Saturday, April 28, 2007

"Doorstepping"

We are told that Gloucestershire LA, as a result of the Eunice Spry case which took place in its area, has "tightened up its HE dept" and would apparently like to be given powers to "doorstep" home educating families (i.e. turn up unannounced to see children).

If LAs were given such powers, what effect would this have on the education of electively home educated children?

Looking at my family and household today, right now, I’m thinking about what would happen if there was a knock on the door to check on the children.

1. The presence of unannounced strangers would interrupt the learning that is taking place. Unplanned, unstructured learning in particular flows of its own accord and is difficult to resume, once interrupted. Even scheduled and structured education would suffer from such an interruption. With some notice of a visit, a parent can at least prepare the children and the schedule (if there is one) for the interruption.

2. The nature of the visit would cause alarm for me and the children. The very fact that someone thought there was need to check on my children would make us wonder: what reason could you have for thinking there might be a problem here? The atmosphere of secure contentment which is currently enabling Lyddie to get immersed in the intricate development of today’s complex, imaginary story with her toys, and Zara to work on developing her graphic art skills, would be shattered.

3. We’d start wondering whether what we were doing ‘counted’ as education. It does, but it doesn’t always look like it at first glance. Sometimes I can only assess the children’s educational development afterwards as a result of the progress they make. It’s not always possible to assess the quality of their learning, without notice or time for reflection. So there’s a risk factor involved - that our educational provision might be deemed to be failing or even non-existent, in the eyes of the officials on the doorstep. (Would they stay on the doorstep?)

4. Even if the officials were satisfied on that occasion to see my children safe, well and learning - they would leave behind them an underlying sense of anxiety for us all. We’d suddenly start to look at what we were doing through other people’s (officials’) eyes and the judgmental mindset which might result from this would inevitably change the quality of the children’s education for the worse for a long time. They wouldn’t be able to concentrate as well and I’d have less confidence in my ability to trust, facilitate and interpret their natural learning processes.

My children are safe and well and certainly not being abused. They are well-fed, well cared-for and well-educated. They have the freedom to follow their own interests and the equipment and the wherewithal to do so and our house is a happy one, with no punishment or controlling mechanisms of any nature either imposed or needed. This is partly because of the fact that we are left in peace by the authorities to live the way we choose. But in home-educating households where abuse is happening, I don't think spot checks will help. On the contrary: I think they might make things worse.

I think a child abuser is likely to feel more angry, fearful and threatened and therefore more tempted to abuse as a result of a spot check. He or she will also feel safer to do so immediately after such a check, possibly reasoning that their chances of being checked on again soon afterwards would be slim.

Also I don't rate the chances of even skilled professionals being able to correctly spot signs of abuse during a spot check. I think the chances of them making mistakes either way are too high, and the existing historical evidence of them having done so is extremely alarming.

If the powers that be really want to help protect children from abuse, I think they should put their resources into investigating the real causes of abuse and starting to think about ways of preventing those, instead of conveniently ignoring the causes and only making matters worse by hamfistedly attempting to police the symptoms.

Also, does Gloucestershire not have a fully functioning and pre-existing Child Protection department within its Social Services section? If so, why does it want its LA staff to do Child Protection work instead?

I'd really like to hear how survivors of child abuse would feel they could have been better protected or rescued from their abusers. Surely these people are the only real experts in this matter?

19 Comments:

Blogger Tim said...

Not new really, all Government departments have always envied the Excise men, and would love to have their powers to turn up unannounced, search more or less anything, any place, any time. Just be grateful children aren't VATable :-)

7:29 pm, April 28, 2007  
Blogger mamadillo said...

yet

10:21 pm, April 28, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

"If LAs were given such powers, what effect would this have on the education of electively home educated children?"

I'm assuming you mean turn up out of the blue and be able to insist they come in?

Why on earth should they? oooooh, blood boiling at the thought of it. It would, without a doubt, upset my children - a huge invasion of our family privacy.

