Sunday, February 22, 2009

ECM: Brave New World

In the brave new world of ECM [opens pdf], parents are almost superfluous and completely interchangeable. They do feature on the pictoral explanation of a child's life:

Stay safe

- but they appear to have equal status to the 'third sector' and are placed further away from the child than:

  • Maternity and Primary Health;
  • Children's Centres;
  • Extended Schools;
  • Integrated Youth Services;
  • Lead Professionals;
  • Specialist Services;
  • Multi-agency Locality Teams;
  • The Team Around the Child;
  • The Common Assessment Framework [opens pdf]; and
  • ContactPoint.

When ECM is in place and working properly, every two year old will attend a Children's Centre while both her parents are in full-time employment. There, she will be trained to comply with institutional order: eating, playing, learning and communication according to the programme.

She will be monitored for signs of oppositional behaviour and this will be dealt with accordingly. Her family history and circumstances will be on file and referenced when appropriate. She will not be the treasured, special baby of her biological group: she will be one of a class of many other same-aged children. Her health will be screened and she will be medicated and vaccinated at the Centre also.

The Centre will not be such a strange place to her, because she will have been regularly visiting it since her birth with her parent or other carer. She will know it as the place where she is weighed, checked and measured, where she has to queue and wait and do what the staff members tell her to do. She will see her parent or other carer do what the staff members tell them to do and so learn that this is the way to behave.

In due course, she will know this as the place where she is left by her parent or other carer: at first for short periods and then for longer ones. She may even have been left there every day since she was a tiny baby.

She will try to form emotional attachments with the adults at the centre, but this will be difficult because she is only one of a group and the staff members will not be kin to her and anyway they will disappear forever, periodically, and be replaced by other ones. If she is lonely, sad, sick or frightened they will not be allowed to cuddle her: only to try to distract her when she cries. She will soon learn to swallow her bad feelings and not to cry.

Her behaviour will be monitored according to a strict template: if she hits out too often, she will be referred for behavioural modification. If she clings to her parent or other carer too resolutely when they're leaving in the mornings, the whole family may be referred and her home, parent or other carer be replaced for different ones. This will teach her not to cling, cry or form too close attachments. It will teach her that nobody is there for her permanently, all the time. Only the System.

Her learning will be monitored and she will be given age-appropriate toys, books and activities, regardless of what she might feel like doing. Stories will be read to the whole group, not just her. There will be no beloved, familiar giant knee to clamber onto: no control over when to turn the page or how to say the words. No finger stabbing at favourite pictures. She must be passive, quiet, obedient.

It's likely that she will take all of her meals at the Children's Centre, unless she is lucky enough to live close-by, with her parent or other carer working close by as well. It might be seven in the evening before she gets home. Just time for a bath, teeth cleaned, and bed. First thing the next morning she'll be woken, dressed and taken to the Centre again. She will hardly ever be at home in her waking hours.

Adaptable as she is, she will learn to accept all of this. She will not know personal power, spontaneity or maternal attachment and so will never be all she can be, but she won't know this either - she will only know the routine, conformity and the numb, not-feeling. So school, when the time comes, won't be a shock to her: it will just be more of the same. By this time, she will sit quietly and carry out tasks when told to do so. She will not dare to deviate: she will see what happens to those who do. They disappear and might or might not return later, somehow subdued. Strange, glassy-eyed and unresponsive, their old, spirited selves never to return.

Again, she will take all of her meals there and attend from 8am until 6pm. When she gets slightly older, there will be evening activities at the Centre or Extended School (which might well be the same place) so that she continues to spend the vast majority of her waking hours there but the only absolutely definite thing to have stayed with her throughout the whole process as staff members came and went and teachers were changed, will be her file. This she will never see, but she will have a growing awareness of its existence because it will be referred to from time to time and she will see it being consulted and notes made upon it.

The file will be used to help map her career and decide her life choices. Because when the time comes, she will not know what she wants to do with her life - but then, she never did. She was never asked. The concept of wanting to do something is by now completely alien to her: she has no connection to the part of her brain that might still be able to think along those lines and can't remember ever having one. So it's good that the file is there to help to choose a subject for her to study at college. At twenty-two with a degree, she will be ready to slot into a useful role in the System. This will probably be in a new town and connected to a new Centre, but it will feel like home because they will all look the same anyway.


But this will not happen to every child. Some brave parents will find ways to resist the process: a growing number, as it happens. They will refuse to give their children up to the System.

What will happen to them?

I don't know.


Blogger BaronessBlack said...

Truly terrifying!

8:23 am, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Elaine said...

This post will never be forgotten there must be a way to ensure it impacts on every member of society and those who strive to control outcomes.
I will return.

9:55 am, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Heidi said...


10:19 am, February 22, 2009  
Blogger mamadillo said...

