Iowa Lawmaker Wants Home Checks for Homeschoolers in Wake of Starved Teen Death

An Iowa state senator is calling for home checks for homeschooled children after the horrific starvation death of West Des Moines teen Natalie Finn.

State Senator Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines) told KCCI that the details of 16-year-old Finn's emaciation death made him want to vomit. After reviewing the details of the case for two hours he said it's one of the worst he's ever seen. "I believe this was a systemic, slow death that was almost a form of torture that they imposed upon their child."As a result of his review, McCoy believes home visits for homeschooling families are one possible remedy to correct the failures in the system.

Finn’s parents were charged this month with multiple felonies related to Natalie's death and the alleged abuse of two of her siblings.

Nicole Finn, 42, faces first-degree murder charges, three counts of first-degree kidnapping, one count of child endangerment resulting in death, three counts of child endangerment causing serious injury and three counts of neglect of a dependent person.

Joseph Finn II, 45, faces charges of first-degree kidnapping, three counts of child endangerment causing serious injury and three counts of neglect of a dependent person.

According to McCoy, Finn and her siblings were the subjects of "numerous" reports of neglect and child abuse before the teen's death in October, but she was never removed from the home even though the multiple reports were given to the Iowa Department of Human Services from different sources, some from mandatory reporters.

"It seems to me the department failed in giving them enough credibility and enough weight to know that these were really valuable insights that these folks were sharing with the department," McCoy said.

One neighbor, Becca Gordon, whose son attended school with Finn, complained that her reports of abuse were not followed up on. She told KCCI that she and other neighbors kept an eye on Finn's house and reported their suspicions to authorities.

"We can only do what? Report to the police, DHS, and then we trust that something is going to happen, that they're going to follow up, that they're going to keep these kids safe. Well, that did not happen," Gordon said.

One report from Gordon showed that Finn tried to run away from home in April. Another showed that Gordon called police to say Finn had appeared at her door asking for food and money, looked "unkept" with blisters on her feet and no shoes, and smelled heavily of body odor. There was another report to police from Gordon saying that Natalie told her "she was locked in her bedroom by her mother because one of the pets urinated on the floor."

“This young woman was essentially put through one of the most torturous forms of death I could think of,” McCoy told The Des Moines Register. “It’s absolutely tragic. We need to do all we can to make sure this never happens again.”

McCoy is calling for more comprehensive investigations before a foster family can adopt a child, and also wants school districts to pay quarterly visits to the homes of families that homeschool their children.

It's unclear why McCoy believes child abuse can be prevented by invading the privacy of innocent homeschooling families in the state (around 3% of students in Iowa). Finn reportedly attended the Walnut Creek alternative school until last year (we don't know whether her parents were legally homeschooling her or if she was simply truant from school this year) and reports of abuse were well known to the Iowa Department of Human Services. There were failures on multiple levels on behalf of this child and her siblings, even though neighbors repeatedly told authorities that they suspected neglect and abuse. In this case, it seems there was clear probable cause to investigate what was going on in the home and authorities failed to do so, resulting in an unthinkable outcome.

While what happened to Finn is deeply disturbing, it doesn't follow that there ought to be a massive crackdown on homeschoolers in some misguided attempt to ferret out abuse. Absent actionable allegations of abuse or neglect, the state has no business violating the privacy of homeschooling families by demanding to inspect their children or their homes simply because they have decided to exercise their constitutionally protected right to educate their children. It's terrifying to imagine agents of the state knocking on the doors of families that have done nothing wrong, forcing them to present their children for inspection. From there it would be just a small step to require home visits for children from the minute they're born until the time they're under state control when they enter school. Then perhaps they'll start to require spot checks for school kids on weekends and during summer breaks to make sure parents aren't abusing their kids—and maybe they can check the fridge while they're in the home to make sure it's stocked with healthy food and not sugary treats. Once you give the school district a mandate to be a social service agency, there's no telling what they'll want to know about what's going on in every family's home.

McCoy and others in Iowa need to get their own DHS house in order and focus on investing real cases of child abuse and neglect instead of imagined ones from the homeschooling bogeyman. They should immediately drop this nonsensical idea of invading the privacy of the vast majority of homeschooling families where no abuse is alleged or suspected.