An Adolescent Who Has Never Set Foot in School

Regarding the recent unpleasantness discovered in California: how does one go about educating someone of adolescent age or older who has never set foot in a school? Putting a 14-year-old in Kindergarten seems a little weird, but equally weird would be putting someone who can’t read in a class of high school freshmen.

Would this situation be handled by intensive tutoring? Special Ed? What?

I would hope it would be tutoring. I don’t think schools have a lot of experience with this kind of thing. I have heard of cases where kids who were very sick missed a year or 2 of school but that’s a far cry from missing all school.

I would say one-on-one tutoring with a lot of care taken to teach the kids how to cope with life. Eventual integration with a classroom would be a goal, but I think it would take a few years at best.

Most school districts have special programs for kids who due to various issues never learned basic skills like learning to read. When I was in college, I was offered a job by one, which is why I know. I was offered a job tutoring kids who had dropped out of school and still needed education. I imagine a similar program would help here.

The job paid so poorly that I took something else. I still wonder who they got to do the tutoring.

The gnarl of deficits that need to be untangled for a child who has been absolutely segregated form society are far more challenging than a simple set of academic needs. Extreme deprivation causes life long problems. Interaction with others is so difficult that ordinary learning environments like classrooms are totally unwise.

A well managed program of expanding experiences, and carefully managed challenges will help. But emotional support will require gifted teachers, willing to subjugate their own desires and expectations and deal on a minute to minute basis with this child’s reality. How hard that is cannot be expressed in ordinary prose. You have to see the crushing fear in someones face over simple daily living experiences to know the depths from which this child must climb.

Of course such a program is not available without a large supply of those gifted teachers, and if they come and go as much as the special needs teaching industry currently does, it is even more difficult.

Bottom line, depending on your definition of recover, recovery is either highly unlikely, or impossible for such a victim.


Do you mind a slight hijack? What about taking care of the medical needs of those young people? Since they’ve never seen a doctor or dentist, or hardly anyone else at all, what would it be like to have a total stranger poking and prodding, possibly causing pain?

This too would take a physician/nurse/dentist with extra special skills.

Abused children, especially the very young are often heart-achingly anxious to please. It would be traumatic, but probably not difficult to gain reasonable medical examinations of such a child. It would be far better to have someone trusted be in attendance, and with close physical contact. The possibility that such a person might not be available, or not be trustworthy is evident. There is no aspect of normal living which does not involve special considerations for the traumatically deprived child.


Most ESL programs deal with this issue: there are refugees all over the country in exactly this situation, after all. We’ve had kids in my school from Bosnia to Sudan who at 15 or 18 have never stepped foot in a classroom and are illiterate in their own language. They’ve also often seen, and been part of, horrific events. Many probably have learning disabilities that we can’t begin to diagnose. What happens? They go to class, usually a class full of other kids who speak no English. Eventually they leave school–they don’t graduate, in my experience, but they do learn quite a bit of English and maybe to read. It’s less than you’d like, but the challenges they face are just tremendous.

Has it been established that the children in this case are illiterate… that their mother at least didn’t endeavor to teach them some things?