Demise of child protection

February 28, 2007

The redoubtable child protection expert, Liz Davies, makes good reading at CiF. She’s talking about the ‘kick the cat’ politics that led to social worker Lisa Arthurworrey’s vilification following Victoria Climbie’s death, while those higher up the chain moved on to bigger and better things.

Liz also has plenty to say about the potentially disastrous effects of the database jamboree on child protection:

there was no child-protection conference in place for Victoria, and her name was not on the child-protection register. This tried and tested multi-agency tool is now being abolished on Lord Laming’s recommendation; this will severely affect the lives of vulnerable children. ContactPoint, the new database for every child in the country, is in effect a population-surveillance tool. It has nothing to do with protecting children: databases and other computerised processes will not replace the function of the register. The number of referrals to social services has been steady for five years, but the number of children on the child-protection register for physical and sexual abuse has halved. The system has been vanishing before our eyes.

Laming also recommended that the police should focus on crime. As a result, social workers are increasingly left to investigate much child abuse on their own, constricted by tight timescales, targets and data entry – which undermines the value of professional judgment and leaves little time to form meaningful relationships with children and families.

…If Lisa were employed today her chances of getting it right would be even less than in 2000.


…and another one bites the dust

February 28, 2007

Following the demise of the Connexions Card, plans for a youth opportunity card have also come unstuck:

The Government has pulled the plug on the youth opportunity card after admitting that the technology driving the scheme is not feasible

Funny how telephone-number figures can start to sound like small change… It’s only cost £2m:

PA Consulting, the firm behind the National Identity Card scheme, has been working on the opportunity card since last May. A DfES spokesman said PA was owed no compensation payments since it was on a Framework Agreement. About £2m is thought to have been spent on resourcing for the scheme.

Costs of the now-defunct Connexions Card, which has had a notoriously low uptake, have run to close to £100m including a contract termination fee to provider Capita of at least £11m (YPN, 18-24 October 2006, p2). It engaged just 3.7 per cent of the 16- to 19-year-old target audience, with 0.8 per cent redeeming five or more rewards.

ASBOs, the new mental health treatment

February 27, 2007

We’ve heard a lot of stories about children on the autistic spectrum ending up with ASBOs, and now the British Institute for Brain Injured Children has put some facts and figures together.

While ASB officers maintain that only 5% of ASBOed children had mental health issues, Youth Offending Team officers report that in fact 38% have a diagnosed mental health disorder or learning difficulty.

Respect for the law

February 26, 2007

Not Saussure is questioning whether the press should have identified a certain 17-year-old boy convicted of the possession of a small amount of cannabis.

Assuming he was dealt with in the youth court and the District Judge didn’t make any order lifting the automatic ban on publishing his details (imposed by s49(1) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933) then the fourth estate had better get its cheque books ready.

Run first, walk later

February 26, 2007

The Telegraph’s crime correspondent admits to increasing concern about government databases, and wonders whether efficiency has been a victim of unseemly haste:

Police, by and large, like databases and the collection of information on individuals. And they are pushing at an open door with this Government, which has some deeply authoritarian instincts. There’s also been a tendency in recent years to launch a new law or initiative or re-organisation before existing measures have been allowed to bed in and their strengths and weaknesses have been assessed.

It would be good to know, for example, that the national criminal DNA database is actually being used efficiently by police and the criminal justice system to catch criminals, just as it would be good to know that court records on convicted criminals are getting to those to whom they matter – ie schools.

LSE Workshop

February 24, 2007

The LSE Information Systems department hosts the annual ‘social study of IT’ conference next month. This year’s theme: ‘Identity in the Information Society: Security, Privacy, The Future’

It’s free, but early booking is advisable.

Bears in the woods

February 23, 2007

Advance advertising for the weekend Guardian:

British teenagers drink, smoke, take more drugs and lose their virginity earlier than many of their parents believe, according to a unique Guardian/ICM poll.

