Friday, January 22, 2016

Dylan Seabridge, Section 47 and home education regulation

The tragic case of Dylan Seabridge has mysteriously resurfaced across mainstream media, yesterday and today. Dylan was known to be home educated by his local authority, but education staff did not see him because home educated children are not usually compelled by law to see education officials.

Concerns about Dylan's safety were raised amongst officials more than a year before his death, but no action was taken on these concerns. Instead of social workers, bizarrely, education staff were notified to merely make inquiries into his home education.

So we need more regulation of home educators, the argument goes. This would save their lives and prevent them from dying from neglect - even though cases like that of Daniel Pelka who attended school and still died, clearly demonstrate this to be false.

And yet we already have legislation to compel access for children who are suspected to be at risk of harm: Section 47 of the Children Act 1989:

(4) Where enquiries are being made under subsection (1) with respect to a child, the local authority concerned shall (with a view to enabling them to determine what action, if any, to take with respect to him) take such steps as are reasonably practicable —

(a) to obtain access to him; or

(b) to ensure that access to him is obtained, on their behalf, by a person authorised by them for the purpose,

unless they are satisfied that they already have sufficient information with respect to him.

Calls for a compulsory register have been coming from Neil Carmichael and others since last October, and I heard an interview between that man and home educator Clinton Lee yesterday evening, in which Mr Carmichael quite despicably waved the shroud of Dylan Seabridge to make his case.

I would like to respectfully suggest that Mr Carmichael considers using his position as Chair of the Commons Select Committee on Education to make inquiries as to why the current law is being ignored in respect of children whose local authorities "have reasonable cause to suspect [they are] suffering, or [are] likely to suffer, significant harm" instead of wasting public money campaigning for expensive, unnecessary and unhelpful extra legislation.

20 Comments:

Blogger Simon Webb said...

'Concerns about Dylan's safety were raised amongst officials more than a year before his death, but no action was taken on these concerns'

Well no, not really. In the course of an employment tribunal hearing, it became apparent that the child's mother had mental health problems. It also surfaced that she had a child whom she was educating at home. Are we really saying here that a mother with mental health difficulties should be considered a safety concern for her children? I'm sure that's not really what Gill means to say.

She continues;
'Instead of social workers, bizarrely, education staff were notified to merely make inquiries into his home education'

Why on earth would one send social workers to a child's home; merely because his mother is eccentric and under treatment for mental illness? Would Gill really like to see this policy adopted by local authorities as a general principle; that whenever they become aware of a home educated child with a parent with mental health problems, social workers are sent round to visit? I would like to know if this is really what she is advocating. There are many home educating parents with mental health problems, but I don't believe that they should automatically be assumed to pose a threat to their children's wellbeing and safety. Or are we saying here that social workers should be used to visit home educating families as a rule, rather than education staff? Most perplexing!

10:04 pm, January 26, 2016  
Blogger Gill said...

"Would Gill really like to see this policy adopted by local authorities as a general principle; that whenever they become aware of a home educated child with a parent with mental health problems, social workers are sent round to visit?"

Of course not. But then, I am not blaming a child's death on the state.

You are missing the point entirely, Simon, which is this: campaigners are using Dylan's death to justify a compulsory register for home educators. If the register is purely a list of names and addresses, how could it have helped?

9:56 am, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Simon Webb said...

I mention above another of case of the kind which make local authorities wish that they had a register listing the whereabouts of all childrne of school age in their area. In 2002, a five year-old girl called Danielle Reed was withdrawn from school. her mother said that she would be going to school in Manchester. Instead, the little girl was beaten to death and her body dumped in a canal. Had there been a system for tracking children who are removed from school and checking whether they are registered at another school or being educated at home, then things might have turned out differently.

2:15 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Simon Webb said...

'I am not blaming a child's death on the state.'

Hmmm, and yet Gill said,

'Concerns about Dylan's safety were raised amongst officials more than a year before his death, but no action was taken on these concerns. Instead of social workers, bizarrely, education staff were notified to merely make inquiries into his home education.'

It certainly sounds as though she is hinting that if the state had acted differently, then the child's life might have been saved. Whta do others think?

2:19 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Gill said...

"In 2002, a five year-old girl called Danielle Reed was withdrawn from school...."

