The NO2NP roadshow made a return visit to Greenock on 18 January, where a sizeable and enthusiastic audience was updated on the progress of the campaign, including the upcoming Supreme Court hearing in London. Chaired by Nigel Kenny (who doubled as the official photographer), the evening’s speakers (pictured above) were Gordon McDonald from CARE Scotland, Lesley Scott from the Tymes Trust and Alison Preuss from Schoolhouse, whose presentation is reproduced below. An interesting Q&A session ensued, with some excellent discussion points raised from the floor.
Schoolhouse presentation, Greenock NO2NP roadshow
Good evening Greenockians! I hope nobody came by taxi – or if they did, they didn’t mention they were attending a NO2NP event or the cabbie might have had to report it.
By way of introduction, my background is in elective home education and children’s rights, mainly in relation to privacy issues. My specialist subject is data protection, so I’ll start there as we have just seen Maureen Falconer from the ICO in full flow encouraging practitioners to ignore the very legislation that her office is supposed to be upholding.
Because of the upcoming Supreme Court hearing, the most recent Holyrood debate couldn’t cover the issue of Scotland’s unilateral departure from UK wide data protection legislation, but I can talk about it as I have been banging on about it for several years now.
Basically, in the rest of the UK, Maureen’s ‘advice’ would not stack up legally. The sort of sharp practice she is encouraging was in fact tested in the landmark Haringey case where parents won compensation via judicial review after being subject to arbitrary interference by state agencies acting below the threshold for non-consensual information sharing.
So what’s going on here? Essentially, the Scottish Government pulled what they thought was a clever stunt and passed ‘enabling’ legislation to make it legal to bypass the UK wide Data Protection Act – but only north of the border, where children are apparently at disproportionate risk from their parents. I’m not making this up! Presumably in order to mislead the public, they proceeded to conflate ‘wellbeing’ risks (which can mean anything and everything in their all encompassing SHANARRI risk framework) with ‘welfare’ risks (which are about significant harm as defined in the Children Act).
As Maureen tells her indoctrinees, there’s no point in letting ‘Joe Public’ know about the sometimes highly sensitive personal data you’re recording and sharing as “they might think they have a choice”. Oh, and it might damage trust in ‘services’. Actually, it already has, despite the legislation not yet being in force.
It’s hard to imagine why anyone in their right mind would argue for the de facto abolition of the right to privacy, except perhaps the cheerleading children’s charities who have just scooped millions on the grab-a-grant lottery to help implement the data theft agenda, also known as ‘data rape’ because, without informed (or any) consent, such unwanted intrusion amounts to assault. They would do well to remember that “privacy is a necessary condition of mental health and wellbeing”, which is one of the reasons it is specifically protected in human rights legislation, even for children.
The fact is that GIRFEC leaves Scots citizens with less legal protection than their counterparts in the rest of the UK when it comes to the use of their personal information. It also falls foul of the EU Data Protection Directive, but in for a penny…they have no shame.
The government knew there may be trouble ahead, as this chestnut from the February 2013 GIRFEC board minutes reveals:
“A joint statement has been agreed with the Information Commissioner’s Office which should help clarify situations where a child was on a pathway to risk to wellbeing as well as significant risk of harm. The statement should free up the way practitioners share information under existing law. However, there were concerns on how best to disseminate the message in a way that did not produce an adverse reaction for stakeholders.”
So our data protection “watchdog” was expected, and had agreed at the behest of government, to reinterpret the current law and rubber stamp the lowering of the compulsory engagement and intervention threshold under the GIRFEC regime, but it was to be sneaked in quietly to avoid a stooshie until the Children and Young People Act was rushed through Parliament in child protection clothing without adequate scrutiny (and, as Gordon mentioned, limiting the evidence to that of ‘preferred’ vested interests).
