'At risk of poor outcomes'
I googled the term and the first result was a pdf from the DWP: The circumstances of persistently poor families with children: Evidence from the Families and Children Study (FACS).
Here is the phrase in context:
Children in persistently poor families were more likely than children in temporary poor households to be at risk of poor outcomes across a number of Every Child Matters domains, including:
• going without regular physical exercise (12 per cent compared to eight per cent);
• being suspended or expelled from school (11 per cent compared to six per cent);
• being in trouble with the police (five per cent compared to three per cent);
• living in bad housing (48 per cent compared to 33 per cent);
• lacking a number of material deprivation items (3.9 items compared to 2.6 items);
• facing multiple (three or more) negative outcomes (28 per cent compared to 18 per cent).
I'm very tempted to get sidetracked into finding out what constitutes 'material deprivation items'...
Oh blow it, I've been meaning to read DWP's Measuring child poverty using material deprivation: possible approaches for weeks: now is as good a time as any.
The material deprivation tier will not only give a wider measure of people’s living standards, but it will also capture elements of persistent poverty, as highlighted in the final conclusions of the child poverty consultation.
- this is to justify its use as a measure alongside 'relative' and 'absolute' poverty.
2.3 What is material deprivation?
Most material deprivation measures generally ask respondents about the ownership of items regarded as ‘necessities’ by a majority of the population. People are then classified as ‘deprived’ if they go without some of these items.
But when you've got used to having something like a good car, designer clothes, foreign holidays.. it starts to feel like a 'necessity', doesn't it? Imposing that feeling on the rest of the population which may have different standards and preferences can only be a decision made for nefarious means.
There follows lengthy narrative by way of explanation and justification, but I really want to get to a list. What exactly are the 'material deprivation items'? Here we are:
I don't know about you, but I'm memorising that list in case I'm ever questioned by the SS about my children's 'risk of poor outcomes', because of course we could afford them all if we prioritised our spending that way, but in some cases we choose not to. And yes, it's a choice made by all the family including the children - as is the choice to have me at home instead of out working full-time. Does that count for anything? I don't know: according to Ending Child Poverty: making it happen [opens pdf] about which I blogged here, if the family is below a certain level of income, the child fails the fifth 'Achieve economic wellbeing' outcome, with no other considerations taken into account.
One of the excuses for setting the level so high, and including measures like 'relative poverty' and 'material deprivation' is that children are often made to feel bad at school if they can't afford the items their friends have. But home educated children don't really suffer from this kind of peer pressure so should be exempt from those measures, though of course they won't be.
And so many of those terms are subjective, aren't they? What, for example, constitutes a 'decent state of decoration'? Our floor paint is a bit worn by the kitchen sink: is that an indecent state of decoration? Some people would think so, but it doesn't bother us. We'd rather prioritise our spending on paying back a mortgage that enables us to live in a 'decent area' - which is another subjective term that has arguably more reason to be on the above list, but doesn't appear there. And we decided years ago that holidays didn't matter to us, because we were all so happy to be at home. Are they compulsory now, even for people like us who genuinely prefer to be at home? What madness.
But what are front-line members of the Children's Workforce told to look for when it comes to assessing children who are 'at risk of poor outcomes', besides parents' bank statements and the quality of their paintwork? Reading one of the LA responses to the six review questions (So they got to answer sixty-six questions, compared to our six!) led me to the enlightening and partly statutory 2006 Working Together to Safeguard Children: A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children [opens pdf], (I like this document because it clearly defines the statutory and non-statutory elements) which:
..is addressed to practitioners and front-line managers who have particular responsibilities for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, and to senior and operational managers, in organisations that:
- are responsible for commissioning or providing services to children, young people, and adults who are parents/carers
- have a particular responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.
Sounds like just what we need, then.
It's 258 pages long and, while I probably will read the whole thing at some point, I don't have time today. But dipping in at various points yields some interesting finds:
All agencies and professionals should: ...
- work co-operatively with parents, unless this is inconsistent with ensuring the child’s safety.
In my book, 'work co-operatively' means that if the parent (with the agreement of the child) says: "We feel perfectly healthy, safe, successful, interactive and wealthy. Thanks for your concern, but we don't wish to avail ourselves of your services at the moment and will be in touch if we ever do," the agencies and professionals should respect that, unless they've got real reason to suspect the family of lying about it.
Their choice of words could be useful to us from the very beginning of the document actually. The first point states:
1.1 All children deserve the opportunity to achieve their full potential
Key word being 'opportunity'. My children have the opportunity to live in a wealthy household, if they want to. I've always made clear to them that this is a whole-family choice: we either enjoy our time together or we do the work/school thing and [try to] get lots of money. They choose the former: hands down, and ditto regarding all the other opportunities available to them. They are free to choose which to accept and which to decline. They surely can't be compelled to achieve outcomes that they don't want to achieve, or to change their priorities.
