Dear Tory MP,
It seems to us that you have a problem. Your respective party leaders and their policies appear to have morphed into each other to the point where there is almost no discernible difference in the public mind. It seems you're not sure quite what to do since every time you have a bright idea, it gets co-opted by the other side. But for us out here it looks as if there is plenty you could be doing, and it isn't just home educators, everyone's at it - all that dinner party chat about how ticked off we all are of state intrusion. From home educators to anesthetists, small business owners to teachers, we are all fed up to the back teeth with government interference, control and yet more initiatives.
The good thing is that you could offer to alleviate a good part of this resentment, and in an area in which New Labour is so invested that they are highly unlikely to do a U-turn on their pet policy. What is more, the policy I'm talking about is a prime example of the intrusiveness of the Labour party, ie: the Every Child Matters agenda, Children's Act 2004.
Of course we all know that every child should matter, but we think they should matter by way of automatic duty and right solely to their parents/guardians. But this is not how the Labour would like to see it. In the Aims and Objectives section of the ECM, they state:
"The Government's aim is for every child, whatever their background or their circumstances, to have the support they need to:
*Enjoy and achieve
*Make a positive contribution "
*Achieve economic well-being
Well, how about this for a new idea? How about trusting parents to have a go at meeting these aims on their own? How about acknowledging that a government doesn't have to co-opt these aims when this is precisely what most families would want to achieve for their children anyhow? And how about intervening only when families really need it and forget about checking up on absolutely everyone in the attempt to seek out thousands more families who in all likelihood could really do without? Afterall, reports such as this one suggest that childrens' services are demonstrably failing to cope with the families they already know about, so goodness knows how they will cope when they have to deal with thousands of families who aren't in crisis but have just fallen under suspicion.
It rather looks as if yet again, the lovely warm glow that emanates from a New Labour initiative, this time the ECM, will reveal itself to be yet another chimera. Families in dire need will continue to suffer and may indeed find that their situation worsens, since social workers will be even more hard-pressed to sort out those who are at risk from those who could get by, and will be even more out of pocket for having to spread resources about so much more.
The instrument of this universal intrusion is the Information Sharing Index, a database intended to contain details of every child in the country. Whilst the ISI will carry only basic information, it is a short step from this to being able to access a full account of the private life of a child as would be contained in a Common Assessment Framework, a detailed investigation which may be undertaken by any number of professionals if a child is perceived not to be making the ECM's five targets. It is estimated that one in three children in the UK are likely to be failing to make these targets, so with the aim of carrying out a CAF on all these children, what we are talking about here is nothing other than the complete destruction of privacy and in all likelihood, the generation of a massive amount of unnecessary business as families try to fend off this intrusion. And let us not forget that the CAF will doubtless be inflicted upon families where there is simply insufficient information upon whether these children are meeting these targets, which will probably involve the unwarranted investigation of hundreds of home educating families.
And all for what purpose? The database will not solve the problem of what to do about children who are genuinely at risk. This is the real nitty-gritty problem for social workers. Children who are murdered by their parents are usually well known to social services. The problem is rarely one of invisibility but much more often that social workers cannot predict which child they know about will suffer in this way, a problem which the database distinctly doesn't solve. The database will instead suck up millions of pounds that could otherwise have been put to good use, in what will doubtless be yet another government IT fiasco.
On the matter of costs, (from ARCH):
" The government says that it will cost £224m to set up the IS Index, and another £41m per year to run it. This is a major database project and, so far, all of the government’s major IT projects have cost far more than was predicted. The £41m running costs appear very optimistic: this amounts to £270,000 per local authority. Bearing in mind the extra staff that will be needed, the training costs whenever a new practitioner is given access, the system maintenance and upgrade costs, it is difficult to see how it will only cost £41m per year. Will the additional costs have to be borne by local councils?"
In case you are wondering, it isn't just home educators and other parents who are fearful of the consequences of the database. The Independent Schools Council, "which represents almost 1,300 private schools, said the so-called Children's Index would fail to meet international standards for data security and details might be sold on to paedophiles".
And go here to see what social workers themselves are saying about it.
So there it is...the Tory Party could be the party that will make it clear that they will leave families alone if they do not need help. And how to do this?
Quoting ARCH again:
"The Government has drafted regulations that will allow them to set up a national database of all children – the Information Sharing (or ‘IS’) Index. It is seeking views on these draft regulations until December 14th 2006, and will then produce the final regulations to go before Parliament early in 2007.
MPs and Peers will have to pass a resolution to approve the regulations. If Parliament does approves them, work will begin on building the IS Index straight away. "
The Tories could vote AGAINST the implementation of the database. Home educators and plenty of the rest of the populace would understand why you did this!