NO to ever rising numbers of families investigated by social services
 

The Schools Bill will ramp up referrals

The increase of surveillance and use of registers, the negative rhetoric about home educated children and children who miss school, and the national framework establishing pathways for social services referrals will all lead to an increase of families being pulled into social services assessments. This will not help children, it will cause lifelong and serious harm to both them and their families.

There have been escalating numbers of families reported to social services each year, most not suspected of any child abuse. This has not led to increase in proportion of child abuse detected or addressed. It has however resulted in more families being harmed by the assessment process itself.

This to not to say that these families do not have need for support, many of the families themselves approach social services for help but rapidly find themselves under the spotlight within an investigative framework.

Assessment is not a neutral process, that it is intrusive and traumatising is well researched and documented. Whatever the outcome there are knock on negative repercussions. Being ‘known’ to social services in itself can impact children negatively throughout their lives.

To protect children and keep them safe we must push back against State over reach and say NO to the Schools Bill.

 

“In the last 15 years child protection investigations have almost tripled with no evidence that this reduced harm to children.”

Professor Andy Bilson

“Behaviour described out of context is dangerously ambiguous.”

Emeritus Professor Eileen Munro

“We are concerned that the surveillance and unsubstantiated political views on home education as a safeguarding threat will lead to increased unnecessary investigations harming children and families”

Parents, Families & Allies Network

Experience of families
Parents are already being prevented from making decisions about what is in the best interests of their child. Parents of children who experience barriers with attending school are leaned on heavily to comply with measures put forward by schools. Parents report that all the services that should be offering support – school, LA, education psychologist, CAMHS – are more unhelpful than helpful.

Families report damaged relationships with their children and broken trust from trying to comply with getting the child to school. Some parents even report being expected to take action to get child into school that would itself be categorised as abuse if carried out without the consent of the system. For example, wrapping a naked child, kicking and screaming, in a blanket and driving them to school.

Families of children who miss school, home educating families and families of SEND children are already reported at high levels.

Is a false allegation a miscarriage of justice?

There was intense focus on this issue and some legal acceptance of the idea that false allegations are tantamount to a miscarriage of justice. In a 2001 House of Lords debate it was noted that in families with no abuse, children’s worlds can still “be torn apart. A child is damaged by a false accusation.” Empirical research using PAIN’s data showed that children who are the subject of unnecessary investigation become victims ‘in a way that can be more damaging to them than suffering sexual abuse’.

Various issues were highlighted. The pressure put on children to corroborate suspicions. Social services lack of understanding and interpretation of complex medical issues. Lots of families found themselves referred because how their children were wasn’t understood, for example autistic children, or medical conditions which weren’t understood, such as chronic fatigue syndrome or ME. It was “described as analogous to ‘the witch hunts of previous centuries’.”

This continues to happen to families today, especially for families of children who have special educational needs or experience barriers with attending school.

Square Peg and not Fine in School research reports that 23% of the parents who responded to the survey had experienced an accusation of Fabricated Induced Illness.

“Graded exposure – go to school every day and stand near the gate. Each time try to stay longer and get closer to school. It made my son very unwell, and we
deregistered.”

‘Not Fine in School’ parent responding to Square Peg questionnaire 

Fabricated Induced Illness (FII) A witch hunt of the 2020s

Mothers of neurodivergent children and mothers of children with complex or less well-known conditions such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome are being investigated by social services, accused of FII, and labelled as potential child abusers. This is on the basis of FII guidelines, developed by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH). The guidelines are however deeply problematic, lack a robust evidence base, for example, of why certain behaviour is viewed as a ‘sign’. The RCPCH has admitted issues with their guidance and yet it is still used by social services.

Research by Fiona Gullen-Scott and Cathie Long examines how these guidelines create bias against certain kinds of families.

Important work has been done and as a result the British Association of Social Workers published a Fabricated and Induced Illness Practice Guide

Panel discussion on FII hosted by Sinclair’s Law Firm. 

State power grab in changed definitions

When the meaning of a term is changed all of the assumptions and associations remain. By changing the meaning of terms which set out the parameters for State intervention the government pulls more families into scope, in effect lowering the threshold for coercive State intervention.

Persistently absent
The concept of “persistently absent” was introduced in 2005 to get away from the focus of whether absence was authorised or not. In 2011 the definition of persistently absent was changed by the government from 20% to 15% absence. This was widely criticised as failing to tackle any of the causes of children missing school. In 2015 this was changed to 10% of possible sessions.

The government is now proposing that fines need to be introduced when children and young people miss 10 sessions or five days. Being later than 30 minutes would count as a missed session.

The wider numbers of children and young people pulled into remit of this term allows the government to claim causal links between absence and problematic behaviour and outcomes. Using the terms rather than the actual figures means people often don’t know quite what is meant.

Neglect
Neglect is used in the new guidance on attendance in a way which does not seem to be compatible with its normal usage. The guidance says that if severe absence continues even if “all avenues of support have been facilitated” that this is “likely to constitute neglect”.

The current definition of neglect is “The persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development.”

‘Children Missing Education’ (CME)
“Children missing education are children of compulsory school age who are not registered pupils at a school and are not receiving suitable education otherwise than at a school. Children missing education are at significant risk of underachieving, being victims of harm, exploitation or radicalisation, and becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training) later in life.” Therefore, because of these risks, public bodies and agencies are tasked with identifying  children who are CME.

It is now commonly being used about children who miss days of school or where the local authority feel they don’t have enough evidence or confidence in the provision of home education. The Schools Bill is the culmination of this concerted drive to change the meaning.

The Local Government Association report Children missing education decided not to use the legal definition of CME and instead used their own definition. “We are therefore proposing, for this research, a wider definition of children missing education – any child of statutory school age who is missing out on a formal, full-time education.” The report proceeded on this basis yet mixed up the meaning of the terms interchangeably, it also misrepresents legislation and the duties of local authorities so as to arrive at the desired position.

There is NO evidence that missing out on formal education leads to significant risk of underachieving, being a victim of harm, exploitation, or radicalisation, and becoming NEET.

By changing the definition agencies such as the police and social services become involved with the minutia of families lives, whether the child misses a day of school or whether their education provided by parents meets the approval of local authorities.

 

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