those who just “lose their temper.” Or gradually increase their abusive responses. From what I remember, most abusers sincerely intend to stop after every abusive episode, but they don’t know how to break the cycle. Removing a child from school may be more an attempt to keep from loving a child they love as much as an attempt to hide what is going on. And there are those who are tying to hide it and I suspect they are dealing with even greater mental health issues.

    Before I get myself off track, though, my basic point is that there is something truly bizarre in a parent who is planning on torturing their children and taking steps to hide that abuse. I doubt they will comply with any law, leaving the rest of us monitored and the rest of society wondering how yet another homeschooler murdered a child. Because the existence of homeschooling minimizes the suspicion on the family when they say they are homeschooling, but if they don’t report to the state, no one may notice them.

    No one will read that bit that comes up in so many of these stories that the family was not complying with the existing law before they demand yet more laws.

  10. People like the Paddocks are why there are warning labels on things like bouncy seats that say “Do not use as flotation device”. Hello? Stupid much? Next thing you know there will be warning labels etched in silverware that say “Do not use to remove contacts from eye”.

    I think we need to remember that alot of brutal abuse occurs before a child reaches school age. This very clearly makes the issue of abuse about the criminal behavior of parents, not the method of education. If there are going to be policies in place to require homeschoolers to be monitored, how are they going to go about monitoring every home in which there is a child under compulsory school age?

  11. I wonder just how invasive our society will become? In order to ‘protect’ children. Social workers often make visits, suspect that children are being abused and leave them there. My ex husband was suspected of abusing our children but nothing was done, not by Social Services, or Domestic Court. I’m sorry but I doubt that increasing the power that the state holds is a good thing. Too many innocent families will be hurt and some will still slip through the net and be abused or die from abusive parents.

  12. Sunniemom, I have little doubt that is coming. But maybe I have a pessimistic streak. And MichielleRose, I think far too much is done “for the children.” It is so easy to sweep all reason aside because it is such an emotional topic.

    In 39% of cases where parents kill their own children, CPS had previous involvement. They are trained to notice abuse, not just required to report it. And looking back on the cases, it is sometimes hard to see why they could have overlooked it. Most of that is hopefully just because it is easier to see the warnings when you know the outcome (hindsight is 20/20 so to speak). But some of it is because there is such a heavy emphasis on numbers. NE lost money a few years ago (and maybe still now, I don’t know) because of the number of kids in the system and the slowness of returning them. Kids in the system is bad and reunification is a good and noble thing. But that isn’t a decision that can be made simply by looking at a spread sheet and trying to reach the target statistics.

    Increasing the workload of CPS to monitor where no suspicion has been raised not only brings up Constitutional issues, but also practical issues. Like how many cases are going to get ignored to interview good parents where not even a complaint has been made, simply because they homeschool?

  13. I think that complaints should not be investigated unless they are specific and the person reporting abuse or neglect leaves their name and contact info.

    That’d cut down on frivolous manipulation of the system and tips like “Them thar kids is too skinny”.

  14. Because I am a smart aleck…

    [lifeontheplanet.typepad (dot) com/my_weblog/2008/06/homeschooler-recommends-stricter-monitoring-of-social-services.html]

  15. I enjoyed that LOTP, although unfortunately in my state (Florida) that’s no joke. Abuse down here extends to and from the system to kids in or out of school, adoptive parents, women in comas, little boys escaping Cuba )I heard today that Elian has just joined the Young Communists btw, great call Reno) and even voting machines.

  16. My father-in-law is a retired C.P.S. supervisor. I know the kind of nonsense they have to deal with. I also know that the low pay doesn’t always attract the best and brightest. The heavy case loads lead to early burnout. I sympathize with those who are sincerely doing their best to protect children.

    But really, enough is enough.

    Thanks, JJ. I heard about poor Elian, too. 🙁 I cringe when I think about his poor mother losing her life to get him here, and now this? It makes me ill.

  17. Unfortunately even if the child would have went to school it doesn’t mean anyone would have caught the abuse or done anything about it. My husband and his siblings were abused as was their mother by their father. They all went to public school and no one ever did anything about it. Thankfully though my hubby and his siblings turned out well and aren’t abuser’s themselves. Abuse no matter where it’s done it wrong. It’s not a homeschool issues just a bad parenting (if you can call it that) issue. Just sad and sick :(.

  18. She appeared to have been raised at the other end of a PVC pipe herself.


    Somehow I had never caught this bit of info about the Mother before. Maybe because I have a hard time reading these stories without squinting my eyes half shut.

    It does explain something — something about how people learn and what gets planted in their brains no matter what they say. . . what a sad, sordid little cycle.

    SunnieMom, the reporters have to have anonymity or many would not report when they should. My Mom has been through this with a neighbor and she ended up helping them directly and through various social services outlets but would never have made that first phone call without knowing she could be anonymous the first time. She wasn’t reporting actual abuse. Poverty and neglect by an overwhelmed and ignorant Grandmother was the worst you could point to. So my Mom didn’t want to get anyone in trouble. She wanted to help. And if she had to back out, she didn’t want the neighbor Grandmother to shut her out from giving what little help she could. Things get complicated.

    Jody, over in Cobranchi’s blog, Don has suggested this sort of stat would actually show that most of these kids are public school students and maybe put that stupid argument to rest.

    Off to read LOTP’s smart-aleckiness. 🙂


  19. Nance, I agree that this sort of statistic could be helpful. It isn’t something I’m particularly worried about and if it were to indeed reveal that a great many homeschoolers were “hiding” that is probably something that as a community we need to figure out how to deal with so that everyone’s rights are protected.

