Saturday, October 24, 2009

Notes on the transcripts (8) - The voice of the child. Sought, heard, but not necessarily believed.

Again today I'm continuing with my notes on the [uncorrected] transcript of last Monday's oral evidence for the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee short inquiry into The Badman Review [opens pdf]. (Please note that the quoted sections below are excerpts from an an uncorrected transcript and therefore neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record.)

We left it yesterday with this question from Lynda Waltho:

Q34: That is helpful. We have all been talking about the voice of the child throughout today's proceedings. What if the voice of the child is not to meet with the officer? What do we do then?

Graham Badman: That is the one question that I was dreading from this Committee.

Lynda Waltho: Oh, sorry.

Graham Badman: It is a very good question.

Chairman: As you have been dreading it, can it be repeated?

Lynda Waltho: What if the voice of the child is that he or she does not want to meet, or refuses to meet, someone from the authority?

Graham Badman: My view then would be that it is up to the sensitivity of the officer to judge whether or not that is truly what the child wishes or whether it is a view that has been given to them by the parent that they have repeated.

This is so shocking I didn't believe my ears when I heard it, and have just had to read it several times for it to sink in.

It seems that the voice of the child is valid, important and believed only when it's saying what the government wants to hear. Otherwise, not. And local authority officers are not famed for their sensitivity - even Mr Badman knows that.

That is quite difficult to determine.

Why would you even bother trying, unless you subscribed to that oft-spinned, baseless and completely made-up 'theory' that home educating parents are a nefarious bunch of child abusing brainwashers?

That being said, we are making provision that other trusted adults can be engaged, and I repeat that speaking to the child and the requirement to speak to them would have to be used after a whole range of other avenues of approach and co-operation had been explored.

This is very vague, isn't it? "A whole range of other avenues of approach and co-operation" with regard to what, exactly? If there is a suspicion of abuse, then the normal child protection procedure is enacted. If there is reason to believe the education isn't suitable, information is requested. If this information is not forthcoming or is insufficient to allay the specific concerns, a school attendance order is sought. This can then be defended by the parents in court, as they wish. Why do we need a whole range of other avenues of approach and co-operation, let alone to give LAs the power to interview the child alone (which they already have if abuse is suspected, and which should be the only reason for them to).

I go back to my first statement to the Chairman of this Committee. I don't think there is anything in the report that prevents good elective home educators from continuing to do what they have always done.

The only question, then, is which of us is 'good' - and which of us is 'bad'. It seems that this is to be for local authority officers to decide, poor things.

All we are going to do is to offer them greater services and greater protection for a minority - but a significant minority.

We already have enough services. There already is sufficient protection.

I can well understand that there may be children, particularly on the autistic spectrum, who would be completely fazed by that. I have indicated that within the section on special educational needs as well. I understand that point, but judge each case on its merits. What we cannot legislate for is every single occurrence. We have to trust to the good sense of those involved in the support of home educators, whether they be from the local authority or whether they are commissioned from the voluntary sector.

Oh my goodness. He's just throwing us to the lions. Doesn't he know that this trust is exactly what many of us are lacking? My eldest son had his confidence and self esteem destroyed by a school that refused to recognise his severe dyslexia - even after they'd received a 15-page long educational psychologist's diagnosis of it. ("We're not reading this. If you pay an ed psych to find something wrong with your child, they'll find it.") So I deregistered him and spent 6 months painstakingly rebuilding his confidence with him. Then the 'sensitive', 'trustworthy' LA inspector came round, having not bothered to read the report, demanded to see work and to hear Tom reading and scornfully lambasted both - and my son, as 'an idiot'. I said, "Um - you do know he's got dyslexia, quite badly?" and he said: "Oh! Well, I was a bit too pushed for time this morning to open the file. All the same, more work needs doing."

'Voice of the child'? 'Sensitive'? 'Trustworthy'? 'Good sense'? No. We need to retain our protection from some of these people. Some will be well-meaning and intelligent. Others will be uncaring and blasé. Still others will have a determination to enforce compliance with their own world view that borders on sadism. Why should they have unconditional access to our homes and our children?

Chairman: I don't think you should be so defensive about this, Graham.

! Yes, he should.

When we did our inquiry into looked-after children, I don't think we really got under the surface of that whole inquiry until we met children who had been in care, or were in care, on their own and talked to them.

Which is fine, if the children want to talk to someone.

We intend to talk to home-educated children on their own as a group, but I really can't see how we can evade trying to do that, even though we must do it in a sympathetic and sensitive way.

This seems to be a bewildering conflation of the Select Committee's plans to talk to politically active volunteer older children as a group, at their request, about the general situation and the Badman proposals to enable individual local authority officers to enforce private interviews with any home educated children, of any age, willing or unwilling, about their personal educational provision.

Q35 Lynda Waltho: Going on from that, I am somewhat calmed by your response,

Glad someone is.

but you're talking a lot about training and its being the last resort. It seems to me that there's going to need to be a lot of resources diverted to training or provided for training. Is that not going to stymie your overall objectives? It could end up basically being a bottomless pit, because if we're going to train them so well that it is a last resort and everything's going to be - I just wonder where it's all coming from. Sorry, is that another question you didn't want?

Another good question from Lynda Waltho, the answers to which I will look at in my next post.

4 Comments:

OpenID mum6kids said...

I too was aghast at the idea that if the child refused to be seen alone then they could be forced because it was the parents making them not want to be seen!
Then having said all that...stuff...about being sensitive and needing training ('cuz jackbooted LA folk struggle in the 'sensitive' dept) there is the question of paying for it all. After all services working with genuinely vulnerable kids are just rolling in money aren't they??
Cuts to those services aren't really being discussed are they? [sarcasm off]

6:14 pm, October 24, 2009  
Blogger Merry said...

What they suggest, in terms of the officer getting to know the child first and gaining their trust, smacks to me of nothing short of grooming, quite frankly.

8:08 pm, October 24, 2009  
Blogger Schuyler said...

David, my husband, has been going through the British Medical Association's document on a doctor's responsibility to report suspected abuse to social services. One thing he flagged up is that child can not be examined medically against her own will. According to section 44 subsection 7 of the Children
Act 1989
: Where any direction is given under subsection (6)(b), the child may, if he is of sufficient understanding to make an informed decision, refuse to submit to the examination or other assessment. The BMA's lawyers interpret that to mean that a doctor cannot examine a child without their permission unless there is a court order demonstrating that a child does not have sufficient understanding to make an informed decision. Surely that protects children from being assessed without parental presence if the child doesn't give permission. Or am I, and the BMA (who must have a pack of lawyers), misunderstanding the law?

Maybe that's why they aren't really answering the question clearly whenever it's asked. And, of course, Graham Badman's suggestion that it is up to the LA to assess whether the child knows what they are saying is not what is held up in the Children Act 1989.

8:44 pm, October 24, 2009  
Blogger BaronessBlack said...

Again, strangely, those charities who provide children's advocates (often for those who have been taken into care, are very ill, etc.), come up against the authorities on the other side! They are not allowed to advertise their presence, or let the children know of their existence. So, the most they can do is put a poster up in the youth centre, or staff room.
It seems odd that one branch of the authorities is coercing children into interviews with strangers, while the other branch is refusing to let children know that there are independent advocates to help them have their voices heard and their points of views recognised!

10:56 am, October 25, 2009  

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