Uses for £75m

March 31, 2007

Notice on Pippa’s blog that 9 schools in Bury are buying the ‘cashless catering’ systems at £25K a throw.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that just 20 schools in each local authority get the system. There are 150 local authorities. That’s £75m.

Presumably all our schools now so well-equipped that there’s nothing else to spend it on.


Peace at any price?

March 30, 2007

An excellent article from John Lettice at the Register, ‘Spotting tomorrow’s criminals in today’s pushchairs’.

The only thing I would add is that the increasing emphasis on ‘predicting’ criminals is in fact taking attention away from child protection work. Contrary to Hogarthian stereotypes, poverty and deprivation are not indicators for abuse and neglect: believe me, nasty things happen to the children of barristers, company directors and paediatricians, too.

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.

It’s ironic that the whole ‘Every Child Matters’ initiative was launched on the back of a devastating case of child abuse, when child protection is rapidly becoming just another sub-category in a tracking project which, in turn, is subsumed into the higher purpose of the ‘antisocial behaviour’ agenda.

Child protection really does matter. It’s in a category of its own because it deals with the exceptional situations where parents are unable to perceive their children’s most basic needs or, even more rarely, where they are actively dangerous to their children. At its worst, it’s about serious crime.

To be sure, social workers can get it badly wrong by intervening too much or too little, but each day in the family courts there is a steady procession of cases involving children whose parents have substance-abuse or mental health problems to a degree where they are not able to parent even passably. Sometimes they involve children who have been physically assaulted or sexually abused.

Now that the initial phase of convincing the public of the need to share information about children is over, there is barely a mention of child protection from government, and no longer any attempt to disguise the dangerous re-definition of ‘at risk’.

Assuming even for one moment that it were a believable proposition, if identifying the children who are at risk of becoming a thorough nuisance to me carries the price-tag of reduced child protection, forget it. I just don’t want to know.

It’s a jungle out there

March 29, 2007

Good heavens!

Scores of worried parents are buying body armour for their children in a desperate attempt to keep them safe as street violence escalates.

HT: Bruce Schneier

Funnily enough

March 28, 2007

We’d just been having a discussion in the comments section of this, when I noticed this:

Children’s social workers will receive a £13 million boost to help pay for Information and Communication Technology (ICT), through funding announced today by Children’s Minister Parmjit Dhanda…this capital grant will help employers invest in the latest mobile ICT, including laptops and Personal Digital Assistants.

Let’s hope they get some grown-up security advice.

After looking at Dizzythinks, it seems that the DWP could do with that, too:

According to a very short response from the DWP Minister, Anne McGuire, in the last 12 months, the Independent Living Fund, the agency that provides help to the severly disabled has had one backup tape of personal data stolen.

Childhood by numbers

March 28, 2007

Tower Hamlets is about to launch its eCAF system. If you don’t know what eCAF is, and you are either under 18 or a parent, you really should find out. It’s 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.

If you want to know how practitioners will work out a child’s degree of at-riskness, go here (pdf) and scroll down to Annex A (‘Definitions’) on page 26. There you will find 7 closely-typed pages of assessment criteria ranging from whether the child’s communication skills are excessively brusque to how well his family gets on with the neighbours. (And you thought you just wanted speech therapy?)

Apparently Tower Hamlets’ eCAF is about to go live, and they have even:

developed their own electronic version of the framework on a spreadsheet. It allows professionals to grade the level of risks and protective factors for each child by totalling up numerical scores for various categories of risk.

Just to reiterate: this assessment tool is not for use by social workers. It is for anyone else providing services to the child.

School for Mafia

March 28, 2007

A comment left on our recent ‘week in fingerprints’ led me to Tarique Naseem’s blog, and this gobsmacking (and funny) item.

Safe in their hands

March 27, 2007

This doesn’t really need any comment:

Health bosses in Nottinghamshire have issued a warning after a laptop containing information on about 11,000 young children was stolen. The laptop was one of three taken from an office at King’s Mill Hospital in Sutton-in-Ashfield on 21 March.

It contained the names, addresses and dates of birth of children from the Newark, Mansfield and Ashfield areas.

Nottinghamshire Primary Care Trust (PCT) said the matter was being taken “extremely seriously”.

The information on the computer concerned children aged eight months to eight-years-old.

Apparently “the information on the device is protected by a password.”


77% of young Black men on NDNAD

March 27, 2007

Uncorrected oral evidence from the Home Affairs Committee session on March 13th on young Black people in the criminal justice system:

Q653 Bob Russell: Lady Scotland, it has been reported in Parliament that 32% of all black males are on the DNA database in comparison with 8% of white males, and it has been reported more recently that perhaps as many as 77% of young black males will soon be on the DNA database. Are those figures correct?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The figures in relation to 77% I think are correct, and we have to look at why that is. The database, of course, simply collates information properly retained from the criminal justice process. We changed the rules, as you remember, to enable us to retain DNA data on a greater number of occasions than we have had hitherto. At one stage we could only retain data if someone was convicted; then we could retain data if someone was charged, tried and convicted or acquitted. Then we have moved it back to be able to retain data on arrest

Join up the dots

March 27, 2007

Point 1: According to ‘leaked’ Cabinet Office documents, the government is going to send fewer people to prison in future (not a lot of choice there, given that they’re full) and focus on tackling:

the underlying causes of crime through preventative interventions and rehabilitation, addressing social exclusion, dysfunctional families, drugs and alcohol abuse.

A central plank of this new strategy will be:

earlier interventions to stop children leading a life of crime.

Point 2: We’ve been waiting for the government to bring before parliament the regulations that will commence the big push to get every child on to the national facility formerly known as the Information Sharing Index (now ‘ContactPoint’) together with all kinds of ‘basic’ information such as the services involved with him/her.

