Glasgow NO2NP Roadshow

NO2NP held its latest roadshow at the Couper Institute in Glasgow on Monday 14 September, which was chaired by Dr Stuart Waiton of Abertay University and addressed by community paediatrician Dr Jenny Cunningham, Lesley Scott of the TYMES Trust, Nigel Kenny of the Christian Institute and Schoolhouse co-ordinator Alison Preuss. The event, the third to be held in Glasgow, attracted a large audience, including a local MSP, and concluded with a lively Q&A session.

Special thanks go to local home educators and supporters who attended and contributed to the discussion. One in particular (he knows who he is) made this most eloquent contribution:

“Part of being human is that we are all flawed. None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes. Of course we love our children and we always try to do our best for them but, being flawed, sometimes we get it wrong. Sometimes we look back on what we have done or said and we just know we should have done better. It doesn’t make us bad or inadequate parents. No one else could do better for them, simply because we love them and others don’t. However, these little flawed moments, these times where we fall below our own standards, these failures are the key by which named parents can unlock the door into our private family lives. The irony is that the state is now taking ultimate parental responsibility away from us flawed parents and handing it over to another human being who is also flawed. However, this flawed person does not know our children as we do, does not have full possession of all the facts and may even have erroneous information. It may even be someone with a raft of preconceived ideas and prejudices that are completely at odds with our own ideals. Yeah, that’s going to turn out well.”

For those who weren’t able to make it, with added hyperlinks…

Schoolhouse presentation, Glasgow NO2NP Roadshow, 14/09/15

I have been asked to keep this short, so anyone who wants to know more about the background to GIRFEC and the Named Person scheme – along with some recommended resistance tactics – will find various links on the Schoolhouse website and home education networks. By way of introduction, as well as having more than 20 years’ involvement in home education, I co-founded the children’s rights group ARCH in 2001, which produced numerous hard hitting critiques of the early intervention model known as ECM in England, later branded as GIRFEC in Scotland. They are one and the same policy.

The drive towards universal citizen surveillance, starting with the children, has been in the pipeline for a very long time, disguised in child protection clothing to prevent the sort of public opposition that derailed ID cards. Ironically, the same Scottish politicians –  who have loudly condemned the UK Government’s snoopers’ charter because (to quote the SNP) “the mass collection of data is wrong; there is a line beyond which it is unacceptable for civil liberties to be impinged” and (Greens) “it would strip our own citizens of basic rights, but also send a terrible message to the world that the UK is willing to disregard international human rights standards” –  have already steamrollered equally illiberal legislation through Holyrood, which requires every ‘service’ to gather and share the personal data of every child and associated adult in Scotland without their consent.

The Scottish judiciary is no less hypocritical. Having fought tooth and nail against a register of their own interests because it might potentially compromise their apparently non-negotiable right to privacy, they failed to uphold the same rights for children and parents. Not unexpectedly,  we are now having to take our case to the Supreme Court, whose deputy president Baroness Hale famously defined a totalitariaon state as one  which “tries to separate the child from her family and mould her to its own design” (think SHANARRI indicators and state dictated outcomes).

I was at a parents’ event in Aberdeen the other week, where smiling people from the government came to “help us understand GIRFEC” and tried in vain to pass off the Named Person as a harmless point of contact whose services could be declined. They were, of course, being disingenuous, since declining services is deemed a risk to wellbeing and every professional is now expected to gather and share information, including playground gossip, that may be used in evidence against us in the event we don’t meet our wellbehaving outcomes. Some of the highly sceptical audience members proceeded to laugh out loud and it got pretty lively as parents and third sector representatives cited numerous cases of named persons behaving badly – well before the legislation is due to come into force, without any checks and balances in place to protect parents and children from actual (not potential) abuses of power. The complaints guidance has since been published, for which I have no words that can be repeated in polite company.

The GIRFEC team, who conveniently couldn’t comment on individual cases, also failed to impress on data protection issues and could only parrot the opinion of an Assistant Information Commissioner, which has not been endorsed by other UK and European data protection experts. In fact it completely contradicts the views expressed by the former UK ICO Richard Thomas, who said of ContactPoint, which was designed, like GIRFEC, to allow different organisations to share data on every child: “There are reasons why we need to promote better information sharing where children are at risk of harm, but whether the answer is to database every child in the country should be seriously questioned.”  The Joint Committee on Human Rights was equally scathing, pointing out that, while it may be justifiable for children at risk of harm, a system designed to include every child (like GIRFEC) “constitutes a serious interference with children’s right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights”. They went as far as to say: “We are concerned that, if the justification for information-sharing about children is that it is always proportionate where the purpose is to identify children who need welfare services, there is no meaningful content left to a child’s Article 8 right to privacy and confidentiality in their personal information.”  That’s a complete trashing of the Scottish Government’s stated plans for all our children, in which parents are effectively demoted to the status of criminals-in-waiting.

