Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Complete Waste of Time, Effort and Money: The Children's Database.

There are at least ten good reasons why the database (as proposed in the recent Children Act) should never see the light of day. Just in case you don't know what I'm talking about here (and this would come as no surprise since the lack of press coverage has been pretty overwhelming), it is proposed as some sort of response to the Victoria Climbie case, that a universal children's database be created which will include various types of information about every child in the country, whether or not there is any reason to suppose these children to be at risk. The information will include personal details, place of education and health referrals and will be accessible by a wide range of professionals, from GP to Social Services, the LEA, schools, the police, charity workers, indeed anybody whom the Home Secretary deems fit, either now or at some unspecified stage in the future, to gain access. Should there be any kind of concern about the child, whether this be a poor SAT result, maternal depression, vaccination refusal, or whatever else, the child's name will be flagged. Two flags will trigger a conversation between professionals. Three flags will result in a full-scale investigation.

Putting aside the fact that the above has nothing to do with solving the problems that Victoria suffered, (her problem was not one of being unknown, but of the information not being acted upon), one of the reasons for getting hot under the collar about this is that we will basically be kissing goodbye to any possibility of a private family life. The state is right in there now, poking it's ugly nose into every crevice of your life.

But the thing that really gets me going is that the database means that we can effectively kiss goodbye to any form of confidentiality with our doctors. Unfortunately this point fails to impress almost everybody other than myself, since most people who would naturally object to the intrusions that are implicit in the proposal of the database, have been firmly convinced for years that there was absolutely no form of genuine confidentiality with one's doctors.

Having lived with doctors for much of my life, or having good mates who are doctors, I find this public perception rather weird. Without ever having formally signed the Official Secrets Act, but rather having been convinced of the value of the confidential doctor/patient relationship, these guys have in the past remained stoically silent on the subject of their patients. It is as if one has never even asked a question, so impossible is it that they should respond. I have sometimes wondered how much torture one would have to inflict in order to get these guys to spill the beans on their patients.

"Look...please tell us, is our Maths teacher diabetic, hyperthyroid or suffering from coronary artery disease? Are we best off investing in Milky Ways, espressos, or a bag of chips? Come on, we need a way of getting her carted off to the sanatorium next Tuesday". Blank. No response. Tie up doctor victim and tickle their feet. Nothing. Shake violently. Nothing. Extract finger nails....etc.

Doctors have always had to break confidentiality but previously they would only have done this in the case that there was a signficant possibility of abuse. Now the onus, despite the complaints of the BMA, is the other way around. If GP's don't now reveal what in effect will be a much lower level of concern, they will be clouted for failure to protect our children. So don't even dream of going to your GP with your post-natal depression, or your marital problems, or the fact that you've been hitting the sherry just a little too much and want to nip this in the bud. Your child's name will most likely be flagged for these confessions.

So, far from preventing child abuse, this database will, once people wake up to the problem, make the situation much worse. Far better that a lone and unsupported GP actually pick up genuine problems in the first place; far better that a GP just get on with the business of picking up and solving problems early on, before they become serious; but no. Trying to think through the consequences of one's actions just doesn't seem to be one of those things that this government is about. As long as ministers sound like they are doing something and spending our money to boot, it doesn't really matter what the implications actually are.

Oh yes, and money is another objection. The database will cost billions, all of which will have to be magicked from somewhere. Wouldn't it be better spent on more, less harrassed social workers?

Then we have the real possibility that all this low level concern flagging will actually hide rather than reveal serious abuse cases...like looking for needles in haystacks.

And then the hacking paedophiles...well am less convinced of the dangers here, but perhaps I'm naive. Perhaps it will give these guys just the ammunition they need to target vulnerable children.

Anyway, Action for the Rights of Children..ARCH at http://www.arch-ed.org are campaigning against the database. They are raising funds to take a case against the database proposals based upon the idea that it infringes our right to privacy in family life. Go see the website, if you haven't already.

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