Tuesday, March 03, 2009

'At risk of poor outcomes'

Today I want to find out the current (because these things seem to be in a constant state of flux) definition of 'At risk of poor outcomes'. How is this measured, or assessed? Does it - could it - include electively home educated children? If so, what 'remedy' might the use of this term allow for or compel?

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:

Material deprivation items

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!

Emotional abuse
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].


Blogger Mieke said...

Brilliant stuff, Gill!
I've only read half of it, got to go in a minute, but will come back to it later...
First time I've seen the words 'love and warmth' in a govt doc (1.3)!
Hey, and what about that paragraph 1.31?? It's practically telling us not to send our children to school!!
Very interesting, will be back here!

9:34 am, March 03, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think some professionals will resist this idea that they can interfere with family life. My husband is clear he would only ever seek admission without invitiation if (as you have quoted) there were serious concerns.
As for CAMHS being in schools as you talked of in the previous post; where my husband is-that is already beginning to happen. Staff are resisting it because of the major concern over maintaining confidentiality. How many families and children want the whole school seeing them go for a therapy session for crying out loud!?!!

Meanwhile that poverty list is a laugh-I didn't realise how poor we were. I just thought it was a little challenging to make ends meet. I can't see how only having one pair of shoes is going to damage my children's ability to achieve. rofl [sarcasticly]

I am concerned that children who never go to school (as my younger three won't)-will by the looks of this doc and the Missing Ed doc I have to go through-be authomatically assumed to be missing education.

9:50 am, March 03, 2009  
Blogger Allie said...

Gill, I think you are dead right about the subjective nature of the judgements to be made about things like significant harm - whatever written guidance people may be operating with. This is why I think it is important that people making those judgements are properly trained and supervised

Personally speaking, this is what concerns me most about the current trend towards blurring professional boundaries. I think this works seriously against our interest as home educators because we are even more likely than ever to encounter someone who is utterly clueless about home education and yet feels compelled to judge it. Everyone working in child services is so concerned to look at 'everything' they are making judgements about things they are seriously unqualified to judge.

When you say,
"unless some barmy officer considered home ed to be 'overprotection'."
I have known this to happen to someone and their 'social worker' (no idea of status or job title) clearly felt that home ed was 'unhealthy'. I have known another 'social worker' make all kinds of wild recommendations about someone's home ed provision including demanding that it be changed as it was "child lead" (sic). I would far rather deal with someone (when I choose) who has had adequate training in their specific role than someone floundering around with a vague 'responsibility' for all aspects of my child's life.

10:33 am, March 03, 2009  
Blogger cosmic seed said...

Leaving a comment here because I can't leave it where I would like to.

Re the argument that we shouldn't be saying that if other minorities were treated the way home educators have there would be outrage...

I thnk this has been misunderstood, I don't see any calls for different treatment, or being set apart, I see it as making a statement to show the utter ridiculous of the original statement.

If *they* said pigeon fanciers abus their children, people would find it laughable and ignore it. If *they* said Mormons abuse their children there would be outcry and apologies would have to be made. When home educators have that accusation levelled at them it is taken seriously and seems to be a perfectly acceptable statement to make. IMO THAT is what using that *argument* is about, it's pointing out the double standards, the blatant prejudices at work that would not be acceptable for other *minority* groups.

2:16 pm, March 03, 2009  
Blogger cosmic seed said...

But I've probably been misunderstanding again.

2:17 pm, March 03, 2009  
Blogger Dani said...

Cosmicseed, you are very welcome to comment on our blog if you want to.

What I was talking about there was the argument that "if this was any other minority it wouldn't be *allowed*". Maybe I read that into statements where it wasn't intended. If so, I apologise.

People quite frequently say equally offensive things about one of the minorities I belong to (most recent example that springs to mind is Melanie Phillips in the Mail, describing how gay parents damage the well being of their children). This is not met with widespread outrage from society as a whole. I expect many Daily Mail readers nod their heads in agreement.

So what you say may well be true if someone decided to launch an attack on pigeon fanciers, but does not apply to *all* other minorities.

3:09 pm, March 03, 2009  
Blogger Gina xx said...

