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Staying Safe Consultation

The "Staying Safe" consultation finishes on Wednesday 31st October.

Having ploughed through the full consultation document, I now think that some of the main ways home educators can have a say in this consultation are as follows:

  • Criticise Government for being more about "communications campaigns" and "issuing guidance" than on changing anything.

  • Say a lot about bullying in schools, pointing out that many families feel they have no choice but to home educate. Ridicule the Government proposals for action in these areas. Complain about how professionals try to stop families home educating and then harass them while they are doing it.

  • Pick up on the document's point about bullying of children with SEN and disabilities.

  • Observe that many of the Government's proposals are aimed at getting families from lower socio-economic groups to modify their behaviour, but no-one else is being required to change.

  • Express suspicion about "targeting children in need" and "health-led parenting support. "

  • Ditto about ContactPoint, Common Assessment Frameworks, and the child protection training of Local Safeguarding Children Boards.
Very significant thing in this document about social workers talking to children on their own. (see Chapter 4 p.55 onwards about "Improving Practices in Children's Social Care)

Information gathering and "early prevention" and "targeting" is the agenda driving the staying safe consultation. They'll get us to agree that it is important for children to be safe, and then they'll claim this is ringing endorsement for database etc. This is a bit buried in a lot of waffle about safe play areas and kite marks for internet software... (Sorry, I know this is obvious, but I thought I'd just re-state it)

I've noticed that when people have been responding to this consultation, they get stuck on questions referring to Chapter 2. Questions 7-9 refer to Chapter 2.

Chapter 2 is about "the challenges we still face" and includes stuff about accidents and injuries, including road accidents and injury/death from fire (both more prevalent in "workless households") bullying and discrimination (p.18-19) including cyber bullying, racist bullying, homophobic bullying, consequences of bullying in later life, bullying which occurs outside school, and bullying of children with disabilities and SEN.

"Mencap state that most children with special educational needs will be bullied and the National Autistic Society told us that its own survey found 41% of parents whose children had autism reported that the children have been bullied, with the figure rising to 59% for children with Aspergers syndrome or high-functioning autism." p.18-19 of full document.
Chapter 2 also discusses the role of parents in keeping children safe. This appears to be defined as educating children about risk [p.20-22] and therefore the Government's role is to give parents information about risks and to act to modify the behaviour of lower socio-economic groups, including Government drive to "lift children out of poverty" which ties in with the OTHER Welfare to Work consultation from the DWP.

The Government also proposes to extend the scheme brought over from the States, the Nurse Family Partnership, which is currently being piloted in 10 areas, operating out of Sure Start centres, with targeted home visits. This is what is meant by "health-led parenting support". More details on p.26 of the document.

Question 9 asks:

"Are the areas we have identified for new action right? What other areas could be considered and what more could we do?"

The list of actions is on page 25:

  • launching a new communication campaign to encourage parents to let their children play

  • loutside in safe environments and take part safely in positive activities;

  • lpromoting safer recruitment practices in all sectors where work with children is involved,

  • lextending guidance recently issued for schools and colleges to other settings;

  • lcommunicating to parents about how to keep their children safe in sporting activities; and

  • lpublishing a best practice guide for LSCBs, to highlight examples of good local practice. "[LSCBs are Local Safeguarding Children Boards]
CHAPTER 3

Questions 10-16 refer to Chapter 3 which is about what the Government proposes to do to promote safety for children.

The Government proposals are mostly about a "communications" and "information", rather than about changing anything. They are also about "issuing guidance" and getting schools to sign up to things like the Anti-Bullying Alliance.

The Government proposals are also about increasing the scope of local safeguarding children boards with the emphasis shifting to PREVENTION.

In terms of the problems some home educators have with Social Services, we might be particularly interested in this paragraph on p.46:

"LSCBs draw in partners who were not always previously involved in local arrangements for children's safety - including the voluntary sector, housing, culture and leisure services, drug and alcohol misuse services and key sector bodies such as the NSPCC. The number of organisations involved is allowing LSCBs to move from a narrow child protection role to actively prevent harm to children. For example, many LSCBs have started to provide child protection training for a wide range of people in their local area who work with children and young people. This means a larger number of people working with children and young people will be able to recognise and take action where they identify risks of harm for children, or have concerns about a particular child. "
Home educators will probably want to say something about BULLYING in schools and will perhaps wish to comment on the Government's plans in this area. We might also want to say something about the plans for more schools to have a resident social worker. (case study on p.34)

Page 32 of the full document sets out what the Government plans to do about bullying:

  • anti-bullying alliance and anti-bullying charter

  • One of the main safety issues for children and young people at school is bullying. No child should have to suffer the indignity and pain of bullying. Protecting children from bullies is vital if a safe learning environment is to be put in place, where children can thrive and achieve. The DCSF works closely with a range of voluntary sector partners in the Anti-Bullying Alliance to address bullying in schools. Every school is being encouraged to sign the Anti-Bullying Charter as a statement of their commitment to anti-bullying work, and to use the Charter as a framework for developing and or revising their anti-bullying policy.

  • revised anti-bullying guidance for schools

  • Revised anti-bullying guidance for schools called Safe to Learn: Embedding Effective Anti-Bullying Work in Schools will be published this year. In addition to the main guidance there will be specialist guidance on how to tackle racist and homophobic bullying, and cyber bullying.

