Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Children's Database - a BAD idea.

Not so long ago, I seem to remember writing a completely misguided post concerning some possible justifications for the Children's Database, also here. Can't think what possessed me. Perhaps I was trying to come to terms with the inevitable, but this particular ruse just didn't do the trick. I've now recovered my sanity (in this area at least) and am firmly of the opinion that there are no possible justifications for the database whatsoever. Phew, that feels better!

The creation of a database is a waste of time, money and effort. It will generate masses of data to no particular effect. It will make it more difficult to distinguish between children genuinely at risk. All previous government database initiatives have proven woefully expensive and exceedingly inefficient. The data that does manage to get accurately stored may put families at risk: a violent, estranged parent or paedophile may hack into it. Meanwhile children who are genuinely at risk are almost always already known to the authorities. The problem of dealing with such cases comes not from difficulties with information sharing but from the problem of deciding what to do with the information, short staffing and inexperienced practioners.

Generally speaking, the creation of a database does not fulfill the criteria for that which should constitute the Rule of Law. This is what Friedrich Hayek has to say about this sort of thing in his essential read "The Road to Serfdom", Chapter 6:

"Nothing distinguishes more clearly conditions in a free country from those in a country under arbitrary government than the observance in the former of the great principles known as the Rule of Law. Stripped of all technicalities this means that government in all it actions is bound by rules fixed and announced beforehand - rules which make it possible to foresee with fair certainty how the authority will use its coercive powers in given circumstances , and to plan one's individual affairs on the basis of this knowledge. ... The essential point, that the discretion left to the executive organs wielding coercive power should be reduced as much as possible, is clear enough. While every law restricts individual freedom to some extent by altering the means which people may use in the pursuit of their aims, under the Rule of Law the government is prevented from stultifying individual efforts by ad hoc action. Within the known rules of the game, the individual is free to pursue his personal ends and desires, certain that the powers of government will not be used deliberately to frustrate his efforts".

Home Educators are used to living outside of the legitimate realm of the Rule of Law. They know that they live with the uncertainty that the ptb may use their powers unpredictably in judging whether home educators are offering an education that meets the needs of the child according to "age, ability and aptitude". Two of these criterion are so highly subjective that home educators experience all sorts of anxieties that their chosen way of life may be suddenly, unjustly and cruelly terminated.

But the database, if it works, will make life for home educators exponentially worse. (Even if it doesn't work properly, the anxiety that it may do so is enough to make this whole situation nasty and rightfully illegitimate.) The chances that the professionals will want to cover their backs by noting that they have information to share will probably lower the threshold for the notification of anxiety. We doubt that most home educators will escape notification in the bracket:

"The index will also include a facility to allow practitioners to indicate to others that they have information to share, are taking action, or have undertaken an assessment, in relation to a child".

We also feel that in total the database sends the wrong message to parents. Instead of thinking of parenthood as a personal responsibility that should be undertaken by freely acting, morally responsible individuals, yet more and more, the sense of parental duty will be eroded as it appears to parents that the state will instead take responsibility for parenting.

Yup, the database is definitively a BAD idea.

1 comment:

Ron R said...

In most instances, I've found data and databases abstract away from the real thing and with ny amount of data, turn the object(s) into statistics.

It's not that the individual data is not there, but no one looks at it.