Of course many "poor" families live in bad housing, that's because their damn landlords can't be arsed to do repairs. That goes for social as well as private landlords!
Material deprivations....Does that mean that if all the kids in one class have an iPod then every child should have one? What if one child's parent has a porsche? Will our children be deprived because we have a VW?
After all, if other kids have Porsches, iPods, Wii's etc then surely it is deprivation if ours don't?
This is almost trainer wars again (remember that from the 1980's... kids getting beaten up for having wrong trainers)

If you ask a child what a necessity is, then they are going to say...a computer/games console/reeboks/dolce & gabbana jeans/ TV system in bedroom etc because all their mates habve them!

They are not going to say a shelf of books, lego play sets, a decent pair of shoes and a clapped out Ford Escort.

I have brought my kids up the same way I have. If you have food in your belly, clothes on your back, shoes on your feet and a roof over your head, you have the necessities. Everything else is just window dressing!

3:24 pm, March 03, 2009  
Anonymous Firebird said...

I must admit to taking offence at being told that I SHOULD have friends/family around for dinner once a month or that dd SHOULD have friends round "for tea". Sod off! I say. It's not that we can't afford the food, we just don't WANT to.

And what the blazes is "enough bedrooms"? One for every child? Are you materially deprived if you have to share? Where does that leave families with more than two children but only average sized houses? My dad and his 8 siblings managed fine in a 3 bedroom house, and granny lived with them taking up one bedroom!

4:03 pm, March 03, 2009  
Anonymous Firebird said...

p.s. if you asked my daughter what a necessity is she'd probably say dinosaurs! ;-)

4:04 pm, March 03, 2009  
Blogger Maire said...

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 Left this comment on the wrong post duh

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

this is an excellent description and a vivid picture of what dyslexic and diffently wired children experience in schools.

7:02 pm, March 03, 2009  
Blogger Ruth said...

"unless some barmy officer considered home ed to be 'overprotection'

Happened to us Gill. Remember the SS referral that we were "keeping them in" and they were "not going out enough?" That whole saga turned into defence of how we HE autistic children who are not keen on group activities to a SW who knew nothing about it, rather then any welfare issue cos she admitted there were none.

11:23 pm, March 03, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Mieke, yes that surprised me too!

Mum6Kids - I hope they do. ECM seems to be designed with the aim of setting children against parents and parents against Local Authorities, doesn't it? Not something I'd want to be professionally part of, for sure. As for CME, I'm planning to work through that today. I'd overlooked it because its publication coincided with the announcement of the review. Hmmmm...

Allie, I can't decide whether I prefer the idea of them having to use fine judgement, or whether I'd like to see a clear definition of every word like 'over-protective'. As you say, perhaps adequate training in their role would cover it: one would hope so.

Cosmic seed, wha - ? *Confused* Is this about a debate that's happening elsewhere? If so, can we have a link please, someone?

Gina, yes the bad housing thing is interesting, because if you read these things from the POV that the government is here to help us (*splutter*) then it kind of looks like they want to fix all the bad housing problems. But when you start seeing them all as a bunch of kidcatchers, it's just another stick to beat us with. The ambiguity is probably deliberate, so that officers can read it either way, depending on their own motivations which of course vary. The thing about ipods and Porches - yes! I think that's exactly the kind of system/society that the PTB would like to see, then we'd all be striving all hours to earn the pennies to pay for them.

Firebird, yes that occurred to me too. Are our dinner invitations going to be scrutinised next? And I quite agree about bedrooms. Six of us are living here quite comfortably in what was meant to be a three-bedroomed house. (We altered it a bit etc) LOL about the dinosaurs!

Maire, that's an excellent point.

Ruth, oh yes, I had forgotten the exact nature of your problems with them. So do you think an official definition of 'overprotective' would be a good thing to have? Also, if there were no welfare concerns, they shouldn't have been hassling you should they? Tell you what, if they ever came knocking on my door I'd be quoting large swathes of this post to them, but that's now I know about it. I couldn't have done, prior to that - which was presumably the position you were in :-(

5:36 am, March 04, 2009  
Blogger Gina xx said...

Well hubster and I were talking about the review and our 11 yr old (with no mental health problems apart from being an 11 yr old hormonal female) said...
If they make me do schooly stuff or insist I have to go back to school...I'll kill myself!

9:03 am, March 04, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

I wonder if the powers that be know how much this hassle is affecting our children's feelings of security Gina. They certainly don't seem to care about that.

2:35 pm, March 04, 2009  

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