- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2004

New Jersey’s child welfare system, like most state child welfare systems, is a corrupt and deadly mess. Children are lost in the shuffle, shipped to abusive foster homes, returned to rapists and child molesters, and left to die in closets while paperwork piles up.

So whom does the government decide to punish for the bureaucracy’s abysmal failure to protect these innocents? Home-schoolers. And what does the government think will solve its ills? More power and paperwork.

Last week, a Democratic assemblywoman introduced a bill to impose annual academic testing and annual medical exams on home-schooled students in the Garden State. Never mind a federal law prohibiting states requiring home-schoolers to take the state assessment designed for public school students. And never mind that no public or private school students are subject to such health regulations. The State Board of Education would be given unprecedented regulatory authority over home-schoolers.

The sponsor of this Anti-Home-schooling Act is Assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg. She said one impetus for the legislation was the infamous case in Collingswood, N.J., in which four adopted boys abandoned by the state Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) were found starving last fall. The boys’ parents, Raymond and Vanessa Jackson, allegedly home-schooled the children when they weren’t rigging up security alarms to keep their famished kids out of the kitchen.

The Weinberg proposal is a shameless smokescreen for government social workers who botched the Jackson case. Child welfare officials claimed they visited the boys’ home 38 times in the past four years. Apparently the sight of a 19-year-old teenager who weighed less than a few bowling balls fazed no one. Department of Human Services Commissioner Gwendolyn Harris admitted she had employed staff who were “either incompetent, uncaring or who had falsified records.”

While New Jersey politicians attempt to punish law-abiding homeschoolers for the sins of DYFS and the Jacksons, one of every 14 children in foster care in the state is placed in a home operated by someone with a criminal conviction or documented as having mistreated a child.

Moreover, according to a study released last summer by the School of Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania, 1 in 10 were abused or neglected by the agency caregiver and 1 in 5 didn’t receive needed medical care. “The DYFS picture is not just bleak; it is one of chaos and tragedy,” the report concluded. “From the reading of the disorganized and incomplete case files, to the statistical analysis of the status of children in the ‘care’ of DYFS, institutional abuse, neglect and ineptitude are the dominant themes.”

Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and co-chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus, noted at a hearing last year that: “Most people treat their pets better than the state of New Jersey has treated its children.”

The problem is systemic and nationwide. In Mr. Foley’s state, 7-year-old Rilya Wilson is just one of 500 missing children in the child welfare system who have vanished. In California, Independent Institute research fellow Wendy McElroy reports, children are rushed into dangerous foster care homes thanks to a toxic combination of perverse financial incentives and lack of accountability for social workers’ gross misconduct and neglect.

At bottom, Mrs. Weinberg’s New Jersey bill is a cynical power grab — something home-schoolers across the country have been fending off as the movement’s success has skyrocketed. “This is about legislators interfering with parental rights,” Tricia McQuarrie, a South Jersey homeschooling mother of five, told me. “It’s Big Brother.” Indeed, legislators and the liberal media (witness CBS News’ anti-home-schooling hit piece last October) are pushing for increased regulation of home-schooling parents, including criminal background checks, because the grass-roots movement gravely threatens their socialist agenda of promoting dependency.

God forbid children be taught by their own parents without oversight from the all-knowing, all-caring, infallible wizards of the child welfare-public school monopoly.

A crackdown on innocent home-schooling families to cure the incompetence of government child welfare agencies is like a smoker lopping off his ear to treat metastatic lung cancer. It’s a bloody wrong cure conceived by a fool who caused his own disease.

Michelle Malkin is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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