  • Children with special educational needs and disabilities are particularly vulnerable as they do not always have the levels of social confidence and robust friendship bonds that can protect against bullying." (Parents of children with SEN and disabilities might want to comment on this generalisation about "social confidence" and "robust friendship bonds" ? And they might want to link this with the stats from Mencap quoted above from p.18-19 of the full document.
Government plans to reduce child casualties from road accidents are outlined on p.34. Again, the solutions are more about information, communication and training, and getting children to modify their behaviour (particularly those from lower socio-economic groups) rather than about CHANGE to the external environment.

eg this is what the Government proposes to do:

  • promoting effective practical child pedestrian training such as Kerbcraft;

  • promoting good practice in road safety education;

  • encouraging broad local partnerships to deliver co-ordinated road safety activities;

  • communicating road safety messages to children and other road users through the Think! campaign;

  • involving parents and peers in delivering road safety messages to children;

  • encouraging wider use of 20mph zones where children are active; and

  • co-ordinating road safety and school travel activities.
Page 36 links together the following:

Common Assessment Framework/Contactpoint/Extended Schools/Neighbourhood Policing Which is all about building up information dossiers on children. In order to help them.

CHAPTER 4

Chapter 4 is entitled Protecting Vulnerable Children And Young People. It starts on p.48.

Questions 17-26 of the consultation refer to Chapter 4.

I think we really need to look at this because some home educators are being classed as being in "vulnerable groups" and part of the suggestions for "improving practice in children's social care" is to say that children should always speak on their OWN to a social worker [p.55]

If you want to say anything about social workers/health professionals etc and their attitude to home education plus anything about databases and intrusion in family life, this is one of the places you can do it.

And once again the Government action areas are to do with communications campaigns to parents designed to modify the behaviour of those from lower SE groups; setting up pilot studies which then become "models of good practice" ; setting up award schemes and "issuing guidance".

Chapter 4 also has more about Common Assessment Framework and Contactpoint and attempts to justify why these are necessary.

It also clearly demonstrates how they will be LINKED, with ContactPoint acting as a gateway for the online information obtained via the Common Assessment Frameworks, now being completed for every "child in need of services" from the local authorities.

"In future, professionals will be able to use ContactPoint, a basic online directory, where they will be able to see who else is working with the same child or family."
ie a huge amount of information will be available over the internet (E-CAF) about children from lower SE groups and children with SEN and disabilities.

Page 49 talks about "Targeting children in need".

This is the summary to Chapter 4:

Some groups of children and young people are more vulnerable to harm than others. Work already underway to protect vulnerable groups includes better support for children in care, new investment in short breaks for disabled children, improved support for young people at risk, procedures for protecting young people serving in the armed forces and better protection for children involved with the courts. To reinforce this existing work, we are proposing new actions in four areas - improving practice in children's social care, reducing numbers of accidents, addressing parental problems which impact on children and young people's welfare, and improving safety on the streets.

Our proposals for new action include:

  • launching a new national safeguarding children awards scheme to celebrate and highlight individual contributions to improving children and young people's safety;

  • communicating to parents in high risk households about the causes of accidents and how to prevent them;

  • proposing a new theme for the local authority beacon awards scheme to showcase good practice in reaching families whose children may be at risk of harm;

  • extending bullying policies used in schools to other settings, including children's homes, extended schools services, FE colleges and youth groups; and

  • identifying good local and international practice in addressing the risks of harm to children and young people involved in gangs.
Page 50 has a short section on disabled children. Home educators might want to comment on the statement that disabled children can be at increased risk of harm "including abuse and neglect".

Home educators with experience of the standard of service to disabled children and their families might have things to say here? And we can also link back to the statistics about bullying of children with SEN and disabilities and how professionals sometimes make it extremely hard for families to home educate.

Disabled Children

Disabled children can be at increased risk of harm, including abuse and neglect, as well as bullying. Like all children, disabled children can benefit from being enabled to take risks in safe environments. We have made good progress on improving the life chances of disabled people, including for disabled children and young people. A standard of service for disabled children and those with complex health needs has been included in the National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services. Since December 2006, all public bodies have had a duty to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people. Local authorities and schools are required to produce disability equality schemes showing how - across all their activities - they will improve outcomes for disabled children. In May 2007, the Government published Aiming High for Disabled Children: Better Support for Parents which committed an extra £280 million between 2008 and 2011 to provide more short breaks for disabled children and their fathers and mothers. We will ensure that the safety of disabled children and young people is a fundamental part of all short break provision." p50
People with personal experience of how this does not work in practice might wish to comment here.

Social Workers Talking To Children On Their Own

. Chapter 4 p.55 onwards about "Improving Practices in Children's Social Care".

"Children who had experienced visits from social workers thought that professionals needed to be taught how to check things were not being covered up, so that the child felt able to tell the visitor about abuse. Children and young people recommended that social workers should always see the child alone, somewhere away from the building and from their parents or carers, where they feel comfortable and able to speak freely about how they are being looked after. They also wanted what they said was happening to be taken as seriously as what adults say."
Cat already made the point yesterday about how this would traumatise autistic children.

As children's services are merged, there is the fear that social services functions will blur with "education" and that this type of guidance could be used to insist that home-educated children are seen without their parents, particularly if they are deemed to be a "child in need of services."

New inspection of safeguarding services is proposed from 2009 [p.56] and this could well have an impact on home educating families, particularly where the children are categorised as "vulnerable" or "in need of services".

LSCBs in different local authorities may be competing to prove that they are actively seeking out "unknown children". This could be compounded by the Beacon Council award schemes mentioned on p. 57 of the full document.

There's a bit more in this document, but I hope people get the drift...

Fiona Nicholson
EO Government Policy Group


Food for Thought:
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