I think there's a bit of harshness/ignorance of children's centres here, a few friends of mine have found them more AP-friendly than other available childcare in their areas when they returned to work. Certainly the children were cuddled, at least! But otherwise the Seafort Saga has some very familiar scenarios... though at least in this future they made education non-compulsory!

10:29 am, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Mamadillo I am admittedly and blissfully ignorant of Children's Centres, so thanks for that bit of good news :-)

10:32 am, February 22, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got to stop reading your blog, Gill, you're giving me nightmares. There is solace in that one fact; there are growing numbers of us who resist and will not comply.

11:07 am, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Mieke said...

I don't want to believe that this is ever going to happen. But I have to admit there is a whole lot more hard evidence for this possible scenario than there will ever be for the one Baroness Morgan described. I think it calls for a review!

11:57 am, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Tom said...

Once upon a time people emigrated to the New World in order to practice religion freely.

I wonder if people will now leave and somehow create a new world in order to exercise free choice in education and health?

12:11 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger cosmic seed said...

there is nowhere to go to now though :(

12:28 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger lotusbirther said...

Interestingly, there has recently been a review of children's centre and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Of course, people like myself who have had atrocious times there weren't consulted, nor those who know their children enough to not need to use them. I can accept that there may be some good but at the end of the day they all have the same forms to fill in and the same outcomes to ensure each child achieve. None of those outcomes, when looked at from a detailed perspective, are rooted in a person't internal focus, they can never be as they are all described in terms of criteria, hoops to be jumped through.
Report can be accessed though here:

12:46 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

LB, did you blog your experiences? I'd be very interested in reading about them.

2:48 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger lotusbirther said...

he he, life isn't providing enough time atm!
I'm keen to blog someting fluffy and nice for a change!
I might get round to it at some point though, as you have asked. It is very relevant tbh. But not fluffy and sweet, something I am endeavoring to cultivate right now.

3:00 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Baz said...

Scary stuff indeed.

And people think the Hitler Youth died out on 20th April 1945.

It didn't, it just evolved, and what you present here is that evolution, only now its not a personality cult, its a "conformation" cult instead.

3:05 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Dani said...

I really don't think this imagined future is what anyone is aiming for. AFAIK, Children's Centres are not places where parents, or children, are routinely told what to do, vaccinated, fed, or medicated.

I don't think it is in anyone's plan for them to replace schools or the complicated web of private childcare that already exists and is used by families where both parents work outside the home.

I think there are things wrong with ECM, but I don't think it is leading to this.

Some of the things underlying ECM are things I fundamentally object to (eg five universal ambitions for every child). Others are things I think are not bad at all.

I think it is good if there is support available for any parent who is struggling with the stresses of caring for small children. When ours were little, we used a toddler group at our local children's centre, and it was fine. It was a drop-in group, where parents could chat to each other and benefit from each other's experience. It was cheap, and the toys were clean and good quality. Some of the parents there had been referred by their social workers and others (like us) had just walked in off the street. I thought it was good that this was a mixed group of parents, not a ghetto for families with 'problems'.

The Centre had a no smacking policy, and I thought that was good, too. It led to discussion about different approaches to childrearing. We were able to share our intention to raise our kids without recourse to punishments of any kind. Other people talked about how things were in their families. There were no Centre staff involved in any of these conversations.

Some of the ideas underlying ECM are ones I agree with. That children are entitled to live without violence in their homes, or in any place they are cared for. That they should have adequate shelter, warmth and food, and medical care when they need it. That people who are looking after children when their parents aren't around should interact with them in a kind and thoughtful way, and should be careful not to pass on racist, homophobic, or other offensive ideas.

I think the state should provide universal services for children. I guess that's where I would part company with you, Gill. I also disagree quite strongly with the current regime about what those services should look like, and whether there should be any compulsion involved in using them. But I do think they should be regulated so that they are safe places for children.

3:56 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Mieke said...

"I think the state should provide universal services for children. I guess that's where I would part company with you, Gill. I also disagree quite strongly with the current regime about what those services should look like, and whether there should be any compulsion involved in using them. But I do think they should be regulated so that they are safe places for children."

Dani, I agree. These safe places must be in place, provided by the state. And I also agree that a lot of these Centres (and other Child Services) are doing a good job, attempting to provide a nurturing and safe environment for parents and children.
At the same time I feel it's important that, for instance regarding ECM, people are aware of the fact that there is a choice.
I know quite a few parents who think health checks, vaccination and school are compulsory. They have never been told any different.
The top-down information certainly doesn't encourage people / parents to choose anything else than mainstream, and unfortunately people are afraid of what might happen to them or their children if they think or act outside the box.
The emphasis should be on families / parents to take responsibility for the upbringing, education and welfare of their own children, in whatever way they feel suits them. And then there should be a number of - preferably supportive - safety nets in place. In my ideal world these safety nets would be provided by the community - extended family, friends, church or other social groups. Until that time I'd like the state - through an elected parliament - to provide it.

