For *all* parents
The time has come for all parents to wake up and become aware of the massive legal changes to UK law that are being rolled out and will affect us all. Even parents who live outside of the UK should look out for this coming to their country and try to stop it before it happens. Here, the new system is called Every Child Matters (http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/) and it seeks to monitor and control every aspect of every child's life.
The ECM regime is centred around five 'outcomes', with which every child is expected to comply, but the outcomes don't mean what they imply. "Be healthy," "Stay safe," "Enjoy and achieve," "Make a positive contribution," and "Achieve economic well-being," all sound quite harmless and beneficial, but when you scratch the surface they actually mean something quite different.
The five outcomes are all measured by a whole raft of indicators, and if your child is seen to be failing in any outcome, he or she will be put through an eCAF (http://tinyurl.com/ag6686) which is a long and extremely invasive questionnaire that collects information about every aspect of the child's life, and lodges the answers in the child's file on the new Contactpoint database. If you look at the end of the questions, you will see the requirement for an 'action plan', the progress of which is to be tracked, monitored and recorded on the child's file.
The thing is, the criteria for the outcomes is going to be so tight that it will be almost impossible for every child to reach them all the time. For example, the draft guidance for anyone coming into contact with children on 'When to suspect child maltreatment' (http://tinyurl.com/bv23r2) includes things like inappropriate, or ill-fitting clothes, not taking prescribed medicine, 'excessive clinginess', temper tantrums, or other 'inappropriate behaviour'. If you've got children, you will know that most can and will fall foul of at least one of those points in stressful circumstances. The 'Stay Safe' outcome is then breached and an eCAF carried out.
But the most worrying outcome is the last one. 'Achieve economic wellbeing' actually means that any child whose family on a lower than average income (which is actually quite high: http://tinyurl.com/b76f2r and is worked out *after* housing costs and tax) who is receiving Child Tax Credits, when both parents are not in full-time employment, will fail to meet the outcome and be made the subject of an eCAF and associated action plan. Causing a child to live in [relative] poverty is now seen as abusive and this may not affect you now, but hardly anyone's position is 100% safe in the current economic climate. To address the issue of lack of jobs, the government is working with corporate 'partners' to bring in a full-time compulsory workfare programme.
The 'Every Child Matters' and Anti-Child Poverty programmes are not designed only to help children in real need. Systems are already in place to help those children and our state welfare system ensures that nobody ever needs to go hungry in this country. The intention - and the result, if we do nothing - will be to completely change the nature of normal family life forever.
So what can we do? This is difficult. Most of the changes are happening by Statutory Instrument, which is not voted on in Parliament, so your MP is probably unable to make a difference although it might help to write to them with your concerns (http://www.writetothem.com/). Petitions are usually ignored in matters of major reform programmes such as these, and protest marches seem to have very little effect. Voting for a different political party will not help: all the main parties are committed to doing the same thing, or worse.
Perhaps the most powerful thing you can do just now is to talk to other parents. Pass this message around, post it on forums, send it in emails. If you know anyone who works with children or is likely to come into contact with them in a professional capacity, talk to them especially about it. Ask them if they realise the full extent of the planned changes and consequences, so that pressure can be put on the relevant trade unions to try to resist the process. As a parent, you would be wise to consider your family's position in the light of the changes, and possibly also to advise or warn your children accordingly.
But long-term, these new and invasive laws and systems need to be repealed. The political party system will not do it. We need independent MPs with the strength and integrity to work together in reversing all of the recent seismic legal attacks on our civil liberty. Do you know anyone who would be willing to stand as an independent MP on this issue? It might be the one thing that actually gets people out to vote.