Saturday, April 10, 2010

All washed up

I have hardly had time this week to celebrate the fact that parliament threw out the clauses in the new act which would have changed arrangements for home educators. In the last few days of a parliament, there is a process during which the government does its best to get legislation passed, and it has to do some horse trading with the opposition. It's known as the wash up. In this case, in order to get the main parts of the bill passed, they had to drop the home education clauses, along with one which would have made sex education compulsory etc.

Whether you home educate or not, the measures that Ed Balls and his merry band were trying to bring in had serious consequences for all parents. The idea that the authorities should be given the right to enter one's home, without any fault on the part of the parents being suspected, was a terrifying one.

It may be a false impression gained from media reports, but it seems that social services under react when they ought to be reacting - as in the case of Khyra Ishaq, the girl who was starved to death in Birmingham - or they overreact, as in the many cases reported by the Daily Mail over the past year, in which parents have been forced to flee in order to avoid their children being taken into care for spurious reasons. In one case, because the children were overweight. In another because the mother had allegedly allowed the now estranged father of the child to shout at her in front of the child, something which social services claimed was "emotional abuse" and which I hazard a guess nearly every parent has been guilty of at some time or another.

Currently we have a very poor system of child protection, it seems, and the consequences for children who are being badly abused are dire. People are reluctant to report suspected abuse because the alternative can be so much worse.

Over the last year, I have come to see the large charities which are charged with animal and child protection in this country, the RSPCA and the NSPCC, in a very different light. I think it is a danger for established charities that they become all about the money and not much about the original causes which lead them to the work in the first place. How the NSPCC could look at what is happening in social work in this country currently, and decide that the area of most concern to them is how home-educating parents are controlled, I cannot understand. They should get back to their business, and look at the terrible conditions for children who have been taken into care by local authorities, and what happens to those children. Or in the case of Khyra Ishaq, they could look at their actions which failed to protect the child when serious concerns for her welfare had been expressed by both teachers and neighbours.

The issue is not whether the authorities should have the power to enter someone's home when they have serious concerns for the welfare of a child - they already have that power, for home educating families as well as schooling families. The issue is whether allowing them to add a clause which allowed them the right to march into any home educating family's home, whether they had concerns or not, would have enabled them to identify abusers any more effectively. I strongly believe that the authorities need to put more resources into the families already causing concern, and not to waste time persecuting families where there is no concern.

I fervently hope that the election result is not a clear win for Labour, as they have vowed to replace the clauses and put the bill through parliament if they win.

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