Some GIRFEC victims are bravely coming forward to report their own experiences of personal privacy breaches and unwanted interference. Their accounts  are deeply worrying for parents and children, yet are casually dismissed by vested interests who stand to gain from implementing a scheme that encourages intrusion into families’ lives on the basis of a potential risk to wellbeing as defined by the state, rather than the risk of significant harm threshold that rightly applies in a free society and is required by overarching human rights and data protection legislation.

Some of you here may remember the shocking case of the 13-year old schoolgirl who was subjected to an interrogation by a school nurse about highly personal matters, including bed wetting and menstruation, without prior warning and without the knowledge or consent of her parents. She was upset and embarrassed by the experience, and her mother, who was understandably furious, was denied access to the data collected as the school argued that the child’s consent (in this case obviously coerced and therefore unlawful) was sufficient. By relying solely on a child’s consent, as in the controversial E2S school surveys which included inappropriate questions on suicidal thoughts, sexual activity and drug use, ‘service providers’ are being encouraged to manoeuvre themselves between parents and children, thus undermining human rights instruments which underscore the importance of the family, and, crucially, the Article 5 UNCRC right of children to seek guidance from their parents. A right that was denied this young girl who should have felt Safe and Respected at school.

Another Aberdeen parent has meanwhile discovered that a named person (who is only a point of contact, remember) opened a ‘family record’ on him and his young children two years ago without his knowledge. Although any such data collection below the child protection threshold needs to be informed to be lawful, as affirmed by the Haringey judgement, he learned of the 60 page (and counting) dossier by accident. He has tried repeatedly to obtain a clean copy through statutory subject access requests, but has only been provided with limited access to a heavily redacted document containing hearsay and opinions of professionals who have never met his family. He wrote to his MSP: “It is horrible experience and one that could be repeated over and over again for every family in Scotland under the new legislation.” The MSP, whose party affiliation is immaterial as they are all equally culpable, failed to address any of his points and sent back the same old template response we have all come to know so well.

You’d think that the trawling and sharing by a named person of the personal data of every child and every family member held by different agencies, including police, social work, health and education, could in no way be deemed necessary or proportionate when parents simply decide to exercise a lawful parenting choice. But you’d be wrong. I am currently supporting a young mum who is being bullied by a multi-agency SHANARRI gang because she has decided to home educate her child. Now if she had never sent him to school in the first place (he is 5), if she had moved out of the area, or if he had been at an independent school, she would never have needed to obtain consent to withdraw him, a process which statutory guidance states should take no longer than six weeks (it has now been nearly four months). Unfortunately for her, the council failed to follow that specific guidance, refused to process the consent and proceeded to amass huge amounts of hitherto confidential information on every family member and associated adult in a bid to trump up a whole raft of ‘concerns’ about ‘potential risks to wellbeing’ in order to deny her choice. This included records pertaining to an estranged former partner, siblings and even a deceased relative, all compiled without the knowledge of any of them and presented at a hastily convened multi-agency meeting in the form of a damningly skewed report full of inaccuracies, hearsay and deeply personal information which she said has left her feeling “violated” and “humiliated”. The ‘report’ had been circulated to every other agency, but the parent was denied a copy, has since been denied notes of other meetings to which she was never invited, and her subject access requests have been delayed beyond the statutory timescale. The education authority continues to withhold consent for the child’s withdrawal from school and refuses to provide reasons, despite a social worker repeatedly confirming that there are no grounds for involvement with the family. It has become a bitter power struggle, with the education tail wagging the social work dog, as they continue to insist on assessment without grounds, while a five year old is being held to ransom by a Named Person who happens not to approve of home education. So much for the helpful point of contact whose services you can allegedly decline. The parent has just started out on the Road to Nowhere of the council complaints process, has had to instruct a solicitor, and is making tentative plans to leave the country, while the nasty Named Person continues to summon a small boy from class and interrogate him in her office about his home life without parental consent.

You might think, well I’m not a home educator and I’ll be OK as a conventional sort of parent, but you really shouldn’t be complacent . Even before the legislation is in force, we know the same scenarios are being played out where children have a chronic illness or disability, are being bullied, have been victims of crime, or whose parents just don’t agree with state dictated outcomes and intrusion into family life.

As one family court judge reminded us recently: “Society must be willing to tolerate very diverse standards of parenting which include the barely adequate and the inconsistent. Public authorities cannot improve on nature.” The Scottish Government clearly believes otherwise and that the right of children and parents to a private family life is a price well worth paying to create a Brave New Scotland of compliant citizens.

Anyone with 300 quid to spare might want to trot along to the Capita conference in Edinburgh next month, featuring a predictable line up of vested interests. I quote: “Our Implementing Named Person and Getting It Right For Every Child conference provides the ideal forum for professionals to come together, share best practice and ensure you are best placed to help children reach their full potential.”  I’m told the lunches are very good, although they might not stay down for long when you hear from that “experienced Named Person working within education on how to support and develop the role of the Named Person, and how best to act upon information shared.” 

As families in all our glorious diversity, it’s pretty clear we represent a risk to the wellbehaving outcomes the state has already determined for our children. So let’s make sure we speak up for those who are already experiencing the sharp end of the SHANARRI stick – because they’ll be coming for us too, and before long there may be nobody left to speak up.

 

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