My, how times have changed. Astonishingly:

The survey, details of which are published in tomorrow’s Guardian, also reveals how few parents know when their children have lost their virginity.

As my 81-year-old mother advised me not so long ago, where one’s teenaged children are concerned, there are some questions it’s polite to leave unasked.

Dreams, schemes and reality

February 23, 2007

Back in September, Tony Blair talked about the need to improve ‘early intervention’ services to identify babies who were ‘at risk’ of becoming criminals or being ‘socially excluded’:

Again for example, midwives and health visitors already routinely screen and visit new born children – though at present the middle classes tend to ask for, and therefore get, more follow-up help.

Under the new arrangements, health visitors and midwives will seek to identify those most at risk, most simply by asking young parents or parents to be about difficulties they may be having, or about their own background. This can be supplemented by information from other public services, where we need to break down barriers to sharing data.

For those who are identified at risk, the health visitor or Children’s Centre worker will engage in a more detailed assessment to clarify and confirm the level of need. For those identified as being most at risk (around 10-15 per cent of all first born), a two-year home visiting programme will be put in place.

A bit of a blow, then, that:

The number of health visitors in England has fallen to its lowest level in 12 years, a trade union says. Amicus said there had been a 40% cut in training places for those workers and warned many cases of domestic abuse and post-natal depression may be missed.

The government has said health visitors have a key role to play in its policy of bringing healthcare closer to home. And it says the number of nurses in community care has risen by more than a third since 1997.

Maybe, but community nurses are not health visitors. It’s rather like saying a generic social worker is the same as a child protection social worker.

Putting aside for a moment the many serious doubts about the PM’s conviction that future offenders can be predicted from birth (if not in utero) it hardly seems like a coherent policy to rely on a declining profession to deliver even more services.

Storing up trouble?

February 22, 2007

Via B2fxxx an interesting article in New York Magazine suggesting that the advent of things like MySpace and Facebook have given young people a different attitude to privacy.

“So it may be time to consider the possibility that young people who behave as if privacy doesn’t exist are actually the sane people, not the insane ones. For someone like me, who grew up sealing my diary with a literal lock, this may be tough to accept. But under current circumstances, a defiant belief in holding things close to your chest might not be high-minded. It might be an artifact—quaint and naïve, like a determined faith that virginity keeps ladies pure. Or at least that might be true for someone who has grown up “putting themselves out there” and found that the benefits of being transparent make the risks worth it.”

Well, perhaps. On the other hand, we can point to plenty of savvy teenagers who wouldn’t even dream of using their real identities online, far less reveal all in MySpace. The article seems like a good example of the tendency to make sweeping generalisations about young people based on what some of them do. Some women are happy to use the pages of magazines to reveal the lurid details of affairs with their sister’s cousin’s nephew, but nobody extrapolates that all women therefore reject the notion of privacy.

If anything, the article highlights the lack of appreciation displayed by some young people of the potential danger of splashing one’s personal information around, the permanent nature of internet confessions, and the regrettable uses to which an employer or journalist might put Google in years to come.

Fingerprint fantasy

February 22, 2007

Pippa pulls the rug from underneath those making fantastic claims for the positive effects of using biometrics in schools, quoting Dr Sandra Leaton Gray of Homerton College, Cambridge:

“I have not been able to find a single piece of published research which suggests that the use of biometrics in schools promotes healthy eating or impoves reading skills amongst children. I am concerned that these reasons are being given as a justification for fingerprinting children. There is absolutely no evidence for such claims.”

By the way: if you are concerned about schools taking children’s fingerprints, you can ask your MP to sign Early Day Motion 686 on biometric data collection in schools. Carlotta’s MP has just signed up.

Tentacles everywhere

February 21, 2007

My, isn’t Capita getting about?

Liverpool City Council and the London Borough of Hackney have signed contracts with Capita Children’s Services to use its Integrated Children’s System (ICS).