As I responded in the other post where this is being discussed, the suggested changes to CME would have 'caught' this child.

6:37 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Simon Webb said...

No, the new regulations would mean that the school would have been obliged to notify the local authority of the fact that the child had been deregistered. If the parents had told the school that they were moving house, then that would still be the end of the matter. It is already the case that most schools inform their lcoal authority when children are removed from school. This does not of course prevent home educators from hiding their children and pretending that they are going abroad so that they do not have to have any dealings with the council.

7:34 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Gill said...

Have you actually read the new proposals?

"Schools would do this by recording the grounds for removal and informing the LA.
Schools would also provide the LA with the pupil’s home address, relevant contact details, and, where it is reasonably practicable to obtain this information, the pupil’s destination school and new home address."

I think a parent who was willing to circumvent all of this is also a parent who can successfully dodge a compulsory home education register. Or one who would abuse anyway, even if their name was on one.

7:39 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Simon Webb said...

I have read them and they do not differ really from what already happens. A child is deregistered, the school then notifies the local authority and sends them the name and address. This of course is how it comes to be that new home educators are being contacted within a matter of days sometimes by their local authority, once they have removed their child from school. This is why there is a network of people who offer advice on how to go missing.

There is currently no disadvantage to a parent in going underground and pretending to move abroad; nor would there be if the new regulations were to be introduced. There would be very great disadvantages in trying to do this if there were a compulsory register. It would mean that parents were, at the very least, running the risk of getting a criminal record, with all the implications for their future prospects.

7:59 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Gill said...

"there is a network of people who offer advice on how to go missing."

This sounds very sinister and is not at all my perception! Advice might be given from time to time about ways to prevent official intervention from damaging a child's education but I have never, in all of my years on home educating forums and in groups etc, seen advice intended to help a child abuser. On the whole home educators supply each other with excellent support and advice in the matter of home education and how to enhance it.

And do you seriously think parents who abuse their children will be prevented from doing so by the threat of committing criminal offence by not being on a compulsory home education register? Child abuse is already a far greater criminal offence but this does not prevent them.





8:06 pm, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Simon Webb said...

'"there is a network of people who offer advice on how to go missing."

This sounds very sinister and is not at all my perception! Advice might be given from time to time about ways to prevent official intervention from damaging a child's education but I have never, in all of my years on home educating forums and in groups etc, seen advice intended to help a child abuser.'

Well now, when I see somebody on a Facebook group whose child is in school, but wishes to take him from school and then immediately move, so that the local authority cannot locate the family; my eyebrows go up a little. When others on the group offer advice on delivering the letter for deregistration on the very day of moving and also instructing friends and neighbours not to tell anybody where the family has gone, this looks to me like a network of people who offer advice on how to go missing.

I am tempted to put a few such cases here, but then I would probably be accused of violating somebody's privacy. Among such cases are the family who discussed seriously the possibility of buying a narrow boat and then moving from county to county; never staying in one place for long enough for a local authority to become aware of them and their children. They also mentioned that they would not, in this event, be registering their child with a doctor. Those commenting on this proposal were full of enthusiasm and not one said that it was a mad scheme, likely to deprive the children of the opportunity of making friends or forming any bonds with anybody other than their parents.

Let's not pretend that we don't all know of things like this. These parents might, as you say, be acting in this way to avoid damaging a child's education', but I don't know how you would know that. On other occasions, we see parents who are worried that teh school is about to involve social services and they too are offered handy tips on how to go underground.

9:16 am, January 28, 2016  
Blogger Gill said...

First of all, you are - intentionally or otherwise - giving the impression that this is a frequent occurrence in home education groups and forums, which it is not. I have been reading and contributing in many such places online ever since they were set up and over that period of time I have seen perhaps four or five such instances in total. The vast majority of exchanges in those groups is about home education itself.

Official intervention CAN damage a child's learning, due to a variety of factors that I have explored elsewhere on this site. If they perceive this may be the case, parents are quite right (in my opinion) to try to avoid it. Home education is not a crime: there is no reason why families should be pursued by officials as if they are doing something wrong. If you have also been reading such conversations, you will know that some officials do sometimes try to hunt down families in this way, quite outside of their legal remit.

