Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lessons from Birmingham?

This terrible news has resulted in some predictable soul-searching on home education mailing lists along the lines of "should home educators accept monthly visits from LAs in order that the authorities may assure themselves that these families are not starving their children to death?".

Whilst it would seem from what we know of this story that such intervention would have been the only way that these children could have been protected from harm, policy-makers would be wise not to insist on monthly checks on all HEors, and not simply for reasons of cost. Intrusion by the authorities can be hugely damaging for children and families. Children who are gradually gaining confidence after leaving abusive situations in school, or who are perhaps struggling with learning differences, yet are finding their own way in their own time, can have all the breath knocked out of them. Such children have been known to lose valuable and hard-won skills after a visit from the LA officer, eg: a child who had just started to overcome severe dyslexia stopped reading for six months after a visit from a hostile and prejudiced LA official.

Then, of course, there's the simple matter of privacy. During a home visit, an LA official stands in judgement over everything that is most private and intimate about family life. This is no way to behave in a free society.

So what should be the lesson from this terrible incident? If there is one, it should be that LA and school employees should be aware of and remain particularly vigilant for the signs of vulnerability. Any concerns should be followed up to the satisfaction of the authorities. On the other hand, when there is no cause for concern, HE families should be left alone.

Another reason for this proportionate response: if home educators were to accept monthly self-and-well checks, the principle of parental responsibility for children will be severely undermined. The state really would have become the final arbiter on the issue of how safely are children are raised. If a child injures himself, it will be the state who is accountable, for it has established that all parents cannot be trusted.


Bishop Hill said...

All households should probably be agreeing to monthly inspections from the state, just to be certain that they don't have incestuous offspring imprisoned in cellars under their houses.

ruth said...

I don't know if anyone in the media has questioned why family, friends and neighbours either didn't notice any problems or did and didn't want to involve SS. Maybe the lesson is that SS needs to get its act together and convince the public that calling them would be a good thing to do when they have concerns?

It's a nasty thought but I bet a mad and sadistic parent could starve a child to death over the summer holidays. Can't take all that long if they're small to begin with.

So I guess everybody with children, or old people living with them come to think of it, needs a monthly visit from SS, just in case.

Human Rights?

Anonymous said...

What when it comes up on the news that a child taken from school is suspected to have died of dehydration? Weekly inspections?