These regulations have been repeatedly flagged up to appear at the end of March (ie this week) but now we hear that they’ve been delayed until May because they are being revised.

Point 3: Last week, Hilary Armstrong announced that in future, services would be expected to intervene in families facing ‘critical moments’ in their lives, and that the government would be considering:

How efficiently does information flow from adult services to other professionals working with the family, including teachers and health visitors

What’s the betting that there’s a connection between these three points?

Adding insult to injury

March 24, 2007

Carlotta has a string of posts on the recent, nasty abuse of three children by their foster-mother, Eunice Spry.

Rather than admit to its own failings in not adequately investigating (several) allegations, Gloucestershire County Council is attempting to spin the story against all those who home educate their children by arguing that families need much closer monitoring.

Eunice Spry home educated, and was visited at home twice a year to have her education provision monitored. Nobody picked up on the abuse. So what more is Gloucestershire suggesting? That all home educating families require a full-blown social services investigation?

A quick search on BBC News reveals that in the UK during the past year, 15 teachers have been jailed for sexual abuse of pupils, and a further 10 for child pornography offences. That’s just the cases that made it on to BBC News. It’s also worth mentioning that we had reason to do a similar, monthly survey over a period of a year on all professionals working with children. We found that child abuse and pornography convictions averaged around a dozen per month. Should we therefore treat all teachers with suspicion, or insist that anyone entering the profession has in-depth vetting beyond the CRB check?

Certainly not. As a police officer commented last month on the case of a teacher currently awaiting sentence on 10 counts of abuse on pupils:

“It is extremely rare for a teacher to be at the centre of such accusations and Mr Shotton’s conviction should not be allowed to reflect on the profession as a whole.”

Perhaps the same courtesy could be extended to home educators, rather than isolated cases of abuse being used to justify a repugnant message that parents are little more than abusers awaiting an opportunity.

The week in fingerprints

March 23, 2007

The intrepid Mark Ballard at The Register has more on the Irish fingerprint story:

The Irish Information Commissioner’s Office has come down on the notion of school fingerprinting and taken early action to prevent the technology being deployed arbitrarily.

It has told the first handful of Irish schools known to be establishing biometric systems that they ought to have a good reason for doing so and has said it will use its powers to order schools to rip out systems it considers excessive.

All very interesting, and makes the UK position look increasingly untenable.

Meanwhile, Baroness Walmsley has taken two good swipes at the issue during the past week. The first was in an unstarred question in the Lords on Monday, well-supported by half a dozen other Peers, and the second during a longer debate on Thursday on public sector accountability:

…the DfES has really no idea what is going on out there. It does not know how many schools are doing this or how many children are affected. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in answer to a question from me earlier this week, revealed that his department is unaware that most of those schools are flouting good practice by not getting the parents’ permission for this infringement of their children’s rights. That is the sort of thing that can happen when services to the public sector are not properly monitored. The Government are walking blindfolded into a future identity fraud crisis, and the parents and children do not even know about it or realise the implications of the practice.

Early Day Motion 686 on the use of biometrics in schools is steadily gathering cross-party signatures. If your MP isn’t on the list and you think s/he should be, then send the URL and ask them to sign up.

I see no guidance…

March 22, 2007

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner has issued guidance on the use of children’s fingerprints (and any other bits of their body) in schools. The full story is over on Pippa’s blog. Amongst other things:

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner stipulates that the obtaining of consent is of paramount importance when schools consider the introduction of a biometric system.

Meanwhile, back In England, we’re still waiting for the promised guidance from the DfES.

Home Affairs ‘surveillance’ inquiry

March 22, 2007

New on the BBC website:

An inquiry into the growing use of surveillance in society is to be held by an influential committee of MPs.

The Commons Home Affairs committee is about to announce the inquiry, leader of the Commons Jack Straw told MPs.

The Information Commissioner last year warned the UK risked “sleep-walking into a surveillance society”.

It is thought the inquiry will include the impact of identity cards, the expansion of the DNA database and the large rise in the use of CCTV cameras.

(Thanks, Owen!)

‘Personalised’ is the new ‘modern’

March 22, 2007

Apologies for the blog-silence. It’s peak conference season at the moment, and the last few days, though interesting, have been pretty busy.

The Cabinet Office review (pdf) that we mentioned on Monday was duly published. It seems that the early identification/intervention agenda of ‘Every Child Matters’ is to be expanded to whole families:

Families at risk of social exclusion need personalised support from health and social services, ministers have urged.

The guidance follows the publication of new government statistics that reveal 140,000 families are at risk, suffering five or more indicators of social exclusion.

Support workers should intervene with tailored packages at these “critical moments”, minister for social exclusion Hilary Armstrong told health and social services workers at a conference in Brighton today.

Warning signs include; no family member being in work, parents with no qualifications, a mother with mental health problems, a father entering or leaving prison, a pregnant teenage daughter, school suspension and a family income 60 per cent below the median.

Apparently services

ought to be accessible by this segment of the population

and so

services need to intervene at a vulnerable family’s ‘critical moments’

…which sounds rather as if the first of these two statements should read: “families ought to be accessible by services”.

Apparently one of the key questions that government will be looking at is:

How efficiently does information flow from adult services to other professionals working with the family, including teachers and health visitors?


March 19, 2007

Maybe I’m being particularly dense, but how does this:

People will choose a school…based on league tables that include satisfaction ratings and eBay or Amazon-style feedback, the review says.

square with this?

Hundreds of schools across the country could adopt the controversial lottery system to decide which pupils get into the best state schools, a Guardian survey of 49 councils has shown.