Why HE-ers and not families in general then? We do very little different from many other families, so why should we be treated differently because we differ on one (main) point, that of school?

Erm, too tired to actually write anything more than a mini-not-particularly-meaningful rant.

10:29 pm, April 28, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

An old story, but are you familiar with the JET report? This made me think of it.

12:56 am, April 29, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Reading it now Tim..

8:00 am, April 29, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

Either you are being spammed or you have a friend with a very bad toothache. :-)

8:18 pm, April 30, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Weird coincidence, cos I've got toothache today!

Maybe they knew...

9:01 pm, April 30, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Still trying to read that JET report BTW. I dunno which is worse, that or the toothache.

9:02 pm, April 30, 2007  
Blogger IndigoShirl said...

Our current HE Inspector has a habit of turning up unannounced at HE homes and standing on the doorstep for some considerable time if the door is not answered. Thankfully hasn't happened to me yet.

I'm sure there's lots more jobsworths just like him all over the country. Can you imagine if they were legally allowed to do it - a lot of HE families would gain a LA stalker overnight!

7:19 am, May 01, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

*Shudder* yes, that's not good, is it? Mind you it's only a short step from a letter saying "I AM coming on this day at this time" (whether you like it or not), which is what ours used to do. I'm still trying to find out whether she's stopped doing that, cos she promised me she would.

9:19 am, May 01, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

Ours tell you when they are coming - like it or not- and cold call on the first visit ( when you are brought to their attention by nosy neighbours or over zealous rellies who like getting their reports to brag to their friends over - seriously my mother only goes on what the LA think)with a EWO. Usually at some ungodly hour of the morning. I wasn't dressed when it happened to us. It reminded me of a police dawn raid. We want to catch you to see if you are really HE or in bed:( type of attitude.

10:32 am, May 01, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

It's the height of bad manners, isn't it? And if it's not illegal somehow, it should be.

11:56 am, May 01, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Blimey, I'll be losing my libertarian club membership soon at this rate :-/

11:57 am, May 01, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

I think it is common curtesy to ask if they can visit. However they know full well many of us will say no. When they came here they gave the impression that we did not have to let them in but if we didn't it would be viewed with suspicion. The fact they arrived at a very inconvenient time, with no invitation, did not seem to enter their heads and tbh even if a friend had done it I would not have been very pleased.

3:19 pm, May 01, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Yes I've given it a lot of thought recently, because from their POV, I can see why we're a worry, as they don't have easy access to our children in the way they do school pupils.

The problem is that the 'state as first parent' ethos has been perpetrated so well that the officials seem to think our children's education and safety is their business, whether or not concerns have been raised!

No, the ECHR has it right with Article 8 - privacy in the home is of paramount importance unless there's good reason to think something is wrong. Officials can't be allowed to just go about checking everyone anyway, just in case. Nobody would ever have any peace.

3:31 pm, May 01, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

So, how was JET?ant

4:05 pm, May 04, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Quite amusing in places, innit?

From a parent's POV, I find it on the one hand terrifying that SSDs have the power to remove children into care on these kinds of bases without, seemingly, reasonable grounds. OTOH it's comforting that the police took a more rational view even though the report concluded that the non-communicative stance taken by the police actually exacerbated the social workers' hysteria.

The commissioning of the report itself is also a comforting fact, late in the day though it was for the people concerned. I hope its recommendations are put in place.

I'm glad I read the report, lengthy and alarming though it is, so thanks for the link. Do you think, then, that Glous LA is taking the same kind of position WRT HE as the Notts SSD was found to have taken in the JET report? That there might be the same kind of witch hunt going on?

I'm not sure I see such a close link. There was no evidence or mention of satanism in the Spry case, or was there? It's possible I missed it.

I just get the feeling Glous. are seeking to take a proactive stance to try to raise their PR after the hammering it took over Spry, but I'd be the first to admit to not being particularly in the know regarding either the Spry case or the ins and outs of HErs dealings with Glous as a result of it.

