Yes, I know…

May 29, 2008

Sorry it’s been so quiet on the ARCH blog. It’s been another period of intense work when the phone rings just as I’m about to blog something, and then suddenly it’s bedtime.

This letter is a must-read. It’s from the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (AIMS) to the government’s Chief Medical Officer outlining the effects that the information free-for-all and suspicion of parents are having on children and families. Here’s a taster:

When instructions went out to all staff in contact with children to report concerns about risk, this seems to have been done with little prior thought, without consultation, and without provision for training. The result was the post-Climbie cover-your-back syndrome: ‘when in the slightest doubt, report to social services.’ We see a huge variety of standards, misunderstandings, prejudices, ill-informed interpretation of risk factors, cultural incompetence and even racism, in the initiation of cases from health visitors, teachers, midwives, nurses, doctors and others. Quite apart from the damage to families, each one of these reports pre-empts resources and often leads to substantial, and unnecessary, cost. Ironically, the basic, simple help or real support families would like, is unavailable because resources are lacking, that is not the focus of social work activity, and anyway nowadays many parents are afraid to ask because any contact with social services is too risky.

It really is powerful stuff. Spread it around.


You will sit there until you agree

May 17, 2008

We blogged about the Integrated Children’s System last month. Now, the head of prevention and safeguarding for learning and children’s services at Kingston-upon-Thames (no, I didn’t just make that up) has been singing its praises:

“We are not asking staff to be IT bods, we are asking them to learn to use a tool to enhance practice. Very skilled workers capture data in a distinct way. It should not be seen as a distraction,” he said.

“Any distraction caused will be short-lived. If staff are still stuck at their desks because they are not adapting, they are probably doing less harm there than in the field, because that is not a good-quality social worker.”

Which begs the question of why they employed social workers who can do harm in the first place.

Just for a bit of context, Kingston has a child population of 33,000 and its Joint Area Review (pdf) describes it as the second least deprived borough in London:

The borough is socio-economically advantaged, with very low unemployment and the eligibility for free school meals is well below average. The population is relatively healthy, well educated and affluent

Every statistic matters

May 13, 2008

The DCSF has published a revised ‘outcomes framework’ for their ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda. You may remember that the original version included targets for the number of children eating 5 fruit’n’veg per day, but this has been expunged from the latest edition.

It’s a puzzling document – a mixture of vague, undefined aims like:

‘Increase the number of children and young people on the path to success’; ‘Improve the skills of the population, on the way to ensuring a world class skills base by 2020’; ‘Promote world class science and innovation in the UK’

political grandstanding:

‘Deliver a successful Olympic and Paralympics games with a sustainable legacy and get more children and young people taking part in high quality PE and sport’

and pernickety little measurements:

‘Percentage of pupils who have school lunches’; ‘Bus services running on time’; ‘Gap between initial participation rate in full time higher education rates for young people aged 18, 19 and 20 from the top three and bottom four socio-economic classes’

The only thing that you can be sure of is that each of the hundreds of little targets will demand even more data collection. It really is worth having a good look at the whole framework – even if it does look like a glorified classroom wallchart.

Schools and FOI

May 11, 2008

As I mentioned before, we had a dismal time trying to get schools to respond to Freedom of Information requests about their use of CCTV. We’ve at last got the report that we sent to the Information Commissioner (and relevant government departments) up on the website.

The learning flatline

May 9, 2008

You might think that DWP staff would have been chastened by the child benefit Chernobyl into some basic grasp of data security, but apparently not:

The government has been sending out highly sensitive data in packages with the passwords necessary to access it, it has been revealed today.

And in a predictable mismatch of words and actions, a DWP spokeswoman said:

“We take the security of individuals’ data extremely seriously”

If you’re wondering where you heard that before, it was last uttered a month ago by the LGA.

He did it first, Miss

May 8, 2008

From the Home Secretary, a licence for the police to behave like, well, ‘young thugs’:

Police should be harassing badly behaved youths by openly filming them and hounding them at home to make their lives as uncomfortable as possible, the home secretary will say today.

That ought to model suitable adult behaviour for them. It makes you wonder who the grown-ups are.

You have to laugh

May 1, 2008

I think this is called having your cake and eating it. Engaged in the nerdy pursuit of trawling the last few days of parliamentary questions, I found the following written answer from Ministry of Justice Minister David Hanson to a question about young people serving indeterminate prison sentences – not something the government enjoys talking about:

These figures have been drawn from administrative IT systems which, as with any large scale recording system, are subject to possible errors with data entry and processing so numbers have been rounded to the nearest 10.

And here we were thinking that Contactpoint and eCAF would be infallible. In similar vein, the BBC reports that in the last 3 years:

More than 600 staff at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have been disciplined for accessing personal or sensitive data, it has been revealed

Treasury Minister Jane Kennedy is keen to stress

However, this represents less than 1 per cent. of total staff for each of the three years in question

Let’s see, if Contactpoint and eCAF have 330,000 users and just 0.5% misuse their access, I make that 1,650 people. Despite ministerial assurances that employees are always caught (and how do they know about the ones who weren’t?) it’s clear from the HMRC figures that the risk hasn’t acted as a deterrent over the past few years.