From the family's perspective this can feel like an unjustified, sustained attack from which they are quite reasonable to defend themselves. And all this while the children are being brought up perfectly well, only outside the conventional system. There is no need to suspect child abuse, otherwise Section 47 of the Children Act would and should be invoked. Officials should not go checking innocent families for child abuse any more than they should be checking the contents of everyone's fridge on a weekly basis. There have to be limits on the incursions into peaceful family life, as Section 8 of the Human Rights Act provides, for example. Whilst still enabling action when required, as in Section 47 of the Children Act. In other words, the law needs to be fair and balanced, as it currently is.

As for narrow boats, I happen to know a home educating family that lives on one. Far from being without friends, their social life seems to be busier than my own family's - which is saying something! There is such a thing as the Internet now, which is the common medium for keeping in touch and making arrangements to meet, especially amongst home educators, even between settled people and those who are more transient. The old prejudices against travellers, suggesting they are somehow isolated from normal society, are now completely groundless.

As for doctors, registering with one is still not legally compulsory as far as I know. Are you campaigning for this as well, Simon? When not registered with a GP, children can still be healthy and well cared for by their parents and can also still access emergency medical care as and when they need it. Not being registered with a GP is NOT synonymous with child abuse. There are various reasons why a family might choose not to register with a GP, for example: the child might so far have been healthy enough not to need to see one; the family might have recently moved into the area and not got around to registering with one; or the parents might have medical opinions that would disagree with some of those of a GP. This is not synonymous with child abuse either and if child abuse is suspected, there is Section 47 to address it.

"These parents might, as you say, be acting in this way to avoid damaging a child's education', but I don't know how you would know that."

I don't know how you would know that they were not.

To address your last point, I reiterate that I have never seen advice given by home educators that was intended to help a child abuser. In such situations my own advice (when schools might be about to involve social services) is for parents to familiarise themselves with the law in that area and act accordingly. If child abuse is suspected and action taken by social workers under Section 47, the parents must of course provide access to their children. I think the wisest course is always that which best protects the child and I have never seen advice from other home educators to the contrary.

10:59 am, January 28, 2016  
Blogger Ali W said...

Danielle Reid was well known to the social work dept in Inverness and multiple referrals had been made (by the school, members of the public and family members) as the new partner who had moved into the family home had a history of violence. She was clearly a child at risk of significant harm, but despite having ample evidence for intervention, compulsory measures were never invoked.

Subsequently Danielle's grave was robbed - as Victoria Climbie's had been before her - in order to shoo in the GIRFEC regime in Scotland, which, incidentally, has already failed to save two children who have died in Ediburgh in the past 18 months. So Danielle was Scotland's Climbie and indeed used to be the PR poster girl for GIRFECkers until it was pointed out that the universal databasing projects (ECM and its kilted sibling GIRFEC) were not about child protection and had been in train long before either child died. Each had just needed a high profile case to sell surveillance to a public which had been sceptical about the proposed National ID Register.

Kenneth Roy, editor of the Scottish Review, covered the anomalous timeline and other back door databasing issues in depth some years ago, which caused quite a stooshie amongst the chattering classes. Meanwhile, the halfwits at Holyrood (some of whom struggle to copy and paste their parties' template responses to constituents on matters of import) just followed orders, presumably because they are on a cushy number that is even more lucrative than their previous pen pushing non jobs at the 'cooncil'. If you look closely, you can see Children Minister Aileen Campbell's strings when she is allowed out in public (and you can hear background prompts live on air when she is allowed on the radio).

The wrong questions are being asked about the Seabridge case, especially in view of the fact that Pembrokeshire Council was found to be unfit for purpose in the safeguarding stakes around the time Dylan was identified as being home educated and his home subsequently visited. That damning report of institutional failure (including the seriously delayed reporting and conviction of a head teacher for sexual abuse) *was* published and makes grim reading, whereas the unpublished
Seabridge SCR has coincidentally now been leaked, and only in draft form, more than four years after the boy died. We know not by whom or to whom it was leaked, but can hazard a guess it was a planned move to create anti home education hysteria.