It would be good if we could break through the current polarization and engage in constructive dialogue. After all, 'the government' and 'the system' consists as much of individual people as 'the home ed community', 'parents', 'citizens'...

4:36 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger lotusbirther said...

We don't have a fully elected parliament. Our PM is unelected to that position!

4:48 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Mieke said...

LB: Precisely. All the more reason to make people aware of the choices they have. And to raise awareness of programmes such as ECM. But without radically denying or rejecting the good things in place to safeguard children.

I'm not sure how to say this in English, but in Dutch we have a saying: Be careful not to throw the child out with the dirty bathwater.

4:59 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Tom said...

I don't think anyone intends this future to happen. It is merely what what most of our fellow citizens are sleep walking towards.

The factors which are driving this are the surveillance/database state combined with a bureaucratic desire to avoid blame for disasters when they happen.

However we cannot be educated or made safe by being conditioned to live according to a set of procedures.

5:03 pm, February 22, 2009  
Anonymous Lillbjorne said...

Your description is alarming to say the least. To what extent is it drawn from government documents?

I'm beginning to feel quite despairing. It seems as though government will keep on rolling out their odious plans no matter what we say. :(

What you describe is unadulterated communism. Are conservative MPs being made aware of these proposals?

5:17 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Dani, I don't think they're planned to replace schools, but the Children's Centre in our town, for example, is adjacent to the school. You can see pictures of them in this post.

There are definitely plans to incorporate medical screening in Children's Centres, and I think (though might be wrong) that it's already happening in some. They're supposed to evolve into a universal drop-in/advice/day nursery cover-all centre for pre-school children.

I don't have anything against the idea per se, but I lament the fact that they're needed at all, and that we don't have extended families/organic communities to help young families any more, in many cases. Some of this has been deliberate - remember Tony Blair's early Social Exclusion speeches that drew on all that JRF research about bonds and bridges? The idea was to take steps to break the natural social bonds so that the artificial social bridges could be imposed - and these could then be regulated and monitored etc, whereas the bonds couldn't.

Brave New World, I call it, and I stand by that. The ECM framework, coupled with the Children's Centres and the Extended School system underpinned by ContactPoint is intended to replace our naturally evolved social connections, IMO.

Some people think that's a good thing: my dad, for one. And you too?

Mieke, we have the "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" too!

Tom, sleepwalking is right.

LB - not to worry, you'll hopefully get around to it sooner or later.

5:23 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Lillbjorne, this post made imaginative literary use of some of the snippets I've gleaned from reading the PSAs and DSOs connected to ECM in the past few weeks. Obviously different children and families will react differently, and as you can tell from the comments here, I was misinformed about the ban on cuddling, for example.

I am alarmed by the things that are happening, and those that are planned though. I think the terms like all children and every child are what alarms me the most, as though the loopholes will all be closed and there will be no opt-out.

When you put the detail of the five outcomes together into one picture - the fact that 'achieve economic wellbeing' = both parents working fulltime, with all the rest of it, I can't see any other outcome myself.

I'm hoping there's a way to stop the steamroller. The anti-poverty programme has only just begun to be rolled out, though I think all the major political parties are behind it. I'd be happy if someone could definitely tell me otherwise.

5:30 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Yes, this might be a better way to do it all! ;-)

5:48 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

"I don't have anything against the idea per se.."

Actually, I just read that back and it's quite wrong. Of course I do. I was trying to say that there will be good people and good experiences as part of it all, and that in some ways, I admit, Children's Centres will serve useful functions.

But I don't think the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks. Family bonds do matter for some - if not all - children's emotional development. They did to me anyway.

6:16 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger cosmic seed said...

The children's centre in my VILLAGE is part of the school. It has nursery provision which royally annoyed the village playgroup. The baby clinic is there, as is, I believe, the midwife. The school has breakfast and after school clubs.

6:29 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger cosmic seed said...

just to add - they built over a large part of the school playground to create the children's centre!

6:30 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Yes, I seem to think that's what happened here too.

6:31 pm, February 22, 2009  
Anonymous Ruth said...

The problem with all of these 'services' is the way that they creep from optional to compulsory.

Children starting school aged 4 began as a 'service'. It's now moved to being standard procedure, almost every child does it and parents don't seem to realise they have a choice. Now a government review is recommending that the choice be removed, compulsory school age will begin the September after a child turns 4.

So, I'm afraid I distrust Children's Centres. They seem on the face of it harmless, offering services that some parents will welcome and those who don't won't have to use them ... YET.

I don't think it's at all a stretch to see a long term plan here. Once sending your child to the Children's Centre at 3 becomes the norm they will be able to start tightening the screws, e.g. pushing down the age limit for forcing single parents back to work, until those who haven't complied will be few enough to have no voice when the law changes. After all if you're happy to send them at 4 why complain about sending them at 3?