Those members of Joe Public who did ask questions were shut down by key players in cahoots, as was revealed in correspondence released under the FOI Act which described one identifiable complainant in deeply unflattering terms. Remember, the ICO’s statement itself, now repeated ad nauseam by an army of GIRFEC cheerleaders, including the infamous Taxi-gate trainer, is actually just one guy’s opinion.
Moreover, it is an opinion not shared by former UK ICO Richard Thomas, who said of ContactPoint in England:
“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.”
He went on:
“We live in a free society. We value our freedoms. Sometimes it is a step too far if people err on the side of the collection of data for the sake of collecting data, rather than on the ones we need to watch.”
The Joint Committee on Human Rights was even more 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 of the UK Government’s proposals which were the blueprint for GIRFEC in Scotland:
“Parliament is being asked to authorise in advance a major interference with Article 8 rights without the evidence demonstrating its necessity being available.”
“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 equivalent copy cat plans for all our children, in which parents are effectively demoted to the status of prime suspects. Only Scotland has the brass neck to override human rights and pretend it’s getting it right!
We all know, even if the politicians don’t, that GIRFEC has no V for vulnerable, but it should actually have three Cs (Getting Information Recorded for every Child, Citizen and Community) as the grand theft data project applies to everyone and his wife, not forgetting the family pets.
Which brings me to Inverclyde’s starring role in the great GIRFECCC Triple C scheme as your council has a vision for you, your children and your communities, whether or not you share its aspirations (which have incidentally been set by central government and signed up to by Inverclyde in a formal Single Outcome Agreement) .
‘Nurturing Inverclyde’ is said to mean “working together to get it right for every child, citizen and community” and the approach is “based on the development of early intervention and preventative spend projects through partnership working.”
That is shorthand for mass data collection to identify those who may be straying from the path of ‘getting it righteousness’. Your personal data, will be collected and shared without your knowledge or consent from all available sources – including health, police, social work, housing, third sector agencies, even taxi drivers – in order to ensure you stay on track to meet your wellbehaving outcomes as defined by the government. It is the antithesis of personal autonomy, self reliance and freedom to make your own informed choices, all cleverly dressed up in sheep’s woolly clothing emblazoned with an ‘enabling state’ corporate logo.
If you don’t pass the SHANARRI tick box test, which has been designed by the wellbeing police to catch out unsuspecting parents (who may not even realise they are a risk to their own children unless they have studied the framework in which being under five, having a disability or having been a victim of crime makes them so), you may find yourself banished to the naughty step or dispatched to obedience classes like Triple P training to learn how to behave ‘right’ in the eyes of the government. With role models like some of them, it’s little wonder many of us prefer to follow our own instincts and make informed choices that may not accord with the expectations of complete strangers.
If this has a familiar ring, so it should, as welfare reform is carved from the same early interference policy stone which Tony Blair adopted so enthusiastically to identify delinquents in the womb and Tony Benn famously described as “eugenics, the sort of thing Hitler talked about”. David Cameron has meanwhile just delivered a speech that heaps blame for the ills of society on poor parenting (like his own, perhaps?), all the while doing nothing to address the structural problems over which families have no control, like poverty, inadequate housing and lack of jobs.
Ticking boxes and wagging fingers won’t feed weans, buy them shoes or put affordable roofs over families’ heads, and the only jobs created by GIRFEC are those for clipboard carrying clypes from the early intervention industry, bought and sold for GIRFEC gold in the form of our taxes.
According to the Greenock Telegraph, Inverclyde has to make spending cuts of £6.5m this year which will affect core services and important regeneration projects, yet the Named Person data gathering monster is greedily gobbling up scant resources, despite parents’ protests and the shoogly legal nail on which the entire policy hangs. The same story is being played out across the country as local authorities struggle to sustain vital services, including child protection social work.
The Scotsman this weekend reported on the recruitment crisis in the health visiting profession, which is expected to police all children up to the age of five and carry out visits and assessments that never used to be compulsory. According to the article, NHS Lothian is said to have a 19% vacancy rate, rising to 44% in Midlothian, and:
“The ageing workforce is posing a major risk as more than half of health visitors are over 50 and many are still entitled to an NHS “special status” where they can retire at 55.”
