End Child Detention has been exchanging letters with Gordon Brown on the appalling and inhumane practice of placing asylum seeking families in detention centres – a practice that has drawn enormous criticism from the prisons inspectorate, the UN, judges, paediatricians, lawyers and NGOs. The correspondence doesn’t inspire optimism that anything will change when his facts aren’t even right. Take this exchange, for instance:
GB ‘in a limited number of cases, detention does prove necessary.’
ECD ‘We disagree that the 1,300 children held in detention centres during the 15 month period between July 2008 and September 2009 amount to ‘a limited number of cases’.’
GB ‘the majority of families with children spend just a few days in detention’
ECD: ‘The average length of stay in Yarl’s Wood IRC has actually doubled from 8–16 days, according to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons and Home Office Minister Meg Hillier. HMCIP found that at least a third of child inmates are detained for more than a month.In a recently published briefing note based on a response to a Parliamentary Question, the Immigration Law Practitioners Association found in each of the years 2004 to 2007 that a number of children had been detained in excess of 100 days.’
The whole exchange can be seen here. Recommended reading.
Ministers spent tens of thousands of pounds on mugs and pens to promote a controversial new children’s database, it was revealed today.
Teachers’ leaders accused the government of squandering £61,000 on the materials for ContactPoint, a multimillion pound register holding personal details of millions of children across England.
Munro wants to wipe the slate clean. “We’re not talking about trimming back the current forms but re-examining why we record anything and ensuring that what we do record helps children. We have to go back to recording the narrative, not data.”
She puts a welcome emphasis on the need to include children and families in the process, rather than simply doing things to them:
Munro is keen that all documents are simple enough for families to read them and flexible enough to take children’s views into account. “That might mean a child’s drawing or a poem,” she says. “We need to be trying to understand children’s experience and not treat them as oddities who must be fitted into the assessment process.”
Update: Also on the child protection track, Sue White takes no prisoners in Society Guardian today:
The system keeps limping along – its feet bearing the self-inflicted gunshot wounds of trigger-happy policymakers…They promised us a safe 4×4 in which to navigate a primrose path, but we’ve ended up down a muddy track in a Reliant Robin. Let’s get out and walk.
Disappointing to see the Scottish Children’s Commissioner applauding early intervention.
Speaking at crime reduction charity Nacro’s annual conference in Nottingham, Tam Baillie said indicators that a child will go on to offend can be present from a young age and it is important to “get in early”.
It’s yet more proof that if you keep repeating something often enough, even intelligent people (who should know better) start to believe it. The ‘risk prediction’ concept is now firmly entrenched but where is the evidence that this approach is actually effective? Sure, there are plenty of research reports that begin with phrases like “there is mounting evidence…” or “it is now widely recognised that…” but when you drill down, the actual evidence is scanty, anecdotal or non-existent.
It’s a shame that policy-makers and politicians – across all parties – haven’t paid closer attention to the report from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, ‘Risky people or risky societies?’ which goes to the trouble of examining the evidence-base.
Policy interventions that seek to target individuals and their families on the basis of certain characteristics, with the intention of preventing future offending, have no obvious basis in current research. Risk factor research also operates with a number of assumptions that, on closer scrutiny, are problematic and, despite claims of scientific objectivity, are necessarily ideological. The nuances and qualifications have at times become lost in translation from the academy to Whitehall, but the focus on individual and micro-social risks has chimed with the priorities of policy makers.
That’s not to say that you can’t do something about factors within a local environment that tend to disadvantage children, but:
different population groups in different parts of the country experience markedly different levels of risk…The challenge is to rethink a policy framework that recognises the variable risks that different groups face in society, but without engaging in the dubious and ultimately futile exercise of identifying risky individuals.
By all means provide decent housing, good schools, decent leisure facilities. By all means intervene when a parent is neglecting or abusing their children, or when a child is clearly skidding off the rails. But for now we need rather more rigorous evidence that children’s life-trajectories can be predicted before anyone ‘intervenes’. And on the ‘do no harm’ principle, we also need a reasonable degree of certainty that ‘intervention’ (together with its co-respondent, sensitive-data-gathering) aren’t actively harmful to those who would otherwise have been fine.
The move to online services in education continues apace:
Becta has told English secondary schools to provide online reports for all pupils by September…Ultimately, the agency wants all schools to integrate the online reports into virtual learning environments so parents can see what their children are doing in the classroom.
Well, assuming their internet access hasn’t been suspended, that is. This is exactly the kind of thing we had in mind when we argued that the disastrous Digital Economy Act has some pretty serious implications for children’s education rights.
The effects of malware on systems that gather our sensitive data haven’t really entered public consciousness, but there are potentially serious problems here, especially when so many practitioners are logging in to systems remotely.
Last year, Tim Loughton asked a string of government departments about the incidence of malware during the previous year. Most of the replies fell into one of two categories. The Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Department for Communities and Local Government played the Mornington Crescent card by insisting that national security would be threatened if they even looked at the question.
Others, including the Department for Health when asked about NHS hospitals, produced the standard brush-off: ‘The information requested is not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost’.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families dealt with it like this:
how many and what proportion of computers in (a) local authority children’s services departments, (b) Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service and (c) schools were found to be infected with malware in 2008.
Information on the number or proportion of computers infected with malware is not collected centrally from either local authority children’s services or from schools. However many schools do employ a managed service for their ICT support and those organisations will normally maintain this information and report to schools.
It simply won’t do. If a government department is mandating the collection of peoples’ sensitive data – particularly when this is without any opportunity to consent or opt out – it ought to be taking responsibility for the security of that data a great deal more seriously.