    The only thing I am really worried about in this is that people like Banita Jacks were deemed “homeschoolers,” but didn’t even do the most minimal things required by the state. To me, the kids were truant. Not homeschooled. So long as not everyone who at some points says they are “homeschooling” are by default considered homeschooling in the study. We need accurate information or the resulting policy decisions will inevitably only curtail the liberties of the law-abiding.

  20. I called the CPS hotline once, on my cell phone. I was in the van taking Katrina hurricane relief to a shelter (we’re in the Florida panhandle and lots of families came here, with nothing for their kids to do; some local hsers were taking coloring books and crayons, puzzles and books) — anyway, it was still raining and I had the kids with me. We were stopped second in line at a red light, in a left turn lane. The kids were with me, and suddenlt Favorite Daughter and I gasp as we see the man (father?) in front of us slug the little girl sitting in his passenger seat, with a closed fist, and then it looks like he gets her down and punches a couple more times. I grabbed the phone still shaking, called Sprint for the number etc. FavD wrote down the car license number and description as the light changed. So I did my bit, said where we were on the road, did not give my name because there was nothing more I knew, so no reason to contact me.

    Anyway, someone called me back a couple of weeks later purporting to be from the investigating agency, threatened me and wanted to know if I knew the seriousness of making frivolous reports, something like that. I presume the guy was found and had a believable story, and they had my cell phone number of file? Anyway, it was no success story for any of us. I’ve always wondered and worried about that little girl.

  21. “I presume the guy was found and had a believable story,..”

    I presume he had a friend at C.P.S. and got your number.

  22. Indeed a frightening thought. I had to contact CPS twice, both in heartbreaking cases. In one, the girl wouldn’t talk so nothing came of it despite the rather graphic description she gave me and the school nurse and the physical evidence which corroborated her story. The other girl…well, let’s just say that the man was sick and knew how to hide the abuse. He knew how to inflict pain without leaving marks and knew enough to not send her to school when he did.

    Nothing official came of either, but all I ever heard in response was a nice letter thanking me for my concern and cordially letting me know that the no evidence of abuse could be substantiated.

    I know that CPS can be a monster to deal with when an innocent person is falsely accused, but my personal experience tells me you practically have to kill a kid before they move. So I’m always suspicious once removal takes place.

    I can’t help it. I’ve read far too many files on kids whose goal is reunification and I wonder how the people responsible for those pictures are walking free let along given a few hoops to jump through to get their kids back.

  23. We need accurate information or the resulting policy decisions will inevitably only curtail the liberties of the law-abiding.


    Of course. Any study based on false information would be useless.


  24. Another disturbing policy aspect of how child abuse and schooling is wrongly approached —

    I just realized that I put three “anyways” in that comment, and repeated without realizing it, that I had the kids with me.

    This reminded me of test researchers who found that when one item subconsciously triggers any upsetting mental connection for certain children — something with high emotional valence like slavery say — it will disrupt their performance on subsequent items. And other studies reveal how learning performance is suppressed in females, for example, if right before the task you put them in the mindset of girls not being expected to do well at math, etc.

    I’m an accomplished writer but the above comment, written as I recalled something very upsetting to me, reflected poor writing.

    So wouldn’t it be worth serious attention — if society really means to address these issues of child abuse and school rules, that shell-shocked kids suppressing all sorts of emotional upset, can’t help but respond poorly even to well-meaning adults’ questions, and to test poorly on schoolish instruments in that precarious mental state, even when they actually know the material?

    If that is poorly written, please try to read around it. I’m still upset by my menory.)

  25. Short of testifying against the Mafia, I would not want anonymity to report criminal behavior, especially child abuse. And I think it is just as bad when someone uses anonymous reporting to hassle an innocent family.

    The fact is, the CPS system is incredibly troubled- why is assault on a child not treated in the same manner as an assault on an adult? Why can’t an adult who witnesses a parent beating the stuffing out of a kid file charges?

  26. I think I don’t necessarily mind reporters remaining anonymous to the perpetrator, although we do have that thing about the accused being able to face their accusers, but why to CPS? It won’t change anything for anyone, and can help establish patterns in the rare case that someone is just harassing another family.

    And Nance, it seems to go without saying that accurate information is the only information that would be helpful. But I am leery of what they will consider “homechooling.” They already claim people are homeschooling who never did anything to follow the barest minimum the law requires to homeschool in some of these cases.

  27. Dana, that makes sense but seems to me once we make that point, we wind up on the same road to outside definitions and regulation, and then inspections and reporting, all to determine who is legitimately “homeschooling.”

  28. I agree Dana-it makes sense that CPS would not give out the name of the person who called in a report, but reporting as completely anonymous? Then there is no accountability for those who abuse the system to be vindictive and manipulative, just because they can.

    My dh and I have alot of hobbies, and one year we made these realistic cutouts of monkeys from 1/4″ plywood and they hung from the tree branches in our front yard. We put a sign under them that said “Monkeys for Sale”.

    We were reported to Animal Control, and they had to inspect our house to make sure we were not literally selling monkeys. It was just a hostile ‘joke’ that one of the neighbors pulled to be a jerk, not because they really thought we were selling live monkeys. That person should have been fined for a frivolous call and wasting taxpayer money, not to mention my time.

  29. And Nance, it seems to go without saying that accurate information is the only information that would be helpful. But I am leery of what they will consider “homechooling.” They already claim people are homeschooling who never did anything to follow the barest minimum the law requires to homeschool in some of these cases.


    I would think it would go without saying. But if the info is to be used for anything meaningful, like claiming that more child abuse happens to ps students, the sort of games and inaccuracies you mention would have to be sorted out.


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