Thursday, December 22, 2005

I Meant What I Said.

OK, so there's no ducking this issue. After yesterday's post below about the damaging and redundant qualities of the children's database, the news today, here from ITV, revisits the story of Sarah Whittaker and David Askew, jailed last year for appalling neglect of their four children. Despite the fact that the family had been seen over forty times by midwives and health visitors, the severe problems (children close to death, excrement-smeared bedrooms, maggots in nappies) were not spotted.

Investigator Prof. Cantrill reported "...the fact is that some agencies involved with the family did not provide the effective services that were required to support this vulnerable family. They failed to detect and intervene early to prevent poor parenting, which resulted in the deprived quality of life that the children experienced. The factors that should have caused concern were known singly, sometimes collectively, to most of the services that knew the family, but their total impact on the welfare of the children was not thoroughly assessed or communicated between agencies, and therefore not acted on. It was the failure to recognise the accumulation of information about this family that underpins the inability to assess their needs."

And crucially also the professor says it was "unacceptable" that professionals working in deprived areas should have a higher "threshold" before action is taken, due to the general background of problems in the community.

All of which seems to point to a crying need for a universal database of joined up information that can be readily shared between the various agencies. Surely if there had been a chance to accumulate a number of milder concerns, if the midwives, HVs and school teachers had been able to lower their threshold of reporting, and had been able to note centrally that they had concerns, surely these could all have been collated, and someone would have acted?

Yep, surely. You know, in the face of such sickening atrocities, we can put aside any poncy anxieties about such things as the abolition of privacy in family life. The database must, if it is to protect all children and be sensitive to concerns of lesser severity, be universal. All families must be subject to such intimate scrutiny for this is the only possible way in which such cases can come to light.

But hold on a second here. How many midwives, HVs and school teachers are there per child? How many milder anxieties about children do they experience in any one single day? How many back-covering reports are there going to be? How will someone manage to sift through such a mountain of prospectively accumulating data in order to see who is genuinely at risk?

Some poor sod still has to make that horribly difficult judgment about when to intervene. This is actually THE crucially difficult question and a universal database does not solve this problem because a mountain of mild concerns will be as difficult to sift through as a presentation of the odd much higher threshold anxiety. Errors of judgment will still occur, even with a database. In addition, the database means that resources will be spread even more thinly, not only because of the diversion of cash into its construction and maintainence, but also because it will throw up loads of distracting false positives.

And then the issue of privacy of innocent families does seem to become relevant all over again. We suspect that if the database does work and isn't an enormous waste of our money, (as have most previous government databases), many of thousands of hard working, dutiful families, including home educators, will be pointlessly and often damagingly pestered by the authorities.

Take the money and effort out of the universal database. Get back to the 'at risk' register and employ a sufficient number of experienced professionals to get the job done properly.


Anonymous said...

It's worth noting that good ole Sheffield (where this all took place), is mighty proud of its IRT abilities .
In fact, it was (and is) a trailblazer council for the forerunner of the proposed index.
Maybe that's why Bev Hughes spoke out that the index wouldn't find all cases...a few days before this story got into the public domain.

Carlotta said...

Does make it seem even more likely that the system let them down, I agree!