An excellent article over at ArchRights about the way the government’s proposals to predict, by monitoring various indicators from a very young age, which children are likely to turn out to be anti-social or even criminals and to ‘intervene’ to nip these potential problems in the bud. This, argue ArchRights, will detract from child-protection work;
Practitioners, especially Health Visitors, are already well-versed in possible indications of abuse. By giving them a completely different set of assessment criteria that emphasise factors such as deprivation, and by hijacking terms such as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘at risk’ to give them an entirely different meaning, the government is encouraging practitioners to take their eye off the one, small group of children scattered throughout the population in whom the state can rightly claim a legitimate interest.
To this I would add a somewhat alarming example of the sort of predictors that are presumably to be included in this monitoring and assessment. In another recent piece, ArchRights direct our attention to the eCAF system,
an assessment system for all practitioners except social workers to use to determine how ‘at risk’ a child is of social exclusion, becoming criminal, getting pregnant, failing at school etc.It will be carried out on any child needing services over and above routine education and health provision. Government estimates that this means 1 in 3 children will need to be e-caffed.
They include a link (pdf) to follow
you want to know how practitioners will work out a child’s degree of at-riskness,
which I did. There I found the following advice and helpful example to those completing the forms (p 18):
Wherever possible, you should base the discussion and your comments on evidence, not just opinion. Evidence would be what you have seen, what the child has said and what the family members have said. Opinions should be recorded and marked accordingly (for example ‘Michael said he thinks his dad is an alcoholic’).
Michael’s dad may have his own views on the subject, of course, but he may not be in any position to express them; those completing the form are told
Explain the purpose of the assessment: Explain why you are recording information and what will happen to it. Make sure the child/family understands who else will see their information. Make sure they understand that the CAF is a resource to help them access services. Check they fully understand and consent to what is proposed. You should always encourage children under 16 to involve their parent as appropriate. Do not assume that children with a disability or learning disabilities are not capable of understanding.
The document clarifies (p 24),
5.4 A young person aged 16 or over, or a child under 16 who has the capacity to understand and make their own decisions about what they are being asked, may give consent. Children aged 12 or over may generally be expected to have sufficient understanding. Otherwise, you should ask a person with parental responsibility to consent on their behalf.
I’ve already moaned about this perversion of the notion of Gillick Competence and the Information Commissioner is none too happy about it, either. Neither is he happy about the idea that children so young can fully understand the implications of the way in which such information is likely to be shared and he’s certainly unhappy about the implications behind Make sure they understand that the CAF is a resource to help them access services.
If the children — as young as 12 — are given to understand that their accessing these services is contingent on giving their consent to data sharing, then that’s clearly an abuse and is illegal, though since much official guidance on the subject apparently fails to understand this, God alone knows how a 12 year old is supposed to grasp the idea that in order to obtain (e.g.) speech therapy, he doesn’t have to agree to have his views on his dad’s drinking habits shared between all and sundry at social services with a view to making sure he won’t later turn to a life of crime.
One hopes, of course, that this observation that Michael said he thinks his dad is an alcoholic will be treated with a degree of scepticism, being what the child is reported to have said about his, possibly inaccurate and immature, view of his father’s drinking habit.