Unfortunately, due to some very public cases, child welfare agencies (ie. Children’s Aid Society) across the country have earned a very bad reputation among many homeschooling families. While their stated purpose and vision is certainly something we could all agree on (that is, providing safe and nurturing environments for children) their approach, tactics, and values often differ from those of the homeschool community.
As homeschool families we clearly are taking very seriously the call to parent well, to educate our children well, and to provide enriching opportunities well. When our means of doing that seems to be in contradiction to society at large, sometimes phone calls are made to social workers and action is taken. While it is a good thing for the public to be in tune with the health and welfare of children in their neighbourhood, the system as it currently exists allows for too many “hunches” to be acted on without very much evidence. In fact, the pressure to be a ‘good neighbour’ and to make a call is prominent on many of the child welfare websites. The ability to remain anonymous in those phone calls gives members of the public too much freedom to act on assumptions and good intentions rather than on actual evidence. And this can lead to a knock on the door from a well-intentioned child welfare social worker. What should you do if that knock is on your door?
First, before a knock ever comes, you need to educate yourself. The information on this page will help you, but do also read up on the homeschool laws of your province so that you are well-informed on your legal right to educate at home. Know what the law says about immunization and discipline (ie. Spanking) as these are often the issues that may cause someone to call a social worker.
Second, you can do some preventative work by building good relationships with your neighbours and with your community at large. Many allegations are made because of a lack of understanding. If you have good relationships with your neighbours, your family doctor, your local librarians, and so on, then they will see that your children are being well cared for, they will see that you are being intentional and conscientious in your schooling and parenting, and it will be clear that your children’s welfare is not being compromised. Along with this comes the need for some common sense on your part. While one of the benefits of homeschooling is freedom of schedule, it is not prudent to have your kids endlessly out and about during traditional school hours. More questions will be raised about the quality and quantity of their education if they are seemingly unoccupied during school hours. Haven’t we all run errands mid-morning on a week day and been asked by the store clerk, “Shouldn’t they be in school?” In that moment, the answer of “Oh, we homeschool” does not give an adequate representation of all the hard work that you and your children are doing and are able to accomplish in a week. The check-out aisle of the grocery store suddenly becomes a place of suspicion, unless you make it a place of discussion of the philosophy of education! Use caution with school-hour excursions.
Third, know the limits of the social worker’s rights and reach. The social workers are trained to speak and act with great authority. They will present as if they have full access to your home and your children: this simply is not true. They may also state that they will get a court order if you do not let them in.
Overall, you should maintain your composure and your grace. Getting defensive and abrupt is never a good approach in any situation. You ought to make it clear to the social worker at your door that your child’s health, welfare, and education is clearly of utmost importance to you, and that, while you are eager for this situation to be resolved, you are not willing to rescind either your legal rights to educate and parent your child, or your privacy of home and family.
This is surely one of the greatest strengths of your membership with HSLDA: the peace of mind of having representation and support in what could be a time of immense stress and trauma to you and your children. While we certainly hope that you will never experience the “knock at the door”, we do want you to be well-informed of your rights, and well-aware of the services of HSLDA, so that you would be able to respond rightly if this situation were to arise.