8:51 pm, May 04, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

I wouldn't want to draw too many parallels.

Bear in mind that the report was vigorously repressed, and only ended up being published officially, in revised form, after there had been many attempts to suppress its publication on the web - even going as far as in the Canadian courts. The pretext for suppressing it was that it might have led to the identification of some of the children, but their families wanted it made public, so suppression merely protected the guilty officials and the Notts Social Services Dept itself from exposure in the domestic press.

It was an astounding example of unrepentant bigotry on behalf of the SS officials involved who had formed their opinions in advance and made everything they encountered fit into it.

The officials were never held to account for a conspiracy to persecute innocent people.

I think you are right about Gloucs wanting to be seen to have cleaned up their act. The JET case centered on the obsession of a bunch of religious fanatics with satanic abuse. But you recently posted about the situation of travellers. Has anything changed? Could they or, for that matter, home educators be persecuted in a similar way, solely on the basis of the prejudices of officials?

1:41 am, May 05, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh I didn't realise the JET report's wider publication had been so fought over, though it makes a lot of sense for them to try to prevent it. It's a terrible indictment of Notts SSD and those authorities in the States and Canada. This kind of obsessive seeking of Satanism at every opportunity ("All kids are victims and all teachers are perpetrators until your field is narrowed") shows that, in terms of hunted prey, satanism is probably the new witchcraft.

"It was an astounding example of unrepentant bigotry on behalf of the SS officials involved who had formed their opinions in advance and made everything they encountered fit into it."

I quite agree.

"The officials were never held to account for a conspiracy to persecute innocent people."

They never are, it seems :-( Which presumably renders them free to carry on practising their profession with all prejudices fully intact. I've always been worried about SWs, as I've said in the past. I'm sure some are very good and helpful, but some are frighteningly NOT. And they have far too much power. I'm very glad the police don't always roll over and obey them.

"I think you are right about Gloucs wanting to be seen to have cleaned up their act. The JET case centered on the obsession of a bunch of religious fanatics with satanic abuse. But you recently posted about the situation of travellers. Has anything changed? Could they or, for that matter, home educators be persecuted in a similar way, solely on the basis of the prejudices of officials?"

TBH I doubt that home educators, en masse, will allow themselves to be put in that position. We're too articulate and clued up - more so than some of those who might wish we weren't. But yes, Travellers have traditionally been persecuted and still are, in my opinion. Their protection in race laws is a little known fact, though very useful (to them). The Ivatts report seems not to be seen as prejudicial though - as Tech said, many of their own representatives are in support of it. This fact, coupled with the terms of the Race Relations Act, makes the Ivatts report recommendations a serious threat to all HErs.

This is why I still don't understand why EO is seeking to cite Travellers as being particularly involved in the alleged forced dereg issue: one the one hand it sounds racially prejudicial on the part of HErs (EO) and on the other hand it appears to play right into the hands of anyone wishing to strengthen the position of that potentially damaging report. I can't see any good in such a policy for home educators whatsoever, and no reasonable explanation has been forthcoming.

The only so-called justification I've heard was that EO cited Travellers specifically "because of Ivatts", but this was not further explained despite my asking for it to be so. I've since been trying to work out the logic of such a stance, to no avail. If you understand it Tim, please explain it to me!

My main concern about this whole issue, as ever, is the fanatical mental state of some of those who are legally empowered to take action in the name of child protection. As I've said in the past, there's a reason why many people feel compelled to do the jobs they do and I think the reason in each case should be examined closely before anyone is professionally invested with power to have such an impact on a child's life.

But this won't happen, because they only people who really care are loving parents and loving parents aren't making all the rules. Human nature ensures there will always be some people who are fanatical witch-hunters seeking validation and there will always be some people in power who are unscrupulous enough to use this to further their own agenda, which is why the JET report is so reassuring. The problem is, by the time the inquiry reports are published, the damage to the children in question has been done.

9:20 am, May 05, 2007  

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