7:09 pm, February 22, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love doesn't scale.

7:10 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Ruth, I agree, and the plan to have every child attending these places from a very young age is explicit in the PSAs.

Anonymous, thanks for that.

"It isn’t that there’s anything wrong with love per se, it’s just that there’s something wrong with love on a large scale." - exactly.

7:16 pm, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Dani said...

When I said I think the state should provide universal services for children, I was thinking along the lines of Grit's post too.

I don't think state services are better than familial and community bonds. I think it's best for children to be cared for by people who love them.

I'm not convinced there was ever a time in this country when all social care was satisfactorily dealt with by familial and community bonds, though.

I do appreciate living in a city, and the valuable services provided to me and my family by the government of that city - street lighting, refuse collection, libraries, swimming pools, museums, parks, etc. Plus the services provided to us by the government of the country, not least the NHS - for all its faults, it is a major reason I am grateful to live here and not (for example) in America.

I do want the government to provide services, not because I think the government loves me, but because with the number of people we have in this country, those services do have to be organised somehow.

We can't all grow our own food and organise our own waste disposal.

I prefer large scale services to be provided by publicly owned organisations (though I would rather were properly accountable and offered their services in a more flexible and responsive way) than by private businesses, who are out to make a profit.

9:24 pm, February 22, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Gill,
it certainly looks a bleak and chilling picture.
I think the reality will probably not end up so bad but that won't make it good either.
I think my great experience with my childrens' centre does not change the larger picture. I think as with all services there will be local variations and we have been very lucky and I have been going with my kids and not leaving them in nursery there.
I do not have a great network locally and have really appreciated their groups .
My very "quirky" children have had a ball and love the staff;have had many many hugs and individual storybook readings including reading one from the back to the front for my son whilst messy play raged on all around them.
My son never wants to do activities as they are planned to be done and every effort is made to enable him to make/play/do in the way that he wants.
Eg we played outside and he wanted to tie 2 big cars together 2 make a double car so one member of staff went off on rope hunt for him and then assisted under his direction.
The centre manager is always coming into the groups just to play as she obviously loves the energy of the kids - she spent ages with DS doing the invisible dot to dots he was creatng for her and they were both in fits of laughter as he changed the rules left right and centre.
The messy play is true messy play with so much to explore and experiment with and the staff and parents usually end up as covered in food/glitter/mud/paint/shaving foam as the kids.They really do live the process not product theme of the group.
It feels like a really joyful place.
Also they asked if we wanted to still come when Ds reached school age which was great cos our nearest HE groups were quite activity based and DD and DS weren't quite of an age were I could easily manage with them both there.We have to stop going when he is 6 in a few weeks but it has really bridged a gap for us and I am hoping to still take DD now and then.
Also everyone knows we home ed and I have had lots of positive discussions with other parents and definitely sown a few seeds.
I have hardly ever felt that our autonomous approach was in any way compromised yet I have at home ed groups.
So I do want to stand up for these places and their staff at the same time as being very worried about the bigger picture.
Whoops that got a bit long

9:24 pm, February 22, 2009  
Anonymous Littlepurplegoth said...

What they seem to miss in a lot of this, is that IME the parents that this scenario is there to 'safeguard' their children from, are themselves the product of backgrounds very very like this one (institutional care, from a very young age or otherwise).

11:27 pm, February 22, 2009  
Anonymous Lanna Rosgen said...

It does seem to logically follow that if the government is intent on squeezing every last taxable hour out of the grownups, then they're also mindful of the increasing degree to which they're taking responsibility for children away from parents. I must agree with Ruth. First there will be the temptation of the excellent (?) services, then social pressure. Then we can look forward to legislation to move things along--the absurd push to force single mothers onto job-seekers allowance is an instance of this already. As these become the norm, already there will be further ploys in the works to usurp parenthood further.

It really is a shame. With a change in philosophy to one of the government endeavoring to create policies and resources that serve the needs and desires of families, so much good could be achieved. It's a sad time to be alive when we find ourselves having to look at the cheerily painted walls of Childrens Centres with suspicion..

2:27 am, February 23, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a two year old daughter.

This scenario will only happen to her over my dead body.

When they find my dead body, it will be on top of a very large pile of the bodies of state employees, none of whom will have died painlessly.

12:26 pm, February 23, 2009  
Blogger lotusbirther said...

Coming to your area soon (at least they will be in my area)

Safe At Home will be delivered through local schemes run by partners such as Sure Start Children’s Centres, local authorities and Primary Care Trusts. RoSPA-trained staff will make home visits to assess individual family needs, and will then tailor-make a package of equipment and practical home safety advice.

11:10 pm, February 23, 2009  

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