24 August 2022
VCF – The Victoria Climbié Foundation UK is duly concerned that a proposed register for children not‑in‑school will contain inaccurate data for too many children because of shifting circumstances for families, including hundreds denied legally required support to access education.
This brings added concerns about the tracking of children up to 2-3 times daily, with schools connecting to a third-party system being trialled across a number of authorities. Unlike the existing statistical reporting requirements, schools will be asked for identifying information for every child, a seemingly alarming step forward in the current climate of distrust between the public and its statutory authorities.
According to parents supported by VCF, they are unclear as to the need for a register for children not-in-school as children are already registered at school and the local authority in relation to their education status. Parents state there is a lack of clarity or context in the data, and are increasingly concerned about misleading or false information being held in reports or a lack of adherence to safeguarding decisions; often both.
VCF has long cautioned that those set up to serve the nation’s children; health, social care and education – traditionally the most trusted services in the eyes of the public – have become unwitting partners to hostile policies, that have led to increased levels of inequity and discrimination, in addition to parental and child mental ill-health experienced before, during and post-pandemic.
“In terms of detentions and permanent exclusions, ours is one of the most punitive education systems in Western Europe. This can be detrimental to children’s emotional wellbeing as they can feel ostracised and punished by the very adults they are supposed to trust” (‘Children don’t stop being in crisis when schools are closed’. The Nursing Times, 1 December 2021).
The introduction of a register – with attendance and absences at its core – will be concerning for many families who for whatever reason are supporting their children at home.
According to VCF Director, Mor Dioum, a new register for children will need to demonstrate that we have learned from previous efforts to store readily available information for every child, as was the aim for the publicly funded ContactPoint system [scrapped in 2010] to aid information sharing and communication between agencies.
In June 2022, we wrote to Baroness Barran, Academies Minister to highlight our concerns, from what we are seeing in practice across all children’s services, including the speed of changes being implemented in schools.
Misleading or inaccurate data at the core of poor practice for children
At VCF, we are aware that the majority of cases brought to us by concerned parents contain elements of false, misleading or inaccurate information produced by statutory services interacting with children and their families.
This has led to a negative impact on the emotional wellbeing of each family as subsequent authorities consider how to address stated concerns for child/ren and parents based upon false and potentially defamatory information.
Child M became known to us when their family contacted VCF following inaccurate information disseminated to other agencies by local authority children’s services stating that the child was “at possible risk of future harm” [a phrase that has become heightened within social care practice] purely based upon the mother being a victim of childhood abuse more than twenty-five years previously.
Despite the mother relocating, successfully rebuilding her life and seeking legal action against all perpetrators involved, the local authority failed to include these vital elements to their report. Child M was targeted by the local authority as a potential “child in need”, yet the mother had consistently reached out to professionals and supportive organisations at every step of her pre and post-natal journey when necessary and had even established a support network for other mothers in similar circumstances.
Such detrimental reports by the statutory agencies involved continue to have a negative impact on child M and their family: GPs, health visitors, schools and even other family members have been provided with wholly inaccurate information contained within child M’s medical records, all stemming from reports created 5 years ago, information which the mother continually and successfully proves to be false.
With the introduction of the Schools Bill, we envisage that cases of flagrant data breaches such as that of child M and their family will be even more prolific, leading us to question the purpose of a vast database of inaccurate and false data about a whole generation of school aged children in the UK.
And what of the public money being spent on safeguarding concerns based on incorrect reports. Potentially leading to families being incorrectly and needlessly allocated a social worker when social care is an already overstretched resource.
Also, the extra surveillance of the families and children wrongfully labelled would bring psychological stress on the parents and children involved.
We must allow parents/carers to challenge inaccurate or missing information
For one family we support, one particular child has spent their entire childhood in and out of the classroom, or in specialist programmes that were not able to fully support their needs
Child B (and siblings) has been known to us for several years when their mother, a survivor of domestic abuse, contacted VCF for support in relation to child’s contact with their father amid increased concerns.
Despite a lengthy process to secure an EHC plan, Child B was unable to access the required support and the school did not have the capacity to meet this child’s needs, leading to permanent exclusion and considerable time spent out of school.
As the situation worsened, and the family went through a revolving door of needs due to the lack of required support, the local authority unlawfully stated under Section 24 of the Children and Families Act 2014, that Child B was not resident in the area when temporarily placed with their father due to escalated safety concerns within the household; thus, a misrepresentation of the facts and the child in need plan agreed by all parties.
What can we expect to happen differently under the proposed registration framework?
Will false, misleading or inaccurate information adversely skew the data for children?
Will there be duplication or missing information for safeguarding support?
Families are specifically not asking for strategic change; across all recent government-commissioned reviews the message is clear. The public is asking for implementation of existing laws to uphold established rights for every child and for practitioners to be fully supported to deliver a transparent and accountable service to children and their families.
In joining the No to Clause 49 campaign we wholly support the pragmatic approach proposed by the Counting Children coalition; to call for a code of practice to replace this clause; as we have little confidence that in its present state we will see any added benefits for families, who may unwittingly become subject to child protection measures in the absence of clear information or options.