The parents were not prosecuted (why not?); they allegedly disputed the cause of death and (we are told) were prepared to offer supporting evidence; there is/was apparently a sibling who was also home educate; and the mother was a teacher. So sending along a couple of box ticking buffoons from the ed dept was hardly going to cut the mustard in terms of assessing risk of harm with a view to initiating a s47 investigation that may or may not have prevented this tragic outcome.

And finally, scurvy is not all that rare, as one Lib Dem candidate and leading light of the GIRFEC cheerleading campaign, discovered a couple of election campaigns ago.

1:33 pm, January 28, 2016  
Blogger Lynn said...

I don't know Simon's view on this but I absolutely believe it should be compulsory for a child to be registered with a GP (save maybe a week's leeway when moving house). I'd take it a step further and say every child should be seen by their GP for an annual checkup, hell even compulsory annual dental checks (that might have picked up scurvy). This, and registering the educational provision for your child - in the way that Simon has suggested would go a long way in picking up abuse and neglect. It's all about tracking children - knowing their whereabouts, keeping an eye on their health and knowing how they are educated. Children cannot advocate for themselves therefore society must. I home educate, I like my freedom but there is a far bigger picture to consider. This is an issue for our society, of which home educators are a part. There should be no children 'under the radar' or allowed to go missing.

7:30 pm, January 31, 2016  
Blogger Gill said...

Lynn, I'm struggling to marry "I like my freedom," with the rest of your words above. I wonder, have you read the Badman recommendations? Not a lot of freedom there, for parent or child. This is the kind of thing many campaigners have in mind when they talk about compulsory registration for home education.

Every single one of the cases highlighted by the NSPCC in support of registration was already known in advance to the authorities, which did not take the preventative action already in law. It therefore follows that further official powers will not help in future cases and yet they will damage the education of some of our children.




11:48 pm, January 31, 2016  
Blogger R said...

Well Lynn aren't you a little Hitler. Are you already reporting to the authoritites? Maybe we can put some yellow stars on people who you
find to be suspect? How about you just fuck off?

11:54 pm, January 31, 2016  
Blogger Simon Webb said...

'How about you just fuck off?'

Ah, the voice of reason!

10:10 pm, February 01, 2016  
Blogger Lynn said...

Well R that's charming indeed - I can see why you need to post incognito. A well thought out and intelligent contribution to the debate - a debate which needs to be had (I am not talking about home education). I really haven't a clue what you are on about. Little Hitler? Please elaborate? To whom would I be pinning the yellow stars? Do you if I am Jewish? Do you know if you have insulted me or my family? Reporting whom? You know nothing about me.

I am a home educating mother, my freedoms, however much I value them are of secondary importance. I have concerns about all children, home educated and school educated. I am trying to make the point that the most important issue here is the right of the child. The system we have at present doesn't effectively protect home educated children or schooled children. Just because there are failures by social services due to incompetence, lack of funding, under-staffing etc. doesn't mean that there shouldn't be a system of spotting vulnerable children and doing something about it. Although it has to be said that we don't often get to hear about successful interventions by social services.

I'll leave you now to your intellectual debate.
R - if you are a home educator, it's people like you who are going to lead to compulsory regulation and monitoring because you sound, quite frankly insane.

And finally yes I am well aware of the Badman report.



10:29 pm, February 01, 2016  
Blogger Gill said...

"The system we have at present doesn't effectively protect home educated children or schooled children. Just because there are failures by social services due to incompetence, lack of funding, under-staffing etc. doesn't mean that there shouldn't be a system of spotting vulnerable children and doing something about it."

This is the whole point. The system we have at present *should* offer protection without damaging children's education. The reason it doesn't is not because there aren't enough regulations: it's because the existing ones are not used properly. The existing regulations are a perfect balance between the freedom we need to facilitate our children's intrinsic motivation and the safety net that allows the state to fulfil its role as parent of last resort.

I agree, something needs to be done. But that something must not tip the perfect balance of the current legal position: instead it should train and support officials to make better use of it.

10:52 pm, February 01, 2016  
Blogger Firebird said...

Lynn said ... "I'd take it a step further and say every child should be seen by their GP for an annual checkup".

Are you kidding? Take up a GP's valuable time with hundreds of totally unnecessary appointments with healthy children? Have you perhaps not been paying ANY attention to the state of the NHS these last few years?!

10:22 am, February 20, 2016  
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