So nobody wants these state snooper jobs, and the additional 500 posts funded by the government look likely to remain unfilled, leaving the Named Person scheme in tatters. Away from the headlines, one health visitor I know took early retirement because of mandatory reporting on all children and their family members. Another was warned she would face disciplinary action if she spoke out against the policy, so she is now actively looking to take herself and her skills out of the country as she “never signed up to be a spy”. Teachers didn’t ask for it either, but the Curriulum for Excellence is inexricably linked to GIRFEC outcomes and data, and woe betide those who don’t co-operate.
GIRFEC is alredy having the opposite effect to that which was allegedly intended in that it is deterring people from accessing services, since their information is no longer being kept confidential. Having been in touch with a large number of parents who have had their personal information gathered, shared, twisted and later used as evidence against them, I know that many are now sensibly exercising their right to remain silent, or providing minimal information about themselves and none at all about third parties (including partners and family members) who have not consented to their data being disclosed. Some of those who have been bullied into what the minister would have us believe is ‘voluntary’ engagement with the named person ‘service’ have resorted to recording every communication with every professional and submitting subject access requests on a regular basis to obtain their records, some of which have contained nasty surprises. From a parental perspective, “getting it right” means always “getting it in writing” and/or recording it all on a smart phone. Trust in professionals, from GPs to childminders, is being systematically destroyed as they are all expected to report any wellbeing (as opposed to welfare) concerns – or just mere suspicions – to the named person without you or your child even knowing about it. Parents are now all guilty until they prove their innocence.
The sad reality is we have already seen two child deaths in Edinburgh since the scheme was rolled out there: Mikaeel Kular, a child known to be at risk of significant harm, and Chloe Sutherland, whose mother was refused help for post natal depression, with tragic results. Now social work is a hard job and scapegoating individuals is not my intention, but GIRFEC is not the answer when it comes to the deadly serious business of protecting vulnerable children. Amateurs spinning wellbeing wheels are in danger of getting it wrong for the most vulnerable children, as Police Scotland has already been at pains to point out – not that they have much to write home about in terms of getting it right!
I have told this next story before, but it illustrates well the wrongness of the GIRFEC approach. It is the case of a young mum who found herself being bullied by a multi-agency SHANARRI gang because she decided to home educate her child. Unknown to her, the Named Person (who, remember, has no statutory powers until August) had amassed 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 (not actual) risks to wellbeing in order to deny her choice. This included records on an estranged former partner, siblings and even a deceased relative, all presented at a hastily convened multi-agency meeting of complete strangers in the form of a report full of inaccuracies, hearsay and deeply personal information which she said left her feeling “violated” and “humiliated”. It became a bitter power struggle, with the education tail wagging the social work dog and insisting on assessment without grounds (essentially wasting a social worker’s valuable time). All because a Named Person happened not to approve of a parent’s lawful educational choice. Does that sound like a helpful point of contact whose services you can decline?
As Lyndon B. Johnson counselled:
“You do not examine legislation in the light of the benefits it will convey if properly administered, but in the light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered.”
No such examination has ever been undertaken by the Scottish Government and the bodies of the victims are now piling up. The critical issues of consent, compulsion and thresholds should have been addressed long ago, but they decided to carry on regardless, ignoring all the inconvenient evidence and the growing antipathy of parents towards their intrusive surveillance scheme, all the while telling whoppers so big they put Pinocchio to shame.
As we saw on the video earlier, the BBC’s Gordon Brewer suggested to Aileen Campbell that there was something “slightly East German” about her state guardian scheme. Well, exactly the same point was made to me recently by a friend who escaped from East Berlin in the early 80s, with the bullet wounds to prove it. He suggested, in all seriousness, that we should be keeping a close eye on any new building works in the vicinity of Hadrian’s Wall. He may well have had a point!