ICS will be used to transform the way children’s records are managed across the authorities. It will enable social care staff to view data on a child’s school attendance, achievement and behaviour alongside social care records.

Bearing in mind that the ICS social care record is likely to be permanent, if they are planning to link into one of Capita’s school systems, perhaps it’s time they sought legal advice.

The Gareth Myatt Inquest

February 21, 2007

We recently mentioned the inquest into the death of Gareth Myatt, the 7-stone child who died after being restrained by 3 staff at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre. The coroner has heard some alarming evidence so far.

There have been at least 4 incidents at Rainsbrook where children reported being unable to breathe when restrained and:

On at least one occasion a child had to be hospitalised and was left with red marks on his neck and blood haemorrhaging in his eyes. On another a young man reported vomiting while being held down. Another was left wearing a neck brace.

This is beyond belief:

The head of a secure establishment where a young person died after being restrained has admitted he is not familiar with guidance on the practice.

John Parker, the director of Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre, told the inquest into the death of Gareth Myatt that he has not read the Physical Control in Care manual, and was not aware of the risks involved.

Just do it anyway

February 20, 2007

We’ve just been looking at the revised edition of the catchily titled government guidance: “what to do if you’re worried a child is being abused”.

Actually it’s about:

“what you should do if you have concerns about children in order to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, including those who are suffering, or at risk of suffering, significant harm”

…thus deepening the conflation of abuse (a crime against a child) and the more general territory of an (unabused) child’s need for services of some kind.

The advice to practitioners on gaining consent before sharing confidential information with other practitioners contains the following:

3.9 Even where sharing of confidential information is not authorised, you may lawfully share it if this can be justified in the public interest. Seeking consent should be the first option, if appropriate. Where consent cannot be obtained to the sharing of the information or is refused or where seeking it is likely to undermine the prevention, detection or prosecution of a crime, the question of whether there is a sufficient public interest must be judged by the practitioner on the facts of each case. Therefore, where you have a concern about a child or young person, you should not regard refusal of consent as necessarily precluding the sharing of confidential information.

3.10 A public interest can arise in a wide range of circumstances, for example, to protect children or other people from harm, to promote the welfare of children or to prevent crime and disorder.

Which appears to translate as: “ask for consent, but don’t worry if the answer is no because there’s probably a broad, discretionary power that you can use as an override”.

Collision course

February 18, 2007


More news on the YJB front (see our last post) in today’s Observer:

One of Tony Blair’s most trusted and controversial advisers, the ‘respect tsar’ Louise Casey, has been accused of ‘behaviour not befitting a senior civil servant’ and insulting and offending an audience of experts when delivering a keynote speech at the Youth Justice Board’s annual conference. The allegations were made in a letter sent to Casey by Rod Morgan, until recently the chairman of the YJB.

…Morgan, who wrote on behalf of the board of the YJB, says in the letter: ‘Your behaviour was not befitting a senior civil servant. No one who witnessed your behaviour whom I have subsequently spoken to interpreted your remarks as anything other than a studied insult to the committed and effective frontline workers.

‘In response to questions, you insulted your audience, who comprised magistrates, youth workers and groups from the voluntary sector. You spoke in derogatory tones about their programmes of work and succeeded in needlessly offending most of the audience. Delegates were overheard leaving the auditorium saying they were speechless with anger.’

IS Index re-brand

February 17, 2007

The facility formerly known as the children’s Information Sharing Index has a new name. From now on, it will be known as ‘ContactPoint‘. It also has its very own logo that says: “ContactPoint, because every child matters”.

Otherwise, it’s exactly the same thing. Quite why it needs a brand image isn’t clear, given that ‘ContactPoint’ is for the use of practitioners who will know exactly what it’s for. Presumably the re-brand is to reassure the public by taking out the words ‘information sharing’, and making it all sound more like a helpdesk than an identity register.