I think the wording of these documents is very important, because it's being used against us in so many ways and so we need to reclaim the definitions to suit our families. If necessary, I'll get a dictionary out and say, "Look: that word actually means this." But in order to be able to do that, we need to be aware of and conversant with the documents themselves because our legal position is no longer simple: in the past few years, with the advent of ECM, PSAs and pdfs, it's suddenly got a lot more complicated.
So here's another useful quote:
1.3 Patterns of family life vary and there is no one, perfect way to bring up children. Good parenting involves caring for children’s basic needs, keeping them safe, showing them warmth and love, and providing the stimulation needed for their development and to help them achieve their potential, within a stable environment where they experience consistent guidance and boundaries.
We could use that paragraph in itself as a good defence against the stricter measures of the five outcomes.
And this one:
Only in exceptional cases should there be compulsory intervention in family life – e.g. where this is necessary to safeguard a child from significant harm. Such intervention should – provided this is consistent with the safety and welfare of the child – support families in making their own plans for the welfare and protection of their children.
Wow. Suddenly I feel a little bit safer, don't you?
enquiries under s47 of the Children Act 1989 may reveal significant unmet needs for support and services among children and families.These should always be explicitly considered, even where concerns are not substantiated about significant harm to a child, if the family so wishes
...if the family so wishes. We do have a choice!
1.31 Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children.These may include interactions that are beyond the child’s developmental capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction. It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying, causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.
I don't think most home educated children are at risk of the above, unless some barmy officer considered home ed to be 'overprotection'. Even then, like so much of this rhetoric, it's a matter of opinion, isn't it? Unless I can find an official definition of 'overprotection'..
Well, I have just come across this that looks worth a read when I've got time.. No, it seems that several Local Authorities can cheerfully trot out the phrase "over protection and limitation of exploration and learning," in their documentation, but none of them actually define it. And anyway, home educated children are surely the least at risk of 'limitation of exploration and learning'. I'd accuse schools of having to do that due to the constraints they have to work under, but not any home educating parents I've ever known.
Back to Working Together to Safeguard Children: A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children [opens pdf]:
1.33 Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:
- provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment)
- protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger
- ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers)
- ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.
- It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child’s basic emotional needs.
So, we have to protect, but we must not overprotect. And yet the exact positioning of these lines seems to be invisible to us.
Another such contradiction is in a child's use of IT. In the context of elective home education - and even in school education, the free use of IT is seen as a useful - even an essential - facility. It has certainly helped all of my children in their learning. But this document, in the non-statutory section, includes it as a risk:
11.60 Where there is evidence of a child using ICT excessively, this may be a cause for concern more generally, in the sense that it may inhibit the development of real-world social relationships, or become a factor contributing to obesity. It may also indicate either a contemporary problem, or a deeper underlying issue that ought to be addressed.
Blimey. Define 'excessively'?
And here, we have CME as a 'risk' factor:
11.67 There are a number of reasons why children go missing from education.These can include:
- failing to start appropriate provision, and hence never entering the system
- although that doesn't include Elective Home Education, which of course counts as 'appropriate provision'. I don't know how Kent County Council got the idea that it did. (Unless it perhaps thinks that parents can't - or shouldn't - be in the position of defining 'appropriate provision'.)
I have at least found a definition of 'significant harm':
1.25 There are no absolute criteria on which to rely when judging what constitutes significant harm. Consideration of the severity of ill-treatment may include the degree and the extent of physical harm, the duration and frequency of abuse and neglect, the extent of premeditation, and the presence or degree of threat, coercion, sadism and bizarre or unusual elements. Each of these elements has been associated with more severe effects on the child, and/or relatively greater difficulty in helping the child overcome the adverse impact of the maltreatment. Sometimes, a single traumatic event may constitute significant harm, e.g. a violent assault, suffocation or poisoning.More often, significant harm is a compilation of significant events, both acute and long-standing, which interrupt, change or damage the child’s physical and psychological development. Some children live in family and social circumstances where their health and development are neglected. For them, it is the corrosiveness of long-term emotional, physical or sexual abuse that causes impairment to the extent of constituting significant harm. In each case, it is necessary to consider any maltreatment alongside the family’s strengths and supports.
- suspicion of which is the proviso for compulsory intervention.
I've got to finish here today: my little girls have woken up demanding to "make a cake". But to briefly sum up, I've found both things to console and things to concern us this morning, but on the whole I'm glad to have found Working Together to Safeguard Children: A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children [opens pdf].